Ocean View Montessori School

The Will, Freedom, and Independence from Toddlers to Teens.

As parents we most likely all have a long-term goal in mind of seeing our child becoming a young adult making their own way in the world with health, success, and happiness. Getting to this point and beyond all depends on the foundations laid in the early years, and most specifically your understanding of the important relationship between the will, freedom, and independence.


I would like to talk about the development of the WILL, something often feared by parents and yet such a pivotal part of a child’s growth. It does not need to be squashed, it can be nurtured, through giving freedom within limits, which, in turn will lead to independence.


Maria Montessori wrote at great length on the WILL, a uniquely human power beyond instinct, one that gives the drive for independence and mastery. It is something that we admire greatly in adults; the unwavering will that gives the determination to succeed in a business venture for instance. Compare this to same level of determination displayed by a toddler who is going to dress herself in a tutu no matter how inappropriate it is for the day ahead! My point here is that we often feel the need to totally curb children’s raw determination and hope that it will re-emerge in adulthood at a time when we can stand back and admire it.


Children’s desire to complete actions for themselves is often overridden by parents who are in a hurry. It takes a bit of time for a three-year-old to dress themselves, but they love to do so, make time for it, and they will get better and better at it. Conversely, they may well give up if you take over too many times. Perhaps they want to help wash the dishes, the result may not be exactly twinkly the first time, but again practice makes progress so provide the opportunity. A very important part of your role in supporting the development of the WILL is to develop an ENABLING rather than DISABLING approach to your child.


Some simple organisational steps at home will help you to create an environment that ENABLES rather than DISBABLES the child on their quest for independence. Storing daily clothes in way that your child can reach, choose clothing and dress is a great start. Arranging toys, books, and games in small baskets on low shelves will encourage the child to sort them and pack away in an ordered way. Providing some child sized cleaning equipment and a steady stool for standing, will give a safe way for helping in the kitchen. The list is endless, be creative; some of our current favourites at school are cleaning windows, scrubbing tables, and raking the sand.


When adults take over a task it sends a message to the child that their efforts are not good enough. Depending on temperament they will either have a tantrum or feign inadequacy. With guidance and love, children do tend to grow out of tantrums, but feigning inadequacy can become a lifelong habit. Think ahead twenty years to your young person leaving home and starting to run their own life, they need to be capable, confident, and independent and the foundations for this will have been laid in toddler hood.


Always keep in mind that the will drives choices and choices drive development and ultimately independence. As parents and teachers, we can partner with children on their quest for independence. Having the freedom to choose appropriate activities is key. Children will choose the activities they want to master, the things that they know that they need for their growth.


Our first focus at school is to help the children handle daily life skills. Montessori learning environments offer developmentally appropriate practical learning activities from which the children have freedom to choose. Skills for self-care, cleaning, food preparation or outdoor work can be transferred into daily life leading the children to take care of themselves and to help others. The completion of practical activities is foundational to later academic work because each activity follows a sequence that, promotes concentration and the enhancement of motor skills.


Understanding the value of freedom of choice within a school setting requires quite a mind shift. Those on a first visit to a Montessori school, may come with the preconceived notion that this is the place where children do exactly as they wish, whenever they wish, without any limits. These are myths that committed Montessori teachers ‘bust’ everyday through their approach to behaviour management, planning and delivery.


The ‘freedoms’ are governed by positively expressed ground rules that provide a framework for behaviour, helping children to develop self-discipline, task management and collaboration. Choice of activities is guided by the teacher’s observations of each individual child’s interests and stage of development. Record keeping is used to inform ongoing planning and track progress against required outcomes.


Children choose the activities that interest them, resulting in increased focus, learning and satisfaction. This becomes an upward spiral of development which the teacher is always available to support and extend. We see this process starting in the toddler group and developing throughout the pre-primary phase. These positive experiences can be used as keys to lead children into new areas of learning, developing motivation and concentration that is transferred into academic work.


By the time the children reach the primary class they are highly focussed on their day. There are some set group and individual lessons along with periods of free choice. The children manage completion of their required individual activities with a work journal, and this is supported by a weekly feedback meeting with their teachers. Confidence and responsibility are promoted which is an essential preparation for senior primary, high school and ultimately the modern workplace.


“The essence of independence is to be able to do something for oneself. Adults work to finish a task, but the child works to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be. Such experience is not just play… it is work he must do to grow up.”
Maria Montessori


Your guidance and support in the early years will reap benefits as your children grow. From toddlerhood through to teens remember to Enable not Disable.


Lucy Cronje
Ocean View Montessori School
March 2024