One of the cornerstones of the Montessori philosophy is Independence and Freedom—but the environment is not a free for all. There are limits in the environment just as there are in real life.

A child will develop independence and maturity naturally when allowed to make developmentally appropriate choices, including choices that lead to negative consequences. We must allow freedom within limits but never limitless freedom, and the limits must be very clear at all times as well as consistent across environments (both at school and at home).

When offering choices for younger children we always begin with two options. For example, by offering the child two clothing options, the child can play a part in what he would like to wear each day. This can also be done with food and materials/toys. Too many choices will overwhelm the child and will most likely result in a battle between parent and child.

Options presented must be realistic, and achievable for both the adult and child. The adult must also give the child knowledge of their choices and of consequences before they happen. Allow the child to feel the natural choices of his consequences. For example, you might say, “Dessert is for after dinner. If you do not eat dinner, you may not have dessert” instead of “Eat your dinner or never eat dessert again.”

For the youngest of children, collaboration is key in teaching responsibility. “Now you have to clean up your Legos—do you want me to sit with you while you clean up or should I hold the bucket? Do you want to put away the blue Legos or the yellow Legos first?”

The adult should assist the child to gradually assume responsibility that corresponds to his choices, for example, tracking mud on the floor with dirty shoes and having to clean it up. Next time the child should be expected to take off her shoes. Cleaning is a natural consequence of dirty shoes, as opposed to an artificial punishment unrelated to the causal action.

“Freedom then, does not consist in doing what one pleases and what circumstances invite you, but in being able to do in a direct way what is good for your development according to the laws of human existence.” (Dr. Silvia Dubovoy, “Freedom and Limits Lecture”, A. to I. Summer Lectures, San Diego, 2010.)