We all want our children to be independent; to make good choices, be responsible, self-sufficient, respectful, passionate, driven, etc. But how do we set our children up for this type of success?

By providing them with particular experiences at home and at school.

The Montessori philosophy has many components but a huge emphasis is placed on our belief that children need freedom with limits. You might think of this as two totally opposite ends of a spectrum. And interestingly, this is the component that gets confused most of the time when people think of Montessori.

“It is too strict, too structured.”


“They get to do whatever they want.”

Everyone’s interpretation of freedom and limits is different but ours is very clear.

If you set up an environment with activities that you know will interest the child, where they can explore freely, make choices, and all of this is done under the guidance of an adult who sets respectful limits, the children will thrive!!

We always must start by discussing the prepared environment for Infant/Toddler, Casa, Lower Elementary, and Upper Elementary. Montessori divided it into three-year age ranges because she observed that children around the same age have similar needs and sensitive periods. This is the time when learning particular skills will have the most impact on the child and create lasting memories.

In each of our classrooms, there are materials that were created by taking into account HOW children learn. In the Casa, children want to connect to what they see at home so they have real-life activities that are multi-sensory. In the Elementary, children at this age learn best through their imagination so the lessons are geared around creating awe and wonder.

Because of this, children’s interest is sparked and therefore their motivation for learning increases. We can link so many key Montessori principles with current research in Motivational Theory and it is proven that specific types of educational experiences enhance student motivation. Children will be intrinsically motivated by activities that hold interest for them and when this happens, they perform activities because of the positive feelings resulting from the activities themselves. When children are motivated, it influences their interest, excitement, and confidence, which in turn enhances performance, persistence, creativity, and the general well-being of an individual.

At each of these levels the balance of freedom and limits is different. As you can imagine, at the Infant-Toddler level the ‘freedom’ component is a bit narrower than at the Upper Elementary level.

  1. At the first level of respect/respecting limits the child can only ‘obey’ someone else when it meets the child’s own needs. This is a natural phase that belongs to the first three years of life. It is built in by nature so that the child is not bothered yet by too many restrictions an can spend all their energy on self-construction. Limit setting is a very necessary part of this process!
  2. Once the child has integrated the identity, he becomes ready to integrate in a group. This brings new experiences since other people will point out their own likes and dislikes. This helps the child to move to the second level of respect. Which is being able to do what someone else asks even when it does not meet a personal need.
  3. Based upon healthy completion of the first two levels of respect, a third level exists in that individuals respect the larger whole. This is the base for respect for other cultures, international mindedness, but also respect for nature, animals, and the world at large.

What does our combination of freedom and limits look like at the different levels?

At each stage, the following steps are worked through:


  1. Clear expectations

These are our limits. There are limited options, rules, etc. set out in each of the environments.

  1. Responsibility

The child is presented with options and must make a choice, then be responsible for that choice.

  1. Independence

Every child has the freedom to act within these boundaries.

  1. Accountability

Depending on the choice, the child must deal with the logical consequences of his actions. This is not punishment. These are opportunities to learn and grow from.

Ex: Natural consequence – Child doesn’t wear a jacket outside, gets cold.

Ex: Logical consequence – Child throws paint on the floor, child must clean it up.

Ex: Punishment – Child hits brother, child gets a time-out.

  1. Evaluation

After the child lives through this cycle of making choices and living with outcome (good/bad) he will then re-evaluate his next choice with more knowledge.

The more he can live with the natural consequences, the more he will understand the world.

“If we really allow the child to experience freedom in our environment, the child will clearly know his choices, know they are in limits, be able to make a conscious choice, and be responsible for that choice. When this happens, the process of self-construction happens.”

“The more capable the child is to choose, the better prepared for life he will be.”