Baan Dek

Why We Don’t Correct a Child in Montessori

Thoughts & Reflections

Remember how it’s a misunderstanding of Montessori that children get to do “whatever they want”?? If you don’t that’s okay, here’s a reminder, a post on “Follow the Child.

So, agreed, children don’t get to do whatever they want. But how do we correct them? Well, we don’t correct a child in Montessori. Is your head spinning yet?

There’s a quote that goes something like this:

Discipline says, “I’ll teach you how to do it right,” while punishment says, “I’ll make you regret doing it wrong.”

We know how much we love discipline in Montessori (and if you need a bit of a reminder, here are some posts on that topic, too!) Correction comes in the form of punishment. No, don’t do that! Stop! I can’t believe you. Correction is a slippery slope to punitive, shaming, resentful.

Since children are still learning, always learning, and it’s not “anything goes” and we don’t correct them, how do we help them to do it the right way?

“Discipline says, ‘I’ll teach you how to do it right,’ while punishment says, ‘I’ll make you regret doing it wrong.’”

A child with a runny nose wipes her sleeve across her face. Our initial reaction might be rather, well, visceral. She’s not trying to gross us out, she’s encountered an issue and has found this convenient solution that she carries around with her. Correction would be a dramatic response, grossed out, all of which would indeed be shaming. The implication with these responses, with correction, is that you should have known better. She’s still learning. If she had known what to do, she certainly would have done it.

This holds true with any true mistake a child makes, if they’re well-intentioned. Being unkind or intentional misuse of a material is not a mistake, and must always be immediately stopped.

What is not corrected is mistakes. Pouring your water after hand washing and missing the bucket. Putting on your coat upside down. Accidentally misusing a material.

why we don't correct a child in montessori baan dek

These mistakes are also not left, they are, in fact, mistakes, and it’s our responsibility to remedy them. We don’t leave a puddle on the floor, hope for the best with a hood dragging behind a child, ignore an untucked chair, saying, “she’ll figure out how to hold that the right way.”

They WON’T figure it out. That’s the point. Everything is value-neutral to a child, there is no intrinsically better way for a chair to be near a table — tucked in or askew. What makes it the right way, is that we’ve all agreed to it. Our responsibility to these children is to help them be able to do things the way we’ve all agreed, independently.

We don’t correct, we guide.

Can I show you where the tissues are? Oh look, a spill! Let’s clean it up together. Do you remember how to sit on a chair?

We give the information ahead of time. Before allergy season, we’ll put out tissues and hang a mirror at child height. You’ll practice using a tissue and looking to see that you’ve tidied your whole face. Everyone likes to be clean, and how can you be expected to be successful using a tissue when you need it, if you don’t practice before you need it?

We don’t just give presentation on academics, we give presentations on everything. How to sit on a chair IS a presentation! I have to know you have the information, the right answer, before I can expect you to answer the question, “Do you remember how to sit on a chair?”

“We don’t correct, we guide.”

We front-load the problem solving. This is one of the reasons it’s a Prepared Environment; we’re not just preparing the materials, we’re preparing the conditions for success, we’re preparing ourselves to meet the needs of a child.

We also make note of more information needed. If a child is using a material, concentrating intently, and making a mistake, it’s not their fault, and it’s also not catastrophic. We’ll make a note that next time you take it out, or when there’s a break in your concentration, or when you’re without a work, I’ll ask if I can show you something. I might be a bit dramatic, giving extra attention to how to hold an object, or where the materials go when I’m putting them back in the box. It’s like a spotlight, or a visual highlighter. What was once a jumble of words or just a member of the chorus, now has a starring role.

The child’s mistakes are simply our cue for action. Thank you for showing me what you need. To which the child always responds, “Thank you, I needed to know that.”

Written by:

Charlotte Wood

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