6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Montessori Theory, Theory and Practice

Craving Freedom and Needing Structure

Amidst all the color-coded hour-by-hour homeschool schedules flooding social media, I want to offer a different take on how to help your child organize their day if you have a child who paradoxically craves freedom and needs structure.

I created for my eight-year-old twice-exceptional second-grader a pie graph showing the amount of time (out of a 24-hour day) he can spend exploring/reading/playing/learning what he’s passionate about, vs. the amount of time I would like him to focus on practicing and developing specific academic skills (writing, math, grammar, spelling).


Need For Structure

The structure comes in the form of a weekly learning journal that shows him the concepts we’ll be working on.  We choose the topics together, based on what we’ve covered the prior week. The order in which we visit the subjects is up to him.  Together we decided that this type of work was best done immediately after lunch, when he’s already downstairs at the kitchen table and isn’t engaged in creative projects or silent reading.  However, he gets to choose daily whether he completes his academic practice in one sitting or takes 15-minute breaks between subjects.  Breaks can include making popcorn, throwing the ball outside, walking the dog, etc.


Need For Freedom

The freedom comes in the form of a prepared environment, free of screens or other electronics (including no audiobooks Monday to Friday).  He has a big selection of books (fiction and non-fiction at all reading levels) and spends hours a day reading.  He has lots of LEGOs and spends many hours building crazy contraptions.  He can whittle, draw, do experiments, ride his bike, play Hot Wheels, explore the neighborhood, and cook.  We do daily read-alouds in Spanish and English, read a bit of poetry a couple of times a week, listen to beautiful music in the car, and he knows I’m available to have conversations about random questions that pop into his mind.  (Before quarantine, we also spent time in museums, at a STEM maker-lab, with our Montessori learning community, and enjoying nature with friends).

Freedom and responsibility are the yin and yang of the elementary years; they’re the rhythm of the delicate and ever-evolving dance between parent and child.

“The emphasis on freedom is for the development of individuality. The emphasis on discipline is for the benefit of the individual and of society.” – Maria Montessori



Prepared Environment

During the first few years of life, the child’s environment has to be constantly modified to support his changing needs.  The first twelve months weren’t such a challenge: mobiles gave way to hanging rings, then a few toys at ground level to encourage rolling over, followed by rolling objects to encourage crawling.  A bar offered opportunities to pull up and cruise, and a push cart provided the necessary stability to encourage walking.

Now Zach is just shy of 14 months old, walking steadily, and not the least bit interested in toys.  His one goal in life these days is to imitate EVERYTHING we do.  He wants to brush his hair and teeth, pour out  his potty, hold his fork, use a dustpan and brush, toss veggies in the soup pot, dig in the dirt… If we do it, he wants to do it, too.  He is being driven to become a human being “of his place and time”; his focus has narrowed from “I want to do what others in my species can do” to “I want to do what others in my social group can do”.  His hands are constantly at work, exploring, discovering, comparing.

It’s becoming more challenging to meet his needs, simply because he wants to participate in every facet of our lives!  The areas I’m focusing on right now are:

  • Care of self: setting up a small table and mirror where he can brush his hair and make sure his face is clean;
  • Food preparation: giving him opportunities to scrub vegetables, peel fruit, and transfer chopped veggies into a pot;
  • Gardening: establishing an outdoor environment for independent work with water, soil, and seeds.

In the next few weeks I’ll post pictures of our progress.  If you have any experiences to share with other readers and me, please add them to the comments!