3 Ways to Encourage Self-Regulation

My name is Vanessa and I work in a non-profit Public Charter Montessori school. Montessori is an educational theory in which children are allowed to learn by following their interests which in turn leads to them being naturally motivated to learn new things and practice skills until mastery. Learning is individualized so each child follows their own path to learn different skills, such as focus, memory, sensory acuity, counting, reading, writing, and operational math. All authentic Montessori classrooms have a mix of children with a 3 year age range.  Each classroom is overseen by a certified Guide, a role which is somewhat comparable to a lead or head teacher in a traditional school. I am an assistant in a Primary classroom which is for children who are 3 to 6 years old.


A few weeks ago our Guide Lily went on her maternity leave. She is the first guide to take maternity leave at our school so we have no protocol. For months our school administration tried to find a suitable maternity guide but they weren’t able to do so. The solution was to split the duties of the substitute guide amongst two people.

The first maternity substitute is Zoey, a trained Primary Guide who works at a local private Montessori program. Zoey is in our classroom only during the morning work cycle and her objective is to only give lessons to the children but mainly focus on working with the kindergarteners. The other maternity substitute who has joined our classroom is Mai. She has been a Morning Assistant in another classroom for a few years and will be starting her training to become a Guide this summer. Mai is with our classroom for the entire day and helps me to manage our children during the morning work cycle, provides lessons to our younger children, and handles all family communication.

Back in November when our previous Morning Assistant resigned and I transitioned into the role, the change was very sudden and dramatic. Many children became more playful and less motivated to work, it took about a month to get them back on track. This time we had more time to prepare ourselves and the children for another big change to our classroom. Before Mai joined our classroom she wanted Zoey, herself and I to work together to decide on a few goals for our classroom. One thing that we all agreed to focus on is helping the children increase their self-regulation.

Self-regulation is when children can direct their behavior and emotions towards achieving their goals without adult intervention. When a child takes the bathroom necklace and walks to the bathroom they are self-regulating because an adult did not need to tell them to go to the bathroom. When a child says to their friend ‘Stop talking to me because I’m trying to focus on my work’, they are self- regulating because an adult did not have to separate the children. If adults are constantly intervening to help children act appropriately, children may act out in defiance and lose confidence in their ability to make good decisions. The opportunity for children to develop a strong sense of self-regulation at a young age is what allows them to handle the great independence of a Montessori classroom.

Here are three ways Mai, Zoey, and I will encourage our students to self-regulate.

1. Sharing Workspaces

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We decided that it would be beneficial for our students to have the freedom to do independent work while sharing their workspace with someone else. Quite often I would find myself asking the children to return to their own workspaces. It was upsetting because I could see they were leaving their own work to visit their friends’ workspace and talk about their weekend or their plans for recess; conversations that I feel are necessary for children to hone their language and social skills. But now if a student would like to talk to another student, they can ask that person to work next to them so they can converse together while working. We have limited two children to share a workspace while doing independent work so the conversations can be quiet. About two-thirds of our workspaces can now be shared and the remaining workspaces are still for students who choose to work by themselves.

2. Serving Food

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After a child does a food prep work such as apple slicing, banana crimping, or clementine peeling, they are encouraged to walk around the classroom to serve the snack to their friends then eat what’s left. Originally after doing food prep work, they would take the food to the snack table. Children were only allowed to have a snack one time in the morning so if they were still hungry after their snack, they would often sneak food away from the snack table and occasionally from other people’s cubbies. But now if a child is hungry after having a snack at the snack table, they can make a choice to do a food prep work and eat the food they prepared.

3. 15 Minute Reset

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Starting next week, once the bell is rung to end the morning work cycle the children will begin to reset the room. Resetting a classroom is to make sure everything is organized on the shelves and in the right place, all of the aprons are properly folded, all mats are properly rolled and any dirty dishes or cloths are washed. Normally, once the morning work cycle ends I gather the children on the carpet and we read stories, sing songs, or play team building games and go out for recess. Then at the end of each day, I would spend about an hour resetting the entire classroom by myself. Now children will have to think ahead and choose to help care for the classroom so they can work in the future.

Self-regulation is what enables children to move independently in a classroom while the guide focuses on giving lessons. As we all help our children to become more independent, they will be able to make good choices by themselves and feel more confident in their decision-making abilities.

-Vanessa

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