Boundaries can sometimes have a negative connotation when it comes to children. We want our children to be
happy and sometimes hearing the word “no” or the word “stop” make children unhappy. However, these are
limits and limits are an essential part of our civilized world. Without limits there would be constant chaos. Imagine
if there were no traffic lights or speed limits. Driving would be frightening; we would never be able to
anticipate what other people were going to do. Not only would it be frightening but it would be unsafe. The
reason that we can have hundreds of cars on the road at a time is because there are rules (boundaries/limits)
about driving. This makes driving predictable and (relatively) safe for the majority of drivers. A similar concept
applies for children – boundaries, although not always desirable, are necessary and make children feel
safe. Not only do boundaries make life predictable for children, they foster self control too.
One school rule is that we walk when we are inside. Children love to run and seem to have endless amounts of
energy. However, walking indoors is safe and children need to use self control to, a) remember the rule and, b)
execute the expectation of always walking when they are indoors. In the classroom we use our work on mats—
small mats for tables and large mats for the floor. This gives children a concrete way to “see” another child’s
space. Johnny is using the knobbed cylinders right now and we know that, because he has them on his mat.
The other child is taught to walk around Johnny’s work and respect Johnny’s space. This boundary promotes
awareness and respect for others. The mat is not just for the other children though, it is also for the user. The
mats helps the child using the activity to keep his work in an organized fashion. This boundary promotes organization,
as well as order.
Another Montessori classroom rule is that children need to put away one activity before they choose another.
Some might think that this is an unreasonable expectation for young children—that they couldn’t possibly be
capable of such a high exception. However, everyday in Montessori classrooms, children as young as two
years old, are choosing activities from the shelves, using the activity and putting it away when they are done.
Some with reminders and some independently, but they are all doing it. ‘Why is this important?’, you may
wonder. It is important for several reasons, the first is, that the child must now go through a process: a beginning,
a middle and an end for every activity. Whether or not the child uses the activity completely or just for a
few seconds, each time a child takes out an activity, she or he completes a full cycle of activity. In this very fast
paced world where beginnings and endings are blurred, to the point that we have to medicate children to
“slow down and think”, this is very significant. From early on, we foster full cycles of activities. This develops
internal order as well as concentration.
Although children don’t always remember (or want) to abide by the boundaries right away, they do adapt to
them very quickly when the expectation is consistent. Before long children are following through without reminders.
When this happens you are witnessing something very significant— you are witnessing self control
and internal order. These are priceless characteristics that offer a foundation for lifetime learning.