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What if a child just doesn't want to work?
Since Montessori is not based on punishments or rewards, how is this problem dealt with?
You will receive different answers from different Montessori teachers predominantly depending on their backgrounds and where they are teaching.
AMI Montessorians, especially those that come from a preschool environment and have followed their students to the elementary level will be the ones who adhere to the belief that all materials and concepts should be "self-chosen" most tenaciously. This is because IT WAS a preschool belief. If you think about it, during Dr. Montessori's time children entering kindergarten weren't expected to know things like continents, landforms and cultures. Until recently they weren't expected to be reading or counting either. So anything they learned in preschool was "icing on the cake". This gave the preschool teacher a lot of leeway. Children at that time could follow their natural desires and interests without any so called "adverse effects" on their education. Of course things are different now, and children in public Montessori pre-schools have the same standards as those in traditional public pre-schools.
Parents too, often fall prey to this belief.that Montessori means "They can absolutely whatever they want". I remember the mother of an 8 year old informing me, "I put her in a Montessori Classroom so that she didn't have to do anything she didn't want to do."
Then is the belief among some Montessorians that if a child has been in a Montessori environment since preschool that they will have a complete interest in the world around them and will not need to be "pushed" into anything since they will gravitate to all areas naturally.
Theory is nice, but I live in reality, so...
If you were to look into Maria's later writings and Mario's work, you will find that they did state that elementary children had to be accountable. Along with the belief that children's brains had started to process information differently in the 6-9 age group, came the new belief that children now had to be more accountable, although how to reach this accountability was never fully stated. Keeping this in mind many teachers, training centers, and schools have grappled with how to do this, (or to do it at all), over the years. The way that most have addressed it is with the "work plan/ work journal" approach.
This is how we handle it in our public Montessori program:
It is our belief that in elementary school children still do still have a "choice" but the choice is now more "how and when" they do something as opposed to "if" they do it. Responsibility now starts to become a focus.
For example, all 2nd graders have to add and subtract, but they can do it with any material they choose to use: the stamps, the bead frame, the bead stair, the golden beads, the dot board, .. . They also have to do a reading card, practice their math facts, do word problems, ... (all with an equal amount of choices as to how to do the work), before morning recess (about two hours). It may sound like a lot, but it is set up so that each child is doing work at their own level so it is not overwhelming. Just like with the material, the order in which each job is completed does not matter.
If an appropriate amount of work is not completed by recess the child the child can't go out. No, this is not punishment. Punishment would be making them write 100 sentences or stand in the corner. This is accountability. The two are often mixed up.
As far as rewards go, we want the children to gain their rewards through pride in their work so often children get to share what they have done with the class, the principal, other teachers, parents or so on. "Wow! Look at what XXX did today!" is our class's mantra. As a class we discuss the child's advancement, "XXX, I remember when you couldn't add," a child might say, "Now you are regrouping! I'm really excited for you, how does it feel?"