Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy is the foundation of every home, school and workplace that her work has touched, and has inspired parents and teachers around the world to raise independent, motivated, confident, and happy children for generations.
She devised a set of ten fundamental rules and principles, also known as the Montessori Decalogue, which can be found in the front entrance way of most Montessori schools. This serves as a reminder and framework for the behaviours that all adults (teachers, parents, grandparents and caregivers) can adopt to best serve the needs of young children.
1. Never touch the child unless invited by him (in some way or another).
Avoid touching a child (picking them up or grabbing their hand etc.) unless the child invites you to do so. Children invite contact in many different ways, so observation is key here. It’s also vital to respect a child when he is angry and does not want to be touched.
2. Never speak ill of the child in his presence or absence.
Making negative comments about a child insinuates a lack of respect for him. Sometimes this can lead to negative thoughts and attitudes that can be damaging to the relationship. Try your best to start fresh every day, and do not hold grudges.
3. Concentrate on strengthening and helping the development of what is good in the child, so that its presence may leave less and less space for what is negative.
By focusing on negative behaviour, children will feel inadequate, leading to low self-esteem and a continuation of negative behaviour. By focusing on the positive, your child will feel safe and confident. Children do not need punishments or rewards, they simply need to be corrected lovingly and shown what is acceptable by adults who model the desired behaviour.
4. Be proactive in preparing the environment, take meticulous and constant care of it. Help the child establish constructive relations with it. Show the proper place where the means of development are kept and demonstrate their proper use.
When you show a child an orderly environment, he will most likely feel encouraged to keep it that way. When it comes to fragile objects, it is better to show him how to handle them with care, rather than tell him “don’t touch!”. By inviting him to touch in an appropriate way will encourage him to explore the world around him.
Children love to be involved in the home (especially the kitchen), so invite him to help you cook and clean to keep him busy, engaged and mastering important skills to become independent.
5. Be ever ready to answer the call of the child who stands in need of you, and always listen and respond to the child who appeals to you.
No matter what age a person is, there is nothing worse than to feel ignored or given the cold shoulder. When a child asks for attention, it’s important that we give it to him. When children feel cared for and do not have to worry about being abandoned (timeouts and being sent to their room alone are considered abandonment) they are much more likely to show concern for and trust others.
6. Respect the child who makes a mistake and can then or later correct it herself, but stop firmly and immediately any misuse of the environment and any action which endangers the child, its own development or that of others.
Children are learning important skills, which can take some trial and error. So, if a child doesn’t get it right straight away, avoid stepping in to correct them. They will persist and practise over and over until they master it. However, if the child starts disrespecting the environment through frustration, stop him and explain why. Empathise with his pain and encourage him to talk about his feelings rather than punishing or isolating the child as this will only encourage him to bury his feelings rather than communicate.
7. Respect the child who takes a rest or watches others working or ponders over what she herself has done or will do. Neither call her nor force her to other forms of activity.
A child that is observing other people or his environment is also learning. He is not being lazy – he is most likely processing information, reflecting on something, or observing. Do not feel the need to constantly keep your child with activities. Some downtime is important, too!
8. Help those who are in search of activity and cannot find it.
There is a fine line that separates when inactivity is inner activity, and when a child who is in search of activity and unable to find it. The signs will look different from child to child, so it’s the adult’s responsibility to observe carefully and differentiate between the two.
9. Be untiring in repeating presentations to the child who refused them earlier, in helping the child to acquire what is not yet her own and to overcome imperfections. Do this by animating the environment, with care, with purposive restraint and silence, with mild words and loving presence. Make your ready presence felt to the child who searches and hide from the child who has found.
A child may need to be shown the right way to do something many times before he masters the skill. We should never grow tired or show our frustration from having to repeat it. The key here is to always be available but not intrusive.
10. Always treat the child with the best of good manners and offer her the best you have in yourself and at your disposal.
Children who are respected will learn to respect others. No parent, teacher or caregiver is perfect, but the best we can do is to always give our best, or as Montessori says, “the best you have in yourself”. This means to always give the best you have to give, but don’t feel guilty if you fall short. Simply keep striving to improve. This goes for both children and adults. It’s important for children to recognise mistakes, learn to apologise, and know that parents and grown-ups are not always perfect.
Ultimately, the Montessori philosophy aims to protect the child from negative influences, preserve the child’s natural curiosity, help him find his interest and protect his passion for learning so that he can contribute to and function optimally in society. These basic principles of Montessori can be applied in any situation or environment to teach children how they should behave while developing their individual personalities with love and respect.