Whay Maria Montessori? (Or Montessori 101)

While I’m pondering my post on discipline (doing research and figuring out what I’m going to try first) I decided I want to celebrate Maria Montessori this week. I finally got my books in about the Method, the Woman, and some of the basics. I know I’ve talked about her a bit before but here’s a bit of a recap for anyone new.

Maria was born in 1870.  Her father moved the family to Rome when she was 12, meaning that she was afforded the finest education available in the area.

She started learning to be a teacher, the only field available to a woman at the time, but eventually fought to become a doctor. She applied to the University of Rome and after battling prejudices against women, she was admitted in 1890. She graduated a Doctor of Medicine.

She became an assistant at a psych hospital where she would discover children who were supposedly idiots housed among the criminally insane.  She would eventually find that their minds had simply not been stimulated and thus they had not learned as normal children do.

This led to her study of education. It would eventually lead to her teaching through the senses and movement, among other things.  She read everything she could and traveled the world to create what others would then build upon. The Montessori Method.  She would continue to build upon and teach her methods until she died in Holland in 1952.

If you would like to learn more about the Woman behind the magick, a great starter book on the subject (even if it’s a bit old) is Montessori Play and Learn by Lesley Britton.

So what is the Essence of the Montessori Method?

To understand why and how you might use this in your home, you have to understand why and what it is all about. Now, I’m still learning, but I’ve found what I’ve implemented to work very well with Freya. I’ve had to find ways to do it on a budget, but that’s okay.

The first thing you need to know is that all of her methods are based on her observations of real children all over the world. And it seemed that no matter where she went, every child she encountered learned certain things during certain windows of time, or fell behind due to not learning them efficiently enough.  One might consider her a developmental and educational psychologist.

But the bare basics are as follows:

  1. All children have absorbent minds.
  2. All children pass through sensitive periods.
  3. All children want to learn (at least something).
  4. All children learn through play and work.
  5. All children pass through several stages of development.
  6. All children want to be independent.

Let’s look at these a bit closer

Absorbent Mind

The way a child learns is fundamentally different from that of an adult. Some say that you can teach a child to keep some of this educational prowess.  While there are many ways to say it, some believe that the child uses their right brain as much as the left.  They absorb information like a sponge even if they do not realize that they are doing it.

There is a Japanese educational method where supposedly you can teach a child to get ahead by introducing information very quickly at this young age as a means of helping them later down the line….if you’re interested it’s called the Shikida Method. I might investigate it a little more at some point, but for now, Montessori is more than enough to keep me preoccupied.

Regardless, most theorists believe that the absorbent mind begins to wane between three and six.  This is also around the time that the conscious emerges.  Learning is still active during this period, but it is changing.  Part of the method is allowing your child to develop by their own independence with a little bit of guidance.

Part of this is knowing how to protect your child while letting them learn on their own what is safe and not safe, within reason of course. I’m still reading to learn more about how you’re supposed to do that with an infant/toddler.

Sensitive Periods

Montessori noticed that children seemed to pass through phases where they kept repeating an activity. The child would become totally absorbed in what they are doing.  For example, Freya is in a phase where she wants to put everything in her mouth and touch everything she can reach. She wants to feel everything in her fingers. That’s what she wants to learn right this instant.  No matter how many times I take something away from her, she reaches for it or something else again.

We know that our kids aren’t trying to be bad, but we don’t often stop to think that they are learning about the world through this behavior.  They are using their sense to learn and once they have obtained the knowledge they need, they move onto the next phase.

The sensitive periods that Montessori identified are: order, language, walking, social aspects of life, small objects, and learning things through the senses.

Sensitivity to Order occurs within the first year or earlier and continues through the second year.  I see Freya trying to sort out the order in everything around her. She already knows that if she sits in front of the door she might get hit if someone rushes in (a few near misses was all it took). She knows that when she goes to Grandma it’s time for her afternoon nap. All of these are a part of learning order. There is a reason that children become confused when things quickly change. They are still learning order.

Language– The sensitivity period for language begins from birth.  Children absorb everything we say, take it in, and learn bits and pieces of sound or understanding from it.  With little to no help children learn thousands of words by age six and they do it just by listening.  That is why it is so important to talk to your child.  A child not exposed regularly to language during this period will be damaged. Think of the wolf boy Edouard Seguin found. The child never did learn to speak as we did because his sensitivity period had passed.  It is important to give our children every opportunity to learn all the words that they can.

Walking – Children can learn to walk anywhere from ten months to fifteen months. Once again you will see a need for your child to practice this motion over and over again. We will watch them fall, cry, and get right back up again. Freya is already doing this. It terrifies me every time she stands in the bath or when she tries to stand in places she’s not tall enough for.  Or when she bumps her head.

One of the things Montessori notes here is that there is a big difference in taking a child for a walk and going on a walk. With a child you have to go at their pace and let them explore as they go along. They don’t have the strength to keep up with us yet.  So we go a bit slower and plan for a bit more time when we walk with our children. It’s something I have to learn when I take Freya’s hand as she toddles around the house with my support.

Social Aspects-Between two and three you’ll start to notice that your child gets that they are a part of group, be it family, or a play group.  This is around the time children are supposed to start showing interest in other children and playing with them.  Montessori believed this was driven by natural instincts and not instruction.  Children also begin to model adult behavior at this time, yet another learning method.

Small Objects– Around one year old a child becomes more mobile.  They are drawn to small objects like insects, pebbles, stones and grass…all of which Freya already wants to play with. I don’t mind the dirt, it’s the whole got to put it in my mouth thing that gets frustrating some days.  She looks at it, feels it between her fingers, and then wants to put it in her mouth.  You will find that children have an attention to detail at this age that is simply uncanny.  Just another way in which they learn about the world.

The senses – We have five senses.  Each of them can be modalities of learning. Everything Freya is exposed to (unless we take it away from her) is touched, smelled, seen, tasted and, if possible, heard. Like later child development experts, Montessori kept close to children to let them explore and learn with minimal intervention. Probably the hardest thing to implement in this method.

Children want to Learn

Maria believed that all children had an innate desire to learn and no matter what you do or say they will learn something.  She believed that it was worth taking the effort to learn the most effective ways of fostering this desire and a positive attitude towards this desire.  She even believed that you could prevent a child from avoiding learning if you implemented her techniques.

It is important to note that her work has been backed up by modern research.  Montessori showed us that children learn through play and by experimenting with things in the world around them.  And spontaneous play is just as important as structured play. She also believed that children learned through movements.  She believed that active participation was very important. Just having a child sit and listen won’t impart the knowledge as effectively as active participation.

It’s far better to let your child help you in your daily activities and learn by doing the movements themselves. It makes everything take a bit more time, but from what I’ve seen so far it seems to be worth it.  And she stresses that we have to let our children learn at their own pace. It’s much harder to introduce an idea if they don’t want to participate.

Learning Through Play

The first notion to get out of your head is that there is any type of play that doesn’t serve some sort of purpose.  According to Britton, studies on child’s play have shown that play is purposeful and spontaneously chosen activities.  It is a way for the child to express their creativity and helps develop the basis of problem solving, learning new social skills, and physical or language skills.

One of the misinterpretations of her method revolves around her use of the word play and work interchangeably. She saw children’s learning as both play and work and from the activities I’ve seen so far, I can see how one could view it as both educational work and play.  To her games were just ways of reinforcing what the child was already learning on their own.

Stages of Development

Montessori believed in three phases of development, none of which are rigid.  She did however believe that no stage could be omitted.  In stage one from around birth to six the child has the absorbent mind.  They learn and absorb like a sponge without being aware of the process.  And then the conscious mind begins to develop alongside the absorbent mind. The second phase is what she considered childhood. The third stage occurs generally between the ages of twelve to eighteen.

Most of the books I’ve looked at so far only discuss the first stage in depth. And I’m finding it really hard to learn what all transcends into the later stages.

Encouraging Independence

Every child craves independence and the best way to help them get there is to help them learn the skills to succeed.  We have to let them learn, no matter how frustrating it is to us. Part of that is letting them learn how to button their shirts on their own or how to help us clean the table. Part of what I love about this is seeing stories and videos of children who through play and helping mommy, have learned how to cut their own veggies with a blunt knife, or who help mommy set the table at as young as one and a half. They don’t do it perfect, but they help and learn how to do it better each time they try.

One of the biggest things in Montessori is teaching a child to perform practical life skills that they will need as they get older such as folding laundry or pouring tea and most kids love it because they are learning to do what momma and daddy do every day.

I hope this gives you some insight into why I love the theory behind Montessori.  I want to teach Freya so much. Right now I mostly just do discovery boxes and let her make connections between items, but she’s already showing an interest in learning everything I do and I want to help her be as independent as she can be. It’s trying sometimes, but it’s been worth it so far. If you’d like more information stay stuned and check out Montessori Plan and Learn by Joy Starrey Turner.

Blessed Be.


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