How to Reach Joyful Obedience

Maria Montessori believed obedience develops naturally in the child’s character. The word “obey” is derived from the Latin word audire, which means “to hear.” Obedience begins with hearing a request and ends with an action in response. Humans learns skills in stages. We tend to move between the stages, repeating the activity, gaining new skills, until we can do it with no further instructions.

First Stage: We are introduced to a new activity and have assistance to complete the activity correctly.

Second Stage: We choose do an activity but do not always take the initiative to do it (needs reminders).

Third Stage: We know what we need to do and do it without asking.

Does this sound familiar? Or have these words ever come out of your mouth: “How many times do I have to remind you to…?” Sounds like Stage 2, doesn’t it? Children will move through these levels back and forth until they have internalized the rule, and it becomes a natural pattern of behavior for them.

Maria Montessori’s Levels of Obedience

First Stage of Obedience (Children under 3 years): 

Montessori believed that before children could learn obedience, they needed to be able to control their urges. As she stated, “If he cannot obey even his own will, he cannot obey the will of someone else.” At this stage, the child will be both obedient and disobedient to parent commands. For parents, this is the first time they hear, “No!” from their child. Parents can help support this stage of development by encouraging their child to be independent (walking by themselves instead of being carried, putting himself to sleep/selfsoothing, and using their words to express their needs are all examples).

Second Stage of Obedience (Over Three Years of Age):

Montessori believed that at this stage the child can always obey, because he is now in control of his body. He can now take directions by his own will or that of another. Children at this stage of development will be seen by adults in their world as being very compliant. The child is helpful and does not want to disappoint. Although at this stage many parents feel a sense of accomplishment, children will move back to stage one and up to stage two a few times. Parents who have heard these words, “I forgot how to tie my shoes,” know how frustrating this process can be. Be patient. They will move back to this stage and into stage three. The most important thing to remember is to encourage the child to keep moving forward in his development. Responses such as, “I believe in you. Try again,” will do wonders to keep development moving forward.

Third Stage of Obedience:

Joyful obedience is the term Montessori used to describe this stage. The child at this stage is obedient not because of external forces, but because he has developed a high level of self respect. He makes appropriate choices in the absence of adult presence. At this stage parents are encouraged to support relationship and observe how the child handles himself.

An example of the Three Stages of Obedience in a four-year-old:

First Stage:

A parent and child are at a park. It is time to leave. Child begins crying. Parent reiterates it is time to leave and a tantrum follows. Parent picks up the child to leave. (Child has not learned to self-regulate feelings. No explanations will work at this stage.)

Second Stage:

A parent and child are at a park. It is time to leave. Child begins crying. Parent reiterates it is time to leave and explains they will come back again soon. Child stops themselves from crying, and they go home.

Third Stage:

A parent and child are at the park. It is time to leave. Child says, “Okay. Can I carry the bag back to the car?” Encouraging this type of development may seem like a daunting task, but it is a very important one. Learning how to self-regulate and to become obedient to themselves is important to raising healthy, independent adults.

Obedience is seen as something which develops in the child in much the same way as other aspects of his character. At first it is dictated purely by the vital impulses, then it rises to the level of consciousness, and thereafter it goes on developing, stage by stage, till it comes under the control of the conscious will. – Maria Montessori

How Do Students Do After Montessori?

One of the questions we are most frequently asked when families are touring our school is, “How do the students do once they leave Montessori?” A recent research study by AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) reveals that Montessori students who transition to traditional settings score higher in Mathematics and Science than students with no Montessori background. For students who have attended a Montessori program for three to eleven years, significantly higher scores are noted. If you have further questions regarding our students’ performance, please reach out to us.

Praise and Intrinsic Motivation

All parents want their children to be independent, self-reliant, and have the opportunity to be creative. In an effort to support the child, parents often say “good job” for the simplest successes. However, praising interferes with natural learning and come become a form of control. Children learn their actions are celebrated and can begin to perform for adults versus interacting with them.

Here are a few findings about children who are over-praised:
• Praised children do not perform as well as intrinsically motivated children
• Praised children produce lower test results
• Praised children become dependent on others
• Praised children become less successful at tasks

Studies have shown that children’s motivation, creativity, social interactions, and overall cognitive functioning are negatively affected by extrinsic rewards and false praise. Children know when they deserve the praise or recognition for a job well done – they also understand when do not deserve it. Many times children will stop performing or begin acting out because they feel there is no standard they must reach.

Instead, encourage your child. Encouragement is powerful self-esteem boosting tool. Focus on:

Effort – “What a great effort you made today!”
Improvement – “Wow, you did five more sit-ups today.”

Contribution and Involvement – “Your team worked well together today. I saw you work together with Johnny on that play that scored.”
Confidence – “I can see how proud you are.”

As a parent, it is difficult to know the fine line between appropriate praise and encouragement. Instead of praise, find opportunities to intrinsically motivate your child. Be specific on what you are complimenting about to your child. For example, instead of saying “Great job on that picture!”, say “I really like how you took your time to color in the lines.” Instead of saying “Good work!”, say ”It looks like you really tried to use your best handwriting on this piece of work.”

So remember… we should encourage and display gratitude instead of praising the smallest tasks. Your children will thank you for it later in life!

For more information on this topic, please read “Five Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Good Job’” by Alfie Kohn, a leading author and speaker on education, parenting, and human behavior.

What’s In Store for Summer Camp at Foothills: Spanish

Looking for a relaxed and meaningful environment for your child to spend some of their hot days of summer? Let them immerse themselves in the cool space of Summer Camp at Foothills Montessori School, where learning and fun intersect. Give them the opportunity to sharpen academic skills in a relaxed and creative way!

To kick off the summer program, Spanish camp comes knocking giving your child the chance to be more fluid in conversational Spanish. Newcomers to the language, as well as fluent speakers, will benefit from the Montessori approach to learning Spanish by utilizing a range of Montessori materials to explore the grammar backbone of the language. A key component of learning a second language is to hear it spoken in context of conversations; your child will have this chance by the songs, videos and games that will be brought to the classroom. They will walk away with a more refined understanding of the language knowing how to express every day greetings, describe the weather, and translate numbers, colors and class room objects.

A second Spanish camp is offered to travel to various Spanish speaking countries in the world. Each day will introduce a different country and give your child the chance to feast their eyes, ears and taste buds on the wonderful artistic, historical and food cuisines of the countries studied. Guest speakers will bring in artifacts and share real life experiences about the country studied. The week will close out with a live Mariachi group from a local High School performing for the class.

Look for more highlights from our summer camp curriculum in upcoming posts!

Who is a Montessori Guide?

Today, we continue our exploration of the core philosophies of the Montessori classroom by looking at philosophies embodied in the Montessori guide.

It is the transformation of the adult that is the underlying theme of a Montessori teacher, where as a Montessorian is first and foremost an observer, exemplar and protector of the child’s right to learn. Parents likewise can adopt these philosophies in their approach at home, creating an environment consistent with the classroom.

Core Philosophies of A Montessorian

Be an Observer

To learn from the child, one must observe the child. Observation is an art that must be a highly developed skill in Montessorians. Observing a child is a learned art. The teacher needs to be able to anticipate the needs of a child and act on this need.

Be an Exemplar for the Child

The adult needs to “show” rather then “tell.” It is important for the Montessorian to carefully study their demeanor from which the children will derive behavioral clues. Teachers learn to move quietly, work carefully and give the child a chance to follow an example that is geared to the child’s capability and not to the adult’s expectations.

Be the Protector of the Child’s Right to Learn

A Montessorian recognizes that children learn at their own pace, with varied activities, which are both direct and indirect. If a child is to increase, the adult must decrease. The adult must have experienced a transformation in order for a child’s learning to take place.

For more information on this topic, see “What Makes a Montessorian?” by Nancy McCormick Rambusch, EdD (Montessori Life magazine, Summer 2013 Volume 25 No. 2).

We Speak Montessori

The following post is shared by Jessica Stellato, Lower Elementary Lead in the Galaxy Room at Montessori Academy at Sharon Springs in Cumming, Georgia. In this series, Jessica explores common Montessori classroom terminology.

Shortly after enrolling in a Montessori program, you will hear words like “work.” Someone not familiar with this lexicon may view the word “work” as having a negative connotation, but in the Montessori environment “work” means children learning through purposeful activity. To help parents better understand what’s being described in the classroom, we want to introduce to you a few common terms.

Analysis of Movement

Analysis of Movement is a technique by which Montessori teachers break down tasks into parts and demonstrate each step in isolation. The action becomes so deliberate and engaging that the child understands the sequence of steps. The opportunity for mastery is increased when the child is free to follow each step.


In the Montessori environment, Concentration is defined as deep engagement on a single task. As Maria Montessori stated, “The first six years of life are the most powerful time for developing concentration and attention.”

Control of Error

Montessori materials are designed so a child receives instant feedback as he works, allowing him to recognize, correct, and learn from his mistakes without adult assistance. Putting control of an activity in the child’s hands strengthens his self esteem, self-motivation, and the opportunity for learning learning. 

In this video of a student working with the trinomial cube, Analysis of Movement, Concentration, and Control of Error are all demonstrated. Analysis of Movement is seen as the child picks up each piece purposefully, coordinating his movements to exact the object’s position. Concentration abounds as he orders the pieces and visualizes the prisms becoming one. Control of Error is demonstrated as the child places the prisms together – the prisms will only create a cube if assembled correctly.

The most important part of the work process demonstrated in this video is the sense of satisfaction for a job well done. Montessori students enjoy work that tests their abilities.

Benefits of a Montessori Environment

How does the Montessori method provide the most optimal environment for the development of the child?

• Montessori teachers are trained to have a clear understanding of attachment, exploration, self-help skills, empowerment, pro-social skills, problem solving skills, self-esteem, and resiliency.

• The Montessori method individualizes learning through children’s interactions with the materials as they proceed at their own rates of mastery.

• Individualized instruction provides opportunities for development of many skills, such as physical coordination, perception, attention, memory, language, logical thinking, and imagination.

• The multi-aged Montessori classroom (children are with their classmates and teacher for a three year span) provides a continuity of care, fostering attachments and promoting trust.

• Children learn virtue, empathy and kindness through social and emotional guidance during group meetings and through grace and courtesy lessons.

• Montessori materials are designed to foster concentration, coordination, independence, order, and a respect for all living things.

• Children in a Montessori environment are active learners and are productively engaged throughout their work time.

• Montessori lessons are designed to make the most of the critical early years for learning linguistically, cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically.

Nurturing a Lifelong Learner

Lifelong learning is jargon that has been floating around the educational world in recent years. But what exactly does a lifelong learner look like? The Montessori method provides the framework of the ideal habits of learning – habits that will sustain students the rest of their lives. Surprisingly, the phrase “lifelong learning” has roots not in the educational world, but as jargon from the 1970’s that was popularized in European intergovernmental agencies in the 1990’s. Europe was seeking to change educational policies to create a stronger global economy. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, governments around the world adopted this platform to make education a priority.

So what does a “lifelong learner” look like in a Montessori environment? We believe that constant self-improvement and pursuit of passions is a natural human tendency that begins at birth. If fostered, this urge never goes away. We witness the child who engages in play outside with his friends, peace conversations between two students with opposing views, and the sense of confidence as the students share their research. We believe parents are the best role models for their children. To encourage the development of this quality in your child, it is important to demonstrate what lifelong learning looks like.

Lifelong learners:

Challenge Their Minds
Regularly reading, writing, and completing puzzles keeps the mind engaged
Exercise Their Bodies

Habits of fitness lead to positive self-image, and building core strength increases ability to focus and concentrate.
Stay Socially Connected

Interacting with family, friends, or volunteer improves communication skills and ability to work together with others
Stay In School
Take classes in areas you love (sewing class, programming class, yoga)
Are Confident

Those who can control their feelings, control their choices
Manage Stress
Stay as calm and positive as possible in all situations

Teaching Kids to Recognize and Label Their Emotions

Has your child ever been upset but didn’t have the vocabulary to describe his feelings? Want to help your children communicate with each other more clearly? This tutorial shows how you and your children can create a great “Emotions Book” together that will help your children recognize and label their emotions for better communication.

Keep the Learning Alive this Summer!

With the final stretch of our 2013-2014 school year coming into view, it is time to consider summer vacation and the ensuing time available during those delicious days of leisure. Summer is a time for children to relax, regroup and decompress; a time for not having to be somewhere at a specific time and to allow the arc of the sun to dictate the activities of the day. It is truly a time for children to release from the structure of the school day and yet, soon into the summer break, children will yearn for stimulation of thought and the opportunity for nurturing their developing academic skills.
Montessori students in particular are groomed to be curious and to follow questions with a scientist’s rigor and to explore their world from a holistic point of view. We strive during the school year to teach the tools necessary to analyze and categorize information and facts, and to instill in our students the drive to go deeper into a subject to explore further. It is on this note that we encourage you to help your child maintain their math and reading skills during the summer months.

Research confirms that most students experience “summer learning loss” (Graham, 2001) in their math and reading skills. “Summertime loss was more pronounced for math overall than for reading overall. Cognitive psychology suggests that, without practice, children are most susceptible to forgetting facts and procedural math skills.” (Cooper and Sheller, 1987) However, reading on a daily basis is also recommended, whether you are reading to a primary student, or your child is reading aloud to you or a teacher. Reading is a skill that is easy to nurture. In addition, engage your child in conversations about subject matters that interest them. It is then easy to ask “math questions” and/or logical thinking questions simply by exploring a subject that calls to them.

Enrolling your child in a summer school program can help mitigate the “summer slide”, especially if the program offers creative, thought provoking themes. FMS offers a full array of summer school options and we encourage you to consider these options for your child. Most importantly, enjoy the extra time with your child and know that a lot of growth is taking place inside of them, even in the quietest moments.