Saturday, August 28

Montessori's 3 Levels of Obedience

Lately, I have been reflecting on the idea of obedience and I thought it might be helpful for me to review, and for those unfamiliar to learn, about Montessori's 3 levels of obedience. My thoughts about this all started a week ago when I passed a police car sitting on the side of the road waiting to pull over a speeding car. As I passed the police car, I started to think about my level of obedience in following the speed limit. Do I follow the speed limit out of fear of paying a fine, or because it is the law, or because it is the safe and right thing to do? If there were no tickets for speeding would I still obey the law- some of the time, most of the time or always? What motivates obedience in adults as well as children? For some it seems takes a external force, like a speeding ticket, while for others a higher level of obedience is achieved possessing an internal desire to do right. This past year, I have also found myself thinking about obedience and expectations with my two year old (soon to be 3) daughter. I find it to be a tough age in this respect- they appear so capable and yet they have not reached full capability of obedience. Knowing and reviewing the 3 levels of obedience has helped me become a little more patient and realistic in my expectations of obedience and my children. So here they are:



Montessori's 3 levels of Obedience:

Level One (First Stage of Development- I like the term "stage of development" because it is important to remember obedience is a developmental process which is learned through practice with time and built upon the previous stages)

"So what we call the first level of obedience is that in which the child can obey, but not always. It is a period in which obedience and disobedience seem to be combined."( The Absorbent Mind p. 237)

In the first level of obedience, generally a child under three, the child truly is unable to obey unless the requests happens to correspond with what they want to do. At this level, obedience is coming from an outside force not from within the child. At this stage the child will sometimes obey and sometimes will not.

Montessori writes: "Even after 3 , the little child, must have developed certain qualities before he is able to obey. He cannot, all of a sudden, act in conformity with another person's will, nor can he grasp, from one day to the next, the reason for doing what we require of him." (The Absorbent Mind 258)

"How often a beginner in music plays a piece beautifully the first time, but if asked to repeat it the next day he fails miserably. It is not that the will is absent, but that the skill and sureness of the accomplished artist have not yet been formed." (The Absorbent Mind, 260)

Level Two
(Second Stage of Development)

"The second level is when the child can always obey, or rather, when there are no longer any obstacles deriving from his lack of control. His powers are now consolidated and can be directed not only by his own will, but by the will of another." (The Absorbent Mind, 260)

At the second level, a child is blindly obeying without thought or question still the result of an outside source not from within. The child can understand another persons wishes and express it in his own behavior. Many times an adult will confuse this for the highest level of obedience but since the child has not yet discovered joy in obedience it is not.

Level Three (Third Stage of Development)

"He responds promptly and with enthusiasm and as he perfects himself in the exercise, he finds happiness in being able to obey. (The Discovery of the Child, 317)


The highest level of obedience. At this level the child has internalized obedience. Montessori calls it "Joyful Obedience" because when the child is asked and when the child can see value in the request the child carries out the request. This highest level of obedience allows the child to make appropriate behavioral choices even when an adult is not present. At this point the child has developed a degree of self respect which enables him to respect the rights of others and their needs, and his own self.

4 comments:

No Ordinary Me said...

What a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing this.

Annicles said...

I found this fascinating to watch in the classroom, having learnt it in theory.

I have found that, like all developmental theories, it holds true most of the time, BUT only when a child has the opportunity to develop completely naturally and with the best practice and support in place from his/her adults. As this never happens in real life I think it is fair to say that no child develops like this in their first six years. It is not a forward moving continuum.

The same child may be in the third level at school, where he feels safe and knows the boundries, but in the second or even the first at home, if home is less predictable.

Another child may have been happily sitting in the third level for some months but then something happens and he slips back. Sometimes, it is easy to know what it is - a accident, divorce. new baby etc. Sometimes it is harder to see from the outside. All the teacher knows is that something has changed for the child and he is unable to comply.

Your analagy of the speeding tickets is good. If a person believes that the speed limit is reasonable for everyones safety then they are more likely to compley. When they feel that the authorities are imposing speeds that are unreasonably slow on a safe road they are less likey to comply. If we as adults feel disrespected or belittled by a rule, how much more must a child who has not the experience to be able to see the whole picture.

Counting Coconuts said...

Wonderful post, thank you for sharing! This is timely as I am learning to understand my three year old.

Amy said...

Thanks for the comments! Annicles- I've never thought about from that view, it certainly adds another dimension to it. Sometimes I feel there are a lot of adults out there who have never experienced joy from obedience. I think Montessori provides a helpful overview and somewhat simplified version, as you said, there is so much to it.