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story from: Tomorrow's Child Magazine May 2022
A Montessori Approach to Clean…

Beyond Rewards, Bribes, & Punishment

A Montessori Approach to Building Intrinsic Motivation

42 ways that the Montessori approach builds intrinsic discipline in our children.

by Simone Davies

In my last article on a Montessori approach to discipline, I mentioned that we don’t use rewards, bribes, or punishment in a Montessori classroom. And there is not a teacher at the front telling everyone what they need to do. Yet, if you observe in a Montessori classroom, there is a gentle hum of conversation and movement and a lot of concentrated children who are motivated to work.

So, not surprisingly, I received many questions about a Montessori approach to building intrinsic motivation in the child. Intrinsic motivation is doing something because you have the inner drive to do it, not because of some external reason like a reward or threat.

I love a good list so here are 42 ways that the Montessori approach builds intrinsic discipline in our children.

Note: It’s a holistic approach where each part is intrinsically linked. So, while it may seem overwhelming to do all these things, rest assured they also naturally build on one another.

42 Ways to Build Intrinsic Motivation

1. Build an environment where they can have success; knowing where they can find things and having things at their level.

2. Create opportunities for them to build independence – they see themselves as capable.

3. Cultivate opportunities to work together, cooperate and care for others – they see their input matters; a 0-3 child is observing and beginning their social development in their family. With a care giver, and/or nursery; the 3-6 child is part of their family and their class; and the 6-12 child wants to work and be a part of a group.

4. Value process over product; there is more learning in the doing than in the result.

5. Use encouragement rather than praise. When they hear, “You worked hard to get your shirt on all by yourself ” rather than “good job,” they learn to look to themselves to understand what worked, rather than looking to us for praise.

6. Give them freedom to work on things they are interested in – rather than what the teacher/adult tells them – or a timeline.

7. Provide safe limits. Offer security and show that someone cares about them.

8. Allow them the freedom to choose what, where, and with whom they’d like to work.

9. Provide a clear rhythm to their day so that they know what to expect.

10. Help them learn respect for themselves, each other, and the environment – they feel truly accepted and learn to accept others.

11. Encourage those agreements are made together – they feel like a valued member of the community.

12. Let them know that it’s a safe place to practice boundaries – we can support them with words if needed, “I’d like to work by myself right now. It will be available soon.”

13. Honor who they are; each member is unique and valued – builds their sense of self.

14. Help them learn to look after themselves, others, and the environment – it’s empowering to be able to do this for themselves.

15. Show trust in them – by removing external rewards and punishments.

16. Help them to make amends when needed – they know that when they get it wrong, they will take responsibility and learn from the experience.

17. Value curiosity – learning is about finding out rather than memorizing facts

18. Allow them to have choices – they have ‘agency’ in their days

19. Provide honest, instructive feedback – we see what’s going well and how they can do better; give them gentle guidance to keep improving.

20. Offer different ways to learn; we all learn in different ways and on different days; the materials appeal to kinesthetic, visual, and aural learners, and they can choose how they’d like to present their work, from a booklet to a survey to a poster etc.

21. Be their guide – not their boss or servant

22. Help children build ‘scaffold skills’ – where each activity builds on the next to allow mastery.

23. Support them to develop their own routines/ rhythms, such as taking an activity to a table or mat and returning it when it’s done.

24. Help children develop their thinking skills – they are learning to learn through hands-on learning and making discoveries for themselves; they help younger children and consolidate their own learning; they reflect on what they have learned.

25. Keep it real; children are not learning just for the sake of learning. They are learning how it applies in the real world giving meaning to their work.

26. The absence of tests or punishments allows a natural love of learning, while maintaining their creativity and interest in learning

27. Model intrinsic motivation ourselves as adults; our actions are more powerful than our words.

28. Provide control-of-error activities, which will allow children to discover their errors and try again.

29. Offer challenges at the appropriate level. Children do not feel unmotivated, because they know that they can do hard things, and they do not want to give up.

30. Encourage service in the community. This allows children to see and appreciate the impact of their work.

31. Children can have a healthy relationship with failure: the guide and classmates are supportive; children are able to stay with something until they master it and are ready to move onto the next activity; and they learn to ask for help if needed.

32. Remove competition for sticker charts or praise; children do not need rewards from others. Help them look to themselves instead of someone else.

33. Allow time to help children build skills, e.g., planning skills, learning to dress themselves, how to make a report, etc.

34. Children are in charge of their own learning: they learn uniquely, have their unique interests; and are on their own unique timeline.

35. Adults can trust the Montessori process, without forcing their own agenda.

36. Help children support themselves as they become members of their society.

37. Be patient; learning happens at its own pace and isn’t forced.

38. Plant seeds of curiosity, enough to get them interested, and not too much to allow them to discover the rest for themselves.

39. Encourage the possibility for big work and big ideas that looks at the interdisciplinary nature of the universe.

40. Allow space for all voices; we want everyone in our community to feel valued, accepted, and safe.

41. Avoid criticism or correction; instead, observe where children are in their process, and offer another opportunity to teach it again.

42. Learn from others. We can see others learning and be inspired to learn that too.

It’s never too late to start applying these principles. We can even scaffold the skills with a child in Upper Elementary (9-12 years), first helping them plan, then letting them take over more and more steps themselves. •

Simone Davies is the author of The Montessori Toddler and co-author of The MontessoriBaby, comprehensive guides to raising toddlers and infants in a Montessori way. The books are based on her 15+ years’ experience working as an AMI Montessori teacher in Sydney and in Amsterdam. She also has a popular blog, Instagram, and podcast “The Montessori Notebook”.She is also mother to two young adults.Simone currently runs parent-childMontessori classes in Amsterdam at her school, Jacaranda Tree Montessori, and is working on another book with Junnifa Uzodike, The Montessori Child for children from 3-12 years.

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