In Montessori, children lead many aspects of their learning, but the agency they experience is empowered by structure, order, and guidance from a prepared adult.
Montessori is child-led, but it is not “anything goes.” There is a big difference between free rein, in which an adult largely removes themselves, and freedom within limits — where the adult remains actively engaged.
In a Montessori classroom, we are talking about the latter — freedom within limits supported by an adult.
Limits are empowering
Young children need context and clarity on how to navigate the world. If we only gave them access to try things for themselves, they might just feel overwhelmed rather than empowered.
Consider starting a new job. Would you feel empowered if you were left alone to figure out your new role? Or, would you succeed with a clear job description, regular communication, and access to training? Likely, you’d need the latter.
It’s the same for children in a prepared learning environment. They are capable explorers who also need shared knowledge and defined expectations. This is the heart of what a Montessori teacher provides — guidance. Hence, they are called “guides.”
The role of a Montessori guide
Montessori as a method involves three key tenets: the child, the adult, and the environment. All three are equally important in order to facilitate Montessori learning outcomes.
The guide spends time preparing the classroom with sequenced activities that children can choose from. The activities feature sensorial, self-correcting materials unique to the Montessori method that promote each child’s ability to:
- Learn by doing
- Gain a concrete understanding of abstract concepts
- Activate important executive function skills
The environment sparks interest; the guide facilitates deeper connections
Children primarily learn through their own experiences in Montessori, so the classroom is meticulously designed to be accessible and inspiring for the children to move and self-discover. As children interact with the materials and with each other, the guide is assessing and observing, offering personalized lessons and presentations that match each child’s readiness and interest.
This is notably different from a traditional teacher
The conventional role of a teacher entails preparing group lessons, commanding the front of the room to deliver lessons, and assigning homework and quizzes to assess how children grasped the content later.
In the conventional format, children are expected to learn more from listening to the words of an adult, and so the classroom is designed around the adult with a teacher’s desk, presentation area, and rows of seating for the students. This inevitably restricts movement since the emphasis is on following along.
A Montessori guide does not have a teacher’s desk, nor do they command the front of the room for scheduled group lessons. Instead, they cultivate an extended “work period,” which is a multi-hour block of time when children are free to choose work in the room. Available work options are displayed on shelves for the children to reach, and they span a core curriculum of:
- Sensorial (an important precursor to math)
- Practical Life (an important precursor to all later academics)
- Cultural / Geography
Child agency with adult guidance promotes calm
Montessori environments are known for having a “busy hum.” Not too quiet, not too loud. Children are deeply focused on a variety of activities, naturally socializing, problem solving and creating. They retrieve their own work, put it away, and have plentiful access to fine motor and gross motor work.
This embedded opportunity for movement and choice promotes calm since all children inherently need movement and agency. Despite this need, traditional classrooms emphasize getting children to “sit still,” which can lead to disruptive behaviors.
Calm in the Montessori classroom can also be attributed to the method’s focus on freedom within limits, inner discipline and explicit social and emotional skill-building tied to the grace and courtesy curriculum.
N4 Montessori delivers an authentic Montessori education for independence in North Texas. Our school is growing with spots available in Nido, Toddler, and Children’s House.