Freedom to Explore Big Ideas

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Have you ever been challenged by children's big ideas? How do we go about handling their big thoughts, emotions, and ideas? How do we meet the children where they are at, regardless of whether this makes us uncomfortable?

The greatest help you can give your children is the freedom to go about their own work in their own way, for in this matter your child knows better than you.

(Montessori, M. Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents 2017:48, Kindle Edition)

Freedom in the Montessori environment is one of those concepts which is often misunderstood. Montessori believed that the child is only really free when they are free to find their own path. Our role as a teacher, is ‘merely’ to provide the means with which to achieve freedom: a prepared environment with materials and activities that meet the needs of the child in which the child is free to choose. Freedom, particularly in education, is a most complex dance between adult and child, and one which requires constant self-reflection on the part of the adult in order to avoid over-powering the child.

In this blog post, Barbara Isaacs, President of Montessori Europe, writes that “Behind all ‘big ideas’ lies children’s curiosity. It is one of the characteristics of childhood, and dare I say it, of all humans; yet keeping the flame of curiosity burning can be hard when you are a teacher burdened with curriculum requirements and assessments.” Quoting Peter Moorhouse, she writes that “Children learn most deeply when they are following their natural curiosity – as it places them at the centre of their learning. Initial interest and curiosity lead to inquiry, their intellectual curiosity developing the cognitive state in which they are open to exploring ideas.”

If he is allowed to use his spontaneous activity in a tranquil environment without interference or unasked for help, he is indeed engaged in a most important work: he is building the man he will one day be.

(idem, 69)

Additional Resources

Teacher Tom, Curiosity and Exploration
Caroline Sharp, Developing Young Children’s Curiosity
Teresa Grainger, Anna Craft & Pamela Burnard, Examining Possibility Thinking in Action in Early Years Settings
National Strategies, Finding and Exploring Young Children’s Fascinations