Autonomy in Montessori Education

The child’s first impulse from birth, and during his formative years, is expressed in an unequivocal word: AU-TO-NO-MY.

And to do so, he demands with force, and always more consciously, activities in which he frees him or herself from the adult. This outcome necessarily involves the exercise of his will, through explorations and learning at his initiative; he gains in concentration, precision and complexity; this is how self-discipline, body, heart and mind, emerges in him.

This is best acquired when the child feels that the authority exercised towards him/her by his/her environment is good and accessible.

Gradually he/she faces the realities of life, he/she consents to the laws of “living together”, he/she honours his/her destiny within the universe to which he/she is open. He/she becomes a free being with dignity.

Montessori: The last word and the notion of autonomy

Celia, 6 years old, wants to have the last word. This is on many, if not all, occasions.

She refuses orders and requests or outbids until she wins her case, leaving them all exhausted.

Could it be her way of expressing, as best she can, this powerful human tendency that drives her, which consists in conquering her autonomy by herself?

This behaviour exceeds Marie-Adèle and Christian, her parents.

Both participating in the Parent-Researcher Workshop, on the theme “Observe to help”, they decide to pay particular attention to this delicate moment of homework every weekend, which begins under tension and ends in noisy discord. 

I encourage them to do so.

At the next meeting we take stock of the past period and I like to hear this beautiful observation-hypothesis-repair from them.

Marie-Adèle and Christian implemented their decision and that is what happened to them.

Rather than leading with “things need to be rigorous with four children” (Celia having three older brothers and sisters), and not without some very legitimate resistance – because they want to honour the law of this school where homework is essential – they nevertheless took the risk of proposing to Celia to choose the time of homework.

They have provided an acceptable framework for respecting the organization of the life of the whole family. Over the weekend, Marie-Adèle fought with herself to avoid getting carried away by the fear that the work would not be done.

Christian, for his part, remembered that he would not remind their daughter of the deal and that he would assist her when she told them that she was going to work. This she did not fail to do with clarity since she had decided: at 6pm on Sundays.

Her father let her start with the material of her choice: poetry; he refrained from drawing the lines with chalk himself as he usually did (and so straight) for writing training; he had to let go when, while she was almost finished, she suddenly needed to take a break!

Finally, she settled down at the dining room table and it was there that she did her last work with appetite, two additions. Satisfied, she went to the meal, which was peaceful.

Rather than lecturing their daughter, these parent researchers received a life lesson from her that could be explained as follows: Being proactive in your own business brings pleasure and creativity to yourself and relaxation to others.

That evening, this little girl freely exercised control over her environment (parents, the relationship to time and space), which was not an outburst, but a constructive affirmation.

She was also a teacher of herself and the last word she knew how to address it to herself by going to the end of a work to which she consented, obeying intelligently the law of others of her own free will.

I have no doubt that older children between the ages of 10 and 17 will also benefit from this courageous and unforgettable experience on the part of their parents.