Magazine article Montessori Life

Freedom, Order, and the Child

Magazine article Montessori Life

Freedom, Order, and the Child

Article excerpt

Self-Control and Mastery of the World Mark the Dynamic Montessori Method

Editors' note: This article originally appeared in the magazine Jubilee.

Today, on almost every continent, there are schools adopting in spirit and practice the ideas of this educator who ranks with Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Dewey in the field of education. Her approach to early childhood education can be linked to the Thomistic dictum that there is nothing in the intellect which is not first in the senses. A child is born into a world of sights and sounds which appear chaotic. From this chaos the child must create order. An environment for small children which already possesses a certain order, where each object is in its proper place and can always be found there, helps the child orient himself. An environment with "built in" discipline in which a glass, if dropped, will break, a chair, if jarred, will topple over, teaches the small child a great deal about physical self-mastery. It is not the verbal emphasis that abounds in the Montessori method, but the sensory. When the teacher speaks, it is to say something that the environment cannot say. A growing awareness of order in the universe is closely linked to the idea of the child's "adaptation."

Dr. Montessori's educational aims were twofold: to help the child develop and to help him adapt himself to the physical conditions of his environment and to the social requirements dictated by the customs of the group in which he lives. These requirements have proved vastly different in India and Holland, in Italy, France, and Canada, yet the success of her approach to the child lies in the ability of her methods to adapt to diverse environments. Hers is a supranational concept of early education. When Montessori spoke of the "adaptation" of the child, she meant his acquisition of a sense of security, based on a permanent spiritual and ethical equilibrium, within his group environment.

The importance of religious conviction is apparent in the attainment of this security as fixed belief promotes the stability needed for the child's development as a person. The supernatural motivation of the child is everywhere visible in Montessori education. The central role of silence as a positive factor in learning is introduced to children at the age of three. We are silent in order to "hear" ourselves, not merely to listen to something outside ourselves. The preparation for prayer, through silence, is an easy matter for children disposed toward it in this way.

In order to help children learn, Montessori developed what she termed "the prepared environment." The Children's House was designed to provide a place in which children could express and resolve their needs on a scale suited to their size. The cheerful classrooms of today, decorated with an eye to color dynamics, with movable tables and chairs, mats for sitting on the floor, and plants and animals owe much to the inspiration of Maria Montessori.

The Children's Houses were designed to allow the children to care for their collective possessions as well as their own persons. Brooms, dustpans, mops, and furniture polish were readily available to those who wanted to dust and sweep. To the children, work was what counted, not play It was work that was enjoyable. To wash the floor once, wipe it up, and wash it again, was sheer delight. Working with buttoning frames and putting on and taking off outdoor clothes gave the children a chance to dress themselves and to feel responsibility for their accomplishments. These were called the exercises of Practical Life.

The "exercises of Practical Life" which the environment indicated (floors to be swept, dishes to be washed, etc.) were explained by the teacher in a series of simple steps, so that the child could repeat, at will, any given action. As one child said, "I tell my hand to turn the doorknob, and it obeys me." Dr. Montessori remarked that parents often alternately praise and scold children for their performance of complicated actions: If a child closes the door quietly, he is congratulated; if he slams the door, he is scolded. …

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