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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Montessori Method of Internal discipline

In a traditional classroom, the child is supposed to be disciplined when he is obedient, compliant, obeys all the instructions, sits at one place without murmur and answers all the questions correctly. This is called external discipline.

In a Montessori classroom, the child is supposed to be disciplined when he chooses his own work, follows his own instincts, understands the intentions of the instructions, sits and finishes his work from start to end and asks intelligent questions to others. This is achieved through internal discipline.

External discipline can be achieved through formal authority, punishments, rewards and prizes. Internal discipline can be achieved only through careful preparation of conditions, observation and patience of the teacher ( called as adult in Montessori method.) and the policy of giving freedom with constraints.

Montessorian child, because he is internally disciplined, can be easily spotted in a group by his behavior. He is more assured of himself, makes choices even when they are difficult, can sit patiently if required, or even explore situations even in a constrained place if needed.

How does this child acquire internal discipline in a Montessori school ( also called as Montessori House of Children or MHOC) ? Here are three critical practices followed in a MHOC:

 a. Help the child to choose his own activity

 A child, attracted equally by different objects and activities, follows everything and passes from one thing to another without stopping. Only with internal discipline, a child can choose and stop at something. With external discipline, the child always requires someone’s instructions or orders. Even when he is told to do something, the child is unable to remain with that activity for a reasonable time. This is one of the most important distinctions between the external and internal discipline. The child who does not yet obey an internal guide is not the free child. He is still the slave of superficial sensations.

Because of this importance of free choice, in a Montessori School, a child is given freedom to choose his activity. He can also do ‘nothing’ and observe. He can remain with one activity as long as he wishes. Or he can work with 3/ 4 activities in a short time. In a Montessori school, this freedom to child is also provided with certain constraints. For instance, a child, if not doing anything, cannot disturb another child. A child, when he finishes one activity, has to keep the activity box back at its respective place. In a Montessori School, there is place to ‘sleep’ also. This freedom with constraints enables a child in Montessori to develop internal discipline, instead of getting used to external orders and instructions.

b Help the child to fine tune his motor movements 

 The small child, clumsy in his movements, also finds it difficult to maintain discipline, as his actions are disorderly. With uncontrolled body movements, the child tends to spill work, inadvertently trips while walking, hurts others unknowingly because of clumsy hands. Montessori philosophy therefore presumes that a ‘physically independent’ child will be able to practice discipline better than a child who is physically clumsy and disorderly.

In a MHOC therefore, the child is first enabled to get control of his movements through various activities. Special emphasis is laid in designing activities that help both gross motor movements ( like walking, getting up with a jug in hand, carrying stools from the original place to the place of work, laying mat for work and walking on a curved line) as well as fine motor movements ( such as pouring water in a cup, threading needle, opening locks).

 c. Help the child avoid fantasy 

By its nature, a child’s mind wanders constantly. Because of this, child’s attention keeps on fleeting from one thought to another. Such a child is unable to focus on anything for any time and therefore displays indisciplined behavior. Morever, if a child is encouraged to go into fantasy, the child finds it even more difficult to discipline his attention. In a fantasy, the child instead of playing with stones, talks with stones. Due to fantasy, a child is unable to stay in the ‘real world’ activities, and constantly seeks refuge in fantasy. Instead of enjoying ice-cream, he is fantasizing eating tons of icecream like a superman. In such a fantasy, there is no control of error, because everything is possible in fantasy. The mind, which divorces itself from reality, is unable to focus on anything real.

Montessorian method, on the one hand, seeks to attract the attention of the child to something real. By focusing the child’s attention on daily activities and doing them again and again, the child learns to focus on real actions. In a MHC class, the children are in direct touch with reality; their occupations have a practical aim, such as dusting a table, removing a stain; going to the cupboard, taking a piece of the material and using  it correctly. On the other hand, a child in Montessori is told stories of real characters and real world. For instance, in a Montessori, the child is not told of the stories where animals talk to each other, or when men fly, or where impossible incidents can happen. This enables the child to restrict his wandering mind to the real-life activities.


How can you distinguish between External discipline and Internal discipline? It is infact quite easy. Visitors to Montessori schools will observe the silence of the school that has been developed not by order and authority, but through work and concentration of the children who are busy in finishing their work. The entire school of 30 children works in silence and order.

A child in Montessori, with practice, acquires internal discipline and is free to choose his own work. He feels so secure, that he will no longer seek the approval of authority after completing his activity. Due to internal discipline, the child also tends to listen to elders fully and follows the instructions with intent, instead of just following the instructions of others by rote. A child with internal discipline also helps other child. For instance, if something spills in a Montessori school, you will often observe children helping each other to collect the spilled material.

What would you like your child to have ? Internal discipline or External discipline?

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