Thursday, July 10, 2014

The importance of independence in the primary classroom, ages 3-6

Children are guided by unconscious, innate urges. We understand those early urges as their knowledge. The ability to make a choice is the highest level of freedom, based on knowledge and manifested as action. Development depends on personal experience that, for the young child, meets the developmental conquest at that time. If the child has the freedom to explore, the amount of freedom depends on development. So, the child has the freedom to make the efforts to make the legs and torso strong to begin to walk, and greater development makes the child more free to make those movements. Because they are free to work at their development, they have more freedom to use that freedom in the world. Freedom is a kind of developmental conquest-- something to be won by individual efforts.

The first limitations to freedom are the ability of the person to exercise those choices. The question is, Can I change things in my environment? Freedom and independence are predicated upon one another. Regarding the development of the young child and their innate need to follow the inherent timetable, if that development depends on the child's ability to act freely in a prepared environment, then the child's development is dependent on the amount of freedom that we support. In preparing the environment, the caregiver and guide define the space by what allows the greatest degree of independence.

If I know that a toddler needs to move, I give her more freedom by removing sharp objects from her space, rather than removing her from the space, as far as possible. The guiding rule: Prepare the environment to the child's ability. We titrate the number of choices to their abilities, at that point. For a 20-month-old, there may be two or three choices only, as far as which shirt he will wear.

As human beings, we do not live as individuals. We live as a community. So, the consequences of the child's freedom do not have a consequence in just the individual, but it has an impact on the entire community. The child will experience the feedback loop of natural consequences from their actions. We offer them limited experiences with consequences. The child can accept real responsibility in the community when she can choose between her private good and the good of the entire community, to limit her choices only to those which benefit the community.

In The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori writes that development is active, based on one's own experiences, the long road to maturity. For the child, if development has to be according to innate guides, and our efforts must aid the child's active self-construction, guides have the responsibility to construct a limited environment where they can exercise the greatest degree of freedom. 

Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian poet and influence to Maria Montessori in India, likely an inspiration to her land-based adolescent theory. He believed in the interconnectedness of all things. He wrote that even the sea could not reach the shore without his standing by the bank-- meaning that our developing perception and understanding informs our role in producing the full flowering of the human potential, to facilitate every individual fulfilling their fullest potential.

It is an act of violence to limit the freedom and thus the development of the child. By providing freedom to the child, we practice non-violence. We cannot restrict their freedom by keeping them in strollers and in-arm car seats longer than we need, but this pattern of violence, disrespect, and lack of understanding cannot lead to a peaceful person. Freedom at an early age is essential to non-violence. The child does not have the capacity to rally for their own cause, like adults who are denied freedoms and independence. Therefore, adults must be the ones who continue to fight for the rights of the child, to take the word of education very seriously every day.

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