Montessori Dictionary: Consequences
There are these words we use all the time, and we assume we all have the same understanding, the same definition, of these words. But language comes with baggage. It comes with history and emotional attachment, cultural expectations, and even heightened or misunderstood definitions. We put together this series of posts to enrich our shared understanding, so when we’re using a word, we can all be on the same page. When we use a particular word, this is what we mean.
Consequence has no negative meaning, though a strongly negative association.
When we use Consequence colloquially, we typically mean a punishment. We don’t often use “consequence” when we’re speaking about what happens when we treat others with kindness, or exercise regularly, or save more than we spend. In those situations, we sometimes use the word “result,” or “outcome.”
Consequence could just as easily be used in these situations. When I do X, Y follows.
We talk about two types of consequences in the classroom — natural and logical.
Gravity is a natural consequence. If I drop something, it will fall. If I sit in water, I will get wet. Broken glass cannot be re-fused. Facts about the natural world.
It is the logical consequences we are helping children to understand, and the ones we might misconstrue as punishment.
If I don’t get ready, I cannot go outside. If I leave my work out, it will need to be put away. If I run across the classroom, someone or something might get hurt. I can read the book when everyone is sitting quietly. I’d be happy to rub your back after you’re settled on your nap mat. Of course someone would be happy to help you open your cheese stick if you ask for assistance.
These are, as their name implies, logical. It follows, that this will happen, after this has taken place. They’re not rules, per se, the same way natural consequences are rules, but they are observations, results we can anticipate due to experience, products of behavior we want to help children understand, so they have the ability to choose.
When you understand the consequences of your actions, you can act in a way that is aligned with your feelings and your intentions, you have more agency and choice, you are empowered. You might not choose to cooperate, you might choose to act out contrary to the norms of this group, you might test limits or see what happens if you act a certain way, but that is natural. In the same way a baby drops a spoon from a chair again and again, testing gravity and the love and patience of their caregiver, we see children (and even ourselves!) testing relationships, testing those logical consequences.
If I use unpleasant words, will people still want to play with me? If I am a kind and helpful member of this community, will others treat me with the same respect? Will this adult mean what they say, follow through, be consistent?
It is only when you know and understand the rules that you can choose how to act.
Written by:Charlotte Wood