Part 2: Education of the Child

We have finally reached part 2. At this point in the book it feels like we are really reaching the “good stuff”. After many chapters outlining the way a child’s mind works, we are now at the section where Dr. Montessori talks about her experience with the education of the child.

In Part 1 we learned about the rich inner life that drives children. Through that learning, it becomes obvious that the environmental needs of children differ from those of adults. Children need to work slowly through simple tasks such as tying their shoes; we would rather get out the door quickly. 

Chapter 18: Education of the Child

These differences aren’t always so obvious, but can be discovered through the child’s actions. A tantrum for example, is an indication that something is amiss. “A tantrum is like a storm that prevents the soul of the child from coming out of its hidden retreat and showing itself to the world” (p 109). To allow the child to reveal their true personality and to grow unhindered, we must ensure their environment is properly suited to their needs.

Based on this idea, our system of education’s primary aim is “the discovery and freeing of the child” (p 110). To build this environment Dr. Montessori calls for the reduction of obstacles to growth and providing ample opportunity to exercise activities which help the child to develop. The main focus is on the environment and not the teacher. By taking on a more passive role in the classroom, the teacher can ensure the environment remains suited to each child’s needs as they continue to grow. 

This whole concept centers on a respect for each child. Specifically, by removing the teacher’s desk from the front of classrooms, Montessori schools readjust the center of focus. This change remains controversial in traditional schooling while others, such as child-sized objects, low windows, luminous rooms, and many others have caught on nearly everywhere. Nonetheless, we continue to see that these changes greatly benefit the education of the child.

From Humble Beginnings

All the changes that we associate with the Montessori Method did not spring out of nowhere. While Dr. Montessori was quite intelligent, it would be dogmatic to think she received some divine moment of inspiration and came up with a revolutionary system of education. No, instead she followed a very scientific process. She herself had doubts along the way.

Maria Montessori’s first school opened on January 6, 1907. She was given charge of 50 children who lived in an apartment building. Their parents worked all day leaving the children alone. These children had no previous education and there was little expectation from Maria Montessori’s employer for any great success. She had an assistant as teacher whom she instructed in what was then only a rudimentary idea of working with objects. Besides the materials she already had, they made all the furniture from scratch. (For those on a budget today, check out this video on Montessori furniture you can get from Ikea!)

The children took extremely well to the classroom materials. Dr. Montessori was amazed by their rapturous attention and the inclination to neatly put each material back in its proper place when they were done. When the children were done working, they appeared calm and satisfied. At first, Maria Montessori didn’t believe the teacher’s reports. After seeing it herself, the satisfaction of the children clued her into the significance of this work. 

This original Children’s House had little funding, a room and an untrained teacher and some materials left over from Dr. Montessori’s work with children who had intellectual disabilities. The reaction of the students to these materials sparked her curiosity. From there came everything else we know of as “Montessori” today. One at a time changes were made and evaluated. This scientific approach brought us to the system of education now used all around the world.

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