Monday, September 23, 2019

Montessori Environment: Redirecting Versus Distracting

Montessori Environment - Hill Point Montessori

Montessori pre-school and elementary school classrooms are carefully prepared to be in sync with the students’ needs and interests, making it a unique space that children can explore as they choose. However, no matter how child-centered a classroom is, there are still bound to be behaviors that challenge or disrupt the space and become an obstacle to all students’ learning. When students exhibit these behaviors, like interrupting the teacher’s presentation or distracting other students during work time, it is the Montessori teacher’s job to address the behavior. Here is a look at two strategies that may also be familiar to any parent who has needed to address the behavior of their young child.


Distracting is a strategy that diverts a child’s attention and behavior from the challenging behavior to something that is unrelated but appropriate. For example, when a child begins using their toy hammer not on their pegboard, but on the family cat, a parent may distract the child by inviting them to help bake cookies. The cat can come out of hiding and now the child is engaged in another activity. Distracting is an effective strategy that often remedies the immediate situation but also has some shortcomings. In this situation, the child has been distracted with an acceptable, unrelated activity, but may repeat their behavior when they return to finish their pegboard activity.


As a strategy, redirecting differs from distracting primarily in the approach. Both strategies want to shift the child’s attention and behaviors to a more appropriate activity, but redirecting also works to acknowledge and address the motivation or intent behind the challenging behavior. To use the previous example, the child’s parent might recognize that their child is looking to explore their gross motor skills in different applications, experimenting to learn what hammering is like on different objects and surfaces. If the parent were to employ redirection, they might articulate the intent they are observing, set limitations, and offer alternatives: “I noticed that you want to try your hammer on new things. You may not use it on the cat or other people because it hurts them, but you may use it on this pot and this pillow.” Here, the child now has new, acceptable ways to explore their interest and understands why their previous choices were not okay, both of which offer the child context for future choices.

A Learning Process for All

In practice in Montessori elementary school classrooms, both these strategies can offer effective results and help teachers to restore the calm and order of the classroom. However, redirection in many ways can offer a deeper learning experience not only for the students interrupted by a challenging behavior but also for the student exhibiting the challenging behavior. While it takes practice to skillfully use redirection in every situation, as any Montessori teacher will tell you, the outcome is worth the effort.