From the vantage point of a doctoral student in education leadership and policy, as well as a teacher at a public Montessori, I'm learning and sharing as I go. This is my space to explore the child's interior life, our discoveries as educators, and work of learning together.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
A Little History: Origins - The day that shaped the Montessori method
One day, in 1907 in
San Lorenzo, the children had been dropped off early in the Casa-- the earliest
Montessori school-- and they broke into the cabinets and sat down at the tables
with materials, spontaneously working with the materials all by themselves.
When the teachers arrived and found the children working completely
independently. They were neither misusing nor hiding the materials; they used
them just as the lessons were given to them. Although the teachers said that
the children had stolen the materials, Maria Montessori noted that they even
reached this place of concentration without any assistance. It was as though
they knew what they needed to do.
The child has many
unconscious powers that help her find the right activity to meet her
developmental needs. Intuitively, the child does know which activity will be
right for them, in their environment, if they are given an appropriate
environment. At the time, Montessori was hesitant to believe what the teachers
had told her, to see for herself whether it was true or not. She suggested that
the children decide what to do with the materials, to just observe. Now the
children not only had the freedom to repeat and move, but they were given
freedom of choice in materials, for the first time. As an experiment, the
teachers were to give lessons in whichever materials the children asked to
learn. They say it was that day that the seeds of the Montessori Method were
sown-- the day that Maria Montessori gave the children freedom of choice. She
wanted to facilitate everything in the environment, to put everything on low
shelves, changing the seating arrangement from benches to individual tables
throughout the room where children could do their work. They needed their own
psychological space separate from others in the room who would disrupt their
Previously, the role
of the adult was to present lessons, maintain order, and control the
environment. Without having to keep children sitting down, more of the
children's work was done in a shorter span of time. Now, the teachers were
observing, noting which materials the children chose, most of the time. Which
materials did the select and complete with the most interest? Which facilitated
the highest level of concentration? Which items would the children never chose?
One of the first
things the teachers noted: the children never touched the toys and dolls. Even
having given specific instruction in the playthings, the children were not
choosing them. They left them on the shelves. They were more interested in
satisfying their developmental needs in other areas. Once the children started
enjoying their freedoms in the Casa, she started noticing they showed a level
of cooperation and self-control that was never seen before. Even as three,
four, or five year olds-- 50 or 60 of them in this room-- would be so
respectful of their space. She had a sense of incredulity and wonder. How could
it be true?
She wrote, it was
like how the stars formed their natural paths along their orbits. The children
appeared to be in their natural function. At that point, she became determined
to discover what was happening. With courage, she abandoned all her other work
in science and decided to follow the work of the child. As a scientist then,
she started reflecting, wondering about the conditions in the environment which
made it possible to reveal aspects of their nature. She began to form
hypotheses-- was it the freedoms, the role of the adult, or the specific
materials which cause the child to behave in such different ways from how the
child is typically observed?
As a trained
scientist, she attempted to recreate conditions and isolate variables to
discover which environment is most in keeping with the natural spirit of the
child, to further the child's creative construction of the self. That was her
work for the next 50 years. What she found-- not only did the children in San
Lorenzo respond to these particular conditions, but this was also true all over
the world. She began to see the child as an embodiment of great human
potentialities, with great powers to actualize the human potentialities, which
only a child can endeavor to express. She discovered the innate, natural path
that guides the realization of development. These discoveries became the
foundation of the Montessori theory, as an outcome of observation and study.
However, the creation of the environment preceded her formulation of theories.
Dr. Montessori began
to see the child as a great worker with the task of creating the human being.
With that discovery came the knowledge that as adults, our role is very
different. In response, the revolutionary change in the concept of education
was to understand education as serving the developmental needs of the child. No
longer is the adult bearing knowledge to the child, but in this new paradigm,
the teacher provides the help to life
for self-formation within the child. Side by side, the guide and the child work
together: that is the foundation of the method.
with the child begins with observation of the child. Who are you? What do you
need? Adults do not often come to children observing their needs often enough.
We communicate what they should know, when and how, but the legacy of Dr.
Montessori is the daily responsibility to come to the child every day asking
the question of how the adult can aid the development of the child. It is a
continual dialog, exchanging learning and understanding between child and
There is a story of
a woman who came to Dr. Montessori, asking to become a Montessori teacher. She
asked the woman, "Are you ready to serve the child?" This is what
Montessori guides constantly ask, when circumstances pull us at every direction.
We make a collaborative approach together, between adult and child.