Least Amount of Adult Involvement

“We must…prepare an environment in which we do as little as possible to exhaust the child with our surveillance and instruction.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Child in the Family, p.27


Montessori teaching always seeks to limit adult involvement with children as much as possible. The IMS Montessori technology therefore has a protocol least amount of adult involvement to help guide you in following this idea in practice. In general, the least possible involvement with children is as a quiet spectator, watching the children from a stationary position outside their activity area.

Quiet Spectator

"…it is the environment itself which helps to make the children continuously better…the teacher…can remain a quiet spectator of all the little mistakes that occur around her.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from The Child, p.12-13


Children have their own inner guidance for perfect self-directed development. As a quiet spectator of this normal development, your involvement is then usually no more than patient waiting and occasional eye contact to support children in their free, independent activity. In this position, you can make the prudent observations necessary to best determine what interactions to carry out from one moment to the next.

Prudent Observations

"The teacher…must be able to make prudent observations, to assist a child by going up to, or withdrawing from him, and by speaking or keeping silent in accordance with his needs.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Discovery of the Child, p.150


Before children normalize, you must certainly observe and analyze what to do to resolve the various misbehavior scenarios that emerge. Based on these prudent observations, you then decide on a specific course that will best control the environment in that situation. When you do intervene, it will more likely be simple and central to the needs of the total situation.

Simple and Central

“…an unpracticed teacher…must not waste time on the many confused actions of the children but focus entirely on the indications they give of fundamental requirements…She must always aim at something simple and central…”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Absorbent Mind, p.250

New teachers especially can become over-involved with children due to fear and confusion about their disorderly behavior. Following the least amount protocol, you must restrain this type of reactive involvement,focusing instead on what is most simple and central at that particular time. You will then usually do only what is necessary, consistent with the most important protocol well-being of the total environment.

What is Necessary

"The adult must give and do what is necessary for the child to act for himself…if he does less than is necessary, the child cannot act meaningfully, and if he does more than is necessary, he imposes himself upon the child, extinguishing his creative impulses.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Child in the Family, p.72

The right amount of involvement with children depends largely on the priority level of the particular scenario in question. In low level fantasy situations, what is necessary may be nothing more than eye contact and patient waiting. In fact, some fantasy activity will simply resolve itself without any direct adult involvement at all. However, you must still be prepared to interact more actively with children when their uncontrolled movements threaten physical harm to others or materials.

Uncontrolled Movements

"A teacher of experience…, before she draws aside to leave the children free,…watches and directs them for some time, … eliminating their uncontrolled movements…”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Absorbent Mind, p.245

In beginning conditions, new children usually require considerable direct adult involvement. You may then need to help them resolve their uncontrolled movements, using such heavy polishing techniques as distraction, cooperative touching and questioning. In high-priority misbehavior scenarios, you may even need to interact quite energetically and severely at times.

Energetic and Severe

"The teacher can address the pupil energetically and severely…Our method certainly does not encourage respect for defects or superficiality…We must help the child to liberate himself from his defects…”

Dr. Maria Montessori
from Child in the Family, p.66-67

The least amount protocol certainly does not restrict you from using heavy polishing interactions to prevent or control dangerous violent behavior. Sometimes, even your most energetic and severe actions may be barely enough to achieve a suitable resolution. However, be careful to distinguish between physical violence that requires your heavy involvement, and less physical social conflict situations that you must leave alone.

Social Conflict

"Even if two children want the same material, they should be left to settle the problem for themselves unless they call for the teacher’s aid.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Secret of Childhood, p.110

Children develop important social skills by freely interacting with each other; even though at times it can be quite vigorous and noisy. Exaggerating the physical danger in these social conflict situations, many teachers unnecessarily interrupt this normal social activity. With materials, you can also violate the least amount protocol by not withdrawing yourself soon enough after giving some initial lesson presentation.

Withdrawing Yourself

"A teacher, after she has shown the sensorial stimuli to the children and taught them their use, should seek to withdraw herself from the environment.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Ed. for a New World, p.88

When showing how to use a piece of work, you must turn it over to the child as soon as possible, using a safe word phrase such as “Would you like to do the next one?” The child is then free to experiment with the materials, since you are now withdrawing yourself to a stationary position at some distance away. Distancing yourself from children also respects the protocol enhance independence, directing you to avoid the common tendency towards mutual dependency that comes with too much busy teaching.

Busy Teaching

"While the teacher is busy with one child, the others misbehave.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Absorbent Mind, p. 246

After beginning conditions, you are no longer so involved in teaching the basic order of the environment. Then, you must approach children only if there is a “green light” basis of interest for a specific piece of work. Respecting the least amount protocol, you avoid busy teaching, allowing more time for priority needs elsewhere in the environment. Being less busy with children also helps remove the hypnotic influence of your presence in the environment.

Hypnotic Influence

"Even though child and adult seem to have a deep understanding and affection for one another, they are ensnared in the same net…an adult with his useless assistance and hypnotic influence has substituted himself for a child and impeded his psychic growth.”

Dr. Maria Montessori
from To Ed. the Hum. Potential, p. 8

Young children are especially keen to watch and imitate the language and behavior of adults. Limiting your involvement therefore helps reduce this hypnotic influence on children. Becoming more inactive and quiet, you are also following the well-known law of minimum effort.

Minimum Effort

"…the law of minimum effort…to attain the maximum productivity with the least expenditure of energy. This is a law of utmost importance.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
from Secret of Childhood, p.191

Supervising children in a group situation gives you many choices for involvement with them. The basic law of minimum effort teaches you to use the least amount of involvement possible to achieve the greatest value for all. This law is well reflected by the protocol least amount of adult involvement, which always guides you to interact with children in the most effective way possible for their true normal development.