Montessori Education is an Education for Citizenship

“Education cannot be dismissed as an insignificant factor in people’s lives, as a means of furnishing a few rudiments of culture to young people. It must be viewed first of all from the perspective of the development of human values, and second from the point of view of organizing the individuals possessed of these enhanced values into a society consciously aware of its destiny.”

Maria Montessori, Education for Peace

There is more to preparing for citizenship than learning civics. 

2020 is an election year in the United States and an appropriate time to consider our concept of democratic citizenship. Schools have an obligation to prepare students for their civic duty, so what constitutes the Montessori way?

While mandated civics instruction is an important component of the curriculum, learning to be a productive and healthy citizen goes beyond basic knowledge of the democratic process and how it works. A well-rounded citizen must not only have an intelligent understanding, but also a sense of social responsibility and strong moral character.

In the Montessori approach, intelligent understanding comes through the study of civics content, and through the perspective of history. The roots of culture emerge in the study of civilizations and the child begins to grasp the significance and interrelatedness of human achievements over time. An appreciation of humanity is awakened through knowledge of human history.

As the child recognizes the essential elements of culture and then acquires these characteristics, the child simultaneously learns how an individual’s actions affect others, a key element in socialization.

Character development is integrated into the Montessori learning process. Moral development is about both the self and the connection of one’s actions and healthy relations with others. A strong moral character grows from the self-discipline and civility necessary to be a participant in the Montessori classroom community. Although the modern definition of civility refers to politeness and courtesy, the root Latin civilitas, was a term denoting the state of being a citizen and hence good citizenship or orderly behavior. This is our expectation for civility in the Montessori classroom.

Through a holistic approach that develops the intellectual, social and moral character of the child, the Montessori method prepares the child for life.

A Smart Citizen – Developing the Intellect

For the 6 to12 year old, the emergent power of the mind to abstract and imagine become formidable tools for the developing intellect. This dynamic cognitive energy is combined with a great capacity for work, relative good health and stamina, and strong memory. The key characteristic of this age is an unquenchable thirst for information. The child has a great curiosity that goes beyond facts. They are fascinated with the causes, reasons and effects. Logically, a curriculum for this age would approach knowledge in an interdisciplinary and integrated way to meet this need. This would best help to explain the whys and the wherefores that are so critical for this aged child.

This is why Dr. Montessori designed the “Great Lessons” for the elementary. They introduce the five key areas of interconnected studies that form the overarching theme of the Montessori elementary curriculum. History is the core of the Great Lessons. The children see the unfolding of all life from the formation of the planet to the modern day. They study the vastness of space as well as a drop of water, finding their relation in it. The children travel through time with their imaginations and walk the sands of ancient Egypt to the mountains of the moon. They are there when humans discover fire and roll the first wheel. They study current events and compare them. All of this brings an understanding of the great order of nature and ecology.

The content of the Montessori elementary curriculum both stimulates the intellect and provides a context for socialization and moral development. Montessori’s great contribution was a format for study that began with presenting to the child a vision of the whole before the detailed study of the parts. In this way the understanding of the “big picture” renders the details fascinating.

This is the key period in which the child seeks to understand his position in society and the world of nature. During this period an important acquisition of culture and intellectual achievement takes place, and under the right conditions, society as a whole benefits. Montessori realized that the healthy growth of these future citizens could aid in the preservation of Nature and the advancement of culture. It is keenly important to expose children of this age to a holistic overview so they might develop their role as a healthy and constructive member of society. Montessori described each child’s cosmic task, to fulfill his potential in the work of bettering mankind.

History has a way of helping humans to be wiser about how they live. It develops an appreciation of humanity and its achievements that can only come through intellectual study. History provides points of comparison for the complex issues humans have faced for thousands of years, searching for answers to the moral questions regarding survival, and the use of limited natural resources. These studies help the child understand that every person is dependent on others and each must make a contribution to the existence of all. Each individual’s adaptation to society takes the highest form in what special contribution he can make to his fellow man. The approach brings the child to an admiration towards their culture. The goal is to inspire pride and a sense of privilege in belonging to humanity. This sentiment is aroused in the child by showing him the interrelatedness of all things, especially in the world of humans.

A Social Citizen – Learning To Live Together in Peace

The beauty of the multi-age grouping of a Montessori classroom is that the child is naturally acclimated to working within a diverse and dynamic grouping of peers. The governing principle of responsible freedom guides the child in all they do. 

In these groupings children internalize what they have learned by teaching the younger children and by being mentors and role models. The children are encouraged to show mutual respect and empathy for others by working together towards common goals. This is the spirit of the community. The mixed age community creates conditions that foster individual differences as strengths, and promotes groupings of mixed abilities. These ongoing experiences develop social skills as a response to conditions, rather than through direct teaching intervention.

In a Montessori approach community values are lived; grace and courtesy are routine; and a common spirit of respect and sharing, hospitality, cooperation, help, and assistance binds the community in noble work.

In this community approach to education, the child comes to understand that each one of us is dependent on others and each must make a contribution for the betterment of all. Participation in a Montessori learning community enables the child to eventually adapt to society, knowing that each individual’s adaptation takes the highest form by the special contribution he can make to his fellow man. In this way the child learns the concept of citizenship. Through living and working daily in a collaborative approach to learning the child finds community membership can be both personally satisfying and socially rewarding. 

A Moral Citizen – Finding Balance and Purpose

Among Maria Montessori’s many legacies was her scientific model for observing and analyzing the process of development of the child. She developed a structure of stages of development that defined the needs and characteristics of each age, and then developed ideal educational environments to respond and support the child in their process of growth and change.

In the second stage of Dr. Montessori’s model for human development, one of the key characteristics of the child from 6 to 12 years old is their keen moral sense. As they shift from taking moral directives to guiding themselves they are consciously and constantly questioning situations and issues of fairness and show an inordinate sense of justice. At this age they can often be philosophical about moral issues, and with time and experience they relate questions and answers to real-life situations.

This is a key period in our childrens’ lives for developing character, patterns of behavior and an emergent conscience that will guide them with an internal strength of personality. In the Montessori elementary classroom, we respond by guiding the child so they discover through experience the understanding and impact of their actions on others. They learn to recognize that personal choice falls within the limits of community and individual responsibility. 

The child matures through experience and learns that serving others is rewarding and facilitates meeting their own needs. They become aware of their behavior and its effects on others, finding that balance that characterizes the morally developed individual.

This understanding of cause and effect in human relations, both their own and as a participant in a community, is what develops their understanding of justice and sentiments which lead to the passion and commitment necessary for citizenship. 

As their character develops a sense of balance emerges and they become more capable of adjusting and valuing themselves in social situations. The child develops an emotional investment in their work and sees the “big picture” regarding the impact of their actions, both in the classroom and in society beyond.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”             

Margaret Mead, American anthropologist (1901-1978)

Notes from “Deep Dive” on the Topic of Adolescent Observation

 

Denver, Colorado

On  October 20, 2018 at the First Adolescent Colloquium in Denver Colorado, a group of talented Montessorians were assembled to aid in the development of content for the first sanctioned AMI Adolescent training. There were young and old skilled practitioners lending their experiences to structured conversations, aptly named “Deep Dives”.  

Our topic was “observation” but after our discussions, you can see that we have modified that to “scientific observation”. Our group was made up both of people who intentionally chose this topic, and those who left the selection up to fate. And I think because of that, it seems we were able to have a truly robust conversation. The participants were: Ben Moudry, Juan Cordova, Tina Booth, Grae Baker, Jacqui Miller, Katy Myers, Kate Barrack, Rachel Balkcom, Ali Scholes, and myself, Paul Raymond.

Introduction

Initially, several of us thought “Observation”? We know how to do this. We’re Montessorians. It’s what we do. How will we discuss this for five hours?” But as we dug into this topic, we came to some rather stunning conclusions about the nature of observation in the third plane, some of which tie deeply into a later discussion regarding the increased need for social justice and a more immediate recognition of our individual privileges.

Dr. Montessori was very clear about our task. “Education is an aid to life.” And how we manifest that work is through the process of observation.

Observe first, respond second.

But observation does not occur in a vacuum. We all exist within a culture and society and we must recognize our individual biases before attempting to analyze our observations. Additionally, we must remember that we, ourselves, are a material of the prepared environment.

In the first plane, we teach young children, explicitly, how to observe the work of others; how to stand, how to look. In the third plane, no such explicit lesson exists. Yet, when we spoke to our student guest at the colloquium, her responses revealed that while she was not aware that she had become a good observer, it was a fundamental skill she had acquired anyway.

In that regard, our discussions led us to profound realizations about the nature of observation during the third plane, how it connects to the Human Tendencies, and how, because we are a material in the environment, the skill of observation looks quite different when considering adolescents who are now capable of metacognition. Observation with adolescents is no longer a one-way mirror, and our work with them, must change us as well.

So while our process is scientific, the effect is also a spiritual one that will inevitably alter the adult. Most fittingly, at the end of our discussion, Tina shared this beautiful quote:

“The first step in becoming a Montessori teacher is to shed omnipotence and to become a joyous observer. If the teacher can really enter into the joy of seeing things being born and growing under his own eyes and clothe himself in the garment of humility, many delights are reserved for him that are denied to those who assume infallibility and authority in front of the class” (To Educate the Human Potential 85)

The complete article can be found in pdf. format in the right hand margin of the site…

Practical Life Works In the Children’s House Environment

Practical Life Works In the Children’s House Environment

“Practical Life” is the name coined by Dr. Montessori to explain an area of curriculum in the Montessori method that departs dramatically from traditional forms. Practical life activities refer to the necessary everyday functions that we all perform to care for ourselves, maintain our physical environment and interact with others in a socially acceptable manner.

These activities are essential for all children to learn so that they may acquire the behaviors required to become both independent and join the larger community in which they live. It is also recognized that these patterns of behavior form the basis of culture, the distinguishing attribute of the human species, which forms the basis of the development of the personality. Therefore, practical life activities are the fundamental bridge, which we all must cross to join the society in which we live while maintaining the integrity of our own individuality.

Educators lose sight of the importance of this work in childhood, focusing only on the adult perspective that work is a means to an end, the process of which should be speedy and economical in both time and effort. The result of the adult’s work is the resolution of the task at hand, the product being more important than the process. In addition, any division of labor is desirable, for “many hands make for light work”. It is this attitude towards work, which becomes the fundamental obstacle to the child, his work is unique and different.

But the child too is a worker and producer. If he cannot take part in the adult’s work, he has his own, a great important, difficult work indeed-the work of producing man.”1

The work of the child is process oriented, for the result is not the completion of a task, but rather the development of attributes of character and personality, which form the basis for his individuality. This work allows him to inculcate his culture and join society, he is indeed, “the father of man”. The activity that characterizes this important motive of the child must no only be understood but also nurtured by adults.

“When a little child works he does so not to attain an outward end. The aim of the work is the working…his work is the satisfaction of an inner need, a phenomenon of psychic maturation.”2

In this understanding lies the basic aim of practical life activities. The practical life exercises performed by children provide motives for each child to channel his energies into constructive activity, and act as the grist for the mill of psychic maturation.

Pleasant activities are also provided, because we know that development results from activity. The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences”.3

What better activities are there to provide than the ones the child sees performed by the adults he loves and cares for, yet he is rejected time and again from joining in due to their ignorant attitudes and the unwieldy tools. By isolating the difficulties and devising child-sized tools, Dr. Montessori was able to make it possible for the child to perform these activities, not just imitate them. It is no wonder that the exercises of practical life continue to be a favorite amongst children all over the world after 80 years since their inception. How disappointing is it that other methods of early childhood education have not incorporated these truly developmental functions into their programs. While children continue to play house without satisfaction of accomplishment in other methods, at Montessori schools all over the world children “do” house with results that are not only rewarding but constructive for their development.

The exercises of practical life have as their goal more than the channeling of the child’s work into constructive activity. They also form a comprehensive movement training curriculum, one which goes beyond physical education.

In ordinary schools it usual to call by the name ‘gymnastics’ a kind of collective muscular discipline the aim of which is to carry out movements under commands given to a whole class…These different kinds of movements have been found useful in order to counterbalance the muscular inertia of pupils who have to follow a sedentary life in their studies…All these methods, however, are reactions from a life wrongly understood…”4

Educators, having attitudes which divide into categories work and play, have seen exercise and freedom of movement as a panacea to the natural urges of the child. They constrict freedom of movement to the play yard where children idle away their time in fantasy play or have as a means of constructing their personality sandboxes and water tables which provoke nothing for the intellect.

He is the Forgotten Citizen, who lives in a world where there is plenty for everyone else, but nothing for him. In the empty world he wanders aimlessly, getting constantly into mischief, breaking his toys, vainly seeking satisfaction for his spirit, while the adult fails completely to realize what are his real needs.”5

The educators structured learning activities are normally in groups in which the children must sit quietly and “behave”, like Montessori once observed “transfixed butterflies”.

Making muscular movement penetrate into the very life of the children, connecting it with the practical life of every day, formed a main part of the practical side of our method, which has introduced education in movement fully into the indivisible whole of the education of the personality of the child.”6

Montessori education incorporates a sequential unfolding of movement activities which bring under the child’s control of his own movements and aid him in coordinating these movements to the purpose of his conscious mind. These activities not only meet the child’s physical need but also a deep- rooted psychic need. Much of the focus of these practical activities is on the hands, which are really the tools of the mind. The child

“…becomes fully conscious and constructs the future man, by means of activity…He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instrument of man’s intelligence.”7

An entire portion of the exercises are therefore devoted to helping the child bring under control and coordinate this hand movements.

Before the year is out his hands become busy in various ways which to him, one may say, are so many kinds of work: the opening and closing of cupboards, of boxes with lids, the sliding of drawers in a cabinet, taking corks and stoppers out of bottles and replacing them, removing oddments from a basket, and putting them back. It is by dint of these efforts that he comes to acquire more and more control over his hands.”8

Mental development is thereby promoted through movement exercises.

“…mental development must connected with movement and be dependent on it. It is vital that educational theory and practice should become informed by this idea.”9

Practical life exercises provide opportunities to synthesize the work of the hands and the mind as the prerequisite experiences necessary for the development of the intellect. As a result of freeing the child to perform purposeful activities that were practical in nature and rich with activity, Dr. Montessori observed an emerging quality in the child’s personality.

Having in our schools broken this barrier and torn aside the veils which hide the truth, having given the child real things in a real world, we expected to see his joy and delight in using them. But actually we saw far more than that. The child’s whole personality changed, and the first sign of this was the assertion of independence. It was as though he were saying: ‘I want to do everything myself. Now, please don’t help me’.” 10

A sense of dignity and respect for self emerges in all of us when we can do things for ourself. These satisfying moments build our self-esteem, and lay the roots of confidence for struggles in the future. It is this by-product of the practical activities which alerted Dr. Montessori to the benefits of the exercises. She was given to note that,

Development takes the form of a drive towards an ever greater independence.”11

This independence comes by means of work and takes the form of an independence of the mind and body. Herein lies another of the many benefits of the practical exercise. Montessori proposed that one of the child’s early guiding instincts was the sense of order. Appealing to this sense of order is more than creating a logical and graded sequence of the exercises of practical life. It must be understood as a form of guidance, which helps the child orient himself in a painfully confusing world. Order is more the connection between objects and their functions, a discovery of relationship. This is the real deep-rooted nature of knowledge, not ideas in isolation, but connected concepts. For this reason the child is sensitive to order, and while keeping things in their place is an outward manifestation of this sensitivity, it behooves us to understand the cause as opposed to the symptom.

Nature gives small children an intrinsic sensibility to order, as built up by an inner sense which is a sense not of distinction between things but of distinction of the relationship between things, so that it perceives an environment as a whole with interdependent parts. Only in an environment, known as a whole, is it possible for the child to orient himself and act with purpose; without it he would have no basis on which to build his perception of relationship.”12

It is for this reason that the materials are structured in patterns of sensibility so that the child may decipher their relationship, and his patterns of behavior are altered to help him make a relationship with the real world around and with others. In this way the mind connects with movement to build intelligence and the spirit connects with others to build sociability. Order orients the work of the child for these purposes.

Appealing to the child’s sense of order also had another benefit which delighted Dr. Montessori, that of intense concentration in small children as exhibited by their repetition of activities vital to meeting their inner needs. After observing a child who would not be distracted from repeating an activity forty-two times she commented,

Here was a peep into the unexplored depths of the child’s mind. Here was a very small child, at an age when attention flits from one thing to another and cannot be held down. Yet she had been absorbed in concentration such that her ego had withdrawn itself from external stimulus. That concentration was accompanied by a rhythmic movement of the hands, evoked by an accurately made, scientifically graduated object.”13

By giving the children freedom of choice and allowing them their own time to process an exercise this concentration was lengthened and strengthened. It is what Montessori said, “the children showed me”. Given conditions that freed the child to work unhindered, with practical material which met basic inner needs and developed attributes of character, the children began to exhibit interest in relating to others with the dignity that they felt for themselves. Having been shown simple social functions such as laying the table and serving others as well as greeting guests (there were many visitors to the Casa dei Bambina) the children transcended their humble status and

“They learned to behave at table like princes, and they also learned to wait on the table like the best waiters…Truly, this is what was happening to our children. There was a resurrection from sadness to joy, with the disappearance of many faults, that are usually feared because considered incorrigible…”13

Though simple lessons in grace and courtesy the children became sociable and their characters were developed. This is why today we continue to provide simple lessons in grace and courtesy. It was not just lessons in social interaction that brought about the changes in the children. It was that the fundamental obstacles were removed in a prepared environment, and the child soon emerged from a cocoon of ego-centrism and wanted to interact and participate in the community.

“No sooner was the child placed in this world of his own size than he took possession of it. Social life and the formation of character followed automatically.”14

Further facilitating this process was the mixing of age groups, providing a community in which children could contribute by helping others less capable, and children could look up to others as models for their future. These combined characteristics form the fundamental reason why children become socialized in a Montessori environment.

In the end, the rationale for practical activities must reflect an understanding of the child. Each unique individual must be given time, means and scope to follow inner guides. The material we provide acts as a link between inner needs and the outer world. Our goal then is to provide the raw material for the child to construct himself from, and hope that it is more than just entertaining, for

“Happiness is not the whole aim of education. A man must be independent in his powers and character, able to work and assert his mastery over all that depends on him. This is the light in which childhood revealed itself to us, once consciousness had come to birth and begun to take control.”15

FOOTNOTES
1 Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood (Bombay: Orient Longman 1978), p.205
2 op. cit. p. 208
3 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), p. 94
4 Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), p.94
5 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), pp. 168-169.
6 Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1980), p.94.
7 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), p. 26
8 op. cit. p. 153
9 op. cit. p. 141
10 op. cit. p. 169
11 op. cit. p. 85
12 Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood (Bombay: Orient Longman 1978), p.55
13 op. cit. p. 27
14 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), p. 169.
15 op. cit. p. 169

Lower Elementary Aids to the Practice of Written Language

Introductory Remarks

As the newborn fixes upon the sounds of human speech, and exercises the physical mechanisms needed to articulate these sounds, the mind stores impressions of meaning. The simultaneous blending of speech patterns and meaning brings about the spoken word in the young child. The child then moves, in Montessori schools, to associating the sounds of the language with the symbols necessary for writing. Through multisensory activities the hand and eye are trained for the mechanisms of writing without conscious effort. As the meaning of written communication becomes apparent, these mechanisms act as a power to express the already know spoken word. The significance of this can not be underestimated. For Dr. Montessori, this was a new language of communal expression, a second language that linked the child’s own thoughts with the greater social world about them. With this sudden and unexpected revelation, the link to reading now gains a new significance. For language embodies the culture, and is rich with nuance particular to the society in which the child grows throughout childhood. Their own expression links with history, and the growing social awareness of the elementary child is satisfied through the reading and writing of the spoken word.

The written form is expressed through activities in the elementary rich with variety and reflective of the culture. The child explores creative writing, linking the written word with their own inner thoughts. This builds consciousness of others, and so the child writes letters, invitations, scripts, and little dramas which can be expressed in the small social environment of the school and immediate community.

Writing is encouraged by a portion of the prepared environment structured to make available the necessary tools for writing in the form of specially designed paper, writing instruments, and the necessary art media for decoration. Exact tools with aesthetic appeal help to motivate the child. Skills are taught both formally and as a product of experience, and the child is presented a wide scope of possibilities. 

The Montessori elementary strives to provide the means by which the child can write freely as an expression of their own particular needs and interests. The necessary skills lessons do not focus on the group, but rather each child’s individual needs. This then becomes an expression of individuality and relates directly to the growing social awareness of the child as an aid to life. 

A wide scope of possibilities are presented as keys to individual exploration. Writing in the Elementary extends to the historical, grammatical, and syntactical aspects of the written word through language exercises and historical presentations directed towards human history. The written word becomes the child’s link with his culture and is a new means for developing his own unique personality. These experiences provide the grist for finding a purpose and means to connect with society. This is what Montessori called the child’s “cosmic task”. 

Creative Writing

The child entering the elementary will have experience with creative writing from the Casa. This should be encouraged and time allowed for a great deal of this. Journals can be provided, and specially designed paper with lines and space for illustrations can be used. If the children are having difficulty, you can develop skills by telling short stories that they repeat to you. Then invite the child to write the story, which you can do for the child and then they can copy it. The child is then encouraged to write a story on their own. You can dictate key words, and they can elaborate on it. This can be done in the form of the Casa question game. It begins with a simple action, forming the predicate of the sentence. The child then follows with answers to the questions why, how, when, where, and what. You can record these, or the child can, and then say that the information is there but the story needs to be told. Encourage the child to take these key words and compose a story.

Later the use of dialog can be given, first with the small moveable alphabet, and later on paper. You can highlight the dialog in colors, different for each speaker. Later the child can do the same on paper.

Factual Writing

The earliest work with factual writing will be much like the traditional language experience charts. Here the child recounts and event that they participated in. The guide can take the dictation if the writing skills of the children are lacking. They can go onto copy work if they wish. 

The development of research skills now becomes a parallel activity to the child’s factual or technical writing. With note taking techniques the child researches and gathers information for little reports on topics of interest. As their knowledge of content expands, so does the nature and length of these reports.

Keys to Research

The keys to research lie in the exploration of sources that are available in the classroom and the community library. A historical aspect is presented in the cataloging of references and in the organization and structure of the library. The Dewy Decimal System commonly used is investigated and the history of it given in the story telling mode. Library skills can then be expanded to include the use of reference tools. 

The dictionary is the first and foremost resource in the classroom. It’s history is known from the work in spelling, yet alphabetical order can now be focused upon and taught with the small moveable alphabet work indirectly, as the letters are arranged in the box in alphabetical order. A variety of types of dictionaries should be provided, from the simple to the expanded versions. The child learns the term “entry word” and uses it as a key to locating the word. Further to this the types and parts of the definition including the pronunciation code, etymological entry, levels of definition, antonyms and synonyms, and prefixes and suffixes can be investigated. 

The encyclopedia becomes a natural extension of the dictionary, and the ability to use its cross referencing component can be added to the research skills of the child.

The thesaurus is a more detailed compilation of words by similar meaning and extends the cross cataloging skill of the child. The history of its development, and the French doctor who authored it will be of interest to the children. Synonym work is first introduced with the grammar command card of the verb, so work with a thesaurus should follow that experience.

Organizing Content Through Note Taking

The ability to take notes begins in the Casa with dictation work. It can be built upon in the elementary by reading a paragraph and having the children tell what they heard. This is an oral summary stage. Next the paragraph can be read and the children write a summary of what they heard. This is followed by going on to write only key words. Then the children write a paragraph from their key words.

See that these paragraphs have a sequence of events to aid in the ordering of the information. Go on to two or more paragraphs. This is a good time to introduce abbreviations. 

Theme Project Work

Theme project work can be useful for the development of writing skills. Project work that grows out of themes that the entire class studies, such as  timeline investigations, challenges each student in their essay writing. Lessons are presented with both written notes in outline form, and a graphic representation of that information. The child takes notes and draws pictures during the presentations. From these pictures, notes, and further research the children create paragraphs summarizing each theme lessons, using these to create a timeline or little booklet. Inherent in this process is the need for each child to accurately explain particular concepts presented in oral lessons, to summarize accounts of these events, and draw conclusions by integrating isolated information into a vision of the whole. These theme studies push their writing skills to a new level of concise and well written paragraphs.

These essays also provided opportunities to improve skills in spelling and punctuation. The children were required to identify spelling errors in their written work and use proper spellings of words appropriate to their reading level. Attention was given to capitalizing letters that begin a sentence, and identifying and capitalizing proper nouns. In a developmentally appropriate way, each individual was expected to correctly punctuate finished copy using periods, commas, question marks and exclamation points. 

The project work that grew out of the key lessons provided a context for improving reference and study skills. The children applied their reading skills in research work, further developing their skills in using a table of contents, an index, a glossary, maps and charts. They located definitions and information in the encyclopedia, atlas and dictionaries. They made efficient use of reference aids for research and read charts, graphs and time lines for information. 

Junior Great Books

The Junior great Books program employs the shared inquiry method of learning. The program uses excellent literature that engages both the intellect and the imagination in a group process that allows the participant to think for themselves and learn from each other. Shared inquiry is a distinctive method of learning in which participants search for answers to fundamental questions raised by the text. It relies on an active process in which the reader searches the text to interpret the author’s meaning and relates their understanding in light of their own experience and sensible reasoning.

The process for each story includes an initial discussion in which questions were posed about attitudes that the children have concerning an issue that comes up in the story.

Next, the first reading of the story is read out loud by the teacher. Each child follows along with their own script of the story and makes note of certain passages in the text that bring up issues or questions for further investigation. After the reading a list of questions is generated on the board. They are later answered by the children after the second reading, which they do silently in class. This gets them thinking more deeply and prepared them for the next stage of the shared inquiry. 

Later, one question is selected and the children go back through the text, physically marking spots in the story that illustrate the answer or parts that have a text clue to interpreting the answer. 

A third reading of each story is conducted out loud by the children. Small groups are formed and the children take parts in the story, acting and reading out passages. This helps them to put dialogue and narration in context and see deeper into individual characters. 

Next a question is posed and the entire group conducts a guided discussion. Each child is expected to make a contribution and relate their ideas on the question back to the text. Answers are supported, tested or expanded by others in the group. Essentially, the discussion became a thoughtful debate where the ideas of others are considered and the group struggles to find a common opinion. Lastly, each individual goes back and writes their answer to this question.

The Formation of Spelling Skills

It will be necessary to assess the child entering the elementary to judge the extend of the necessary preparation that has taken place in the Casa. There are numerous exercises which indirectly prepare the child for the work of the elementary. The eclectic approach of the Casa utilizes both auditory and visual aids to promote spelling skills. The unique emphasis of writing before reading links the child symbolically with the mechanics of writing before the ability of reading with comprehension takes place. This accelerates the developing of writing skills, based on perceptual experiences. 

First and foremost in the development of spelling skills is the work with sandpaper letters, which brings together the movements, sound analysis and visual recognition of the alphabet. Single sound- symbol association goes beyond phonetics and is used to identify dipthongs and digraphs which are letter groups with sounds. The work with phonograms shows the variations, and memorization of so called puzzle words provide a bank of sight words which enable the child to begin reading. These component skills blend to provide the necessary mechanical skills to spell. 

The essential element of timing makes this absorption almost effortless, and through appealing to the innate propensity for language in early childhood, the skills are realized through activities geared to that stage of development. Montessori education provides the maximum effort at the optimum time. Therefore, work of a remedial nature in the elementary, which may be necessary for some children, will require conscious effort and singular motivation on the part of the older child whose sensitivities now lie elsewhere.

A number of indirect preparations with elementary language activities act as aids to spelling and the first period of learning spelling patterns. The grammar work involving the recognition of parts of speech and their function in the sentence provides skills necessary for spelling. In particular, singular and plural forms of nouns, the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, the conjugation of verbs, and identification of suffixes and prefixes with the etymology of words and their roots, expands and provide further details to the ability to spell. 

In the work called word study, the process of carrying the words in the memory while performing the exercise builds sight recognition skills and patterns of correct spelling are formed. This memorization through manipulation makes the process possible without directed effort, and avoids the traditional wrote and memorization given in other schools. In addition, the early reading skills are applied in all areas of the work in the elementary environment, thereby further aiding the memory through multidisciplinary exposure to a rich variety of words and their spellings. This memory foundation is a prerequisite step for abstracting rules and directed lessons in spelling.

Provided that these prerequisite experiences are present, the child can move on to the statement and exploration of rules. This might be seen as a second period in the stages of learning. This work is introduced with a history lesson, linking the child to the origins of the dictionary. Through understanding of the necessary work to compile words, the necessity for the formation of rules becomes apparent. A chart is prepared with these rules, and made available to the children to investigate as their interests develop. As is typical of the elementary child, they will enjoy exploring the exceptions to the rules, and find numerous examples. They may wish to take one rule at a time, and explore examples and exceptions. Eventually they made build up to going beyond the chart and devising their own booklets of spelling rules. This exploration stretches over a period of time dictated by the needs and interests of the individual, and should not be accelerated in relation to the needs of the teacher.

The third period would be the application of previous skills through the compilation of spelling lists. This can be assisted by prepared charts whose groups of words may be taken from traditional sources. They are practiced by means of a group activity in which one child may dictate and the other respond by writing or orally spelling the words. The traditional spelling bee can be altered to suit the needs of these exercises and provide friendly competition which appeals to the elementary child. They may discover homonyms which are words that have the same pronunciation as others but with different meanings and usually spellings.

The skills of syllabication are presented verbally and later in exercises of writing. This can be a natural extension of the child’s work with dictionaries, and result in their own discovery of pronunciation systems. The work is connect to word study, where history is blended to make the words for analysis interesting to the elementary children.

Throughout the child’s written work the teacher can respond to errors in spelling by following individual interests and needs, and so present these activities as keys to overcoming obstacles in written expression. In the reading process during the lower elementary years the child makes the passage to comprehension that identifies that writing is not just for personal expression but their writing has an audience, the reader. This new skill of writing for the reader builds with the child’s social awareness. The child should be encouraged to read his own writing and the listeners can give feedback on what they are hearing. Oral recitations can be structured for these presentations. Likewise, the reader can read the child’s writing to the child and intentionally bring attention to passages which don’t make sense because spellings confuse the reader.

Strategies for Spelling in Lower Elementary

• Montessori exercises known as Grammar Boxes.

• Montessori exercises known as Word Study. These lessons focus in on prefixes, suffixes, compound words and word families. Materials are teacher made. These exercises comprise one of the divisions of the elementary study in grammar. They investigate the component parts in words and their meanings. Through identification of the root word first, and then the isolation of the component parts of the whole word, the child discovers the component functions. Included in the analysis is the historical meaning of words and their root meanings. One indirect benefit of these exercises is the refinement of spelling skills by memorization of patterns in word construction. 

• Children keep own spelling dictionary, organized alphabetically, words are generated from their own writing and from group lesson content. Remedial work for the youngest children might include review of the key sounds and their variations as well as a compilation of word groups in a phonogram dictionary.

• Each child could have a weekly spelling list, a few common words per week to memorize. These words may be generated from list of commonly misspelled words, e.g. puzzle words, Dolch list or other conventional lists of sight words. The value in this work is to build a non phonetic sight vocabulary. Spelling quizzes may be useful in the memorization process.

• Guided lessons with spelling rules, such as “i before e except after c”, resources in conventional textbooks are useful for these lessons.

• Guided lessons in dictionary skills, with special emphasis on word roots and syllables as a tool for decoding new words.

• All written work that is published for an audience should be corrected for spelling errors. This emphasizes respect for the reader and avoids developing incorrect patterns of spelling.

The Forms of Punctuation

The first stage of exposure to punctuation takes place in the Casa, in early reading work and the building of sentences with the small moveable alphabet. This alphabet contains punctation marks for use in the construction of sentences and paragraphs. Early oral introductions to grammar, especially the conjunction part of speech, help the child top recognize the clause, and the use of commas in setting them off.

In the second stage of learning, punctuation is the awareness of its function through oral reading. Through gentle guidance the child can be made to see the function of punctuation marks in reading. The pauses and stops created give further meaning to written expression, and through reading these possibilities become apparent. The Junior Great Books program with the emphasis on choral and reading out loud is very helpful. 

Punctuation awareness can be linked to a historical perspective. The child learns that early documents were illuminated to break the tedium of “black and white books”. This may lead them to illuminating their own work, which highlights in color the punctuation marks. This added illumination focuses the child’s attention on the usage of punctuation and can be most helpful.

In the application stage, or third period of this work, prepared charts are made available to the child which state the rules for each punctuation mark. The activity used is with groups, in which one child dictates and the other responds with definitions both orally and later with writing. The children can work in pairs reading and writing the rules and applying them with illumination in their work. They may wish to give each punctuation mark a color. Oral dictation where one reads and the other punctuates will also provide variety in this work.

The Writing Journal

The writing journal is a useful organizational tool that provides a place for prewriting activities, for drafts that help the child ready for final copy, for note taking and planning. The child may also record his daily activities in this journal as a tool for improving both his awareness and his writing skills. This writing journal provides a chronology of progress and is a useful tool in illustrating that process to both the child and his parents. It becomes a portfolio of his writing and research. In this way it is useful to record the outcomes of the weekly conference in this journal. It may be effective for some children to reflect on what work they have accomplished as well as recording the work and lessons that will take place in the coming week. Some children may require this a tool for learning time management. Some children enjoy making lists and setting priorities, and so the journal may help them to plan and execute future projects.

Teacher and student comments that grow out of the weekly conference can be recorded here, and sent home to the parents as a tool for building the partnership of learning between home and school.

Follow the Teacher or Follow the Child ?

 

As the Greek philosopher Sophocles observed in the fifth century B.C. “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.”

In the “Teacher-Centered” conventional approach, the child is a passive learner. The teacher has a dominant, active role in classroom activity and typically the child is a submissive participant. The teacher controls what the students learn and at what pace they learn. 

In the “Child-Centered” Montessori Way the teacher has an unobtrusive role in classroom activity; the child is the active participant in learning. Teachers focus less on what they do and more on what the student does. By observing the children’s activity teachers are aware of how motivated the student is and how much time and energy the student devotes to the learning process. Instruction, both individual and group, is personalized to each student’s learning style.

Dr. Montessori believed that “the hands are the tools of the mind” and created an approach to learning which engages each child in the two-fold process of purposeful activity and intellectual development. In Education for a New World, Dr. Montessori recognized that,

” Mind and movement are two parts of a single cycle; and movement is the superior expression. Scientific observation shows that intelligence is developed through movement; …”

In this age of educational accountability there is an ever-increasing parent population who measure school success by test scores and advanced placement. This has been answered by a growing trend in conventional schools toward reallocating time in school to focus more academic subjects. This inherently means more time indoors, more time passive without physical activity, and less emphasis placed on a healthy amount of movement and experiential learning.

In schools across the nation homework has increased, curriculums have become more rigid, there are widespread cutbacks in physical education and sports programs and even recess has become a thing of the past. Recess always served as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. Outdoor time offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. The importance is so great that the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.

The Gender Impact – Boys Behind, Girls Ahead

We have aligned the conventional educational system to emphasize the natural skills of girls and reduced the aspects of that education which capitalized on the skills of boys. These differences are more non-cognitive skills like attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. Girls tend to develop certain skills earlier than boys, like the ability to sit still and stay attentive. Our traditional school day now demands that students do just that — sit for long periods of time and listen attentively — or else suffer a lower grade or disciplinary action. In elementary-school classrooms, where teachers increasingly put an emphasis on language and a premium on sitting quietly and speaking in turn, the mismatch between boys and school can become painfully obvious. The result is girls are outperforming boys at all levels of the educational ladder, from kindergarten to graduate school.

The gender impact is borne out in the statistics. Women today are more likely than men to complete college and attend graduate school, and make up nearly half of the country’s total workforce. Between 2009 and 2013 women, ages 24 and up, earned four-year degrees 64 percent faster than men. More shocking is that, also in that five-year window, the number of professional and graduate degree-holders grew 120 percent faster for women, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That increase also can be seen in professional degree programs – women now account for almost half of students in law, medical and business administration graduate programs. During the 1960s, women accounted for about 10 percent of students in those programs.

Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and in Life, and many other authors and educational experts proclaim that we have a crisis in the education of boys in this country. Gurian’s book presents statistics that boys get the majority of D’s and F’s in most schools, create 90 percent of the discipline problems, are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and be medicated, account for three out of four children diagnosed learning disabilities, become 80 percent of the high school dropouts, and now make up less than 45 percent of the college population. 

“Girl behavior becomes the gold standard,” says Raising Cain coauthor Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.” These new pressures are undermining the strengths and underscoring the limitations of what psychologists call the “boy brain”, the kinetic, disorganized, maddening and sometimes brilliant behaviors that scientists now believe are not learned but hard-wired.

In the last two decades, the education system has become obsessed with a quantifiable and narrowly defined kind of academic success, experts say, and that myopic view is harming boys. Boys are biologically, developmentally and psychologically different from girls and teachers need to learn how to bring out the best in every one.

Our first born is a girl, relatively calm, consistent and at times contemplative. Our boy, on the other hand, is a bundle of kinetic energy who jumps from one thing to another effortlessly. I am a member of a growing body of parents that are concerned that boys are being forced to fit a failing approach to education that is better suited to girls.

In Montessori schools the children learn through interaction in the environment, learning environments that Dr. Montessori designed as “scientifically planned and methodically formed”. The teacher is a guide, and a part of the learning environment. The materials are not visual aids for the teacher, but rather tools for the students. In this same book cited above and written in 1946, Dr. Montessori was both prophetic and insightful, even for today. She said that activity in schools: … must form part of education, especially today, when people seldom walk but go in cars or vehicles of some sort, so that there is a tendency to paralysis and sloth. Life may not be cut in two, moving the limbs for sport, and then the mind for reading. Life must be one whole, especially at an early age, when the child is constructing himself.

William Pollack, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School stresses that changing teaching methods to accommodate boys does not mean hindering girls. Girls, he says, often enjoy the same hands-on activities. “We have the data about learning-style differences and behavior-style differences,” he says. “This is not a win-lose circumstance. It’s not teachers against parents, parents against schools, boys against girls. It’s a win-win. We recognize what we now know and use it.” In Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood , author and psychologist William Pollack presents his findings from almost 20 years of clinical work and his recently completed study examining contemporary boyhood and the ways boys manifest their social and emotional disconnection through anger and violence.

“ By addressing who a boy really is and what he really needs, a school can make a difference in helping him do well academically, feel positive about himself and develop a healthy sense of masculinity. A positive school experience, in short, can bolster a boy’s self-esteem.” 

“Boys have a unique learning style that is different from that of girls. Research suggests that, whereas many girls may prefer to learn by watching or listening, boys generally prefer to learn by doing, by engaging in some action-oriented task. I’ve observed boys who are so resistant to reading books in class that they’ll literally toss them aside to pursue more hands-on activities. I’ve also seen boys who, though identified as “lazy readers,” became active, proficient readers when given material on subjects that interested them, such as sports, adventure stories and murder mysteries. Most critically, I believe we must make absolutely sure that for every boy there is a “good fit” between what makes him thrive as an individual and what his school actually provides for him.” 

He could easily be making a case for the method of teaching at a Montessori School.

The Changing Needs of the 9 to 12 Year Old

SEPARATION OF THE FAMILY

  • vacilates from wanting total independence to wanting to be “babied”

PHYSICAL STAMINA

  • capable, creative, funny and witty

HERD INSTINCT

  • increased need for social interactions
  • seeks best friend, usually same gender
  • more socially conscious
  • increasingly influenced by peers
  • obsessive concern with “fitting in”

MORAL DEVELOPMENT

  • increased idealism
  • moral consciousness
  • wish to serve
  • need to verbally express thoughts and ideas
  • developing high sense of morals and justice
  • cliques and feeling of hurt and exclusion become common
  • interest in fantasy and boys interested in violence
  • vocabulary sinks to lowest common denominator
  • wants to negotiate over everything
  • running commentary and sarcasm are commonplace

DEVELOPING IMAGINATION

  • skill level acquired in lower elementary enables the exploration of the bigger universe of ideas

HERO WORSHIP

  • hunger for peer interaction
  • idealistic – is looking for a hero

DEVELOPING INTELLECTUAL AND THE POWERS OF ABSTRACTION

  • can work longer with more concentration
  • a wish and ability to take more responsibility for their learning
  • increased skill level
  • ability to handle open ended goals
  • awareness of cause and effect relationships

GREAT WORK

  • able to work longer on bigger works
  • patience
  • focuses in on details

DEVELOPING SENSE OF RESPONSIBLE INDEPENDENCE

  • able to go out on their own
  • internalises socially acceptable behavior for different situations

Key Experiences for the Upper Elementary

When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them in cupboards….The world is acquired psychologically by means of the imagination. Reality is a study in detail, then the whole is imagined. The detail is able to grow in the imagination, and so total knowledge is attained. The act of studying things is, in a way, meditation on detail. This is to say that the qualities of a fragment of nature are deeply impressed upon the individual.

Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence

Key Experiences, as Dr. Montessori calls them, aid the child in the latter part of the developmental stage 6-12 by appealing to the psychological characteristics of that age. As the imagination of the child develops, the ability to abstract goes hand in hand with that development. The child needs a wide scope of real experiences and knowledge to fully realize the potential of the reasoning mind. The child from six to nine has been given many impressionistic lessons in the Montessori elementary which form the foundation for emerging from the classroom and going out into the wider world around them.

The resultant effect is that the 9 to 12 year olds begin to curtail the scope of their interests and focus in on details which deepen their personal understanding of things already explored. The will of the child becomes more directive. Interests are more specific than in earlier years, and the energy of the child becomes focused on key acquisitions, as in early childhood, but now with the aid of the conscious mind and will. The concept advanced by Montessori of “key experiences” developed from these observations. The second plane of development is a time for adaptation to the wider social world in which the child lives. In this stage key experiences offer opportunities to grow and develop in responsibility and independence. The environment, to this time limited, now expands to beyond the child’s imagination.

In the prepared environment we always engage the will of the child, providing experiences where they learn to guide and direct these inner urges. Will is always action, not intention. The children in the classroom are always consciously involved in choosing their own activities, only limited by their constructive nature and parameters of socially acceptable behavior. Through the repetition of activity they build their internal and personal capacity for the free determination of choice through action. As the second plane ends the need is to develop a quality of choice in activity that is constructive and a result of reasoning. Our responsibility is to provide a prepared environment where this can happen. An indicator of this freedom and exercise of constructive choice is seen when the teacher is able to remove her/himself from direct intervention in the class and the students continue to pursue their own tasks.

This also indicates the readiness of the children to go out beyond the classroom. The preparation can be seen as both psychological and practical. The children must accept the inherent responsibility that the key experience requires. To do this they must have a strong and well tempered will, and a level of independent functioning that is responsible. To be out in an unlimited environment opens the children’s eyes to intellectual, moral and social independence.

All the work in the elementary acts as a preparation for key experiences. We provide the keys to the doors of society. We provide the social forms for interaction which the child uses to ask for help, to greet new persons, to experience the unlimited social environment. Specific practical experience in map reading, following directions, using the telephone and other skills are also taught. They become a part of the overall preparation for key experiences.

Montessori Key Experiences for the Adolescent

Developing Personal Identity

• Developing a positive and separate identity.

• Developing the potential human personality.

• Blocks of time away from parents and urban area

• Time to reflect, writing a journal, clarification of values and beliefs, exploring the possibilities

• Discovering one’s place in community

• Finding success in learning, challenges, physical challenges

• Winning and losing, self-evaluation and goal setting

Developing the Intellect

• Academic challenge, opportunity to pursue learning, polishing academics,

• Exploration of skills learned in elementary, intellectual problem solving, research and discovery

• Acquiring and valuing intellectual skills and knowledge, development of thinking tools

• Reading evocative literature, reading excellent books

• Discussions, seminars, book discussion, philosophy discussions, shared inquiry, writing and publishing, computing, computer literacy, hands-on science, science experiments, science projects, sex education, Foreign language.

Expressing Oneself

• Art and music , creative arts, crafts, drama, plays, public performance

• Writing and speaking for self-expression, communication skills, expression, speaking to a group

Building Community

• Assuming a participatory and responsible role within the community, building a just community, creating community, council meetings (participatory democracy, resolution of issues), town meetings

• Group problem solving, cooperative activities, trust activities

Relating to Peers

• Conflict with peers, social problem solving, solving personal and group issues, teamwork and conflict resolution

• Extended social interchanges, leadership training within the peer group

• Dance and social interaction organized and directed toward purposeful end, the first kiss

Relating to Adults

• Maintaining and/or developing positive relationships with adults

• Respectful engagement with adults, mentor/counseling relationship with guide

• Relationship with adults who are fascinated with life

• Long-term projects with peers and adults, interviewing people

Serving Others

• Caring and sharing with older and younger people

• Community service, service to others, helping and being helped, working with younger children

Developing Business Skills

• Business, entrepreneurial activities, real work in business community, work experiences

• Running the farm business

• Student-run business, practical operation of school, balancing checkbook and accounting

• Fund raising, dealing with the public

Participating in the Adult World

• Internships, linkage to adult world of work

• Exploring the Natural and Human-Made Environment

• Odyssey trips (challenge, adventure, and work), going on trips, field, trips, learning trips

• Going out into the community, meaningful activity in school and in wider community, community resource exploration, learning to use resources (literary, community, human),

• Real world field experiences, visiting the town, visits to cultural centers (lectures and museums)

• Camping, outdoor experiences, outward bound experiences, land activities, working in gardens

Assuming Responsibility

• Creating and maintaining their environment, decision making, student planning of activities, taking responsibility for learning

Working

• Physical labor, integration of manual labor and academic work, practical living, immersion experiences, living with animals

Liberty Thoughtfully Given Develops a Disciplined Child

The gift of a great education is not just the command of all things intellectual, but also the guided maturity of a social self that is welcomed as a contributor to the community with a singular uniqueness of personality.

More in this age, than ever before, is the need for the right conditions in the home and at school to develop the moral character and sociability of the child. The challenges of modern day distractions, the busy lives of families, and the human isolation that social media and technology create;  rob our children of experiences, both social and in nature, that previous generations of children benefitted from.

I have often counseled in the simplest of terms that the road to a disciplined young child grows out of a tranquility and predictability of routines. From the predictability of life grows security, followed by a blossoming confidence, and finally the achievement of comfortable selfhood, or self esteem.

How do we help the child become self-disciplined ?  It’s a concoction,  a judicious mix of liberty and limits.

Let’s start with liberty. It is important to distinguish liberty from freedom. We often think of freedom in the context of the individual. Montessori defines liberty in the context of the group, a kind of social independence. Liberty is a condition in which an individual has the ability to act following his or her own will and ultimately, achieve his/her potential. Yet it is governed in balance with the needs of others.

Through his liberty of choice, through the conquest of freedom, the child is guided along the path that leads to real obedience. Creating the conditions for freedom of choice in a thoughtfully designed environment suited to the developmental needs of the child achieves the restrictions necessary for the child to stay within clearly defined boundaries.

Their are times when the child does not respond to limits. Parents and teachers too often diagnose as a spirit of non-compliance or willful disobedience as a lack of power in the child to respond to a command.

The most valuable effects of the training received in the Montessori system of education comes from the regular, progressive development of the will through spontaneous choice. Here the child finds the path from desire to knowledge. The training of the will occurs when the whole mind is active;  the mind is stimulated emotionally to desire, to know, and to do. If we can guide a child to engagement with this special concentration they pass from chaos to order, and we see the marvelous order of the classroom and spontaneous engagement of small children that outsiders often marvel at.

More often then not, it is because the child does not understand it or because he is unable to perform the command. Often the child’s undeveloped sense of time and space is inadequate for a proper response to a command to obey instantly. Often commands are given before the child knows exactly what is expected of him or that he has the will-power to perform them.

Obedience grows from intelligent understanding. I believe that a great misunderstanding of the young child comes from a lack of comprehension of  this intelligent understanding, it is very different then instinctive or imitative obedience. The early insistence on social conformity in a group before the child is developmentally ready is an an example of that misunderstanding.

The nature of Montessori’s method at this age is individualized teaching.  The approach to collective order is through each individual, purposefully engaged in a community. From the outside looking in there is the appearance of a collective order, children totally disciplined. Yet the discipline is exhibited through the engagement of each child individually. That is the real nature of obedience.

Another valuable element in the mastery of self, of which obedience is an important factor, is the absence of rewards and punishments. Doctor Montessori believed that a child brought up in such an atmosphere of freedom through disciplined activity will find sufficient motiving force from within himself and in the expansion of his own power, that anything extraneous, like a reward or punishment, is an insult to the expanding confidence growing within.

The road to a self disciplined child is paved with opportunities to conform with others in an environment that makes sense to the child, a consistent approach to allowing freedom within limits, and a responsive perspective keeping the child’s age and maturity in mind and avoiding award and punishments.

A Montessori Middle School : The “Erdkinder”

Dr. Montessori regarded the third plane of development as a period of great change and transformation. The transformation of puberty creates the adult from the child. It is an epoch of inner revelations and social sensibilities. The adolescent strives to discover both self and society, in order to take their place in the adult world as a contributing member.

The Middle School environment for the adolescent is on a farm specially designed for the purpose of work and study. Every component is related to the developmental characteristics evident during this volatile period of transformation and each insight connects with the psychic needs of the young adolescent. The environment is utilitarian enough to meet both the needs of the community and the needs of each individual. The Center’s design is based on the principles of order, beauty and simplicity. 

Montessori’s educational syllabus for the adolescent is both rich and rigorous. Many main threads are derived from the splendid work of the elementary program including an understanding of the interdependence of nature and humankind and of one’s place and role in the universe. A significant focus of study is human history, for the story of human life on earth unites science and the humanities in a dramatic manner. Mathematics is embraced from a historical perspective and the mathematical mind of the child, now adolescent, explores both the practical math issues related to his/her rural environment and the abstract challenges of algebra and geometry. 

Towards understanding how adults may aid the emerging adult in this formation Montessori’s focus is on responding to the identifiable developmental characteristics of the young adolescent:

Physiological

This is a time of rapid physical growth matched only by that in infancy. Hormonal changes bring about sexual maturity, the development of secondary sexual characteristics, and the capacity to reproduce. There is a wide variation in the rate of maturation and growth among individuals of same age.

Social and Emotional

It is an age of camaraderie and intensely emotional peer relationships. Adolesents need to identify with a group (“clubhouse”) and to “belong”. It is an intense time of high highs and low lows, when the adolescent is both self-conscious and insecure.

Intellectual

During the adolescent years the thinking of the intellect and feelings of emotions seem to blend. This has a profound effect on the learning process. These young people are more interested in the application of knowledge, and less in the acquisition of new knowledge.  A key component of their learning style at this age is their need to object, argue, and analyze.

Maturational (Becoming an Adult)

Young people in this stage of development need to test the roles of adulthood in a safe and age-appropriate environment. This process of constructing the social self urges them to a higher level of independence from their family and aids them as they join the wider community. It is a key period for adopting their  own attitudes, mores, and values by questioning societal attitudes and the status quo.

Work for Adolescents

Unlike adults who work to change their environments, adolescents use the environment to change themselves. It is for this reason that Dr. Montessori speaks of a Center for Study and Work where the transformation to adulthood can be fulfilled, a Center which authentically embodies:

  • A community where young people learn how to live as a productive society 
  • An ethic which speaks to the virtues which reflect human heartedness, respect, and trust
  • Meaningful roles which relate to the work at hand and which impact the functioning of the group
  • Clear parameters of behavior which guard the human rights of all
  • A genuine balance of freedom and responsibility as young people go about their independent and group studies

All these broad elements are balanced with work on the land. Montessori speaks of the need for young people to work not only with their heads but also with their hands. She sees the importance of their taking on meaningful roles which may arise from the cycle of farm occupations. Work of this nature has a normalizing effect upon the young person and will invite him/her to related academic investigations. The holistic experience of a small farm community provides a microcosm of society the young adolescent comes to see himself/herself as a viable member of this society and social group and embraces responsibilities and challenges as a confident, respectful citizen. 

Human Tendencies

Humans, unlike any other species on the planet, do not enter the world with any predetermined function. While other species serve Nature using their instincts, humans alone have free will. Nature provides humans with an inner prompting rather than an instinctive demand, as in animals.  This inner prompting directs each individual to develop his/her own unique potential.  Humans are fundamentally inclined to acquire those characteristics and traits common only to humans.

Dr. Montessori identified the fundamental needs of humans by observing the behaviors and development of children, which she determined as universal to all cultures. To satisfy basic human needs, innate tendencies guide us. These tendencies are inner urges for growth of the personality and adaptation to the world of humans.  They prompt the patterns of behavior that form the individual personality. Each individual has free choice, not predetermined instincts, like those of animals, for survival.

Montessori observed that children adapt to the physical conditions of their environment and the social requirements of the culture in which they grow up.  If children grow up in an environment which promotes conditions that allow them to take action in satisfying their own needs, they will be naturally acquire the human traits necessary for the formation of their personalities and the opportunity to become stable members of society.  From this point the individual is able to meet his/her individual needs in harmony with those of society. An individual will forever imprint a personality which enables him/her to satisfy personal needs in unity with the culture and natural world around.

Orientation, Exploration and Order

The fundamental tendencies which play the most important role in the individual’s adaptation to the world of humans are orientation, exploration and order. In the critical period of infancy, the individual must select from a myriad of impressions those which will form the human characteristics and provide for the acquisition of traits.

The Tendency to Orient:  This is the unconscious urge to absorb and concentrate on certain impressions, in brief but fixated periods, that builds characteristics necessary for membership in the human race. This urge to orient is inner directed. Nature enforces Her own program in the individual’s making of personality.  With the ability to orient and choose key impressions, the individual goes on to explore the environment. 

The Tendency to Explore: As the individual focuses on key sensitivities, the work of the individual becomes purposeful in assisting his/her own personality development. Continuing practice and repetition assist in imprinting the individual’s unique personality.  This imprinting is not isolated in the growing mind but prompts the individual to seek order. The integration of these acquired traits is the tendency to order. 

The Tendency to Order:  The innate need to order creates another need for one’s distinguishing between the relationships of things.  The individual perceives his own reactions/impressions as integral parts of a greater whole. This is what Montessori termed “inner order”.  Outwardly, the individual has a tendency for order by recollecting the place and function of things and is distressed by inconsistencies and random change. The individual seeks to tidy and preserve the objects of his/her understanding as a way to gain a grip on reality. The understanding and ordering of the objects and their relationship to life around them are necessary elements of healthy mental growth.

Work, Imagination, Exactness and Repetition

The individual needs the time, means and scope of activity to fully develop and realize his/her potential.

The necessary time is dictated by the individual’s tendencies for exactness and repetition. This is the process of fixing one’s attention on a key experience and engaging a unique concentration which promotes the necessary repetition to imprint the experience within one’s own personality.

The means the individual uses to acquire knowledge and experience comes in special work, or relevant and important activity, where the personality develops without conscious decision making.  Human nature guides the individual to do those things that are naturally good for him/herself.

Unconscious prompts or urges, eventually encourage the direction the individual will take. The mind takes the raw stuff of reality and shapes it beyond the limits of real life. This provides the older individual with a new reckoning, one in which the imagination explores and orients the individual to the world of humans.

Communication

The sophisticated ability to communicate is unique to humans. The individual absorbs language and learns to bridge the gap between his own mind and that of others with verbal expression. This is the passage from perceiving an idea to taking the idea to a deeper level, or abstraction.  Children leave behind a world based merely on the senses and integrate their thoughts through the use of language. This communication is a final stage in the ordering of impressions.

Tendencies Support the Development of Culture

The child is the dynamic link between human existence and civilization. The tendencies of the child act as a bridge from the  characteristics of one generation to the transference of these into the next generation. The special absorbent qualities of the young mind allows the ability to take in the whole as well as all the details and thereby sustain the evolution of the species.

Tendencies Support Self Construction

The child does not inherit human behavior and has no preprogramed instincts for survival. Without the nurturing environment provided by the family the child would die both physically and psychically. This human support is necessary and elemental to activating innate tendencies within the child to promote independence.  These tendencies steer the activity of the child to meaningful experiences that are good for him/her.

Tendencies Guide Work in the Classroom

The understanding of human development has significant implications on education. The Montessori Method promotes an education for living in harmony with the world of Nature and the world of human culture. The promotion of these tendencies in the classroom enhances growth, stabilizes the personality and contributes to the development of the whole individual. It is therefore necessary for the guide/advisor to observe and record these innate tendencies exhibited in the child’s work so as to direct activity that is good for the child.  In this responsive model a different pattern of teaching emerges, which is unlike the traditional forms. Montessori said we must look within the child to see the fundamental guidelines for teaching

Human Tendencies:  The Third Plane

The Human Tendencies:

  • Urge us toward developing our potential
  • Universal among the human race—guides toward wholeness and maturity
  • Unique at each stage of development
  • The Prepared environment enhances and encourages the human tendencies
Orientation
  • to the new, prepared environment 
  • to the community of peers and how that community works.  
  • to the expanded society of his/her town, city
  • develop ability to adapt graciously to situations
Order
  • to be able to use frameworks which sort information and build the intellect 
  • to become increasingly aware of static and dynamic forces in human history 
  • to understand relationships 
  • to understand cause and effect in a moral context.
Exploration
  • a desire to understand his/her environment 
  • to see history as a record of exploration 
  • to understand biological changes in both themselves and in the opposite sex
  • to satisfy curiosity about existential questions
Communication
  • to argue
  • to express feelings and ideas freely through the many arts of self-expression 
  • to debate
  • to use writing as a way to convey knowledge as well as feeling
  • to read about noble people in history, be they common folk or notable personalities as well as youth today
Activity
  • freedom to move and to choose situations
  • need to move
  • to do large armfuls of meaningful physical work
  • to play sports;  especially team sports
  • to master the body
Manipulation
  • to understand the workings of machines
  • to continue to understand, order, and classify his environment of the natural world
  • to use technology
  • to use his senses in a holistic way
  • to touch
Work
  • to engage in work which has a clear goal.  
  • To take on roles which make him a significant member of society
  • to proceed with his/her work independent of adult interference or assistance
Repetition
  • a need to perfect his/her actions or solidify his/her understanding (especially technology)
  • to will practice in order to achieve control
Exactness
  • a need to repeat until a perfect result is achieved especially in problem solving areas of math and science—especially evident when product has an effect on the community
Abstraction
  • seeing the possibilities beyond the concrete
  • being increasingly able to see life through someone else’s eyes (akin to imagination)
  • to order a progression of events  (ex. time management or group planning)
Perfection
  • to begin to recognize what he/she is capable of doing
  • to be accepted and valued by others from a phsical as well as a social view
  • ability to evaluate self and to judge their own improvement
  • to develop a personal mission

Work! Man’s Fundamental Instinct – Dr. Montessori’s Own Words

 

These quotes were taken from Dr. Montessori’s book Education and Peace, and if you haven’t read it yet, this compendium will help to encapsulate the concept of “work” vs, “play”, in the Montessori approach. Lots of food for thought here:

 

“An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“The child is also capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. He has shown us the true process of construction of the normal human being. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them as a manifestation of their total freedom. We have seen them labour steadily, drawing on their own energies and developing them as they work. (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind. If we therefore mind this embryo as our most precious treasure, we will be working for the greatness of humanity.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“Education must take advantage of the value of the hidden instincts that guide man as he builds his own life. Powerful among these instincts is his social drive. It has been our experience that if the child and the adolescent do not have a chance to engage in a true social life, they do not develop a sense of discipline or morality…The human personality is shaped by continuous experiences; it is up to us to create for children, for adolescents, for young people an environment, a world that will readily permit such formative experiences.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“The groundwork for such organization (of humanity) must be laid in childhood, at the very roots of life. Society can be organized, in short, only if education offers man a ladder of social experiences as he passes from one period of his life to another.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“In going about his dedicated labours on behalf of the child, the adultmust realize above all else that his task concerns a revelation of the child’s soul. If he does so, the steps he subsequently takes and the aid he offers the child will be of great importance; if he does not do so, all his work will go for nothing. This work must have a twofold objective: constructing a suitable environmentand bringing about a new attitude toward childrenon the part of the adults.”(Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

 “The child must be able to act freely in such an environment. There he must find motives for constructive activitythat corresponds to his developmental needs. He must have contact with an adultwho is familiar with the laws governing his life and who does notget in his way by overprotecting him, but dictatinghis activities, or by forcing him to act without taking his needs into account.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

“In such an environment, the child proves to be something quite different…He becomes an individual who works very hard, who is observant, who is not destructive…he is capable of great concentration; he is able to control the movements of his body…All this is a result of an interchange between the child and his surroundings, between the child and his work. It does not come about because there is an adult who guides every step, an adult who lords it over the child…When an adult leaves the room, their normal activities go on as before, and all of them pursue their work by themselves.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

 “This development takes place because the child has been able to workand to be in direct contact with reality. It does not come from anything we teach the child…the child is happiest when he is working.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

 “I would like not to lead you to believe that this kind of environment works miracles all by itself and that the adult has no part to play in it. The adult does have a role to play. He must show the child how to use objects correctly…The child watches the adult working methodically and carefully and repeats his actions methodically and carefully.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

“What motivates the child is thus not the goal set for him by the adult, but his own drive for self-perfection. The child perfects himself through contact with reality, through activity that absorbs all his attention.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

“The child has proved to have instincts whose existence we did not even suspect. He has proved to possess a surprising fundamental instinct – he want to work.” (Chapter 12)

“We do not use the term work in the ordinary sense of the word. The child teaches us that work is not a virtue, not an effort that man is forced to make; it is not the need to earn a livelihood. Work is man’s fundamental instinct.” (Chapter 12)

“Man can be cured of his psychic ills by working;he can break through a genuinely spiritual life by working. Workis the means of remedying all his shortcomings…Man is born to work. The instinct of to work is his most outstanding trait.”

“We regard it as good if a child shows affection; obedience is taken to be the moral virtue par excellence; being able to sit quietly and being imaginative are considered good. But all these traits disappear as a child works. Flightiness, laziness, rebelliousness, and deceitfulness disappear also. What is left, then?…What is left is the new man, who has none of our defects – the man who works diligently, the man who is healed of all his ills.”

“THIS man has genuine qualities – love, which is something different from attachment; discipline – which is different from blind submission; the ability to relate to reality, which is something different than flights of fancy. The child brings us light; he shows us the new man, the moral man and teaches us the value of simple and regular habits, for simplicity and regularity are the keys to well-being.” (Chapter 12)

“The child has given us striking revelations of different kinds of love, all of them directly related to work…Man has had intimations of this higher form of love because he has intuitions within his soul of every truth, though he has not followed and applied them in his everyday life. This higher love comes naturally to children…” (Chapter 12)

“In the deviated human adult we see a tendency to possess and a drive for power that are entirely different from those of the normal man. In the abnormal child we see clear evidence of this urge to possess. The child never stops asking for things, and the more he is given, the more he wants to have. He is a child who does not work, who has sensations but does not love.” (Chapter 12)

“The love of one’s environment is the secret of all man’s progress and the secret of social evolution…Love of the environment inspires man to learn, to study, to work…Every new thing that comes into being is produced by men who love their environment; bread, dwelling places, furniture, and so on. Everything in our social environment is the result of some form of labour. Men who have come to experience love are privileged. When there is an interchange between an object and a man’s spirit, something deep inside him is awakened – human dignity.” (Chapter 12)

“If the adult did not take the wrong path- as a result of his having been a neglected, mistreated child – he would feel love for his environment and a love of work. He would be a normal man.” (Chapter 12)

“Now that we have caught a glimpse of what a normal man can be, we have reason to believe that all mankind may one day become better, become normal.” (Chapter 12)

“The child has shown us the basic principle underlying the process of education, which he has expressed in the words ‘Teach me to do things by myself!’ The child resists letting adults help him if they try to substitute their own activity for his. The adult must help the child do things entirely on his own, for the if the child does not reach the point of ceasing to rely on the help of adults and becoming independent, he will never fully mature intellectually or morally.” (Chapter 14)

“Individual freedom is the basis of all the rest. Without such freedom it is impossible for personality to develop fully. Freedom is the key to the entire process, and the first step comes when the individual is capable of acting without help from others and becomes aware of himself as an autonomous being…freedom is the necessary foundation of organized society. Individual personality could not develop without individual freedom.” (Chapter 14)

“Man seeks freedom…in order to live.” (Chapter 14)

“The fundamental freedom – the freedom of the individual – is necessary for the evolution of a species for two reasons: 1. It gives individuals infinite possibilities for growth and improvement and constitutes the starting point of man’s complete development; 2. It makes the formation of society possible, for freedom is the basis of human society…WE MUST MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR THE INDIVIDUAL TO BE FREE AND INDEPENDENT.” (Chapter 14)

“The environment must promote not only the freedom of the individual, but also the formation of a society. The education of humanity must rest on a scientific foundation and follow from it every step of the way.” (Chapter 14)

“The first step, from which all the rest follow, is then to help the child develop all his functions as a free individual and to foster that development of personality that actuates social organization.”

“The drive for freedom, the individual’s inherent need to be let alone so that he can act on his own, determines what we call one ‘level of education’.”

Note: The first level of education (childhood) is a school that uses materials that foster the freely organized activity of the child. The second level of education (adulthood) leads to the develop of society, to the social organization of the adult. This school is the gateway to the development of the personality and social organization. (Chapter 14)

“Education is indispensible not to foster material progress but to save humanity, all out efforts must be directed toward helping the inner man form himself rather than fighting the world outside.” (Chapter 14)

“The child, a free human being, must teach us and teach society order, calm, discipline, and harmony. When we help him, love blossoms, too – the love of which we have great need to bring men together and create a happy life.” (Chapter 14)

“Individual freedom is the basis of the first level of education. Our aim must be to make the child capable of acting by himself, as we have already indicated. The adult must be a source of help, not an obstacle. Above all, he must aid the child, never make him the helpless victim of a blind authority that does not take his real goal into account. We must truly help fulfill the child’s needs; we must let him do things by himself because his very life depends on his being able to act. He must be allowed to function freely. A human being who cannot carry out his vital functions becomes sick, and we often find that children who are not allowed to develop normally suffer psychic illnesses.” (Chapter 14 p106)

“This is the mission of education. Let us therefore unite our efforts to construct an environment that will allow the child and the adolescent to live an independent, individual life in order to fulfill the goal that all of us are pursuing – the development of personality, the formation of the supernatural order, and the creation of a better society.“

“Vast instruction and an environment that meets his needs are necessary to develop the human soul and human intelligence – the life of the child.”

“We have been wrongly accused of wanting to deprive children of joy! But our intention is neither to give them joy nor to take it away…The child in our prepared environment does not play. He works, and greed disappears; he works, and laziness disappears. He wants to do everything! The human individual has demonstrated a tendency to work independently in order to develop his mind, and then love is born and leads to a happy society.” (Chapter 14)

“Man does not find happiness in play as an activity apart from life. Those who know how to do nothing else but amuse themselves soon fall victim to depression. Our schools, who duty it is to make possible the happy life that is man’s natural condition, must provide the child with surroundings appropriate to his needs – building and furniture on his scale – and at the same time put before him noble ideas and great discoveries of the human mind, offering him in material form the abstractions that are the typical products of the adult intellect so that the loftiest creations of human intelligence may penetrate his mind.”

First Period of his Life

“…individual must develop by himself, independently. This is the period of self-education…The characteristic feature of education given the child at this stage in his life must therefore bet he safeguarding of his freedom, and since he is living in an artificial environment, he must be surrounded by things tailored to his needs. Everything must be child-sized…a whole world just his size must be created for the child.” (Chapter 14)

“If secondary education, however, is set up along the very same lines as this first level, it goes against nature, for once the child has passed the age appropriate to the formation as an individual he needs to devote himself to the formation of his personality. The adolescent’s social formation must now begin, and the individual must be given social experience.”  (Chapter 14)

“Young people cannot acquire social experience because they are forced to devote all their time to studying. In order for the adolescent to acquire social experience, society must build the right sort of environment for him, a supernature suited to his needs where he can have effective, practical experience of every aspect of social life.” (Chapter 14)

“Independence on another level is required at this age (adolescence), for independence is necessary for social life as well. Young people must perform social functions independently, work, and earn a living…They must therefore be given the chance to spend time studying and practicing manual and intellectual skills.

“We try to create a harmony between those who with their minds and those who work with their hands.

“The aim of human development must be a total expression of life, a life superior to ours. Then we will reach a higher level.

“That is the third level, in fact, characterized by the preparation of the human soul for work as the vital function that is the corner-stone of social experience. When he enters the workaday world, man must be aware first and foremost of his social responsibility. If he is not, we will have not only men without heads and without hands, but also mean who are selfish, who have no consciences, who are irresponsible members of society.” (Chapter 14)

“All humanity that works for the common good, even though it may be unaware of it, is creating the new world that must be the world of peace. The great efforts of men who have labored, made discoveries, studied and suffered – all the work of mankind will be seen to have had one common purpose in the world that will be the world of peace.” (Chapter 15)

“We are convinced that the child can do a great deal for us more than we can do for him. We adults are rigid. We remain in one place. But the child is all motion. He moves hither and thither to raise us far above the earth. Once I felt this impression very strongly, more deeply than ever before, and I took almost a vow to become a follower of the child as my teacher. Then I saw before me the figure of the child, as those close to me now see and understand him. We do not see him as almost everyone else does, as a helpless little creature lying with folded arms and outstretched body, in his weakness. We see the figure of the child who stands before us with his arms held open, beckoning humanity to follow.”  (Chapter 15)

 

 

 

 

Developing Inner Discipline

One of the first and fundamental lessons in Nature is that the plant grows from the root, and it is the root which supports and provides the channel for nourishment. The natural root of the child’s development is the family, from whom the child grows outward, but who throughout the child’s life supports and provides for nourishing development. 

Montessori education has at its center the child, school life begins and grows outward from the family. Montessori’s great interest in prenatal life and post natal development shows her deep regard for the family and its foremost role in the education of the child. From the home comes the basic instincts of love, caring, nurturing, empathy, appreciation, service, and cooperation. The parents are nurturing the human potential of the baby to love, trust and to bind themselves to human partnerships in a lifetime of relationships. These are the fundamental values that start in the home and are reinforced in the Montessori school. 

The school and the home join as the psychic environment that aids the child in their development. There is a partnership between the child and the family in the collaborative effort that guides the child to be motivated by the wonder of life and the satisfaction of self improvement. 

Montessori education is an aid to a process that is dictated by nature and performed in the most part by the parent. From this ideal comes the concept of partnership in education. The school is separate and the home is separate, but they are both in the service of the child. Education becomes a joint partnership in which the child forms the center and the school and family form the nurturing outer circle.

How can the parents and the school join together in helping the child develop discipline? What processes help the child to make acceptable choices and build skills of cooperation? Where do we start in helping children to exercise self discipline?

Discipline, when we think of this word we often associate it with punishment and rewards, ways in which we as adults can control the behavior of children.  Yet we all realize that rewards and punishments do not help the child develop self discipline. What we need is an interpretation which is more in keeping with our understanding of growth and development. We must return to the roots of the word. Discipline comes from another old word in the English language stemming from the same root, disciple, meaning an ardent follower, a co-worker. In its true sense, discipline means the art of completing conditions favorable for cooperation.

Montessori felt there were three distinct stages of the development of self discipline. In the first stage the  child is constantly changing and adapting, shaping the inner self according to the demands of the persons around him whom they love. It is the establishment bond of love that comes first, obedience comes after. As the baby grows, parents help them make choices by guiding them with sensible “do’s” and “don’ts”. Gradually, the child develops a sensibility for what is right and wrong through this interaction. This forms the foundation for the child gaining inner control of his impulses and interests. The child is obedient because he loves and trust the guidance from the parent. 

The second level of obedience is a step by step process that begins with  parents’ external influence and ends up is the gradual growth of the child towards a desirable kind of self control. It is the change from outer to inner control, with the child exercising his own free will to shape his behavior.  This is often the time that the child enters school, and is influenced by classmates and teachers in this gradual transition to self control. At this crucial turning point in development it is the parents’ and school’s role to provide standards for the child to build the social self-his ego. This function is just as vital as the physical care of the child, yet it is harder to discern. We seek to help the child bring the variety of impulses and interests into harmony. 

We must be cautious in our approach so that we seek a balance between control and abandonment. We can go overboard as authority figures, giving the child constant commands so they have no practice in exercising their own decision making process, confronting them with consequences where they have no real choice, and structuring a dependency on the adult that creates an obstacle to the child developing the capacity for guiding themselves. On the other end of the scale their are the adults that give too few standards for behavior, change the rules of conduct under duress, and lack consistency in setting consequences. This state of over leniency leaves the child with no guidelines to go by. Both weak and strict adult control puts a burden on the child and deprives them of a framework for them to formulate a code of behavior for themselves.

For adult guidance to be effective it must start with the bond of affection and trust that gives the child the security and self esteem necessary to be motivated to guide their behavior. The child transforms from external control to inner control when they feel both accepted and needed, and the true ticket is for the child to feel needed, in his own home and in his classroom. This is the first step to purposeful activity which develops self discipline while contributing to the formation of character. Finding meaningful tasks for the young child may be difficult for the adult, but if the work assigned the child is so simple that he feels beneath the task, then he can not develop an eager, positive attitude towards useful tasks. The self disciplined child is one who has often enjoyed the satisfaction of being needed and enjoyed a difficult task that has brought recognition for his accomplishments.

Children are sensitive to the realness of a situation, children enjoy the small jobs which make the household or classroom work. Yet the child lives in a world designed for big people. The difference in size between the child and the objects around him make it near impossible for him to participate in a meaningful way. More importantly, the child fails to draw the necessary relationships between things which constitutes the grist for intellectual development. Dr. Montessori sought to prepare an environment that was a place for children “The Children’s House”, where all the furnishing and equipment were scaled to the proper size and adapted for the child’s physical strength, so that they could move or manipulate these with the same ease as adults in their homes. As Dr. Montessori described these special places for the children in her book, The Child and the Family:

Here, then, are the fundamental principles: the furniture must be light and arranged in such a fashion that the child can easily move it, and the pictures must be hung at a level that permits the child to look at them comfortably. We must apply these principles to all the surrounding objects, starting with the rugs and ending with the vases, dishes and other such things. The child must be able to use everything he comes across in the house and he must be able to do the ordinary tasks of every day life – sweep, vacuum the rugs, wash and dress himself. The objects surrounding the child should look solid and attractive to him, and the “house of the child” should be lovely and pleasant in all its particulars; for beauty in the school invites activity and work, as adults know that domestic beauty nourishes domestic unity. It is possible to say that there is a mathematical relationship between the beauty of his surroundings and the  activity of the child; he will make discoveries more voluntarily in a gracious setting than in an ugly one. 

In a house that is truly his, a child tends to be as well behaved as possible and seeks to control his movements; in this fashion, he starts on the road to perfection without external prodding.

Real goodness does not consist of putting up with whims and fancies, but rather seeking the means to avoid them through purposeful and constructive work. This work is only possible when the child is given the tools in a prepared environment. Then the activities are not done because they are required or expected, but rather for the sake of serving a useful function, and because it is useful it boosts the child’s self esteem, sense of belonging, and total concentration. Given the help to ”help themselves” the child achieves the highest level of obedience, where the child acts consciously and voluntarily in a manner that is self directed and disciplined.

Montessori is a Philosophy

Times have changed, and science has made great progress, and so has our work; but our principles have only been confirmed, and along with them our conviction that mankind can hope for a solution to its problems, among which the most urgent are those of peace and unity, only by turning its attention and energies to the discovery of the child and to the development of the great potentialities of the human personality in the course of its formation.” (From the foreword to “The Discovery of the Child”, Poona 1948)

Many who observe the daily peacefulness in a Montessori classroom wonder at how an idea born at the turn of the century can be so relevant today. Many of the “progressive models” of current education have adopted components of the approach and methodology employed by Dr. Montessori in her first schools. Our schools remain relevant for the 21st century child because Montessori was both a visionary and a practical scientist. 

I believe that this truth grows from Montessori philosophy based on the principle of community. The multi aged grouping of the Children’s House community is built upon respect for oneself, for peers and for the community at large. In this community values are lived, grace and courtesy are routine, and a common spirit of love and sharing, hospitality, cooperation, help, and assistance binds the community in noble work.

This is an educational community for children in which each child has the time, means and scope of activity to fully develop and realize his/her potential. 

In the Children’s House the necessary time is dictated by the child’s need for exactness and repetition. There is time for process, and the fixing of one’s attention on a key experience that engages a unique concentration and promotes the necessary repetition to imprint the experience within the personality. In this way knowledge is learned with enthusiasm and guided through hands-on experience. Inspiration and motivation is intrinsic in the experience.

This community has breadth of content that insures the child has the richness of scope and understanding to interrelate and apply knowledge. In this way the children learn quickly and with such enthusiasm that new knowledge sparks and renews the learning process, creating the “touchstone effect”. Content and process merge, interrelationships become clear, and sensibilities are solidified. 

Mutual respect allows for a freedom of activity that develops responsible independence and encourages diversity. This aids the child to look beyond his own needs and see those of others and the world around him. He ponders the wondrous nature of all things with enough imagination to explore his part in the universal order. He discovers that knowledge unlocks the keys to the universe and his mind expands. He learns to respect and admire the achievements of others, both around him and in history. All of this leads to a naturally well-developed child attune to his culture and the ecology of life.

In the Children’s House community the child understands that each one of us is dependent on others and each must make a contribution for the betterment of all. Participation in this model learning community enables the child to eventually adapt to society, knowing that each individual’s adaptation takes the highest form by the special contribution he can make to his fellow man. This membership is both personally satisfying and socially rewarding. The educational outcome guides the child to their vocation, the place where the world’s needs and their talents intersect.

This community provides the means for the individual uses to acquire knowledge and experience which comes through special work, or relevant and important activity, where the personality is nourished and allowed to develop without constant adult imposition. In the youngest, human nature guides the individual to do those things that are naturally good for him or herself.  Respect is given to the child’s unconscious prompts or urges, eventually encouraging the development of the individual will and self-discipline.  The special Montessori content for the older children in this educational community is the means by which they gain an admiration towards their culture. They are inspired with pride and a sense of privilege in belonging to humanity. This sentiment is aroused in the child by showing him the interrelatedness of all things in nature, but especially in the world of man. 

What is Practical Life?

“Practical Life” is the name coined by Dr. Montessori to explain an area of curriculum in the Montessori method that departs dramatically from traditional forms. Practical life activities refer to the necessary everyday functions that we all perform to care for ourselves, maintain our physical environment and interact with others in a socially acceptable manner. 

These activities are essential for all children to learn so that they may acquire the behaviors required to become both independent and join the larger community in which they live. It is also recognized that these patterns of behavior form the basis of culture, the distinguishing attribute of the human species, which forms the basis of the development of the personality. Therefore, practical life activities are the fundamental bridge, which we all must cross to join the society in which we live while maintaining the integrity of our own individuality.

Educators lose sight of the importance of this work in childhood, focusing only on the adult perspective that work is a means to an end, the process of which should be speedy and economical in both time and effort. The result of the adult’s work is the resolution of the task at hand, the product being more important than the process. In addition, any division of labor is desirable, for “many hands make for light work”. It is this attitude towards work, which becomes the fundamental obstacle to the child, his work is unique and different.

 But the child too is a worker and producer. If he cannot take part in the adult’s work, he has his own, a great important, difficult work indeed-the work of producing man.”1 

The work of the child is process oriented, for the result is not the completion of a task, but rather the development of attributes of character and personality, which form the basis for his individuality. This work allows him to inculcate his culture and join society, he is indeed, “the father of man”. The activity that characterizes this important motive of the child must no only be understood but also nurtured by adults. 

“When a little child works he does so not to attain an outward end. The aim of the work is the working…his work is the satisfaction of an inner need, a phenomenon of psychic maturation.2 

In this understanding lies the basic aim of practical life activities. The practical life exercises performed by children provide motives for each child to channel his energies into constructive activity, and act as the grist for the mill of psychic maturation.

 Pleasant activities are also provided, because we know that development results from activity. The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences”.3 

What better activities are there to provide than the ones the child sees performed by the adults he loves and cares for, yet he is rejected time and again from joining in due to their ignorant attitudes and the unwieldy tools. By isolating the difficulties and devising child-sized tools, Dr. Montessori was able to make it possible for the child to perform these activities, not just imitate them. It is no wonder that the exercises of practical life continue to be a favorite amongst children all over the world after 80 years since their inception. How disappointing is it that other methods of early childhood education have not incorporated these truly developmental functions into their programs. While children continue to play house without satisfaction of accomplishment in other methods, at Montessori schools all over the world children “do” house with results that are not only rewarding but constructive for their development.

The exercises of practical life have as their goal more than the channeling of the child’s work into constructive activity. They also form a comprehensive movement training curriculum, one which goes beyond physical education. 

In ordinary schools it usual to call by the name ‘gymnastics’ a kind of collective muscular discipline the aim of which is to carry out movements under commands given to a whole class…These different kinds of movements have been found useful in order to counterbalance the muscular inertia of pupils who have to follow a sedentary life in their studies…All these methods, however, are reactions from a life wrongly understood…4 

Educators, having attitudes which divide into categories work and play, have seen exercise and freedom of movement as a panacea to the natural urges of the child. They constrict freedom of movement to the play yard where children idle away their time in fantasy play or have as a means of constructing their personality sandboxes and water tables which provoke nothing for the intellect.

 He is the Forgotten Citizen, who lives in a world where there is plenty for everyone else, but nothing for him. In the empty world he wanders aimlessly, getting constantly into mischief, breaking his toys, vainly seeking satisfaction for his spirit, while the adult fails completely to realize what are his real needs.5 

The educators structured learning activities are normally in groups in which the children must sit quietly and “behave”, like Montessori once observed “transfixed butterflies”. 

Making muscular movement penetrate into the very life of the children, connecting it with the practical life of every day, formed a main part of the practical side of our method, which has introduced education in movement fully into the indivisible whole of the education of the personality of the child.6  

Montessori education incorporates a sequential unfolding of movement activities which bring under the child’s control of his own movements and aid him in coordinating these movements to the purpose of his conscious mind. These activities not only meet the child’s physical need but also a deep- rooted psychic need.

Much of the focus of these practical activities is on the hands, which are really the tools of the mind. The child 

“…becomes fully conscious and constructs the future man, by means of activity…He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instrument of man’s intelligence.7 

An entire portion of the exercises are therefore devoted to helping the child bring under control and coordinate this hand movements. 

Before the year is out his hands become busy in various ways which to him, one may say, are so many kinds of work: the opening and closing of cupboards, of boxes with lids, the sliding of drawers in a cabinet, taking corks and stoppers out of bottles and replacing them, removing oddments from a basket, and putting them back. It is by dint of these efforts that he comes to acquire more and more control over his hands.”8 

Mental development is thereby promoted through movement exercises. 

“…mental development must connected with movement and be dependent on it. It is vital that educational theory and practice should become informed by this idea.9 

Practical life exercises provide opportunities to synthesize the work of the hands and the mind as the prerequisite experiences necessary for the development of the intellect.

As a result of freeing the child to perform purposeful activities that were practical in nature and rich with activity, Dr. Montessori observed an emerging quality in the child’s personality.

 Having in our schools broken this barrier and torn aside the veils which hide the truth, having given the child real things in a real world, we expected to see his joy and delight in using them. But actually we saw far more than that. The child’s whole personality changed, and the first sign of this was the assertion of independence. It was as though he were saying: ‘I want to do everything myself. Now, please don’t help me’.” 10 

A sense of dignity and respect for self emerges in all of us when we can do things for ourself. These satisfying moments build our self-esteem, and lay the roots of confidence for struggles in the future. It is this by-product of the practical activities which alerted Dr. Montessori to the benefits of the exercises. She was given to note that, 

Development takes the form of a drive towards an ever greater independence.”11 

This independence comes by means of work and takes the form of an independence of the mind and body. Herein lies another of the many benefits of the practical exercise.

Montessori proposed that one of the child’s early guiding instincts was the sense of order. Appealing to this sense of order is more than creating a logical and graded sequence of the exercises of practical life. It must be understood as a form of guidance, which helps the child orient himself in a painfully confusing world. Order is more the connection between objects and their functions, a discovery of relationship. This is the real deep-rooted nature of knowledge, not ideas in isolation, but connected concepts. For this reason the child is sensitive to order, and while keeping things in their place is an outward manifestation of this sensitivity, it behooves us to understand the cause as opposed to the symptom.

 Nature gives small children an intrinsic sensibility to order,  as built up by an inner sense which is a sense not of distinction between things but of distinction of the relationship between things, so that it perceives an environment as a whole with interdependent parts. Only in an environment, known as a whole, is it possible for the child to orient himself and act with purpose; without it he would have no basis on which to build his perception of relationship.”12 

It is for this reason that the materials are structured in patterns of sensibility so that the child may decipher their relationship, and his patterns of behavior are altered to help him make a relationship with the real world around and with others. In this way the mind connects with movement to build intelligence and the spirit connects with others to build sociability. Order orients the work of the child for these purposes.

Appealing to the child’s sense of order also had another benefit which delighted Dr. Montessori, that of intense concentration in small children as exhibited by their repetition of activities vital to meeting their inner needs. After observing a child who would not be distracted from repeating an activity forty-two times she commented, 

Here was a peep into the unexplored depths of the child’s mind. Here was a very small child, at an age when attention flits from one thing to another and cannot be held down. Yet she had been absorbed in concentration such that her ego had withdrawn itself from external stimulus. That concentration was accompanied by a rhythmic movement of the hands, evoked by an accurately made, scientifically graduated object.”13  

By giving the children freedom of choice and allowing them their own time to process an exercise this concentration was lengthened and strengthened. It is what Montessori said, “the children showed me”.

Given conditions that freed the child to work unhindered, with practical material which met basic inner needs and developed attributes of character, the children began to exhibit interest in relating to others with the dignity that they felt for themselves. Having been shown simple social functions such as laying the table and serving others as well as greeting guests (there were many visitors to the Casa dei Bambina) the children transcended their humble status and 

“They learned to behave at table like princes, and they also learned to wait on the table like the best waiters…Truly, this is what was happening to our children. There was a resurrection from sadness to joy, with the disappearance of many faults, that are usually feared because considered incorrigible…”13  

Though simple lessons in grace and courtesy the children became sociable and their characters were developed. This is why today we continue to provide simple lessons in grace and courtesy. It was not just lessons in social interaction that brought about the changes in the children. It was that the fundamental obstacles were removed in a prepared environment, and the child soon emerged from a cocoon of ego-centrism and wanted to interact and participate in the community. 

“No sooner was the child placed in this world of his own size than he took possession of it. Social life and the formation of character followed automatically.”14 

Further facilitating this process was the mixing of age groups, providing a community in which children could contribute by helping others less capable, and children could look up to others as models for their future. These combined characteristics form the fundamental reason why children become socialized in a Montessori environment.

In the end, the rationale for practical activities must reflect an understanding of the child. Each unique individual must be given time, means and scope to follow inner guides. The material we provide acts as a link between inner needs and the outer world. Our goal then is to provide the raw material for the child to construct himself from, and hope that it is more than just entertaining, for

 “Happiness is not the whole aim of education. A man must be independent in his powers and character, able to work and assert his mastery over all that depends on him. This is the light in which childhood revealed itself to us, once consciousness had come to birth and begun to take control.”15

FOOTNOTES

1 Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood (Bombay: Orient Longman 1978), p.205
2 op. cit. p. 208
3 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), p. 94
4 Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), p.94
5 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), pp. 168-169.
6 Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1980), p.94.
7 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), p. 26
8 op. cit. p. 153
9 op. cit. p. 141
10 op. cit. p. 169
11 op. cit. p. 85
12 Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood (Bombay: Orient Longman 1978), p.55
13 op. cit. p. 27
14 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (Madras: Kalakshetra Publications 1973), p. 169.
15 op. cit. p. 169

The Three Stages of Learning

In her book, Discovery of the Child , Dr. Montessori defines the role of the Montessori educator in the learning process.

“With my methods, the mistress teaches little, observes a great deal, and above all, hers is the function of directing mental activity of the children and their physiological development. For this reason, I have changed the name of teacher to that of directress. The directress is the child’s guide. She guides in the choice of material, in finding exact words, in facilitating and explaining work, in preventing waste of energy, in quelling chance disturbances. Thus she affords the help necessary or proceeding surely and swiftly along the road to intellectual development.”

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, The Technique of Lessons, pg.171

This new role, different than that of the conventional teacher’s, requires the aid and support of a structured approach to observe and evaluate the learning process. Instead of actively directing the learning process, the “directress” must have the skills to be responsive at the optimum moment and have the patience to observe and protect the child while he is engage in self directed learning. Dr. Montessori says that…

“…the directresses’ of the Children’s’ Houses must have a very clear conception of two factors; the guidance which is the function of the teacher, and the individual exercise which is the work of the child.”

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, The Technique of Lessons, pg.174

“The end to be attained is the orderly stabilization of the spontaneous activity of the child. As no master can give the pupil the agility which he acquired by gymnastic exercise but the pupil must improve himself by his own efforts, so it is here by close analogy for the education of the senses and education in general.” 

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, The Technique of Lessons, pg.173

The skilled Montessori Director/Directress must have the skill and the time to observe the learning process, evaluate that process, track and note that progress and apply that evaluation to timely intervention with each child. In fact, Montessori suggests that: “an intelligent mistress might carry on interesting studies in individual psychology and up to a certain point, measure the time of resistance of the attention to different stimuli.” 

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, The Technique of Lessons, pg.173

First, we must outline a model for understanding the learning process based on the theories of Dr. Montessori and Eduard Sequin, in a conceptual framework for the learning process, the child passes through three stages of learning in the formation of concepts.

1st Stage of Learning Orientation

The first stage of learning is a process of orientating the child to the fundamental qualities of a concept. This process may begin in many indirect preparations in the home environment. A rich exposure to nature and culture play an important role in these preparations. In the school environment the child is instructed with a specially designed activity which isolates one particular concept from others. The directress acts as a dynamic link between the child and the activity.

2nd Stage of Learning Absorption

The second stage of learning is a process of absorbing the properties of the concept through spontaneous and self motivated activity. This process allows the child to take in the whole of the concept while becoming aware of specific parts that go into it. In the home this stage is characterized by; 1) intense interest in specific tasks which the child often repeats many times, and; 2) a willful response to anyone or anything which interrupts the process. In the school environment the child does specific self directed work with the activities whose design prevents errors and promotes independent accomplishment.

3rd Stage of Learning Adaptation

This third stage of learning is evident when the child demonstrates his full understanding of the concepts in his everyday activities. In the home as well as in the school environment the child is able to integrate the new concept with known concepts, and adapt the concept to practical usage.

Providing the Time, Means and Scope

Factors affecting the three stages are not rigidly fixes, but act as guidelines for the trained observer to evaluate this process and suggest strategies for the effective intervention. They provide a structure that allows the director/directress to respond to individual needs in the learning process.

There are three distinct factors affecting the successful completion of the three stages of learning.

These factors are referenced extensively in Dr. Montessori’s works: 1) Providing the child with sufficient time , based on his individual needs; 2) Providing the means for self directed learning; 3) Insuring the child has sufficient scope of understanding to interrelate and apply his knowledge. Scope in the learning process, with a rich variety of activities, increases the power of intelligent reasoning. This process is aided by the nearly unlimited potential for learning in early childhood.

“The touchstone, which produces such wonderful results in children and which sets them on a plane very different from ours and often inaccessible to us, is worthy of being considered as a fact unknown until today. It seems that in a certain period of life there exists possibilities of making mental acquisitions which are no longer possible at other ages. A fact which is clearly evident to everybody is the capacity many times mentioned which little children have for remembering and reproducing the sounds of language and for learning the words of it.”

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, Observations of Prejudices, pg.181

Time

In the first factor there is a basic conflict between the adult’ sense of time and the child’s own time.

“The adult’s inclination of doing almost anything is to choose the direct method and to do it in the shortest possible time with the least expenditure of effort. The child’s work has a different purpose and rhythm. He has no need to hurry or to be efficient as the adult. Instead, the child needs to do tasks slowly, according to a child size time schedule. The child needs to explore, to repeat, and to correct himself many times. The process itself is as important as finishing the task.

Maria Montessori, Secret of Childhood, Adult Substitution, pg.93

The learner must be allowed his own time to complete each stage. For the individual rate of progress, the Montessori directress “keeps watch so that the child who is absorbed in his work is not disturbed by an companion…”

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, The Teacher, pg. 163

Further, “…she will let the child have asmuch time as he wants without ever interrupting his activity,  neither for the purpose of correcting small errors, nor by stopping the work through fear of tiring out the child,”  having as Dr. Montessori says “respect for useful activity.”

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, The Technique of the Lessons, pg.167

Means

The learner is given the means for spontaneous inquiry by using specially designed activities for child directed learning.

“The profound difference which separates this method from the so-called object lessons of the old style, is that objects are not an aid for the mistress who has to explain, that is they do not constitute means for teaching… They are an aid for the child who chooses them himself, takes possession of them, uses them and employs them himself according to his own tendencies and needs and just as long as he is interested in them. In this way the objects become means of development. The objects and not the teaching form the principal agent, it is the child who is the active being and not the teacher.”

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, The Teacher, pg.161

Scope

Lastly, the factor affecting the three stages of learning is the scope, helping the child to broaden and interrelate the formed concept with others already known.

Using the sensorial apparatus as an example, Dr. Montessori comments:

“if the child, by exercising himself with the material sense has strengthened his power of distinguishing one thing from another, and has opened up the pathways of his mind to a continually growing avidity for work, he has certainly become a more perfect and intelligent observer than at first, and anyone who is interested in things on a small scale will be the more interested in great things.”

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, Observations of Prejudices, pg.79

In addition, the children learn so quickly and with such enthusiasm that new knowledge sparks and renews the learning process, creating the “touchstone effect.”

“Very often one is amazed by the fact that children not only make independent observations on their environment, noticing things which at first they did not distinguish in it, but they seem to observe and compare them with what they remember. They express opinions which seem marvelous, for they reveal to us that some children form within themselves a kind of “touchstone” which we do not possess. They compare external things with the image they have fixed in their minds, and they show judgement which is surprising in its accuracy

Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child, Observations of Prejudices, pg.181

Brain-based Learning

Montessori math constitutes superb brain-based learning. Robert Sylvester (A Biological Brain in a Cultural Classroom) states, “It is not the number of neurons itself that determines our mental characteristics; it is how they are connected;” and Eric Jensen (Teaching with the Brain in Mind), “The key to getting smarter is growing more synaptic connections between brain cells and not losing existing connections…The single best way to grow a better brain is through challenging  problem solving.”  Michael explains that unused connections are pruned, so the neurological rule is, “Use it or lose it.”  All of this suggests that the best way to learn is to engage all the lobes of cerebrum, activating visual and auditory memory, along with controlled movement and problem-solving.  Activities that cross hemispheres force interactions of logic and creativity. Take a look and you will see this built into the design of all Montessori learning materials.

The key to this benefit lies in what Dr. Montessori called “materialized abstractions”. Her concrete hands-on materials present relationships for higher thinking later in life by creating impressions for abstraction. She observed that the hands are the tools of the mind, and provided for this natural activity in a systematic way. From spontaneous individual work the child gains what formal education could never teach later, the physical manipulation of abstract concepts.

As a Montessori parent be dissuaded from “helping” your child by teaching number tricks or doing lots of drills. These short cuts can short-circuit deeper learning. “Drill for skill ” is great for parrots but not for children. Parents can trust the benefits of Montessori mathematics approach and the deeper understanding it develops. As a parent avoid judging your child’s mathematics progress only by standardized test scores or the ability to answer correctly when quizzed. Let’s advocate for our children’s mathematical abilities to run deep and evolve naturally with interest that is truly intrinsic.

“My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certificate from the secondary school to the University, but the individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity,through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual.”

Dr. Maria Montessori, From the International Montessori Congress in Oxford, 1936

The Montessori Strategy for Teaching Concentration

The Montessori classroom activities for early childhood are designed to promote purposeful engagement, where the child is completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The benefits include increased focus and more energy, release from boredom and anxiety, and a path of self-direction to find new challenges and build new skills in order to find purposeful engagement again. The results are what Montessori termed “normalization”, a condition of freedom in which the child makes constructive choices and develops deep concentration and true engagement in the learning process.

“Now it is evident that the mind cannot concentrate except upon an object worthy of such an effort. It must contain the means of learning in the most rational way. A faulty or useless object could never attract the lively intellectual interest of the child. “

Dr. Montessori recognized that the “means for development” needed to go beyond toys or games, the youngest children were attracted to real life experiences and were drawn to activities that engaged their senses. She went about designing and implementing purposeful and constructive activity in these two key areas. She then observed the impact of these experiences and how they benefited the intellectual development for the youngest children. In her earliest schools she saw that the impact of building engagement through practical skills and sense training ultimately advanced early academic outcomes.

” The didactic material plays a most important part in this development. These objects are presented to the child; they are graded according to their difficulty, and correspond to the psychic needs of the child. And that is the reason they attract the child’s attention so strongly as to make him delight in his work and incite in him a marked power of concentration.”

She discovered that young children have a keen interest in practical activities that they see adults doing, notably the child wants “to do house, not play house”. She set about creating developmentally appropriate tools and activities that allowed the child to not just imitate the work of adults in the home but really do meaningful practical work. We call these activities “Practical Life”.

Dr. Montessori designed a curriculum around building attention, focus and concentration. These activities are ingeniously contrived to engage the child in sustained and purposeful activity that focuses mental activity, builds concentration and develops attention to detail. The results are what Montessori termed “normalization”, a condition that includes spontaneous discipline, concentration, and engagement.

In a modern definition of these same necessary skills in early childhood, scientists refer to these capacities as executive function and self-regulation—a set of skills that relies on three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Children aren’t born with these skills—they are born with the potential to develop them. The Montessori learning approach provides concrete learning experiences that the young brain needs to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

The Montessori learning activities are designed to contain the essential features for training executive functioning and building concentration:

  1. Thoughtfully conceived to have clear and distinct steps, that while challenging, are still attainable by the child without assistance from an adult.
  2. Devised to engage the child with focused attention and sustained concentration.
  3. The motivation for the work comes from within and is rewarding in and of itself.
  4. Chosen because the child wants to do the purposeful work that they see adults do, but are unable due to the size of the tools or the lack of time in a child-centered environment to engage without interruption.
  5. This purposeful “work” creates feelings of satisfaction that lead to a sense of peace and purpose that is unique and very different then “play”.
  6. The work fascinates and the child becomes so absorbed in the process that they  lose the sense of time passing in the deep engagement of the work.
  7. The planning of the activity and its steps controlled through design by the adult offer immediate feedback throughout the process which controls the error on the part of the child and helps them develop skills of self-correction.

Unique in early childhood programs is a focus in he Montessori classroom on practical skills (Practical Life) and the development of the senses (Sensorial). This may appear at first to be counterintuitive in education, yet experience shows enormous benefits and reveals the distinctive impact that these activities have in comparison to the more open-ended pretend play activities in conventional early childhood programs.

Children learn to concentrate in Montessori classrooms. It is a phenomenon that startled Dr. Montessori in her original schools and continues to fascinate adults today. The levels of deep concentration attained in Montessori classrooms synchronizes well with modern research in cognitive psychology. The state of complete immersion in an activity that includes spontaneous discipline, concentration, and engagement is associated with high levels of creativity and optimal performance in a wide variety of activities.

Academic success requires the ability for deep engagement in the learning process. This engagement is a combination of motivation, concentration, interest, and enjoyment derived from the process of learning itself.  The Montessori learning environment focuses all it’s attention on promoting the ideal conditions for the youngest to have the time, means and scope for this deep engagement. Observe this for yourself, and you will join me in the satisfaction of knowing that the process really does work!

” This interest, therefore, guides us in constructing in a perfect manner the means of learning and in obtaining that which in the regular schools would be called “the maximum efficiency of study.” It is only by a method which, in giving intellectual learning, concentrates the inner powers, that one observes the direct influence of the learning upon the character and the moral qualities.

In order that concentration may come about, it is necessary that the child should have at his disposal means of development which he is free to use—that is, it is necessary to organize intellectual work for him.

Only “normalized” children, aided by their environment, show in their subsequent development those wonderful powers that we describe: spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social sentiments of help and sympathy for others….

Its principal feature never changes. It is “application to work.” An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities and leads him to self-mastery.”

Quotes taken from:  Montessori, Maria (1915) The Organization of Intellectual Work in School, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association of the United States Annual Meeting, Volume 53, 1915

The Montessori Guide (Teacher)

In a Montessori classroom the teacher is an observer, follower, and guide who brings wisdom, consideration, and experience to the child’s academic, social, and intellectual exploration. This approach demands special professionals confident and skilled enough to allow the child to be an active participant in his or her learning. It also means that all school decisions are driven by what is best for the children.

Each classroom is prepared specially for children and the adult has a greater responsibility that goes beyond just teaching. Always thoughtful and observant, the adult in this community acts as a dynamic link between the child and the specially designed materials and presentations that meet their needs and interests at just the right moment. This new role, different then the conventional teacher’s, requires the aid and support of a structured approach to observe and evaluate the learning process. Instead of actively directing the learning process, the adult is trained to be responsive at the optimum moment and have the patience to observe and protect the child while they are engaged in self-directed learning. In a Montessori classroom the adult is careful to time and guide her intervention with respect to individual needs and interests.

The adults are quick to praise and slow to criticize. The role of the adult is to guide the child to activity that is within his ability, and that approach engenders a growing confidence that is based on a series of successes. No rewards or punishments are used to motivate the child. Genuine pride that comes from self-accomplishment is enough. The adult sets a positive tone, and always strives to be confident, firm, fair, consistent, and yet friendly. Expectations are clearly established and community guidelines that are reasonable, well defined, and clearly understood are consistently and fairly enforced.

When you have solved the problem of controlling the attention of the child, you have solved the entire problem of their education.

– Maria Montessori

The Montessori Learning Environment

The Montessori learning environment is a thoughtfully conceived and painstakingly prepared. The classrooms are refreshingly sensible in their approach to educating children. The learning environment is executed with elegance, simplicity, and good common sense.

First, we create a space that is orderly and child-sized.

Maria Montessori wrote, “ Only practical experience and work lead to maturity…. Those children who have been able to work with their hands make headway in their development, and reach a strength of character which is conspicuous.”

At the Montessori School we provide specially designed, concrete materials that engage the children constantly in their own learning, allowing each to learn — and to understand — by doing. There is time for process, and the fixing of one’s attention on a key experience that engages a unique concentration and promotes the necessary repetition to imprint the experience within the intellect. In this way knowledge is learned with enthusiasm and guided through hands-on experience. Inspiration and motivation is intrinsic in the educational process.

The fundamental characteristic of the Montessori environment is the prevailing order in the classroom, we create a space that is orderly and child-sized. This order includes a neat and tidy work area, along with proper display of materials, but goes beyond to social conditions and the acceptance of constructive activity as the means for development.

Here, the child feels comfortable. He doesn’t feel small or out of place. He relates to the room. The order of the room assists him in orienting, in getting to know the physical space. Its consistency means that he can count on finding what he needs. Here, he can establish a secure relationship with the objects in the room. The classroom feels more like a home than an institution.

“We all know the sense of comfort of which we are conscious when a good half of the floor space in a room is unencumbered; this seems to offer us the agreeable possibility of moving about freely.”

Montessori, Maria

The Community of Children

In Montessori schools the classroom community is structured developmentally, so that children of different ages share the same classroom, and are encouraged to collaborate and help each other.

There is a three year age span providing a diverse group. There are rich opportunities to relate in many different ways. The age differences allow for true spontaneous helping to occur (a cornerstone of a strong society). The group is consistent; everyone comes everyday. The teacher is the same person every day. The child can settle into this community and quickly feel that they are a vital member.

The mixed age community creates conditions that foster individual differences as strengths, and promotes groupings of mixed abilities. These ongoing experiences develop social skills as a response to conditions, rather than through direct teaching intervention. In these groupings children internalize what they have learned by teaching the younger children and by being mentors and role models.

There are also freedoms and limits that are part of living and working in a community. These determine the quality of the social life of our classroom. This daily interaction defines social development in a Montessori classroom, many social opportunities are a key element of the everyday life of the classroom. Social development is so much more than children getting along together! All the children benefit from all the social interchanges.

In this community approach to education the child comes to understand that each one of us is dependent on others and each must make a contribution for the betterment of all. Through living and working daily in a collaborative approach to learning the child finds community membership can be both personally satisfying and socially rewarding.

Mathematics and How it is Developed in the Classroom

In all this work in the Children’s House there is a benefit for the mathematical mind. From the sequential activities of practical life, the seriated and graded activities of sensorial, through the exploration of the mechanics of reading and writing, to the early work in geometry and arithmetic, the Children’s House experience lays a mathematical foundation for the elementary child.

Montessori stresses the importance of manipulating materials to discover answers, rather than merely memorizing math techniques. How much richer to arrange colored strips on a board to see the sum of two addends, instead of reading a flash card!  It is fundamentally different to use your hands to compare fractional pieces, instead of just learning rules for comparing the numerator and the denominator.  Who among us really understood why it worked to invert the denominator when dividing fractions? Our children do!

There are several reasons that Montessori math materials promote optimal intellectual development.  First, multi-sensory learning allows students to use various parts of their brains to learn. Hands-on manipulations encourage active, discovery learning. Second, materials encourage children to work together, and these collaborations involve lots of discussion and rationalization.  Third, Montessori students learn to strive for accuracy because the materials provide feedback.  They see their math work as puzzles to be solved, instead of assignments to be completed.  Finally, Montessori math materials are elegantly designed to use geometric relationships to show algebraic concepts.

In our work we have given a name to this part of the mind which is built up with exactitude… we call it “the mathematical mind.” I take the term from Pascal … who said that man’s mind was mathematical by nature, and that knowledge and progress come from accurate observation.” 

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, (1949) Claude A. Claremont, trans. New York: Dell Publishing, 1967

The Young Mind is a Mathematical Mind 

A great unconscious power is at work in the developing child which aids her in ordering her own impressions into relationships to create the foundation of her intellect. This earliest development of mathematical understanding is the work of the unconscious mind in classifying and categorizing perceptual impressions. What Dr. Montessori discovered was that the young child has a mind that is mathematically inclined in its approach to ordering perceptions.

The mind of the young child makes inferences extracted from the physical world around her. These impressions are generalized in the mind and go beyond physical reality. The process of the intellect creates abstractions based on inference. This action is the mathematical mind at work, creating concepts beyond reality and ordering them into relationships.

The understanding of the child’s mathematical mind plays a key role in the approach and curriculum in the Children’s House. Experiences are structured to appeal to the child’s natural urges to explore through her senses the immediate world of the here and now. Sensorial activities provide the opportunity to hone discrimination and appeal to the mathematical mind in her orderly isolation of sense experiences. This builds impressions which provide the grist for language to develop and express the abstractions of the physical properties the child has generalized from her experiences. As the child masters this language of precision she is able to manipulate symbols, and discovers the process of writing mathematically. This leads her to early understandings of the algorithms and the expressions of mathematical concepts.

A Rainy Day Becomes a Community Lunch

As the year progress our community continues to grow and change both physically and socially. Looking over our most recent “Community Lunch” I was reminded of a comment Montessori made over a 100 years ago:

Given conditions that freed the child to work unhindered, with practical material which met basic inner needs and developed attributes of character, the children began to exhibit interest in relating to others with the dignity that they felt for themselves.

Having been shown simple social functions such as laying the table and serving others as well as greeting guests (there were many visitors to the Casa dei Bambina) the children transcended their humble status and “They learned to behave at table like princes, and they also learned to wait on the table like the best waiters…Truly, this is what was happening to our children. There was a resurrection from sadness to joy, with the disappearance of many faults, that are usually feared because considered incorrigible…”

Though simple lessons in grace and courtesy the children became sociable and their characters were developed. This is why today we continue to provide simple lessons in grace and courtesy. It was not just lessons in social interaction that brought about the changes in the children. It was that the fundamental obstacles were removed in a prepared environment, and the child soon emerged from a cocoon of ego-centrism and wanted to interact and participate in the community. “No sooner was the child placed in this world of his own size than he took possession of it. Social life and the formation of character followed automatically.”

Further facilitating this process was the mixing of age groups, providing a community in which children could contribute by helping others less capable, and children could look up to others as models for their future. These combined characteristics form the fundamental reason why children become socialized in a Montessori environment.

What the Children Showed Me 

Here was a peep into the unexplored depths of the child’s mind. Here was a very small child, at an age when attention flits from one thing to another and cannot be held down. Yet she had been absorbed in concentration such that her ego had withdrawn itself from external stimulus. That concentration was accompanied by a rhythmic movement of the hands, evoked by an accurately made, scientifically graduated object.” 1.

By giving the children freedom of choice and allowing them their own time to process an exercise this concentration was lengthened and strengthened. It is what Montessori said, “the children showed me”.

The conventional structured learning activities are normally in groups in which the children must sit quietly and “behave”, like Montessori once observed “transfixed butterflies”. “Making muscular movement penetrate into the very life of the children, connecting it with the practical life of every day, formed a main part of the practical side of our method, which has introduced education in movement fully into the indivisible whole of the education of the personality of the child.

Montessori education incorporates a sequential unfolding of movement activities which bring under the child’s control of his own movements and aid him in coordinating these movements to the purpose of his conscious mind. These activities not only meet the child’s physical need but also a deep- rooted psychic need.

1. Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood (Bombay: Orient Longman 1978), p.54

Beyond Learning is Deep Understanding

Rather than learn what the teacher or the text says, children in a Montessori school construct meaning from experiential learning activities. The Montessori learning materials are designed explicitly to create context for children by linking ideas to what they know and helping children see the meaning. The Montessori materials engage the children constantly in their own learning, allowing each to learn — and to understand — by doing. There is time for process, and the fixing of one’s attention on a key experience that engages a unique concentration and promotes the necessary repetition to imprint the experience within the intellect. In this way knowledge is learned with enthusiasm and guided through hands-on experience. Inspiration and motivation is intrinsic in the educational process.

Children in Montessori schools learn largely by doing. Rather than merely hearing and writing, their learning is situated in the context of actions and objects. They learn through the actual, practical experience with a subject rather than just its mere theoretical parts. The learning materials designed for the youngest are applicable in advanced learning right through to Middle School. Embedded in their design is a passage from the explicit and concrete to the abstract and applicable. The process of schematizing, structuring, and modeling concepts with concrete learning materials makes abstraction not only possible, but resulting with depth of understanding.Montessori education makes meaningful connections between ideas and applications, and has real value in making learning both understandable and lasting. Ultimately it is all about promoting curiosity and making learning exciting because of the inherent utility that capitalize on the students’ prior learning. You can give them a fish or teach them to fish.

Towards Responsible Independence

Introduction and Definition of Cosmic Education

Dr. Montessori’s own words best describe the method of education in the elementary which she called the Cosmic Plan. To understand cosmic education one has to know Dr. Montessori’s ideas on educating children in the broad field of ecology. In her day this was a new science, the dangers of pollution prompt modern man to study it more closely. Thus the modern child has a greater need for awareness of his natural world and the role man plays in preserving it or destroying it.

“The Cosmic theory recognizes in all creation a unifying plan upon which depend not only the different forms of living beings, but also the evolution of the earth itself. This idea, although it includes the foundation of evolutionary theory, differs upon the causes and finality of the progressive changes of the species. The progress of life through its struggles is not due to change. Life progresses according to a cosmic plan and the purpose of life is not to achieve perfection along an unlimited line of progress but to exercise influence and achieve a definite aim upon the environment.” 1

In her study of the development of man she identified the key period in which the child seeks to understanding his position in society and the world of nature. During this period an important acquisition of culture and intellectual achievement takes place, and under the right conditions the species as a whole benefits. Together the needs of mankind are met by the children of this era. Upon their healthy growth relies the preservation of Nature and the upliftment of culture. It is then keenly important to expose children of this age to a holistic overview so they might develop their role as a healthy and constructive member of society. This Montessori described as each child’s cosmic task, to fulfill his potential in the work of bettering mankind.

“A cosmic task is that which contributes to keeping nature in a harmonious state of purity. Each kind works for the whole and upon the work of each depends the possibility of life for the whole. These cosmic tasks have been widely distributed among all the behavior which urges it irresistibly to some task which is useful for the community.” 2

Dr. Montessori goes on to say in this lecture that man must have a definite part in this contribution to creation. That this cosmic task must be explored and chosen for each individual of the human species is critical to the survival of life, for humans makes more impact then whole species of other living creatures.

All of nature but man is fulfilling its cosmic task as predetermined by instinct and the natural order. Man alone holds will power and imagination enough to go beyond his natural position and live in a “supernatural” environment completely man-made.

This creates a unique responsibility and opportunity for educators. We must now educate for the human potential. We must provide the conditions under which the child can exercise his free will and gain practice in making choices, which is the process of developing the moral character of the man the child will be. The child’s work is to actualize his social awareness and integrate his full personality. Interests are developed but can not be forced, a genuine model must be put forth without imposing the interests or needs of the adult.

Content of Cosmic Education

“In the universal syllabus of studies to which the new generations must apply themselves, all of the items of culture must be concerned as different aspects of the knowledge of the world and the cosmos. Astronomy, geography, geology, biology, physics, chemistry are all but details of the whole. It is their relationship to one another that urges interest from a centre towards its ramifications. The cosmic construction must be the core of the study of history and sociology. How can we appreciate humanity if we do not consider first all of its merits, its creative efforts, its obedience to cosmic laws that have unconsciously urged society towards an effective union that today unites the whole of humanity in one vital aspect?” 3

It is necessary that the child understands that every man is dependent on others and each must make a contribution to the existence of all. Each individual’s adaptation to society takes the highest form in what special contribution he can make to his fellow man. This is no new idea, for Aristotle challenged his students by telling them that: Where the world’s needs and your talents intersect, there lies your vocation. The special content of cosmic education is the means by which children gain an admiration towards their culture. Our goal is to inspire pride and a sense of privilege in belonging to humanity. This sentiment is aroused in the child by showing him the interrelatedness of all things, especially in the world of man. “No object must be made use of without the thought that some unknown man produced it.” 4

Cosmic Education for the Child 6 to 12 Years of Age

Based on observation and the psychological characteristics of the child from 6 to 12 years old, cosmic education appeals to the curiosity of the child. It stimulates his intellect, and provides a context for socialization and moral development. This method goes beyond the senses and gives aid to the imagination. It is appropriate because the timing is right to meet the insatiable need for knowledge on this plane of development.

By using history as the core of cosmic education, the child sees the unfolding of all life from creation to the modern day. He studies the vastness of space as well as a drop of water, finding his position in it. He travels through time with his imagination and walks the sands of ancient Egypt to the mountains of the moon. He’s there when man discovers fire and rolls the first wheel. He studies current events and compares them. All of which brings an understanding of the great order of nature and ecology.

Order is the Base for Cosmic Education

It is in the awareness and study of the intrinsic order of Nature that the child discovers the harmony of interrelatedness. Cosmic education brings this awareness to the child’s attention. He realizes the universal relationship of all things.

” This is a different approach from the one usually found in schools. The idea, as mentioned above, is to try to awaken the imagination of the child, to give it a vision of the order of things. The inner order of the personality must be constructed through experiences in the structured world. Thus the child must have a coherent picture, on the broadest possible scale, of the ambience in which he is growing. Chaos will never stimulate it to real participation.” 5

Outcome of Cosmic Education

The outcome of cosmic education is the safety that the child finds in the knowledge which helps him adapt to society and find a stable place for his own personality within it. By allowing freedom of activity the child activates his sense of independence to the extent that he can look beyond his own needs and see those of others and the world around him. He ponders the cosmic task of all things with enough imagination to explore his part in the universal order . He discovers that knowledge unlocks the keys to the universe and his mind expands. He learns to respect and admire the achievements of others, both around him and in history. All of this leads to a naturally well developed child attune to his culture and the ecology of life.

“The common intelligence we all share has, for all practical purposes, no limits. Man can go on finding new possibilities forever. It is to this common intelligence, a dynamic communal entity that is created by the individual personalities forming the community, that cosmic education is directed. The progress, or lack of it, of the human community is determined by the concerted efforts of the individuals in it. If we merely add to ad hoc happenings and crises, our progress will be poor and our actions will be shortsighted. If we are inspired by vision and creative imagination, our progress can be great and our actions future oriented. Cosmic education seeks to offer the young, at the appropriate sensitive period, the stimulation and help they need to develop their minds, their vision, and their creative power, whatever the level or range of their personal contributions.” 6

Role of the Adult

The adult acts as a dynamic link between the child and specially designed materials and presentations which provide opportunities for him to explore and order knowledge thereby orienting and adapting his personality to the wider world. By allowing freedom of activity and choice within a balanced curriculum the child gains a vision of the vast scope of human knowledge. The adult must be careful to time and guide her charges with respect to their individual needs and interests.

Mario Montessori Jr. warns that “Generally, in elementary education one finds an endeavor to teach facts as clearly as possible, starting with the most simple and elementary and proceeding to the complex and abstract. The students find this boring and must force themselves to learn by an act of will. To arouse their interest they must first be shown the interrelation of all things in the world- the different aspects of knowledge that can be studied, how they can be studied, how they relate to each other or how they come about.” 6

Our task as teachers is to avoid the pitfall of teaching things, and educate the human potential.

Conclusion

Cosmic Education is a preparation for the individual who must live in society. We must be adapted to live, but this can come without conformity, with freedom to make choices. This is only possible with knowledge, and cosmic education is based on helping children realize their human potential.

“It is then not so important what facts one teaches the student, because very often these facts become obsolete by the time they can be used. It is more important to help him to develop his potentialities so that he can rely on his own ability to cope with the unexpected and solve whatever problems crop up. In other words, he must be helped to be independent in his own world and to develop the vision that will help him as an adult to maintain his environment in such a way that the unending, creative, and gigantic cosmic task of man can continue.” 7

References

1. Maria Montessori, (1946) Cosmic Education. Lecture at the First All-Indian Montessori Conference in Pilani, India. Published in The Child, Society and the World, Oxford, England: Clio Press, (1989) p 106

2. Maria Montessori, op. cit. p 107

3. Maria Montessori, op. cit. p 111

4. Maria Montessori, op. cit. p 112

5. Mario M. Montessori, Jr. (1976) Education for Human Development. New York: Schocken. p 103

6. Mario M. Montessori, Jr. op cit. p 106

7. Mario M. Montessori, Jr. op cit.

Middle School Occupations 

When we first moved into the schoolhouse, the middle schoolers immediately began cooking the daily meal, and while it served to feed and nourish the whole community, more importantly it served as one of many “occupations” within the curriculum that led to progressive levels of community involvement and a fuller understanding of civilization and place.

These occupations, at another developmental level in the Montessori school, are better known as the exercises of “Practical Life”. They provide the child with activities that have intelligent purpose and build skills of independence. These activities teach the everyday living skills necessary to do things for oneself and to interact with others in a manner which is socially acceptable. For the younger child they serve to build a bridge from home to school by providing the child with the necessary tools proportioned to his size and the thoughtful means to do work done by adults in the home.

Dr. Montessori recognized that children not only require skills to care for themselves but utilize activity as the means for development. She sought to build into her practical activities movement that is orderly and directed by the mind to an intelligent purpose. While the work the children practice builds their abilities, they also subtly learn to concentrate, sustain their attention for long periods of time, and control and coordinate their movements.

The benefits derived from this productive real work lie in what Montessori termed as “normalization”. This state of activity is characterized by four key observable behaviors:

1) Love of work, a kind of spontaneous enjoyment derived from the work itself

2) Concentration, a special absorption of genuine interest in the activity

3) Self-discipline, demonstrated by a responsible perseverance to completion

4) Sociability, characterized by a harmonious working relationship with others towards a common goal

At all ages these fundamental benefits aid in the healthy development of the personality and have a positive impact on the child’s ability to achieve academically. Yet of equal benefit is the development of the individual’s self esteem and his social relations with his peers.

For adolescents these occupations are the point of engagement in the collective work of the community. Adolescents begin to fuse the heart and the mind, thinking from the heart. The work of the hand, the mind and the heart come together in these occupations. The adolescent comes to know that participation is what makes their community work, that their mission starts here, in this place. So these occupations are not only a source of meaningful work, but is work that can be valued by all the members of the community, work that challenges the mind and the body, work that is recognized as legitimate by the culture, work that has economic validity, work that is made noble by being done with integrity and passion. These occupations provide the means for the adolescent to belong and be valued.

As an occupation, cooking is the ultimate interdisciplinary exercise which builds the bridge between the individual and their community. Cooking for the community provides meaningful practical work that is engaging, experiential and collaborative. It provides challenges that are both social and intellectual. It engages the body in movements that are refined and intelligently directed. It requires a high level of coordination and a sense of timing. It constantly applies skills in mathematics and the sciences, as well as connecting us with our own culture and history.

In these ways the daily meal not only nourishes the body, but serves the collective needs of the whole community. Each student may benefit from the activities that lead up to the meal, but the coming together of the community for a common meal strengthens us all each day.

Paul Raymond

The Mathematical Mind

Introduction to Mathematics

Mathematics is the study of relationships as formulated by the abstract mind. Certain logical patterns emerge and provide avenues of learning.

The origins of mathematics began long ago, when humans bound together, and with a unity of communal effort they invented new ways to relate to the environment and meet their fundamental needs. Humans’ earliest efforts came in the measurement of the earth. The advent of agriculture brought this earth measurement into the accumulated science of geometry. Concrete numbers emerged out of this new science of the relationships of shapes in space. The power of concrete numeration inspired man to invent arithmetic, with operations of numbers and with symbols. This new arithmetic came in handy as commerce and trade became a part of human culture.

With a deeper understanding of the laws of arithmetic, algebra was created. As early as 1650 BC an unknown writer set out to create a handbook of everyday mathematics that would be useful for merchants for purposes of business, paying taxes and measuring things. This is our first known record of algebra. Algebra is the science of treating the properties of numbers by means of general symbols. The use of the variable came into being with this new avenue of mathematics.

Higher levels of geometry were also attained by the early Greeks as they expressed number relationships in geometrical form. The human mind, free to contemplate, went beyond the physical world and took relationships of form and numbers to a science called analytical geometry.

Set theory is also a branch of mathematics which studies the interrelationships of sets of objects. Calculus looks at the infinitesimally small and the relationships of the unseen. Finally, statistics is the study of frequency and probabilities.

A Human Tendency

Dr. Montessori realized that the work of the child in ordering perceptions differed greatly than other creatures because only the human had the power to order and abstract. Unless man could imagine and make abstractions, he would not be intelligent; or his intelligence would be like that of higher animals, that is to say, it would be rigid and restricted to some particular form of behavior, and this would prevent its expansion.

The mind of the human makes inferences extracted from the physical world around them but these impressions generalize in the mind then go beyond physical reality. The process of the intellect creates abstractions based on inference. This action is the mathematical mind at work, creating concepts beyond reality and ordering them into relationships. These perceptions are the true work of mathematics, to stimulate the imagination to create order from abstract thought. The communal wealth of each human’s ideas in the ordering of relationships of abstract thought create the science of mathematics.

This formal thinking that we call mathematics is not the only form it takes. A great unconscious power is at work in the developing child which aids him in adapting to his world. The child must order his own impressions into relationships to create the construction of his personality. This informal mathematics is the work of the unconscious mind in classifying, categorizing perceptual impressions. What Dr. Montessori discovered was that young children have a mind that is mathematical in its approach to ordering perceptions. She called this aspect of the human the mathematical mind.

The Role of Language

The outward manifestation of this inner work is the child’s ability to classify his experiences with language. The myriad of impressions absorbed by the child are only that, unless he can sort and classify these with a special abstract tool that only man was given, the tools of language. These then are the final abstractions of real experience. This allows the child to share in the communal process of accumulated knowledge, for without language man would have no base for passing on his learning. The child utilizes the inner powers of imagination and abstraction to put the final ordering on perception and materialize it with language. These two powers of the mind (imagination and abstraction), which go beyond the simple perception of things actually present, play a mutual part in the construction of the mind’s content. … For words, if they are to be utilized and enrich the language , must be capable of taking their place in the ground work of sounds and grammatical order. And what happens in the construction of language happens in the construction of the mind.

The Role of Imagination

The power of the mind to imagine takes man beyond the real experience and provides the ability to abstract and change experience to meet his needs. With imagination man can take the orderly and exact perceptions in his mind as a starting point and utilize them to create something new. This ability to interrelate isolated perceptions and manipulate them into new constructs is the true power of the mathematical mind.

The true basis of knowledge is the real experience which the mind configures with the imagination. The imagination uses real experience to alter impressions to develop possibilities beyond reality.

The Role of Reasoning

The power of reasoning utilizes abstractions through imagination and generalizes them, allowing the mind to go beyond simple conclusions to complex relationships. Reasoning and imagination work together, for imagination without it is idle fantasy unconnected to the real world. The exercise of intelligence, reasoning within sharply defined limits, and distinguishing one thing from another, prepares a cement for imaginative constructions; because these are the more beautiful the more closely they are united in form, and the more logical they are in the association of individual images. The fancy that exaggerates and invents coarsely does not put the child on the right road. 3 Reasoning draws upon the mathematical mind’s ability to order perceptions and utilizes the imagination to take the impressions beyond the real experience. Yet the key aspect of the reasoning mind is the ability to ground this imaginative configuration by relating it to other real experience, distinguishing it from fantasy, and giving it the substance of intelligence.

  • Number itself cannot be defined and understand
  • The concept of number grows from experience with real objects but eventually they become abstract ideas.
  • It is one of the most abstract concepts that the human mind has encountered. No physical aspects of objects can ever suggest the idea of number. The ability to count, to compute, and to use numerical relationships are among the most significant among human achievements.
  • The concept of number is not the contribution of a single individual but is the product of a gradual, social evolution. The number system which has been created over thousands of years is an abstract invention. It began with the realization of one and then more than one. It is marvelous to see the readiness of the child’s understanding of this same concept.
  • Arithmetic deals with shape, space, numbers, and their relationships and attributes by the use of numbers and symbols. It is a study of the science of pattern and includes patterns of all kinds, such as numerical patterns, abstract patterns, patterns of shape and motion.
  • Little children are naturally attracted to the science of number. Mathematics, like language, is the product of the human intellect.
  • The concepts covered in the Primary class are numeration, the decimal system, computation, the arithmetic tables, whole numbers, fractions, and positive numbers.
  • Arithmetic is the science of computing using positive real numbers. It is specifically the process of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The materials of the Primary Montessori classroom also present sensorial experiences in geometry and algebra.

Mathematics in the Children’s House

The mathematical mind plays a key role in the preparation of the environment in the Children’s House. Experiences are structured to appeal to the child’s natural urges to explore with his perceptions the immediate world of the here and now. Sensorial activities provide the opportunity to hone discrimination and appeal to the mathematical mind in their orderly isolation of sense experiences. This builds impressions which provide the grist for language to develop and express the abstractions of the physical properties the child has generalized from his experiences. As the child masters language he is able to manipulate symbols, and discovers the process of writing. This leads him to early understandings of the mechanics of reading.

In his mathematical exposure he comes on the quantities and symbols of base ten, and learns the operations of these. He explores the decimal system and the regular progressions of math facts necessary to accomplish arithmetic.

In all this work in the Children’s House there is a benefit for the mathematical mind. From the sequential activities of practical life, the seriated and graded activities of sensorial, through the exploration of the mechanics of reading and writing, to the early work in geometry and arithmetic, the Children’s House experience lays a mathematical foundation for the elementary child.

The key to this benefit lies in what Dr. Montessori called “materialized abstractions”. Her concrete materials presented relationships for higher thinking later in life by creating impressions for abstraction. She saw that the child used his hands as the tools of the mind, and provided for this natural activity in a systematic way. From spontaneous individual work the child gains what formal education could never teach later, the physical manipulation of abstract concepts.

Elementary Mathematics

  • No longer the perceptual explorer, the elementary child still needs to explore with his hands and his senses the concepts of mathematics.
  • He explores with a reasoning mind and discovers mathematical implications.
  • The powers of imagination and the vigor of the age allow the elementary student to engage in “great works”, where he integrates concepts on a wider scale then ever before.
  • He discovers that abstractions are shared imaginations growing from human history.
  • His perceptual experiences with Montessori materials build the basis for more materialized abstractions in the elementary. He learns to draw conclusions from simple to complex relationships.
  • These processes in the elementary help the child to infer, abstract, relate and recognize theorems.
  • Through repetition and variety the child internalizes concepts and develops a growing ability to represent them in abstract work.

Conclusion

Montessori stresses the importance of manipulating materials to discover answers, rather than merely memorizing math techniques. How much richer to arrange colored strips on a board to see the sum of two addends, instead of reading a flash card!  It is fundamentally different to use your hands to compare fractional pieces, instead of just learning rules for comparing numbers.  Who among us really understood why it worked to invert the second number when dividing fractions? Our children do!

There are several reasons that Montessori math materials promote optimal psychological development.  First, multi-sensory learning allows students to use various parts of their brains to learn.   Hands-on manipulations encourage active, discovery learning. Second, materials encourage children to work together, and these collaborations involve lots of discussion and rationalization.  Third, Montessori students learn to strive for accuracy because the materials provide feedback.  They see their math work as puzzles to be solved, instead of assignments to be corrected.  Finally, Montessori math materials are elegantly designed to use geometric relationships to show algebraic ones.

Montessori math constitutes superb brain-based learning. Robert Sylvester (A Biological Brain in a Cultural Classroom) states, “It is not the number of neurons itself that determines our mental characteristics; it is how they are connected;” and Eric Jensen (Teaching with the Brain in Mind), “The key to getting smarter is growing more synaptic connections between brain cells and not losing existing connections…The single best way to grow a better brain is through challenging  problem solving.”  Michael explained that unused connections are pruned, so the neurological rule is, “Use it or lose it.”  All of this suggests that the best way to learn is to engage all the lobes of cerebrum, activating visual and auditory memory, along with controlled movement and problem-solving.  Activities that cross hemispheres force interactions of logic and creativity.

Parents need to “trust the benefits of Montessori mathematics and support the school, the teachers and your child.” Parents need to be dissuaded from “helping” their children by teaching number tricks or doing lots of drills, because those short cuts can short circuit deeper learning.  We ask that parents avoid judging their child’s mathematics progress only by standardized test scores or the ability to answer correctly when quizzed.  We advocate for our children’s mathematical “heart and soul.”

The Montessori Way – From Consumption of Knowledge to Construction of Meaning

In traditional schools teachers and text books too often fail to use meaningful contexts for imparting new information. Children sometimes learn without understanding how their learning applies to anything besides the school test. Many curricula use isolated “hands-on” activities and trivialized “school-type” word problems. The next day’s activity might be unrelated or, even if related, fail to support progressive development. Failure to transfer from a particular school context to other contexts has been described as an almost universal phenomenon;

Students who are capable of performing symbolic operations in a classroom context, demonstrating “mastery” of a certain subject matter, often fail to map the results of the symbolic operations they have performed to the systems that have been described symbolically. They fail to connect their formal symbol manipulation procedures with the “real-world” objects represented by the symbols constitutes a dramatic failure of instruction.

Schoefeld, A.H. (1988) When good teaching leads to bad results: The disasters of “well-taught” mathematics courses. Educational Psychologist, 55(1)

Directed knowledge that is structured and systematically imparted by a teacher or a textbook is very different then knowledge discovered through exploration or inferred from constructs or models use to question and examine available information. Therein lies the rub, consumption of knowledge may not transfer to construction of meaning. While learning basic facts is important, learning without understanding is inert, resulting in an inability to apply knowledge, even in the classroom setting.

Rather than learn what the teacher or the text says, children in a Montessori school construct meaning from experiential learning activities. The Montessori learning materials are designed explicitly to create context for children by linking ideas to what they know and helping children see the meaning. The Montessori materials engage the children constantly in their own learning, allowing each to learn — and to understand — by doing. There is time for process, and the fixing of one’s attention on a key experience that engages a unique concentration and promotes the necessary repetition to imprint the experience within the intellect. In this way knowledge is learned with enthusiasm and guided through hands-on experience. Inspiration and motivation is intrinsic in the educational process.

Children in Montessori schools learn largely by doing. Rather than merely hearing and writing, their learning is situated in the context of actions and objects. They learn through the actual, practical experience with a subject rather than just its mere theoretical parts. The learning materials designed for the youngest are applicable in advanced learning right through to Middle School. Embedded in their design is a passage from the explicit and concrete to the abstract and applicable. The process of schematizing, structuring, and modeling concepts with concrete learning materials makes abstraction not only possible, but resulting with depth of understanding.

Montessori education makes meaningful connections between ideas and applications, and has real value in making learning both understandable and lasting. Ultimately it is all about promoting curiosity and making learning exciting because of the inherent utility that capitalize on the students’ prior learning. You can give them a fish or teach them to fish.

And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but by virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.

Maria Montessori

The Montessori Way – From Teacher Centered to Student Centered

As the Greek philosopher Sophocles observed in the fifth century B.C. “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.”

In the “Teacher-Centered” conventional approach, the child is a passive learner. The teacher has a dominant, active role in classroom activity and typically the child is a submissive participant. The teacher controls what the students learn and at what pace they learn.

In the “Child-Centered” Montessori Way the teacher has an unobtrusive role in classroom activity; the child is the active participant in learning. Teachers focus less on what they do and more on what the student does. By observing the children’s activity teachers are aware of how motivated the student is and how much time and energy the student devotes to the learning process. Instruction, both individual and group, is personalized to each student’s learning style.

Dr. Montessori believed that “the hands are the tools of the mind” and created an approach to learning which engages each child in the two-fold process of purposeful activity and intellectual development. In Education for a New World, Dr. Montessori recognized that,

” Mind and movement are two parts of a single cycle; and movement is the superior expression. Scientific observation shows that intelligence is developed through movement; …”

In this age of educational accountability there is an ever-increasing parent population who measure school success by test scores and advanced placement. This has been answered by a growing trend in conventional schools toward reallocating time in school to focus more academic subjects. This inherently means more time indoors, more time passive without physical activity, and less emphasis placed on a healthy amount of movement and experiential learning.

In schools across the nation homework has increased, curriculums have become more rigid, there are widespread cutbacks in physical education and sports programs and even recess has become a thing of the past. Recess always served as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. Outdoor time offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. The importance is so great that the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.

The Gender Impact – Boys Behind, Girls Ahead

We have aligned the conventional educational system to emphasize the natural skills of girls and reduced the aspects of that education which capitalized on the skills of boys. These differences are more non-cognitive skills like attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. Girls tend to develop certain skills earlier than boys, like the ability to sit still and stay attentive. Our traditional school day now demands that students do just that — sit for long periods of time and listen attentively — or else suffer a lower grade or disciplinary action. In elementary-school classrooms, where teachers increasingly put an emphasis on language and a premium on sitting quietly and speaking in turn, the mismatch between boys and school can become painfully obvious. The result is girls are outperforming boys at all levels of the educational ladder, from kindergarten to graduate school.

The gender impact is borne out in the statistics. Women today are more likely than men to complete college and attend graduate school, and make up nearly half of the country’s total workforce. Between 2009 and 2013 women, ages 24 and up, earned four-year degrees 64 percent faster than men. More shocking is that, also in that five-year window, the number of professional and graduate degree-holders grew 120 percent faster for women, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That increase also can be seen in professional degree programs – women now account for almost half of students in law, medical and business administration graduate programs. During the 1960s, women accounted for about 10 percent of students in those programs.

Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and in Life, and many other authors and educational experts proclaim that we have a crisis in the education of boys in this country. Gurian’s book presents statistics that boys get the majority of D’s and F’s in most schools, create 90 percent of the discipline problems, are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and be medicated, account for three out of four children diagnosed learning disabilities, become 80 percent of the high school dropouts, and now make up less than 45 percent of the college population.

“Girl behavior becomes the gold standard,” says Raising Cain coauthor Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.” These new pressures are undermining the strengths and underscoring the limitations of what psychologists call the “boy brain”, the kinetic, disorganized, maddening and sometimes brilliant behaviors that scientists now believe are not learned but hard-wired.

All Children Thrive When Engaged in Interactive Learning

William Pollack, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School stresses that changing teaching methods to accommodate boys does not mean hindering girls. Girls, he says, often enjoy the same hands-on activities. “We have the data about learning-style differences and behavior-style differences,” he says. “This is not a win-lose circumstance. It’s not teachers against parents, parents against schools, boys against girls. It’s a win-win. We recognize what we now know and use it.” 

He could easily be making a case for the method of teaching at a Montessori School. 

In the last two decades, the education system has become obsessed with a quantifiable and narrowly defined kind of academic success, experts say, and that myopic view is harming boys. Boys are biologically, developmentally and psychologically different from girls and teachers need to learn how to bring out the best in every one.

Our first born is a girl, relatively calm, consistent and at times contemplative. Our boy, on the other hand, is a bundle of kinetic energy who jumps from one thing to another effortlessly. I am a member of a growing body of parents that are concerned that boys are being forced to fit a failing approach to education that is better suited to girls.

In Montessori schools the children learn through interaction in the environment, learning environments that Dr. Montessori designed as “scientifically planned and methodically formed”. The teacher is a guide, and a part of the learning environment. The materials are not visual aids for the teacher, but rather tools for the students. In this same book cited above and written in 1946, Dr. Montessori was both prophetic and insightful, even for today. She said that activity in schools: … must form part of education, especially today, when people seldom walk but go in cars or vehicles of some sort, so that there is a tendency to paralysis and sloth. Life may not be cut in two, moving the limbs for sport, and then the mind for reading. Life must be one whole, especially at an early age, when the child is constructing himself.

The Montessori Way – From Knowing to Doing

Daniel Pink, author of the hugely popular best seller, A Whole New Mind, and Drive , boldly states, “Gone is the age of ‘left-brain’ dominance. The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers—creative and empathic ‘right-brain’ thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn’t.”

In a world of instant content and rapidly changing information, the confines of discreet subject matter are blurred and lateral and integral knowledge is needed. It no longer matters what you know, what matters is what you do with what you know. The model for success in the 21st century is an aware global citizen, with good people skills, but most importantly, one who is able to manage new sources of information well to find the answers.

Have technological changes altered the intrinsic nature of the child? Who are today’s children? They are the one’s coming of age who have made the adaptation to the information and communication technology world of today. They have already made the shift from the one-way broadcast media that you and I grew up with (print, radio, television) that reflect the values of the producer to a new age interactive media that gives control to all users, and that is the very heart of the new generation.

Our kids have grown up with the internet. They spend time online, not as passive watchers but active participators. Whether its gaming, social networking or texting they are a generation who watches less television then their parents, treating it more like background, while simultaneously interacting through several different devices, listening to music, virtual chatting, doing homework, eating, and looking at a graphic novel. With their reflexes tuned to speed and in personal control they are right at home with the brisk and accelerated pace of technological change. From this platform they are in a unique position to impact modern society, replacing a culture of conformity with a culture of innovation.

The Montessori Way has always avoided the one-size-fits-all Industrial Age model. While core subjects at most schools in the United States continue to emphasize the memorization of large amounts of discrete and often isolated information, the Montessori Way has always stressed interdisciplinary study that connects content and consciously identifies the relationships between subject matter.

Emphasis on isolated and limited subject matter has long been driven by the emphasis on testing to determine performance. It is far easier to test what you know than what you create. A more authentic and personalized assessment in the Montessori classroom broadens students choices in the projects they pursue and the ways they demonstrate their learning. The emphasis in evaluation is on what you do.

Today’s schools are still severely limited in the response modes for the students. They are defined by structured classroom discussion, specific assignments, and tests based on content and not discovery. The Montessori Way allows students to take control of the decisions in how learning takes place. There are varied pathways to instructional goals. These new routes are intended to be more efficient and avoid barriers to success. The Montessori Way uses specially designed, concrete materials to constantly engage the children in their own learning, allowing each to learn — and to understand — by doing.

Even in the best schools knowledge is defined on learning objectives that only allow the use of pre-set methods and materials. These may be realized in a syllabus, a textbook, curriculum guides, or increasingly, online learning modules. In The Montessori Way, learning takes place by an original and personal process of discovery. Children are able to choose their own work, direct their own progress, set their own learning pace to internalize information, and seek help from other children and adults when they need it.

Education for a new world can ironically be found in an innovative education approach invented by Maria Montessori in the 20th century. It’s a school where kids know what to work on and kids are showing kids how to master difficult skills. It’s a place where instruction, both individual and group, is personalized to each student’s learning style. It’s a place where satisfaction comes from doing, and doing is learning. It’s a place where teacher is more mentor and guide then “sage on the stage”. It’s our place, a Montessori School.

Cursive First : The Montessori Approach

“Must one begin with strokes? The logical answer is “No.” These require too much effort on the part of the child to make them. If he is to begin with the stroke, it should be the easiest thing to execute. But, if we note carefully, a straight stroke is the most difficult to make. Only an accomplished writer can fill out a page with regular strokes, whereas a person who is only moderately proficient can cover a page with presentable  writing.”

– Dr. Maria Montessori, ‘The Discovery of the Child’, Clio Press Ltd, 193

Cursive handwriting was always the form taught by Dr Montessori because it was the script that adults communicated with in her day. When the tools for writing were pointed nibs affixed to the end of sticks and feathers cut to become quill pens, the cursive advantage was actually a necessity. These tools produced blotches instead of strokes when a little downward pressure was applied. Cursive shapes were produced by sliding the pen sideways. Our cursive alphabets were an ingenious design allowing us to take advantage of the writing tools of the time.

Writing with an ink pen took a certain degree of physical skill to form the letters neatly. The invention of the pencil changed things dramatically. Inkwells, blotters and nib pens disappeared and the effort for physical skill development was pretty much forgotten as teachers discovered that the pencil allowed kids to function with little physical training.

Prior to the 1940’s virtually all children in public and private schools were taught cursive in the first grade and virtually all learned to write very well. By the 1940’s, the preference for cursive slipped away, along with the physical skill for fluency, as penmanship training was slowly eliminated from the school curriculum.

There were, however, many benefits for cursive penmanship that were lost, not the least of which is the movements of cursive writing are more natural and easy to form. The hardest movements for the hand to make are a perfect circle and a perfectly vertically line. These are the components that make up printed script. Dr Montessori chose lower case cursive because the gentle curved lines are an extension of the natural movement of the child’s hand.

By requiring students to learn the ball-and-stick formation of letters first, we create obstacles to the development of a good cursive script. I believe that ball-and-stick handwriting approach has produced a huge handwriting challenge for our children. When schools finally get around to teaching cursive in 3rd grade it is too late.

Writing habits are so fixed that the children resent having to learn an entirely new way of writing. The 3rd grade teachers do not have the time to supervise the development of a good cursive script, and the students are usually unwilling to take the time and do the practice needed to develop a proficient cursive handwriting. The result is that many youngsters continue to print for the rest of their lives or develop a hybrid handwriting style consisting of a mixture of print and cursive.

The Cursive Advantage

✴ Cursive writing eliminates the necessity of picking up a pencil and deciding where to replace it after each letter. This continuous motion is related to all cursive letters except for the letters t and x, which require the child to remove his pencil from the paper twice. Even with these two letters the writing process does not involve relocating any given point to complete the letter.

✴ Cursive consists of only three movements: the undercurve, the overcurve, and the up and down.

✴ Each letter starts on the line, thus eliminating a potentially confusing decision for the writer.

✴ Cursive also has very few reversible letters, a typical source of trouble for young children learning to write. In cursive there is a big difference between a b and a d. In cursive writing a b starts like an l while a d begins like writing the letter a. In cursive handwriting children do not confuse b’s and d’s, because the movements of the hand make it impossible to confuse the two letters.

✴ The knowledge acquired by the hand is transferred to the reading process. Thus, learning to write cursive helps learning to read print, especially regarding letter recognition and avoiding letter reversals.

✴ Cursive handwriting eliminates word-spacing problems and gives words a flow and rhythm that enhances the writing and reading process.

✴ Children who learn to read cursive words first make a very quick transition to reading print. The cursive handwriting process offers a means of informing the child that certain parts form a whole. The blending of the sounds is made more apparent by the joining of the letters.

✴ Cursive helps the child learn to spell correctly since the hand acquires knowledge of spelling patterns through hand movements that are used again and again in spelling.

✴ Most children have an innate curiosity about all forms of lettering and an enjoyment in puzzling out the unusual alphabetical signs that are presented in cursive letter formation.

✴ Starting with cursive eliminates the traumatic transition from manuscript to cursive writing.

The Ball and Stick Disadvantage

✴ It is difficult, if not unnatural, for children to draw straight lines and perfect circles, which is required in ball-and-stick letter formation.

✴ When printing the letter A the child must use three different motions as well as relocate the starting point of the printed letter in order to complete it. In cursive writing the A can be formed in one continuous motion. When writing the printed alphabet, A to Z, one researcher found that the child has to remove his pencil from the paper and relocate the starting points no less than 55 times.

✴ When taught to print first, the writing instrument is held straight up with three or four fingers in a tight grip with great pressure being exerted downward on the paper placed in a straight position. When these children are then taught cursive in the third grade, they do not change the way they hold the writing instrument because a motor or muscular habit has been established that is not easy to alter. This is why so many children develop poor pencil grips.

✴ Print letters do not offer a means of informing the child that certain parts form a whole. The blending of the sounds is not made apparent by the joining of the letters.

✴ In ball-and-stick, some children write the letters backwards, and often the spacing is so erratic that you can’t tell where one word ends and another begins.

✴ Manuscript does not teach spatial discipline and makes it more difficult for the child to see each word as an integral unit.

✴ When writing ball-and-stick so many letters look alike (such as b’s and d’s; f’s and t‘s; g’s, q’s, and p’s ) that children become confused and make many reversals. This also promotes unnecessary reading errors based on poor letter recognition.

 

The Differences Between Cursive and Print

There is more to the actual difference between print and cursive then what most people think – joining versus not joining.

The difference between cursive and print styles lies in the movements used to create the forms, known in the lexicon as start-point and directionality. The difference is in the production process. When choosing between print and cursive the decision is not just a simple choice of letter shape. It is a decision to promote good writing process and fluency. We want our child to be able to use handwriting as a tool – put thoughts on paper quickly and easily. Cursive is the handwriting process that works the best.

By giving attention to fluency through cursive handwriting, we provide a means for allowing children to not only learn how to draw letters more easily, but also develop reading skills, bring awareness to spelling patterns and provide physical training in penmanship that lasts a lifetime.

The Montessori Strategy for Teaching Concentration

The Montessori classroom activities for early childhood are designed to promote purposeful engagement, where the child is completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The benefits include increased focus and more energy, release from boredom and anxiety, and a path of self-direction to find new challenges and build new skills in order to find purposeful engagement again. The results are what Montessori termed “normalization”, a condition of freedom in which the child makes constructive choices and develops deep concentration and true engagement in the learning process.

“Now it is evident that the mind cannot concentrate except upon an object worthy of such an effort. It must contain the means of learning in the most rational way. A faulty or useless object could never attract the lively intellectual interest of the child. “

Montessori, Maria (1915) The Organization of Intellectual Work in School, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association of the United States Annual Meeting, Volume 53, 1915

” The didactic material plays a most important part in this development. These objects are presented to the child; they are graded according to their difficulty, and correspond to the psychic needs of the child. And that is the reason they attract the child’s attention so strongly as to make him delight in his work and incite in him a marked power of concentration.”

Montessori, Maria (1915) The Organization of Intellectual Work in School, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association of the United States Annual Meeting, Volume 53, 1915

Dr. Montessori recognized that the “means for development” needed to go beyond toys or games, the youngest children were attracted to real life experiences and were drawn to activities that engaged their senses. She went about designing and implementing purposeful and constructive activity in these two key areas. She then observed the impact of these experiences and how they benefited the intellectual development for the youngest children. In her earliest schools she saw that the impact of building engagement through practical skills and sense training ultimately advanced early academic outcomes.

She discovered that young children have a keen interest in practical activities that they see adults doing, notably the child wants “to do house, not play house”. She set about creating developmentally appropriate tools and activities that allowed the child to not just imitate the work of adults in the home but really do meaningful practical work. We call these activities “Practical Life”.

Dr. Montessori designed a curriculum around building attention, focus and concentration. These activities are ingeniously contrived to engage the child in sustained and purposeful activity that focuses mental activity, builds concentration and develops attention to detail. The results are what Montessori termed “normalization”, a condition that includes spontaneous discipline, concentration, and engagement.

” This interest, therefore, guides us in constructing in a perfect manner the means of learning and in obtaining that which in the regular schools would be called “the maximum efficiency of study.” It is only by a method which, in giving intellectual learning, concentrates the inner powers, that one observes the direct influence of the learning upon the character and the moral qualities.

In order that concentration may come about, it is necessary that the child should have at his disposal means of development which he is free to use—that is, it is necessary to organize intellectual work for him.

Only “normalized” children, aided by their environment, show in their subsequent development those wonderful powers that we describe: spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social sentiments of help and sympathy for others….

Its principal feature never changes. It is “application to work.” An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities and leads him to self-mastery.”

Montessori, Maria (1915) The Organization of Intellectual Work in School, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association of the United States Annual Meeting, Volume 53, 1915

In a modern definition of these same necessary skills in early childhood, scientists refer to these capacities as executive function and self-regulation—a set of skills that relies on three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Children aren’t born with these skills—they are born with the potential to develop them. The Montessori learning approach provides concrete learning experiences that the young brain needs to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

The Montessori learning activities are designed to contain the essential features for training executive functioning and building concentration:

  1. Thoughtfully conceived to have clear and distinct steps, that while challenging, are still attainable by the child without assistance from an adult.
  2. Devised to engage the child with focused attention and sustained concentration.
  3. The motivation for the work comes from within and is rewarding in and of itself.
  4. Chosen because the child wants to do the purposeful work that they see adults do, but are unable due to the size of the tools or the lack of time in a child-centered environment to engage without interruption.
  5. This purposeful “work” creates feelings of satisfaction that lead to a sense of peace and purpose that is unique and very different then “play”.
  6. The work fascinates and the child becomes so absorbed in the process that they  lose the sense of time passing in the deep engagement of the work.
  7. The planning of the activity and its steps controlled through design by the adult offer immediate feedback throughout the process which controls the error on the part of the child and helps them develop skills of self-correction.

Unique in early childhood programs is a focus in he Montessori classroom on practical skills (Practical Life) and the development of the senses (Sensorial). This may appear at first to be counterintuitive in education, yet experience shows enormous benefits and reveals the distinctive impact that these activities have in comparison to the more open-ended pretend play activities in conventional early childhood programs.

Children learn to concentrate in Montessori classrooms. It is a phenomenon that startled Dr. Montessori in her original schools and continues to fascinate adults today. The levels of deep concentration attained in Montessori classrooms synchronizes well with modern research in cognitive psychology. The state of complete immersion in an activity that includes spontaneous discipline, concentration, and engagement is associated with high levels of creativity and optimal performance in a wide variety of activities

Academic success requires the ability for deep engagement in the learning process. This engagement is a combination of motivation, concentration, interest, and enjoyment derived from the process of learning itself.  The Montessori learning environment focuses all it’s attention on promoting the ideal conditions for the youngest to have the time, means and scope for this deep engagement.

Paul Raymond

Montessori Educational Method

Montessori Curricular Goals For Children 3 to 6 Years Old

The educational program for the Early Childhood level in Children’s House is distinguished by a core curriculum where each child acquires and applies a breadth of skills during a three-year learning cycle.

Well-planned lessons are presented in a carefully prepared educational environment filled with specifically-designed, age-appropriate materials. The Montessori trained teacher creates opportunities for individual children in a mixed-age community. The children learn and achieve at a rate which meets their particular needs and allows their talents to emerge.

The primary program encourages the young child to explore, to cooperate, and to attain academic and social independence. The acquired skills are intended to prepare each child not only for success at the next academic level, but also for success in life.

Practical Life

Practical Life exercises instill skills in caring for oneself, for others, and for the environment. Activities include many of the tasks children see as part of the daily routine in their home as well as lessons in the social  graces and courtesy. Through these tasks children develop muscular coordination, skills of independence and focus their attention in activity that promotes concentration and attention to details.

Elementary Movements

These category of lessons in practical activities are designed to help the children build control and coordination of fine and gross motor coordination. They focus on the most basic and fundamental practical skills such as opening and closing a door, carrying objects, squeezing a sponge, folding, and cutting with a scissors.

By isolating the component movements of more complex practical tasks we prepare the children to be success in skills of independence while coordinating their movements.

Care of Self

These activities address the children’s need for purposeful activity that frees them from obstacles and helps them to do things for themselves. The self care exercises include skills in hygiene, dressing, and use of the toilet.

Care of the Environment

The care of the environment exercises teach skills for care of both the indoor and outdoor environment. They include washing, cleaning, scrubbing, polishing, gardening and many other practical activities seen at home. In the Montessori classroom children don’t just play house, they “do house”, with real tools geared to their proportions. These activities also emphasize sequencing, left to right alignment, control and dexterity, and follow a complete cycle which requires the child to follow through and complete the work. The child gains many indirect benefits from these activities which prepare them for later academic work.

Social Relations

In the classroom small skits are used to demonstrate the skills of social relations. These begin with simple demonstrations like how and when to interrupt, and progress to complex social skills like table manners. By instilling grace and courtesy through these lessons the children develop forms for successful interaction with peers and adults. The process creates a community built on mutual respect, tolerance and empathy for one another.

Sensorial

Sensorial exercises promote the development of the senses and the building of skills in discrimination. Children develop cognitive skills by learning to order and classify their impressions through activities in touch, sight, taste, smell, listening and exploring the physical properties of their environment.

Color

Identifies the primary, secondary and tertiary colors.

Distinguishes and grades shades of color.

Form

Able to identify with accurate terms all the forms in the Geometric Cabinet.

Names accurately all the Geometric Solids.

Constructs shapes using Constructive Triangles.

Dimension

Discriminates and uses accurate terms for dimension.

Able to build Trinomial Cube without pattern matching.

Senses

Visually matches and grades accurately.

Matches and grades sounds accurately.

Discriminates by matching and grading textures accurately.

Discriminates by matching and grading smells accurately.

Discriminates by matching and grading sounds accurately.

Mathematics

Montessori math activities help children learn and understand abstract mathematical concepts through manipulating concrete materials. Children get a solid foundation in basic mathematics principles, preparing them for later abstract reasoning, and helping them to develop problem solving capabilities.

Numbers One through Ten

Knows the number names for zero through ten, both in sequence and at random.

Understands the concept of zero.

Identifies which numbers are odd and even.

Introduction to the Decimal System

Associates the quantities and the number symbols for the Golden Bead material.

Able to associate the quantities and symbols in order from 1-9000 and understands the concept of place value.

Composes and reads accurately numbers from one to nine hundred ninety nine.

Operations of Number

Understands and describes the process of addition and subtraction as well as multiplication and division.

Able to add, subtract, multiply and divide with the Golden Beads without exceeding nine in any category (static).

Able to convert ten of one category to one of the next highest category.

Performs necessary changes for dynamic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division using the Golden Bead material.

Able to add, subtract, multiply and divide with the Stamp Game without exceeding nine in any category (static).

Performs necessary changes for dynamic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division using the Stamp Game material.

Sequence of Number

Can identify colored bead bars 1-9 quickly as a result of frequent use.

Is able to count to 100, and knows the number names for teens and tens.

Has skip counted square and cube chains.

Combinations of Number

Has begun the memorization of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts.

Fractions

Can identify by name the pieces of the fraction insets and can compose fractions using the insets.

Time

Able to tell time on the hour and on the half hour.

Measurement

Sensorial experience with linear measure such as inches, feet and yards.

Sensorial experience with volume measures such as quarts, pints, cups, half cups, third of a cup, quarter of a cup, tablespoons, and teaspoons.

Sensorial experience with measures of weight including balance beam and units such as pounds and ounces.

Language

The Montessori activities build skills in sound discrimination, prepare the hand for writing, encourage the development of written expression and lay a foundation of phonetic skills that prepare the child for reading.

Preparation for Reading and Writing

Able to identify component sounds in words, initial sound and ending sound.

Has done extensive work with metal insets and can draw and fill shapes with skill.

Memorized many sandpaper letters, both individual and phonogram sounds.

Can build both phonetic and non phonetic words using the Moveable Alphabet.

Can write individual letters in print or cursive on a chalkboard.

Reading Skills

Can sort letters by shape and place them in correct position on lines.

Has developed pencil grip, lightness of touch and isolated wrist movements sufficiently to form letters on paper.

Reads phonetic 3 and 4 letter words.

Knows some phonograms and their variations and recognizes them in words.

Has memorized basic sight words.

Understands the function of basic parts of speech such as the article, adjective, noun and verb.

Reads and matches labels in environment and to classified cards.

Can read a short booklet of phonetic and sight words.

Understands the function of the period and question mark in reading and writing.

Botany

Lessons in botany expose the child to a wide scope of activities intended to promote interest and encourage reverence for living things.

Participated in activities in the garden including planting, caring for young plants, harvesting and composting.

Introduced to the basic parts of the plants; roots, stem, branches and leaves.

Exposed to the cycle of growth in plants.

Classification and Zoology

Lessons in classification and zoology expose the child to a wide scope of activities intended to promote interest and encourage reverence for living things.

Classification

Able to classify living and non living things.

Identifies and gives examples of the characteristics of living things:

All living things need food

All living things move in some manner

All living things growth and change

All living things reproduce

All living things need oxygen

Able to classify living things into the three basic kingdoms of plant, animal, or mineral.

Zoology

Has experience caring for animals.

Able to identify and give examples of the basic characteristics of animals:

All animals have a characteristic size.

All animals have a characteristic covering.

All animals have characteristic movements.

All animals eat specialized food.

All animals have a characteristic habitat.

Understands the basic differences between vertebrates and invertebrates.

Classifies and identifies vertebrates in the five basic groups: fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds.

Geography

Lessons in geography expose the child to a wide scope of activities intended to promote interest and encourage respect and understanding of different people and cultures. 

Knows the names of the continents and major oceans.

Identifies basic land forms (island, lake, peninsula, gulf) introduced to isthmus, strait, and their variations (cape, bay, archipelago, system of lakes) and introduced to real names for some of them on maps.

Familiar with maps of each continent and knows many names of nations.

Exposed through picture material to different continents and countries around the world and their general characteristics such as the people, animals, plants, geological features, scenery, and places of interest .

Knows the name of own country, state and city.

Knows names of some states.

Introduced to weather conditions (clear, partly cloudy, rain, snow) and can recognize their symbols.

Introduced to flags of the world.

History

Lessons in history expose the child to a wide scope of activities intended to promote interest and integrate a sense of time in their understanding other subjects.

Understands and names the different seasons of the year.

Is able to name and describe the weather conditions, condition of and activities of plants and animals during the four seasons.

Knows the names of the days of the week and introduced to months of the year.

Exposed to keeping track of time using a calendar.

Exposed to the sequence of a time line, such as own life represented in pictures or the growth cycle of a plant or animal.

Exposed to the history of time measurement, the concept of a day, hours in the day.

Exposed through picture material to cultural history and the fundamental needs of humans around the world

Basic:      Food, Clothing, Shelter

Spiritual:  Art, Music, Communication,

Love, Vanity

Material:  Protection, Transportation

Introduced to seeds and germination.

Understands the function of and basic types of roots.

Understands the function of the stem.

Understands the function of the leaf and its knows the basic parts.

Has had a sensorial introduction to leaf shapes and classifications with Botany Cabinet.

Has had a sensorial introduction to parts of a flower.

Understands the types and function of the fruit.

Montessori Psychology: Key Characteristics of Adolescence

The Emotive Mind

Social development is guided by an “emotive” mind, a combination of inabilities, or purely abstract propositions. This quality of thought may be the reason why adolescents naturally object, argue and analyze many of the issues they are confronted with.

Tender, Gawky Body

In this plane of development rapid physical growth is matched only by that in infancy. Hormonal changes bring about sexual maturity, the development of secondary sexual characteristics, and the capacity to reproduce. The rate of growth differs dramatically from individual to individual. During this period adolescents are prone to illness and a lack of energy.

Vulnerable Emotionally and Physically

Physical changes occur in hormonal growth spurts, causing an emotional awkwardness as well as a lack of physical coordination. Adolescents are easily tired, and change their routine for sleep, awakening later and sleeping more than in late childhood. Adolescents develop an acute concern about their body, which causes a painful period of self- consciousness.

Now in a Historical Context

The history of humankind provides the context for exploring society and all its elements as a preparation for adulthood. By exploring human history the adolescent can connect the present to the past by comparing and contrasting how others have made their mark on society. In this way, the adolescent nds her place and becomes the dynamic link between the past and the future.

Humanistic Explorer of Society

Like in early childhood, exploration must be reality-based, but for the adolescent the world to explore is much wider. The adolescent needs to be initiated into the adult world. Maturity is assured through opportunities to investigate adult roles while doing the work of adults. There is a keen interest in participating in a community through meaningful and contributory work.

Social Order

At this stage of development adolescents have a strong sensitivity to social order, which helps them to relate their own personal experiences and discover relationships between people. It is an age of camaraderie and intense relations with peers. A strong sense of identity with the group emerges, a longing to belong to the current culture and a new role in the family constellation takes place.

Repeats to Interpret

They repeat for mastery so that they are perceived as capable in relation to their peers. This repetition also takes them to a level of interpretation, allowing them to transform an activity through thoughtful and sometimes critical scrutiny.

Societal Directives

Adolescents adapt their own attitudes, mores and values by questioning parental and societal attitudes as well as confronting the status quo.

People are Personal

Adolescence is a time of emerging moral and ethical sensitivity in relations with peers and adults. This sensitivity makes them critically evaluate adults and examine each other. It is a period of heightened sexual awareness in relations to their peers, as evidenced in both a unique solidarity with peers and intense emotional relations. The development of empathy at this age is of critical importance for maturity.

Montessori Psychology: Key Characteristics of Middle Childhood

The Reasoning Mind

The key characteristic of the second plane child is the high level of independent thinking and the rapid growth of his powers to reason and go beyond his own reactions. This vast power of the intellect makes him able to be especially receptive to intellectual learning and abstract thought.

Strong, Long Legs

In this period the body of the child reaches ideal proportions. The rate of growth slows during middle childhood. Physical activity promotes cognitive development and refines control and coordination of movement. Children in this stage have few barriers to physical activity.

Healthy and Resilient

This is a period where the child is the healthiest he will ever be in his life and his energy and endurance know no bounds. He has a “can-do” attitude when it comes to physical challenges and his achievements promote his sense of self worth and independence.

History

The child at this stage focuses in on key personalities and engages them with a fervor, which has been called hero worship. In fact, the child is adopting models for social behavior and his imagination is encouraged by these experiences. History becomes an important tool for both intellectual and social exploration.

Intellectual Education

Due to the unique powers of the intellect and the vigor of health, the child in the second plane of development engages in tireless work of enormous proportions. It is the quality of BIG that he likes, and he is called to activity that develops into greatness. The child gives his maximum exertion and effort to these formative activities.

Imaginative Explorer Beyond the Here and Now

At this stage of development the child finds the most useful tool to enter into society is the use of his imagination. Given a rich and varied perceptual experience in the first plane, the child now capitalizes on his wealth of memory and relates these basic concepts to the wider world. The educational method for this plane stimulates the imagination and allows it to bring out the child’s mental prowess.

Mental Order

The powers of logic develop as he relates his imagination to the relationship of things and predicates outcomes without physical evidence. The final abstraction of his cognitive skills is evidenced in his mastery of language and especially communication. Through reading and writing he learns the way to preserve and communicate his thoughts for history, and this strikes a chord and engages his intellect.

People are Social

The child at this age feels an identity and attraction to his peers, which creates a unique social bonding during this plane. The so-called herd instinct is manifest in the child as a special social closeness and affection for others. What fascinated the young child in physical details now is directed towards relationships. Social awareness is keen.

Explores Objective Standards Moral Development

There is a strong urge in this plane for the clarification of values and an intelligent understanding of the rules, which must be conformed to. There is much questioning and emotional involvement in this process, the child actively engages socially with his peers in the same enthusiastic way he did in the preschool with individual activities.

People Are Social

A fundamental challenge of the second plane is to gain control and coordination of the personality so that it may fit in to the social conditions the child encounters. To do this the child explores the emotional and spiritual values of his peers and heroes, gaining valuable insight and promoting healthy personality growth. His actions must now be responsible not only to himself, but must contribute to the larger group he lives with. He discovers interdependency, and seeks to fulfill his social potential by constructively contributing to the community.

Montessori: A Philosophy of Education

Times have changed, and science has made great progress, and so has our work; but our principles have only been confirmed, and along with them our conviction that mankind can hope for a solution to its problems, among which the most urgent are those of peace and unity, only by turning its attention and energies to the discovery of the child and to the development of the great potentialities of the human personality in the course of its formation.” (From the foreword to “The Discovery of the Child”, Poona 1948)

Many who observe the daily peacefulness in a Montessori classroom wonder at how an idea born at the turn of the century can be so relevant today. Many of the “progressive models” of current education have adopted components of the approach and methodology employed by Dr. Montessori in her first schools. Our schools remain relevant for the 21st century child because Montessori was both a visionary and a practical scientist.

I believe that this truth grows from Montessori philosophy based on the principle of community. The multi aged grouping of the Children’s House community is built upon respect for oneself, for peers and for the community at large. In this community values are lived, grace and courtesy are routine, and a common spirit of love and sharing, hospitality, cooperation, help, and assistance binds the community in noble work.

This is an educational community for children in which each child has the time, means and scope of activity to fully develop and realize his/her potential.

In the Children’s House the necessary time is dictated by the child’s need for exactness and repetition. There is time for process, and the fixing of one’s attention on a key experience that engages a unique concentration and promotes the necessary repetition to imprint the experience within the personality. In this way knowledge is learned with enthusiasm and guided through hands-on experience. Inspiration and motivation is intrinsic in the experience.

This community has breadth of content that insures the child has the richness of scope and understanding to interrelate and apply knowledge. In this way the children learn quickly and with such enthusiasm that new knowledge sparks and renews the learning process, creating the “touchstone effect”. Content and process merge, interrelationships become clear, and sensibilities are solidified.

Mutual respect allows for a freedom of activity that develops responsible independence and encourages diversity. This aids the child to look beyond his own needs and see those of others and the world around him. He ponders the wondrous nature of all things with enough imagination to explore his part in the universal order. He discovers that knowledge unlocks the keys to the universe and his mind expands. He learns to respect and admire the achievements of others, both around him and in history. All of this leads to a naturally well-developed child attune to his culture and the ecology of life.

In the Children’s House community the child understands that each one of us is dependent on others and each must make a contribution for the betterment of all. Participation in this model learning community enables the child to eventually adapt to society, knowing that each individual’s adaptation takes the highest form by the special contribution he can make to his fellow man. This membership is both personally satisfying and socially rewarding. The educational outcome guides the child to their vocation, the place where the world’s needs and their talents intersect.

This community provides the means for the individual uses to acquire knowledge and experience which comes through special work, or relevant and important activity, where the personality is nourished and allowed to develop without constant adult imposition. In the youngest, human nature guides the individual to do those things that are naturally good for him or herself.  Respect is given to the child’s unconscious prompts or urges, eventually encouraging the development of the individual will and self-discipline.  The special Montessori content for the older children in this educational community is the means by which they gain an admiration towards their culture. They are inspired with pride and a sense of privilege in belonging to humanity. This sentiment is aroused in the child by showing him the interrelatedness of all things in nature, but especially in the world of man.

Montessori Psychology: Key Developmental Characteristics of Early Childhood

The Absorbent Mind

Intellectual development is guided by the “absorbent mind”, the special psychic capacity the child has to take in the whole as well as all of the details of the world around him. Images are stored in a special kind of subconscious memory, forming engrams of knowledge that await the emergence of the conscious mind. Through the absorbing quality of the mind the child is able to take in and inculcate the culture that he grows up in, truly becoming a full member of his community. The growing number of constructive experiences that the child has prompts the will and conscious mind to emerge.

Soft, Short Limbed/Easily Sick

The physical characteristics of the child are distinct in the 1st plane of development. The body is chubby and soft. The limbs are short, and the proportion of the body is not fully formed. It is a time of rapid growth. The child is often sick, as he builds up his resistance to illness that comes from increased social contacts. It is a period of great physical achievement, with mastery of control and coordination of movement being the prime focus. In the 1st plane of development the child refines his senses while his growing perceptual abilities provide the means by which he absorbs new experiences.

Here and Now/Reality Based Education

During this period the child is urged by inner guides to be active and inquisitive. She explores the environment with her senses, latching on to the physical, tangible and concrete. Dr. Montessori believed that this is a time of reality based education, and that the imagination has not yet emerged.

Sensorial Explorer

Sensitive periods are evidence of the guiding inner inclinations the child has to acquiring human traits. Of key importance are the sensitivities to order, human speech, and the development of the conscious will that allows the child to exercise freedom of choice.

External Order

The child has a strong sensitivity to order, which helps him to relate experiences and discover relationships between things. The young child responds dramatically to events or routines which are changed or are not done in the way the child is used to. This is because the child’s experiences help her to get a grip on reality. Without consistency and order the child will struggle in understanding key relationships that are fundamental to her growth.

Repetition

The 1st plane of development is a time of repetition for mastery, with brief but intense periods of concentration on specific activities which are self constructive.

Moral Directives

Moral development on this plane is an era of obedience, first to inner urges, and later to adult direction which builds awareness of what is good and bad. The child questions little, but strongly follows inner directives.

People are Environmental

Social development takes the form of ego centric behavior in which the child’s social awareness builds only with his mental growth. His real focus is on developing his individuality. Loose friendships are created and the child prefers to work alone or in small groups.