Academic Diary with Dzifa: ‘Freedom within limits’

Academic Diary with Dzifa: The psychology of learning – what is your strategy?

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Freedom offers the child:

  • the will to make their own choices
  • the room to make mistakes and ‘auto’ correct them
  • the chance to respect the freedom of others

‘Freedom within limits’ is a core Montessori concept that can also be incorporated into the family setting. For newbies to the Montessori world, this three-worded phrase may seem contradictory. After all, freedom is the opposite of limits. How, then, are we able to have freedom within limits?

As contradictory as this phrase may seem, it does carry a lot of weight and its application helps shape the child to respect boundaries, while having the full space to operate their own choices. Inasmuch as I have massive respect for the traditional way of teaching and learning, permit me today to be biased with this peculiar but powerful approach to teaching and learning.

At the end of this article, we will learn what it means to give ‘freedom within limits’, and how it contributes to the holistic development and independence of the child.

What it means to give freedom within limits.

This concept simply means allowing the child to explore their own skills of learning by exploring the classroom environment and doing things by themselves; but doing so under specified and acceptable conditions. So here is where the freedom is: allowing the child to explore.

Simply put, the ‘freedom’ means allowing the child to function on their own.

“Montessori encourages freedom within limits through the design of the prepared environment. Especially relevant is the low open shelves, logically ordered activities, and child-friendly work spaces of the Montessori classroom. In effect, this encourages the child to move freely around the classroom, and choose their own work within limits of appropriate behaviour.” –

The Montessori child has the freedom of choice and of time. They also have the freedom to move, communicate, repeat and make mistakes. The design of the Montessori learning materials makes it possible for the child to explore all the avenues of freedom at their disposal.

Each material is designed with a visual control of error. This feature of the material guides the child to understand the outcome of the activity through hands-on learning experiences. The length of time of an activity encourages the child to learn at their own pace, develop the skills of concentration, and learn patience to wait for their turn.

However, some parents have raised concerns about the ‘absence’ of rules which might lead to bad behaviour. Far from that, the freedom a child may experience is guarded.

‘Within limits’ means the conditions that guard the freedom.

There are three ground rules of the Montessori classroom. All other ground rules stem from these three: Respect for oneself, Respect for others and Respect for the environment.

Respect for oneself requires a child to learn how to be productive and to work safely. Provided a child has been shown how an activity is presented, and knows how to use the material respectfully without causing any harm to themselves, then the child gains the freedom to choose any material they want to work with.

Respect for others teaches social skills and good behaviour. In showing respect for others, a child can choose to work independently or within a small group; however, the child must be invited to work with another child, and must not interfere with another child’s work. All children must show respect for others within their classroom community.

Respect for the environment inculcates the skill of taking proper care of everything within the Montessori classroom. This includes the proper use of the Montessori materials, packing away, and taking care of all things – living and non-living – within the environment. The correct way of handling, presenting and putting away materials shapes the child’s mind for proper care of the classroom environment and beyond.

Notwithstanding the controversies surrounding giving freedom to children within limits, the benefits far outweigh the arguments.

Remember this;

  • Children who find themselves within this space become respectful members of their classroom community.
  • As children learn to discuss activities, problem-solving, and develop their social skills, they are encouraged to effectively communicate in the classroom.
  • Through the process, children are also taught how to become independent and confident learners who respect the rules of their freedom.

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