“Now the attention which one pays to things is not passive, but they correspond to an activity and an inner meaning. We do not take the world as it is, but as we are. It is not the picture of the world that is in us, (rather) it is our own picture. It is not the world that is in us, but it is what we have chosen” – Maria Montessori, The California Lectures
A lot is usually spoken about freedom in Montessori environments but less is understood about choice. What is choice and how do we learn to choose wisely?
We choose based on our past experiences. Our experiences offer us the knowledge of what is right to choose and what is not. We can only give children opportunities to experience. We cannot go through the experience on their behalf.
In Montessori schools, these experiences are offered in terms of presentations. A child can work on any material that has been shown to them at least once. That’s the opportunity of experience. There is no force to experience it but an invitation to do so; and almost always, a child will grab such an opportunity. Now the child has a repertoire of experiences to choose from and has to pick the one he will do.
This ability to choose is not something that is just inbuilt in the child but develops slowly through deliberate work and experiencing the consequences of such work. In the flower arrangement activity, one child might choose the biggest and brightest coloured flower; while another might choose the smallest and dullest ones, maybe hoping that the smallest buds will bloom. The choices are made by the individual child and will vary for each child. How are we to say then that each child will learn the same thing from the same material? It is the choices that make us who we are.
We must have the opportunity and freedom to make our choices. Then no one else will be responsible for our happiness but ourselves.
Anjum is one of the founders of Lodestar Montessori School. She wishes that everyone discovers Montessori the way she did. She lives in Singapore with her husband and son.