Discipline and obedience are two words used to imply a strict way of learning. Montessori, on the other hand, saw these as a natural instinct that came from within. In this essay I intend to show that with the correct conditions the child can become self-disciplined and have the ability to obey without the need of force, reward or punishment as Montessori described. The understanding of discipline, according to the dictionary, is described as ‘the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience’.
Obedience is referred to as ‘compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority’. Both these descriptions imply that they are forced on an individual, whereas Dr Montessori felt that both discipline & obedience come from within. In a Montessori environment discipline is an active process that comes from within the child, it cannot be forced. This self-discipline is directly related to the development of the will. Obedience grows with the child and comes hand in hand with development of the will, without the maturing of the will the child cannot develop obedience.
As their will develops through free choice, the child begins to show the self-discipline or self-control necessary for obedience. There are two factors that enhance discipline and obedience and these are the prepared environment and freedom. Ultimately these lead to the development of the childs will. The correct environment is critical when fostering the childs development. Their discipline is encouraged by having an environment which has been prepared to allow the child to function as an individual.
The child within this environment can self-select activities from the shelf, can do things for themselves, can move around the classroom and sit at the child sized furniture all without the need of an adult. The environment also encourages the child’s love of order by ensuring the security of predictability, where everything has its place and helps the child with their mental & physical development. ‘Energy is not wasted by looking for what is not there and self-confidence is enhanced through making one’s own decisions’ (1).
They do not require the assistance of a teacher and this is why Montessori described her teachers as ‘directresses’ whose role was to guide and encourage the child. Every part of the Montessori environment encourages the child to teach themselves the skills they need by making their own choices, Montessori referred to this as ‘child led learning’ (1). This fosters the childs independence and so encourages their self-discipline by giving them the tools to achieve. Ultimately this development will encourage the ‘horme’ to wane and the ‘will’ to emerge, unconsciously encouraging independence. The will’s development is a slow process that evolves through a continuous activity in relationship with the environment’ (2) When discussing ‘freedom’ it does not mean that the child is free to practice whatever they want. Montessori encouraged ‘freedom within limits’ (1) which encourages the child to be free with their choices and their movement. Montessori believed that freedom was the single most important factor in allowing children to develop as spontaneous, creative individuals. A good example of freedom is snack time, when the child has the ability to select the food and drink they want at a time that suits them.
It does not encourage freedom where the child is distracting to others or likely to cause damage. This type of freedom allows a child to express itself and grow in self-confidence and self-discipline. They also have the freedom to interact within a social structure that Montessori described as ‘vertical grouping’ (1). This vertical grouping allows the child to learn from older children and gives the older children enormous self-worth from being able to impart their knowledge to a younger child. This leads to a boost in independence and self-esteem.
The directress forms a significant support in the development of the childs will. It is with their assistance that the child can truly develop into an independent being with self-discipline and the ability to obey. They provide the right environment for the child to learn and should act as a guardian to ensure that the environment is appropriate for the age of the children within it. An essential part of the directress’ role is to provide support but not to interfere. Within the first stage of the development of the will the child can repeat an activity many times with immense satisfaction until their inner need is satiated.
Interference when the child is focused and interested can lead to a detrimental effect on the development of the will. ‘If adults persist in interrupting the child during this cycle of repetition, his self-confidence and ability to persevere in a task are severely jeopardised’. (3) Discipline develops slowly over time and can be seen when looking at the growth of the child. From birth until three years of age the child is in its spiritual embryonic stage where they are completely led by the ‘horme’, which is a natural instinct within the child.
This instinct is the unconscious will power that drives the child on and is most dominant within the first two years of life. At this stage the child is completely ego-centric and psychologically incomplete, they are completely driven by their brain and are unconscious of others. At this stage there must be great care taken to nurture the personality. From three to six years the child becomes a social embryo where the ‘horme’ is waning and the will is developing and becoming more controlled. At this stage the child is able to filter their learning and use information more concisely.
They need an environment to encourage their independence, raise their self-esteem and give autonomy and purpose. As the will develops the child will automatically develop their self-discipline which leads to greater independence and allows them to be a part of the world around them. This independence comes from the ability to effectively ‘rule their world’ by choosing for themselves and watching what is going on around them, which in turn brings them conscious awareness. The spiritual and social embryonic stages of the absorbent mind can be linked directly with the levels of obedience that Montessori discussed.
The first level is from birth to three years where the child is a spiritual embryo. They are directed by the ‘horme’ and have little will power to obey, their will and self-interest work as one. Montessori states ‘before the child is three he cannot obey unless the order corresponds with one of his vital urges. ’ (2) At this stage the child is developing into the personality they will become and are reliant on those around them for their everyday needs. They are still vulnerable to negative influences, such as the inability to move.
The second level is from three to six years and is defined as the social embryonic stage. This is the point at which the ‘horme’ develops into the will. The childs self-discipline and self-control, although fragile, are maturing and becoming controllable. They are also more secure in themselves and are able to leave the primary carer for longer periods of time. The child becomes aware of social aspects and is more able to interact and meet the needs of those around them. ‘His powers are now consolidated and can be directed not only by his own will, but by the will of another’ Montessori (2).
The third level of obedience is from six years onwards and is the point at which the childs will is highly developed, they actively seek instruction from those that they admire and trust, are keen to learn more and scaffold their learning. At this stage their spontaneous wish to obey develops, it is a ‘natural phenomenon’ (3). Montessori in this last level found that the “silence game” proved an interesting way of testing the children’s will power. The more it was repeated the more the children’s will power grew and the periods of silence grew longer.
She writes ‘we saw obedience appear among them, because all the elements for it had been prepared’. (2) As the child progresses through these three levels the child grows, not only in size, but in ability to use their brains and bodies to control their actions. This growth promotes the childs self-confidence and self-discipline. The more they repeat an action and the more that action is repeated the more mental and physical strength they develop. This repetition allows the childs will, discipline and ultimately their obedience to mature. Conclusion 150.