Raising a responsible child can seem like a daunting task. It's not the kind of thing you can check off the to-do list, rather a life-long process with many ups and downs. Montessori teachers help children develop responsibility by giving them the freedom to make their own decisions while providing clear limits on what is and isn't okay. Children have to be given a chance to try and fail to learn how to make responsible choices.
Here are five ways Montessori teachers encourage responsibility that you can easily replicate at home.
1. Responsibility for self
Helping children learn to take responsibility for their physical bodies is a big focus of Montessori classrooms for small children. Empowering children to do simple things like wiping their noses and get dressed by themselves sends a powerful message that they are capable beings who can take responsibility for their own needs.
Montessori toddlers and young children take responsibility for meeting their basic needs through tasks like preparing food, choosing and putting on their own clothes with minimal support, and helping to clean and put a bandaid on scrapes.
To try this at home: Don't get overwhelmed or overcomplicate things; keep it simple. Choose one area where you want to start, perhaps preparing a snack, and set aside 15 minutes a day to support your child in doing it on their own.
You might start by showing them how to spread peanut butter on crackers. Each time they try, they will need less help. Soon they will be making their own snack, and likely, wanting to make a snack for you or a sibling too!
Taking ownership of simple self-care tasks can really help children feel a sense of responsibility for themselves, rather than automatically turning to you every time they need something.
2. Responsibility for time
Unlike a traditional school, where the teacher largely dictates how children spend their time, children take responsibility for their time management in Montessori classrooms. Within limits, children choose what to work on and for how long. For older children, there may be deadlines or more specific requirements for what they need to accomplish within a given week, but the children choose what to work on at any given time.
This teaches children how to take responsibility for how they spend their time, which is an excellent asset once they go to college or get their first job someday.
To try this at home: Take a step back from the role of entertaining your child. Look at your weekly routine and make sure they have at least a few large blocks of time with nothing scheduled, where your child is responsible for choosing how to spend their time.
Another way to encourage responsible time management is to assign your child a task, but not tell them when to do it. For example, you may tell them they need to clean their room before they can go to the park next weekend. Then let them figure out the best time to get the job done, and let them experience the natural consequence if they choose not to do it.
3. Responsibility for relationships
Children in Montessori classrooms are encouraged to handle relationships with their peers as independently as possible. Teachers work with children on skills such as asking another child to play, offering to serve someone a snack, asking for a turn, and expressing feelings to another person. These skills allow the children to handle many social situations on their own successfully.
The goal is to teach children that they themselves are responsible for their relationships with others.
To try this at home: Try to take a step back next time your child has a conflict with a friend or gets their feelings hurt. Be there for them, but don't rescue them.
This can be HARD. It's a natural instinct to want to make everything better for our child, to tell another child off for hurting their feelings or to whisk them away from a stressful situation. The thing is though, this does nothing to help them handle these conflicts when we're not there, and it teaches them that we are the ones responsible for managing his conflicts.
Instead, talk through the situation with your child, be available to listen to them vent, but let them take charge of his friendships.
4. Responsibility for things
Rather than using plastic items that are virtually impossible to destroy, Montessori classrooms use beautiful, sometimes fragile, materials and teach the children how to take care of them.
Children are responsible for holding things carefully with two hands. They are responsible for putting things away in the correct place so that pieces don't go missing.
If something does get lost or broken, it is not replaced right away. The message is that we treat the things we use with respect, or we won't have them to use anymore.
To try this at home: Experiment with giving them something fragile (but not too valuable!) This might be a delicate music box or real glass dishes. Show them how to handle the item carefully and try not to trail behind them giving constant reminders.
If they forget to be careful and it breaks, they will learn a valuable lesson about taking care of their things.
5. Responsibility for the greater community
There is a big emphasis in Montessori on what it means to be part of a community—both the classroom community and the broader global community. The children are responsible for things like taking care of plants and class pets, cleaning the classroom and keeping it tidy and brainstorming ideas to keep the classroom peaceful.
Many Montessori classrooms also talk about ways to be good members of society as a whole, such as ways to take care of the environment and ways to support needs in the community.
To try this at home: Have a family meeting and identify some things each member of the family can do to help the household run smoothly. Even young children can help with tasks like sweeping the floors after dinner or feeding a family pet. Acknowledge your child when you notice them remembering these responsibilities on their own.
You may also want to involve your child in some element of community service to teach him responsibility within the greater community.
They might enjoy making cards for children in the hospital or visiting an animal shelter. Try to find something that relates to your child's interests or experiences to make it more meaningful.
We all want to raise responsible children. To do so requires putting some trust in your child. Trust them to do the right thing. Trust them to figure it out on their own. Trust them to rise to the occasion.
Children will often meet our expectations, so it helps to set them high. Be there when they fall, but don't rescue them too soon.