Our Chief Education Officer, Barbara Isaacs, talks about how independence is the first steps towards a happy future.

“The child’s first conscious bid for independence is made when s/he defends him/herself against those who try to do the action for her/him”.

Maria Montessori based her whole science of teaching on observation of young children. Her observations led her to her discoveries which underpin the Montessori approach and remain as relevant in 2018 as they were in 1911 when she published her first book – The Montessori Method, later re-issued as The Discovery of the Child.

The young child’s spontaneous and natural drive for independence is one of her key discoveries and provides the foundation for much of what happens on a daily basis in a Montessori classroom. Many settings use her quote Help me to do it by myself as the guiding principle and key aim of their practice.

It takes time for children to become independent: they need to be shown how to do things and then have opportunities to practice – repetition is a key component of the child’s growing competence in skills such as dressing, eating, and personal hygiene. All these skills are nurtured in Montessori nurseries and children have opportunities to develop manipulative skills and concentration whilst engaging in practical life and sensorial activities. These activities also serve as vital foundations to further, more academic, learning.

Being able to do things by one-self makes a significant contribution to children’s self-esteem and sense of well being – essential ingredients of happy start to learning. Knowing that they can do something well means that I am happy to try something new – I can do attitude is the positive outcome of time spent perfecting skills such as pouring, threading, cutting, opening and closing boxes. They are then used in more complex activities which combine several of the skills together, such as gardening, polishing and helping oneself and others to snack or lunch.

Physical and emotional independence are further enhanced by intellectual independence as children learn to make choices what to do, when, where and with whom to play. In Montessori settings this freedom is supported by the favourable environment in which all activities are ready for the child. Positive ways of negotiating with whom to play are modeled and supported by attention to grace and courtesy. The freedom is also limited by the responsibility to return activities back on the shelf. And when engaged in more complex activities children are also expected to replenish resources so that they are ready for other children to use – such as when painting at an easel or polishing. All this learning contributes towards the child’s slowly emerging capacity for self-regulation and ultimately self-discipline.

So how can parents support their growing children’s independence at home?

  • Give children time to try things for themselves
  • Do not rush to help – developing perseverance is a key element of children’s growing independence and a vital contributor to growing capacity to stay on task
  • Encourage all efforts and be patient – repetitions will eventually make the task perfect
  • Accept offers of help
  • Be consistent in your expectations
  • Trust your child’s capacity to do things for him or herself

The children who benefit from these opportunities flourish as emerging autonomy supports their capacity to be resilient, to embrace challenges and demonstrate initiative, all of which are essential ingredients of a happy future.