The process of attaining discipline and obedience in a child is very challenging, but also very rewarding once it is achieved. I am going to explain the relationship between discipline and obedience from Montessori perspective and also explain how they are linked to the development of the will.
When we think of the children and discipline, what often comes to mind is training children in a controlled way, drilling instructions and instilling fear of punishment for a child to obey, and sometimes also giving rewards once the instructions are followed.
We also tend to bribe the child, plead with him/her to carry out an exercise.
Montessori had different views regarding discipline and obedience that were all in favor of the child and benefiting to him/her in different stages of development. She believed that discipline is active and emerges from within a child through purposeful work with hands in a favorable environment. She believed that discipline in itself is a self will, master of one self and it has to come from deep within the child and it should not be externally imposed upon a child.
(Montessori, 2007b)The Montessori discipline is active and ongoing, it never stops, and it is always in action and developing. Montessori described obedience as a sublimation of the individuals own will to replace with others.(Montessori 2007a p.g 234) The child obeys by choice, not by force.
In Montessori’s perspective self discipline is born in a child when he/she concentrates on something that attracts his/her attention and provides him/her with useful exercise and also control of error.
(Montessori,2007a pg 240) She provided the children with useful auto educative materials in a favorable and prepared environment, materials that were all benefiting to the children.
In a favorable and conducive environment, where a child has all the positive choices and freedom within limits, with the directress setting his/her ground rules, self discipline and obedience automatically emerge in a child, giving him/her no reason to be stubborn or willful in a negative way. The child obeys and follows what he/she has been told at this stage as the positive environment helps him become independent, and this helps him/her to satisfy his/her inner drive, the “Horme” (Montessori, 2007a pg76) hence helping him/her to develop himself/herself in a positive way.
It is important for the child’s sensitive periods to be met for discipline and obedience to emerge. Periods like sensitivity to movement, where his/her ability to walk facilitates movement and exploration of the environment and the materials provided in it. The child improves his/her motor skills which help him get over his/her clumsiness and gains independence.
Sensitivity to order is also very important as it disciplines the child through consistency and predictability, as it enables him/her to differentiate when to play when to learn and when to tidy up, as in return the materials in their respective place after using them. When the child’s sensitivity to social aspects of life is met, his/her social skills develop and good manners are promoted, teaching the child appropriate behaviors, culture, social awareness, social graces like hygiene and courtesy all lead to development of self discipline and obedience .
A spiritually prepared directress plays a major role in a child’s discipline, obedience and emergence of the will. The directress prepares a positive favorable environment for the child, giving the child freedom within limits with ground rules. Montessori believed, “Discipline in freedom seemed to solve a problem which had hitherto seemed insoluble. The answer lay in obtaining discipline by giving freedom.”(Montessori, a 2007 pg 184)
By giving a child freedom , Montessori believed it would aide in allowing the child to express himself/herself freely but also developing consideration towards others. The child was given freedom within limits without offending or harming others. These freedoms include, freedom to explore, where the child can freely move and explore its environment and discover knowledge, with safety being the ground rule. This type of freedom supports independence that develops self discipline.
Freedom of choice develops the child’s will, which guides the child to be obedient. Here the child has a choice of which activity to do, when to do and where to do it. Freedom to repeat gives the child confidence to master the activity encouraging him/her to a more challenging activity, which will develop his/her will power and self discipline. For example, when the child learns the pouring activity, in the beginning he/she will not be able to pour without being clumsy in his movement, but repeating the activity boosts his self confidence and the control of error will discipline him/her .freedom from interruption also aides in development of the will, discipline and obedience.
When the child is doing an activity or even playing, the directress should be a passive observer and let the child concentrate, as at this time his/her attention is on something that he is enjoying to do and it attracts him/her, providing him/her with a useful exercise and also control of error.(Montesorri,2007a pg 240) The child gets so busy in his activity, that the rewards are of no importance to him/her and there is no competition, just love of work, which gives the child self satisfaction that is achieved from completing a task. Concentration helps the child gain both inner and outer order which also develop self control in a child. Inner order also supports the child’s will
Freedom to interact allows the child to socialize with others and this builds his/her self confidence, build’s self control and respect for others. All this freedoms were given to the child to discover himself/herself, discover self discipline, self worth and knowledge, the directress setting the ground roles and making the child understand them from initial stage both in home and school environment.
Discipline is a maturational process, which is never ending. A child cannot have discipline if his/her will is not developed fully, at the same time, obedience is only achieved if the child learns to control his/her actions, and this can only happen if the child has developed his/her will to do so.
From birth to 3 years of age, the child has a unique memory, called ‘mneme’(unconscious memory) (Montessori,2007 a)which stores information surrounding him/her unknowingly. The child at this stage cannot be influenced directly by an adult. The child has an absorbent mind, taking in all good and bad unconsciously like a sponge absorbing whatever liquid it is soaked in, whether it is water, milk, or dirty water. This unconscious mind helps the child develop skills like walking, talking, listening to language. The child in this stage is driven by the horme, which is an unconscious will power that urges the child on what to do which helps his divine urge that guides the child to his/her goal In this stage, the child is known as a spiritual embryo. Montessori states,” (Montessori 2007, a pg 55)
”It follows that the newborn child has to do a piece of formative work which corresponds in a psychological sphere to the one just done by the physical sphere. Before him there is a period of life different from which he led in the womb, yet still unlike that of the man he is to become.” The way an unborn child needs proper care, nourishment and positive physical environment in his/her mother’s womb, same way when the child is born, he/she needs a positive psychological environment which includes love, warmth, sense of security, stability which builds the child’s personality in a positive way.
From three years of age to 6 years, the child has already developed a conscious absorbent mind that takes in only that information that is useful for him/her. Here the child is in a social embryonic stage,(Montessori 2007a pg 19 ) whereby he wants to be a part of the society, whereby positive social values come to him/her through interactions, good behavior as per culture, social graces like courtesy, hygiene, and how to behave with strangers. During this stage of absorbent mind, the child’s ‘horme’ begins to wane off. The child is still driven by an inner voice or inner guide but that ‘voice’ enters a conscious level, so it is easy for the child to set aside their ego and be a part of the society willingly.
Montessori looked at three levels of obedience in a child, the first level being, when the child is in his/her unconscious absorbent mind (0-3years). At this stage, the child obeys and also disobeys, as the child’s conscious will (horme) is what is being obeyed. For example, if the child is asked to come and eat food, he will only eat if he/she is hungry.
The second level of obedience comes in when the child has a conscious absorbent mind (3- 6years). Here the child goes into a transitory period, whereby there is a change from the horme to the conscious will. The child will carry out an action within his ability, giving him/her the opportunity for his/her will to grow and for the child to obey. For example, if the child is asked to read a newspaper, he wouldn’t do it if it is not in his ability to do so.
The third level is the highest stage of obedience,(age 6 years) and it is attained when the child’s will power is highly developed. It is characterized by seeking instructions from their role model so that he/she can continue to develop. This is due to the love respect and trust between the child and the adult. The child is so willing to carry out a request from the adult knowing that the requests are in his own interest. For example, when the child is asked to set the table, he would willingly do it without being forced.
Discipline, obedience and will are intertwined together as without discipline, the child cannot start to develop his will, and without obedience, he/she cannot fully develop his/her will. The three are exercised by the child in a favorable environment, through freedom within limits and also through positive choices with positive outcomes.