Notes From the Work of Maria Montessori
Generally, these are direct quotes from the above books by Maria Montessori
Note to SPH - check for ??'s
|Introduction and Summary
In 1997 I visited my first Montessori school, or at least it was a school which called itself a Montessori school. Later I learned that anyone can use the name Montessori because there are no legal restrictions against doing so. I will say more about this later.
In retrospect this particular school was fairly representative of the Montessori model. So what I saw there gave me my first glimpse of what a pre-school could be like. If you know anything about Montessori schools or if you have ever been to one you know that the first thing which you notice is how the children are thoroughly engaged in their own learning activities in different sections of the room with no teacher standing in the front of the classroom instructing everyone to do the same thing at the same time. Nor is she forcing the children to do something entirely unnatural to them at that age: sit quietly and still, perhaps quite bored by a lesson they have no interest in. (1)
As Maria Montessori realized, the reason children become bored with something and uninterested in it is because it does not address their natural needs at that stage in their development.
This is one of the many insightful and somewhat radical ideas which came from Maria Montessori. As a result of visiting that one school, I picked up one, then two, then three books on the Montessori method from my local library. I became intrigued, inspired and affirmed by what I read. I shared the books with a good friend of mine who was just then trying to decide on a new career path. She also became interested in the Montessori method and in fact received Montessori training and is now a Montessori teacher.
My friend, who I will call Jessica, and I even considered opening a Montessori school, but I will say more about that later as well.
Right now I want to give a quick overview of the central principles of the Montessori method. I am afraid these often get lost somehow when it comes to actually running a Montessori school.
Perhaps the most central theme which ties together all of the Montessori theories is her respect for and even reverence for nature. Her educational philosophy incorporates nature in these three main ways:
Montessori also believed children have a natural need to learn, so basically all the teacher has to do is create an environment which supports and encourages this learning and not weaken, damage or kill their natural desire to learn.
As I see it, teachers often make both their own lives and those of the children more diifficult by trying to *teach.*. By trying to teach they also rob children of the joy of self-discovery. I once met a very wise man while travelling in Quebec who worked with children. He told me "There is nothing more cruel than to rob someone of the joy of discovery."
Not only is it a joy to discover something for oneself, but it is a confidence and self-esteem builder. How proud the child is who learns to tie his own shoes, for example. And likewise how sad it is that pride is listed as one of the "7 deadly sins."
1. I use "she" since the vast majority of preschool teachers are female.
|From Childhood to
Montessori says she wants these two things for the children:
(page 3) In the second period of their development the child needs wider boundaries for his social experience.
It is therefore necessary that children have first-hand experience in buying objects themselves and that they come to realize what they can buy with a unit of the money of their country.
(page 4) Money must always remain a means only.
Children need to establish social relationships in a larger society.
MM says this of a child's "misbehavior":
"When the child is placed in certain conditions that favour him, he manifests an extraordinary activity. His intelligence surprises us because all its powers work together, as is normal for man."
(page 5) As is the web, so is the mind of the child constructed according to an exact plan. The abstract construction enables him to grasp what happens in his field, which was out of his range heretofore.
Depending on whether the child lives in simple civilization or in a complicated world, his web will be more or less large and will enable him to attain more or fewer objectives.
To consider the school as the place where instruction is given is one point of view. But to consider the school as a preparation for life is another. In the latter case the school must satisfy all the needs of life.
An education that suppresses the true nature of the child is an education that leads to the development to anomalies.
MM likes to take children into nature and says:
Scouting, has therefore always interested us.
(page 6) The seven-to-twelve-year-old period, then, constitutes one of particular importance for moral education.
It is at this age also that the concept of justice is born, simultaneously with the understanding of the relationship between one's acts and the needs of others. The sense of justice, so often missing in man, is found in the development of the young child.
The justice usually found around the school and in the family could be called "distributive justice"-- that is to say, equality for all, as much in the distribution of punishments as of rewards. Special treatment of one individual seems to constitute an injustice; this introduces the concept of legal right. There is here an affirmation of individuality in the sense of egoism and isolation. Such a concept does not encourage interior development. On the other hand, justice-- although usually not considered in this light -- is born specifically from interior education. The principle of distributive justice and individual right, purely external, destroys the inborn, natural sense of true justice.
(page 7) It is necessary for us to provide him with culture and to enlarge his social experiences.
The child who has himself stretched the limits, has won his independence. This is what makes these exercise of patience, of exactness and of repetition so all-important.
The continuation of these exercises would be useless now that the child is independent; that is to say he knows how to devote himself to an activity for which he will no longer need to ask help of the adult and for which he has coordination of movement.
But the act of courtesy which he has been taught with a view to his making contacts with others must now be brought to a new level.
This is not a question of training his movements: we begin the introduction of moral relationships, of those that awaken the conscience.
(page 8) The child is "now eager to encounter challenges. But these challenges must have an aim.
The child's boundaries are "no longer the walls of a room but only the restraints of a moral order.
(page 9) We seek the child's consent to receive a lesson given.
In the second period there exist, then, possibilities superior to those we used to know in the child. Only, these possibilities are subordinate not to the command of someone, but rather to the command of the child's own conscience.
(page 10) ...the acts accomplished by men will interest him more than the things. He has reached a new level, he starts to express judgements.
He is looking for what needs to be done.
He is searching for Cause and Effect.
(page 11) It is indispensable to the child to feel the security the adult can and must give.
Talks about difference between acting and thinking.
Here he acquires independence thanks to his own effort. And the activity gives him dignity. It is his own experience that brings him exact answers.
(page 13) Let the teacher not lose sight of the fact that the goal sought is not an immediate one--not the hike--but rather to make the spiritual being which she is educating capable of finding his way by himself.
A child enclosed within limits, however vast, remains incapable of realizing his full value and will not succeed in adapting himself to the outer world.
Conscious of realities.
It is up to the teacher to arrange that the moral teachings of life emerge from social experiences.
The child must exercise a constant watch over his own activities.
(page 14) We have prepared material to that end consisting of various textiles such as wool, silk, linen, cotton, et cetera, which we have soiled in different ways.
An individual who is not accustomed to allowing a spot to remain on his clothes will clean them immediately should they become soiled.
(page 15) Habituate the children to observe.
(page 18) The adult, underestimating the intelligence of the child, surrounds him with a depressing atmosphere.
Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them in cupboards.
The act of studying things is, in a way, meditation on detail.
(page 19) There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest.
How often is the soul of man -- especially that of the child -- deprived because one does not put him in contact with nature.
It is noted that mental health has diminished in spite of the progress which improve physical health.
(page 20) Then it does not suffice for the teacher to limit herself to loving and understanding the child. She must therefore prepare herself and work at it. Certainly the child is still central. But the teacher must now appeal to that part of the child which finds itself in the world of the abstract.
When the child was very small it was enough to call him by name for him to turn around. Now we must appeal to his soul. To speak to him is not enough for this; it is necessary to interest him. What he learns must be interesting, must be fascinating. We must give him grandeur. To begin with, let us present him with the world.
The instruction of children from seven to twelve years of age must appeal to the imagination.
(page 21) Imagination does not become great until man, given the courage and strength, uses it to create. If this does not occur, the imagination addresses itself only to a spirit wandering in emptiness.
(page 22) The mind bases itself on the imagination, which brings things to a higher level, that of abstraction. But the imagination has need of support. It needs to be built, organized. Only then may man attain a new level. He is penetrating the infinite.
(page 40) He needs an impression, an idea which above all awakens interest.If he acquires the interest he will later be able to study and understand these subjects rapidly. If the interest is not aroused, the sciences, which have attained such a degree of development and which have so much influence on present-day civilization, will remain obscure.
We must hunt, therefore, for everything that may be accessible to the mind of the child in order to create the bases for future development.
Nothing can speak to his imagination better than science, because he sees in it a sort of magic. (page 58) Here is an essential principle of education: to teach details is to bring confusion; to establish the relationship between things is to bring knowledge.
(page 59) Schools as they are today, are adapted neither to the needs of adolescence nor to the times in which we live. Society has not only developed into a state of utmost complication and extreme contrasts, but it has now come to a crisis in which the peace of the world and civilization itself are threatened.
The development of man himself has not kept pace with that of his external environment.
Everything that concerns education assumes today an importance of a general kind, and just represent a protection and a practical aid to the development of man; that is to say, it must aim at improving the individual in order to improve society.
(page 73) From all this the result will be not only self-discipline but a proof that self-discipline is an aspect of individual liberty and the chief factor of success in life.
(page 79) A large estate, possibly including woods or near to the sea, would be the most suitable place. A number of teachers should be allowed to live in the school in return for taking part in directing the daily work of the institution. Strict ?? of the school must be enforced on the staff attached to the school as well as on the students who will then only learn to adjust themselves to the demands of an ordered environment.
There must also be young visiting teachers, men and women who come to give lessons. They should have the proper qualification for teaching in secondary schools, but this does not mean that they should be free to use their own methods, for they must agree to agree to adopt special methods and cooperate in the experiment. Therefore these teachers should be young and open-minded, ready to take part in a new experiment and not be too many, rather the minimum number tho can undertake a group of related subjects, which can be subsequently separated according to the needs of the school.
Besides the teachers of ordinary subjects there must also be technical instructors. For instance, an instructor for agriculture and gardening, a business manager for the shop and the hotel, and a handicraft teacher. Other members of the staff must be specially qualified in practical work, in cooking, or sewing and mending, and should include an intelligent handyman capable of hiving instruction in various trades while he helps in the daily work. So that just as the children in our elementary schools have already learned to fold their clothes, and to sew, etc., so here they must learn "to put things right" when necessary, to adjust a machine or the engine of a car, to mend a broken window or the catch of a door. They should also be able to make a path, build a shed, chop firewood, and so on.
(page 83) The universities were then, in reality, the "centres of culture" from which civilization was transmitted all over the world, the students becoming its propagators.
But today universities are not the only centres from which culture emanates. Today civilization and culture are spread everywhere by other means, which become always more extensive and easy. Culture expands through the press and other rapid communications that bring about a universal levelling .
(page 84) Students whose aim is merely to reach a simple and obscure personal position can no longer feel that lofty mission towards an ever-greater progress of humanity that once formed the " spirit of the university."
The common object of the students has become that of evading as much as possible.Their principal aim is almost exclusively that of passing examinations anyhow and of taking the degree that will serve their individual interest.
Schools today are generally felt to be in decline not because the culture given is inferior, but because the schools no longer correspond in their organization to the needs of the present time and stay below the level achieved by civilization.
Education should not limit itself to seeking new methods for a mostly arid transmission of knowledge: its aim must be to give the necessary aid to human development.
This world, marvelous in its power, needs a " new man." It is therefore the life of man and his values that must be considered.
(page 85) It is a period that, psychologically, is especially sensitive and might be called the "sensitive period of culture" during which the abstract plane of the human mind is organized.
(page 86) Study such as it is today, is a work against nature, so the students carry it out aridly and under compulsion without animation.
Merely to study is not to live, but to live is the most essential condition in order to be able to study.
(page 87) Other needs exist, which if not satisfied always cause inner conflicts that influence the mental state and confuse the clarity of the mind.
Joy, feeling one's own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors action of enormous value for the human soul.
Being active with one's own hands, having a determined practical aim to each, is what really gives inner discipline. When the hand perfects itself in a work chosen spontaneously and the will to succeed is born together with the will to overcome difficulties or obstacles; it is then that something which differs from intellectual learning arises. The realization of one's own value is born in the consciousness.
It is surprising to notice that even from the earliest age man finds the greatest satisfaction in feeling independent. The exalting feeling of being sufficient to oneself comes as a social life, because when one is completely dependent upon others and the feeling of one's practical incapacity has become a conviction, the urge cannot arise to be of help or to seek the cooperation of others to act with one's own energy.
(page 88) How essential it is in order to live consciously and intelligently, when it is life itself and not culture that is the centre around which education revolves. Culture acquires, then, great attractiveness.
Children can learn much more than the schools of today ask of them by their curricula, and that it is in childhood that it is necessary to arouse the first interest, to sow the seed of all sciences.
True study and thinking require the same association as is required by manual work.
The satisfaction of knowing must be immediately communicated to others, and in this communication enthusiasm increases.
Association gives new strength by stimulating the energies. To act in association with others either in thought or in practice is the only way in which the human nature can be active. All this shows clearly that education cannot be kept within the limits of a closed room in which the student remains inert and always dependent upon the teacher while being kept separate from his fellow students. An education so limited is insufficient even for children.
It was always realized that anyone who does work that is too hard must join together with others; but we saw among small children that even to be able to understand it is necessary to join with others.
( page 89) The first reform in education must be to offer a wider environment and to multiply the possibilities of association and of activity. It is during the period of adolescence that interest in the construction and functioning of society presents itself in germinal form in the individual consciousness.
Now, society is built up by various activities and not only by purely intellectual ones. The greatest element in its construction is the growing sentiment of the conscience of the individual, which develops through and by means of social experiences.
He will enter into society in order to take part in the functioning of a civilization for which he lacks all feeling.
( page 90) Collaborator in the universal work of creation.
He should certainly not be limited to the acquisition of that knowledge which will be necessary for him in the exercise of his profession. University students are adults, who will be called upon to exercise an influence upon the civilization of their times.
Conscience as a weapon for the defence of humanity and of civilization.
(page 91) It is necessary even for a child to feel himself independent: the adult must then have already realized his independence.
The social experience begun earlier must be continued, because the person who has never worked, who has never tried to make his own living, who has never mingled with people of different age and of different social classes, will with difficulty become worthy of becoming the leader of anything.
This "value of the personality" must have been nurtured by each individual through active efforts and positive experiences.
It is certainly not by philosophizing or by meditating only that the conscience of modern man will be formed.
One who studies at the university knows already that he will have to study all his life or lose his value.
(page 92) There must be another kind of formative help, an effort to become keenly aware of the needs of one's own time and to permeate oneself with civilization.
An adult who studies must not be worried as a child by examinations, nor fear the scoldings of a father who is forced to support him by what little means he possesses. He should not resort to subterfuges in order to get good marks, nor dishonour himself because he cannot keep chaste.
(page 93) He confronts the Evil One and overpowers him. This is the preparation.
Maria saw human society as "slowly organizing itself towards unity." (page 2)
"...by review of some of the most thrilling epochs of world history..." the child is let to see that "so far humanity has been in an embryonic stage, and that it is just now emerging into true birth, able to consciously realize its true unity and function.
She believed the goal was to create "the complete human being, able to exercise in freedom a self-disciplined will and judgment, unperverted by prejudice and undistorted by fear.
At ages 6--12, "there is an unusual demand on the part of the child to know the reasons of things." (page 3)
"Knowledge can be best given where there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be what will germinate into culture. But if neglected during period, or frustrated in its vital needs, the mind of the child becomes artificially dulled, henceforth to resist imparted knowledge.
"At six years of age all items of culture are received enthusiastically, and later these seeds will expand and grow. If asked how many seeds may be sown, my answer is: "As many as possible." Looking around us at the cultural development of our epoch of evolution, we see no limit to what must be offered to the child.
"He wants to use his own judgment, which often will be quite different from that of his teachers. (page 4)
"Mothers often feel hurt because their children, formerly all love and affection, have become impertinent and rudely domineering.
"An inner change has taken place, but nature is quite logical in arousing now in the child not only a hunger for knowledge and understanding, but a claim to mental independence, a desire to distinguish good from evil by his own powers, and to resent limitation by arbitrary authority. In the field of morality, the child now stands in need of his own inner light.
"Yet a third interesting fact to be observed in the child of six is his need to associate himself with others, not merely for the sake of company, but in some sort of organized activity. He likes to mix with others in a group wherein each has a different status. A leader is chosen, and is obeyed, and a strong group is formed. This is a natural tendency, through which mankind becomes organized.
"The child must learn by his own individual activity, being given a mental freedom to take what he needs, and not to be questioned in his choice. Our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them. (page 5)
"He must have absolute freedom of choice, and then he requires nothing but repeated experiences which will become increasingly marked by interest and serious attention, during his acquisition of some desired knowledge.
"The child of six who has been in a Montessori School has the advantage of not being so ignorant as the child who has missed that experience. He knows how to read and write, has an interest in Mathematics, Science, Geography and History, so that it is easy to introduce him to any amount of further knowledge.
"The teacher's task is no small or easy one. He has to prepare a huge amount of knowledge to satisfy the child's mental hunger, and he is not, like the ordinary teacher, limited by a syllabus, prescribing just so much of every subject to be imparted within a set time, and on no account to be exceeded. The needs of the child are clearly more difficult to answer, and the teacher can no longer take refuge behind syllabus and time-table.
"Since it has been seen to be necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him a vision of the whole universe.
"We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity. This idea helps the mind of the child to become fixed, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge. He is satisfied, having found the universal centre of himself with all things. (page 6)
"How can the mind of a growing individual continue to be interested if all our teaching be around one particular subject of limited of knowledge and is confined to the transmission of such small details of knowledge as he is able to memorize? How can we force the child to be interested when interest can only arise from within? It is only duty and fatigue which can be induced form without, never interest! That point must be very clear.
"If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will create in him admiration and wonder.
"The knowledge he then acquires is organized and systematic; his intelligence becomes whole and complete because of the vision of the whole that has been presented to him, and his interest spreads to all, for all are linked and have their place in the universe on which his mind is centered. The stars, earth, stones, life of all kinds form a whole in relation with each other.
"No matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe. What better answer cam be given to those seekers for knowledge?
"A greater curiosity arises, which can never be satiated; so will last through a lifetime.
Wherever possible mechanical contrivances are introduced for every detail of practical life, so that our children may be fitted to take part in a civilization which is entirely based on machines. (page 8)
The Advanced Montessori Method - I
Notes on the Foreword by Mario Montessori
The first children who Maria worked with were described as dirty, greedy little vandals; violent and destructive. They came from "the scum of the deprived citizenry of Rome." (p. vii)
Yet when Maria gave the children freedom and inspired their interest and curiosity, she saw them change before her eyes. Two keys to her methods were to give the children complete freedom to choose their occupations and to "indulge in them as long as they liked." Only that which hurt others was not allowed. (p. vii)
She writes, "It took time for me to convince myself that this was not an illusion." (p. viii)
The children had given her a "new vision of the world." She "plunged herself into the secret of the children." (p. viii)
The books she wrote about her experiences were "hailed as a revelation." But a controversy soon started. She was attacked from all sides: from educators, parents, politicians and the church. "Dictatorships in several countries closer her institutions and ostracized her for her theories." (p. ix)
"If for nothing else, Dr. Montessori should go into history for having been the most misunderstood educator of all times. Anyone else would have given up, for everything and everyone seemed to conspire to belittle and destroy her work. But she was secure in her vision..
"Nothing proved to be powerful enough to suffocate the truth inherent in her work. Banned from one country, it sprang up in another, to return enriched and full of new vigor where it had been stamped out." (p. ix)
"'Go and play' was the most frequent expression of those who did not want to be bothered by the children. Fairy tales were used not only to enchant and amuse them, but to reduce the children to immobility, to obtain obedience with threats that otherwise the ogre might come and eat them or that the good fairy would be disgusted and would not bring them the presents they expected from her. (p x)
"Maria wanted to "awaken the dormant consciences, to make better understood what the children had showed to be their needs. (p. x)
What Maria discovered has since been verified by "experiments conducted on a vast scale, in all strata of society."
Did Dr. Montessori believe she had said the "last word" in the field of education. According to Mario, "she certainly did not think so." (p xi)
While others accused her of being "dogmatic and rigid," they continued to "debate the old, while she had shown the starting point of a new science of education." (p xii)
"Dr. Montessori realized fully that the new science was in its infancy and that in the future, as science progressed, there might be the possibility of further interpretations." (p xii)
Mario Montessori wrote his foreword in Amsterdam, 1965.
Chapter 1 A Survey of the Child's Life
p. 5 "Hence it follows that we should leave as much as possible to Nature; and the more the babe is left free to develop, the more rapidly and perfectly will he achieve is proper proportions and higher functions."
p. 6 One of our primary goals, then is not to introduce "obstacles to natural development."
One single problem presents itself as "the basis of all education: How are we to give the child freedom?"
"Woe to us, when we believe ourselves responsible for matters hat do not concern us, and delude ourselves with the idea that we are perfecting things that will perfect themselves quite independently of us! ... the profound question arises: What, then, is our true mission, our true responsibility? (p. 7)
"It is the tendency of the child actually to live by means of the things around him; he would like to use a washstand of his own, to dress himself..to sweep the floor himself.." p. 16
"We offer a very simple suggestion: give the child an environment in which everything is constructed in proportion to himself, and let him live therein." p. 17
Maria was strongly opposed to the society way treated children. For example, she says: "We all interrupt them without compunction or consideration, in the manner of masters to slaves who have no human rights. To show 'consideration' to young children as to adults would even seem ridiculous to many persons."
She continues, "And yet with what severity to we enjoin children "not to interrupt" us!. If the little one is doing something, eating by himself, for instance, some adult comes and feeds him; if he is trying to fasten an overall, some adult hastens to dress him; everyone substitutes an alien action to his, brutally, without the smallest consideration. p. 17
"What should we do if we were to become slaves of a people incapable of understanding our feelings, a gigantic people, very much stronger than ourselves?" p. 17
"Our nutrition does not depend solely on the soup we have swallowed, nor our well-being upon the physical exercise of walking, but also upon the liberty with which we do these things. We should feel offended and rebellious, not at all out of hatred of these giants, but merely from our recognition of the innate tendency to free functions in all that pertains to life." p. 18
"Without being able to give any definite reason, we feel that something precious was lost on our life-journey, that we were defrauded and depreciated. Perhaps at the very moments we were about to create ourselves, we were interrupted.." p. 18
"Let us take the case of a writer under the influence of poetic inspiration, at the moment... when his work is about to take form.." Imagine that such a psychological moment was broken by "some brutal person shouting to them to follow him at once, taking them by the hand, or pushing them by the shoulders?" "Our inspiration is lost; humanity will be deprived of a poem, an artistic masterpiece, a useful discovery.." p 19
She continues that this is not all that is lost. Rather, the child "loses himself." She hypothesizes that the "naughtiness" (or the "laziness") of children "are perhaps the occult cry of unhappiness uttered by the misunderstood soul." p 19
"Air and food are not sufficient for the body of man; all the physiological functions are subject to a higher welfare, wherein the sole key of all life is to be found. The child's body lives also by joyousness of the soul." p. 20
"Where our lives are oppressed, there can be no health for us, even though we eat of princely banquets or in splendid buildings." p. 20
"With man, the life of the body, depends on the life of the spirit." p. 20
On page 21, she discusses how men go mad or die in prison, even though their physical needs are met.
"...to die of starvation of the spirit n a term of years is the most cruel of all punishments hitherto devised for the castigation of man." p. 22
"If a robust and brutal criminal can perish from starvation of the soul, what will be the fate of the infant if we take no account of his spiritual needs?"
Chapter 2 - A Survey of Modern Education
Maria believed adults were hurting children by telling them how they "should" feel, think and behave. She says, for example, that when a father says "Do as I do," it is as if he were to say to his little one in morning, "Look how tall I am. When I return this evening, I shall expect you to have grow a foot." p. 23
Also, she critically says:
"If children show themselves discontented and restless, they are told that they want for nothing, and that they are fortunate to have a father and a mother..." Children are "exhorted thus: 'Children, be happy- a child should always be joyous."
In other words, the parents believe that the child "should" feel grateful and content, even when its own body tells it otherwise. The parents are then disappointed in the child and express their disapproval when the child doesn't feel and behave as desired and commanded. This serves to tear the child apart, to confuse him, to cause him to feel guilty and unworthy, and to lose trust in himself; the net effect being a greatly diminished sense of self.