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


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


  • capable, creative, funny and witty


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


  • 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


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


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


  • 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


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


  • 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


• 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:


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.


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.


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
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • a need to perfect his/her actions or solidify his/her understanding (especially technology)
  • to will practice in order to achieve control
  • 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
  • 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)
  • 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


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