In the Montessori classroom, independence is an integral part of the day-to-day program. Each morning the cubby area hums with activity as the children get ready for school. It takes practice and persistence to get in and out of coats and shoes. Often a five-year-old, who is ready in a flash, will linger and chat and help a new three-year-old classmate tug at a zipper that won’t go up. In the rush to catch up to friends, the floor might be left with boots and bags strewn about, but it isn’t long before one of the four-year-olds notices and puts everything in order.
Theirs is a classroom that is designed to invite children to take ownership and interest in its use, care and maintenance. Child-sized tables, chairs, shelves and learning materials all promote and stimulate independence. Small hands feel at ease and able to manipulate tools that are made just the right size. It is fun to sweep with the small broom and dustpan – so much fun that sometimes spills happen just for the pure pleasure.
One day, a 2 and a half-year-old was practicing pouring beans from one jug to another until many had spilled out onto the tray in the process. After a long thoughtful pause while the child pondered the numerous beans on the tray, she removed the jugs to the table, lifted the tray up high in the air and slowly tipped it over to make a waterfall of beans cascade to the floor. The sound of the beans hitting the wood surface brought a hush to the room. Two older children immediately fetched dustpans and brushes and duck-walked around sweeping up the beans.
Dr. Montessori considered the primary task of childhood to be the need to become increasingly independent. She observed that the greater the degree of independence a child experiences, the more motivated they are to learn, to see themselves as more competent, and to express a strong sense of self-worth. When children perceive themselves to be more in control of their bodies and their environment, they are more likely to see themselves as academically competent in the classroom and out in the world.