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Lockdown Day 95 – Ground rules

Activities of Everyday Living

Yesterday’s post explored the concepts of ‘Structure and Order’ and ‘Freedom’ as part of the Montessori favourable environment. As discussed, one of the most frequent assumptions about the Montessori method is that there are no rules and that the children are allowed to do exactly as they please.

This misconception has been around for over one hundred years! In the early days of the first Montessori school in Rome, a visitor to the school was recorded asking a child whether it was nice to be in a place where children were able to do whatever they liked. The child responded: “I don’t know about that, but I do know that we like what we do!”

The bottom line is that humans need structure in order to be able to orientate themselves in the world in which they live, and in doing so, to live together cohesively.

Consider what happens in our lives every day. There is order in our household routines: we have a wake-up time, a breakfast/lunch and dinner time, a working time, and a resting time. Outside of our homes, we have many structures that must be adhered to: there are rules to keep us safe on the road, rules that govern meetings, rules that inform our dress code. The list of rules in our human lives is endless!

Our children come into the world ‘unfinished’. They take approximately 3 years to ‘adapt’ to the society and culture that they are born into. This requires them to take in the rules and conventions that govern their particular culture and their society as a whole.

What is the value of having such rules?

That is simple. Rules create consistency. Consistency allows for predictability. And when we can predict that something is going to happen, and we can rely on it happening, we gain a sense of security.


Imagine being a baby born into this world. From the snuggly order of life inside the womb, there is an onslaught of unknowns coming at the baby through all the senses. The baby needs to make sense of all of this to be able to become a functioning part of it all.

Ground rules help to create this security.

From the time the baby is born, consistent routines need to be created. These will in the early months revolve around feeding, bathing, nappy changing and sleeping.

As the child gets older, s/he will need to learn to be part of the household’s daily routines. It is important that these are consistent. For example, consider your evening routine: dinner, bath-time, story, bed. If this routine is consistent and happens at the same time every day, the child will learn to anticipate what is going to occur next and develops a sense of security about her/his world. When the anticipated events do not happen at the time, or in the order that the child anticipates, this, in turn, creates a sense of insecurity and mistrust that will likely show in the child as misbehaviour.

Young children are also very egocentric. Their ‘job’ in the first few years of life is to develop themselves from being what Montessori termed as ‘useless, unintelligent and unsympathetic’ at birth to ‘useful, intelligent and sympathetic’ by the time by they are 6 years old! This is a huge task!

For the first three years, the child is mainly focussed on learning to control her/his movements, become mobile, learning to control her/his vocals, absorbing a language and learning to communicate. During this time, the child needs secure and consistent routines and structures. External discipline (i.e. Ground Rules that relate to living with other people and their needs) can only occur AFTER the child has developed a modicum of control over her/himself.

Whether you are reading this post as a parent or a teacher consider the importance and value of teaching your 3-6-year-old child to adapt to the discipline conventions of their home, school and society. This will be the foundation, not only of the child’s integration into this society but also in giving them a secure base from which to explore.


Whether in a home or a school, ground rules do not need to be long and laborious. They do not need to be written and displayed on a wall (remember that the children mostly cannot read them yet!). They do not need to come with rewards and punishments.

Ground rules need to be SIMPLE.

Ground rules need to be POSITIVE.

More than anything, ground rules need to be CONSISTENT.

* Be kind and gentle to all things and all beings at all times *

This is the best overarching ground rule as it applies to everything that we all do, to ourselves, to each other, and to anything that we come into contact with. The only conversation we need to have with the child who has ‘transgressed’ is: “Do you think that (your action) was kind and gentle?” Make this into a discussion, not a judgement. The child needs to understand why the action was not socially appropriate in order to be able to make a better decision the next time.

* We walk indoors *
* We speak quietly *

These consistent positive statements have far more effect than asking children ‘not to run’, or ‘not to shout’.


Remember that most of all – children will DO what YOU do… not what you say! You are the walking, talking role model for the child.

If you wish your child to be polite and speak quietly, then this is what you need to model!


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