Prosocial behaviour

July 26, 2018 Published by ,

Prosocial behaviour is well-known as a characteristic of Montessori classrooms. Prosocial behaviour is “voluntary behaviour intended to benefit another person” (Eisenberg, Fabes & Spinrad, 2006, cited in Long 2017:3). The Montessori method emphasises care of self, care of the (classroom and wider) environment, and care of others. Many specific lessons, particularly in Children’s House, are aimed at developing children’s practical skills in these areas. Encouraging cooperative behaviour, rather than competition, provides opportunities for children to demonstrate prosocial behaviour.

Some of the recent examples that I have observed in our classrooms are:

  • A Children’s House child helping a younger friend to zip his coat
  • An Elementary child spontaneously opening the door for a teacher with a heavy load
  • An Infant Community child comforting a friend who was upset
  • A Children’s House child offering to share her seat
  • An Elementary child checking that everyone had filled his or her water bottle

Teachers establish situations in which prosocial behaviours are possible, most notably in our multi-age classrooms – the benefit is greatest for the older children in each class (Urberg & Kaplan, 1986 cited in Long, 2017: 22).. These children are expected to “take responsibility for making decisions and choices for themselves while considering the well-being of their peers” (Parsai, 2013: 30). These explicit expectations are important as teachers and parents have the largest effect on the development of prosocial behaviours. However, it is important to note that this type of spontaneous interaction is adversely affected by rewards. Alfie Kohn’s research showed that children performed prosocial acts because “the other child had needed help” rather than to benefit or to please adults (1991: online).

In addition to creating strong classroom communities, prosocial behaviour can also benefit the whole school – for example, when children are involved in gardening projects that everyone can enjoy. Prosocial behaviours have long-lasting effects, such as helping children become “more able to regulate their emotions and negotiate social situations” (Nissen & Hawkins, 2010 cited in Malley 2017: online). Each time that children interact together in a positive and helpful way helps to strengthen relationships across the school.

You can encourage your child to develop prosocial behaviour in the following ways:

  • Send them to a Montessori school! (known as a system that emphasises character education);
  • Model prosocial and altruistic behaviour;
  • Identify prosocial behaviour (being careful not to over-praise);
  • Provide opportunities for and encourage cooperative play;
  • Read books that include characters behaving in caring and empathic ways.

I look forward to seeing many further examples of our children demonstrating respect and care for one another and our school.

Dr Irene Pollok for Edinburgh Montessori Arts School, May 2018

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This post was written by Emma