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Independence in the Classroom

The first few weeks of school are crucial, and set the stage for the remainder of the year. Even if you have taught for years, it’s a good time to rethink and refresh your lessons. By now, your orientation period may be over, but children can still benefit from a review of lessons to firmly establish classroom policies. Helping children learn school routines allows them to become more independent. By discovering what they can do to care for themselves and their school, they will become more secure and self-motivated. And, your classroom will normalize sooner, too.

Time and patience are required as children learn what’s expected at school and how to do things they may not have done before. They may never have been expected to hang jackets on hangers and button or zip them, too. Encouraging older children to assist new students will also help them adapt to classroom routines.

Group Lessons

Starting the year with group lessons is effective in establishing classroom expectations. Montessori’s lessons of Grace and Courtesy include:

  • Greetings at arrival and farewells at dismissal
  • Carrying a piece of work carefully
  • Putting work away when completed
  • Walking around a rug
  • Pushing in the chair after getting up
  • Carrying a chair
  • Balancing things on a tray while walking
  • Unrolling and rolling up a rug
  • Learning the difference between inside and outside voices
  • Using manners – Please, Thank You, Excuse Me, etc.
  • Learning how to politely wait your turn without interrupting
  • Learning to walk in a line
  • Asking for help

Normalization Happens

The school schedule is magical in helping children become more self-reliant and confident. Knowing what to expect provides a sense of security that’s especially important for the youngest child. While changes or disruptions in the classroom schedule happen every now and then, knowing what comes next is part of what allows children to concentrate on the task at hand. Once the order and predictability are established, children will work for longer periods and move about the classroom with assurance.

Continue to give lessons on the basic activities so children will have enough work to stay occupied. Keep circle time and lessons brief, knowing you will repeat them. Be patient—the time will come when you can give longer Montessori presentations to older students. It takes time to normalize a class.

Independence Develops

For new students, it helps to repeat lessons and routines until they are able to perform them independently. Teachers may need to assist some children with the bathroom routine or snack preparation for a while. Younger children might need direction to find an activity as well as occasional reminders to put work away or push the chair under the table.

Sometimes it is helpful for the teacher to have an understanding with her assistant about who to help when. Remember, at first children are more dependent so the teacher must be a strong presence. When the children are more independent, the teacher is not as needed for emotional security and can step back to observe or provide individual lessons.

Educate Parents

Parents will also need to become oriented to the new school and their children’s routines. Sometimes parents need gentle reminders about how to respect their child’s need to “do it myself,” learning to follow Montessori’s observation that “any unnecessary help is a hindrance.” Schools and teachers will be educating parents about the Montessori philosophy to reinforce learning at home. Responsible children who know how to be independent are more likely to become helpful, contributing adults.

“A child’s desire to work represents a vital instinct since
he cannot organize his personality without working.”

—Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

—Originally Published 2017

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