The essence of independence is to be able to do something for oneself.
Several weeks ago I had a conversation with my daughter who is a senior in college. She told me that she had to make a choice whether or not to go to some events, and was having a hard time deciding what to do. She asked, “Can you decide for me?” I knew she didn’t really want me to decide for her, and I didn’t. It’s just that as she gets older, she is realizing that there are many times and many things in life when she has to make decisions independently. It’s not easy to feel like she is making the correct decision or right choice. This is a lifelong lesson, and we are all still learning it.
Giving young children opportunities to make choices means that they have more freedom. It is not an easy thing for parents to exercise at home. It can seem that we either make decisions for them too often, or on the contrary, let them make so many decisions that it seems they control us, but a balance can be found. Giving young children freedom of choice has to be within the limits of safety, age appropriate, and make sense. It wouldn’t be appropriate to allow young children to choose to wear shorts to school in wintertime just because that’s his favorite way to dress, but perhaps the child can choose the color of the pants he puts on.
When parents first visit our Montessori school, they often are amazed that the children are offered so much freedom. The children get to choose what material they work with and when they like to have snacks. They are not given a set schedule of craft time, math time, or language time. Does that mean they can do whatever they want? Or, however they like to do it? Not at all. Montessori students are learning how to make choices within the freedom of limits of a prepared environment. The lessons are presented to the students with the proper way and steps. Once they have learned a lesson, they are free to choose that work anytime they want.
Parents may ask, “What if my child doesn’t choose work?” Or, “What if my child doesn’t make the right choice of work?”
It’s not uncommon for some children to have difficulty choosing work. When a Montessori teacher observes that a child needs help, they will offer two or three suggestions for the child to choose between, so it is still the child making the decision. Also, there is no wrong choice of work in Montessori’s prepared environment, but the students might be encouraged and/or directed to make a better choice or to choose a more challenging work.
In order to help children develop independence, making choices is an important training to start at a young age. Our students are offered such an opportunity of freedom in the prepared environment of our classrooms. We are confident that your child will benefit from this habit of making their own choices throughout their life.
Primary Directress Nancy Wu