Dr. Maria Montessori is the founder of the Montessori method of education. She started her first classroom “Casa dei Bambini” or Children’s House in 1907. Montessori method of education stresses the importance of respecting children – “Help me to help myself”. Montessori education celebrates its 100th year in 2007. The goals of a Montessori education were to develop sensory training, language acquisition, arithmetic, physical education, practical life skills and abstract thought through the teaching of the whole child and the integration of the family into the early education system. Montessori began her educational experiences by working with special needs children.
At the time of Montessori, special needs children were thought of as a “lost cause”. They could not learn how to become members of society because intelligence was fixed. She strongly opposed to the perceptions on cognitive abilities of these children at the time, and believed that they could learn how to become members of society through special teaching techniques that utilized sensory education and hands-on experience. Her aim was to teach children academics through practical life experiences and to “…to develop the whole personality of the child through motor, sensory, and intellectual activity” (Hainstock, 1997, 35). Montessori –
The Montessori classroom is a meticulously prepared environment designed specifically to meet the needs of the child both physically and emotionally. One aspect of the prepared environment includes the Practical Life activities. Many Practical Life activities are tasks the child sees routinely performed in the home. They each serve a meaningful purpose as the child masters each piece of work such as tying shoes, pouring water, sweeping, or sewing and cooking. Through Practical Life activities, a child will also develop and refine social skills. These skills developed through Practical Life build self-esteem, determination and independence.
The student learns to take care of him and the surrounding environment. Maria Montessori explains in, The Discovery of the Child, “Through practical life exercises of this sort the children develop a true ‘social feeling,’ for they are working in the environment of the community in which they live” (5, pg. 97). Additionally, fine motor skills are improved through use of the Practical Life materials. Through repeated tasks which enable a child to refine concentration, coordination, independence, and order, a child’s sense of self-worth grows. The Practical Life skills are an essential component in the Montessori classroom.
Not only do they provide a link between home and school for the new Montessori student, but they provide a foundation for life-long love of While appearing quite simple and repetitive, Practical Life activities are highly purposeful. A child engaged in such activities demonstrates high levels of concentration, sense of order, and refinement of fine motor skills. Also, they show a sense of independence through caring for oneself and the environment. Furthermore, they show respect for classmates and teachers and develop a sense of pride. Not only are these skills and qualities necessary to progress in the Montessori classroom, but they are also needed as an individual develops into adulthood.
Practical Life activities can be divided into six main categories. First, are Preliminary Exercises which assist in creating routine and order in the environment and are prerequisites for other activities. How to a roll a mat, carry a chair, or how to open and close a door are examples of Preliminary Exercises. Practical life exercises also include Fundamental Skills such as pouring, spooning, or tonging. As with all lessons in the Montessori classroom, these activities follow a sequential order and ideally, each lesson builds upon the last. Another category is Care of Self. Activities such as washing hands, buttoning, or tying shoelaces assist the child to become physically independent.
Care of Environment is another category involving activities such as sweeping, watering, cleaning, etc. Control of Movement is an area of Practical Life which encompasses lessons such as walking the Line and the Silence Game. Additionally, social Grace and Courtesy lessons are introduced to the child. These may include lessons on how to say please and thank you, interrupting someone, or introducing friends and acquaintances. Montessori stressed the relationship of these exercises to the general happiness and well being of the child. “A child who becomes a master of his acts through long and repeated exercises [of practical life], and who has been encouraged by the pleasant and interesting activities in which he has been engaged, is a child filled with health and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline” (The Discovery the Child, 5, pg. 93).
Varying types of presentations can be used by the teacher to introduce Practical Life activities. First is a collective introduction given the children at once. This could include proper table manners, how to interrupt someone, how to speak with an inside voice, or how to turn the page of a book. Another method is a group presentation given to a small gathering of children. The last method of introduction is Individual, given only to one child at a time.
Montessori believed the prepared environment is directly correlated to the child’s development. The classroom is a specifically designed area arranged solely for the children. There should be a variety of movement and activity and all work operates together through the disciplines. Montessori also believed in the importance of aesthetically pleasing classrooms. Children respond well to beauty, order, and quality in their environment.
Through the Practical Life activities in the Montessori classroom, a child not only learns concentration, coordination, independence and order, but also how to interact with others and gain an understanding and appreciation of the environment. The child begins to build himself from within while learning to treat him and others with respect and dignity. These understandings ultimately prepare the child for entry into society and a lifetime of self-respect and self-worthiness. Practical Life activities in the Montessori classroom ultimately provide the foundation for success in all areas of life.
Montessori said- “one of the greatest mistakes of our day is to think of movement by itself, as something apart from the higher functions”(The absorbent mind, pg 151) – it is not equally clear as to how scientists and teachers have failed to note the supreme importance of activity in the building up of the man to man be! It was during the time of Dr Maria Montessori who felt it was time to emphasize more on “movement” in educational theory – Mental development must be connected with movement.
Like man’s nervous system is divided into three parts-
Sense organs- collect impression and pass them to the brain
Muscles – the nerves transmits nervous energy to the muscles and this energy controls the movements of the muscles. Movement is the final result to which the working of all these delicate mechanisms leads up and it is because of movement that personality can express itself(The absorbent mind, pg 148)! The great philosophers must use speech or writing to convey his ideas and this involves muscular movement. What would be the value of his thoughts if he gave them no expression? This he can only do by making use of his muscles. Psychologists regard the muscles as a part of the central nervous system (works as a whole to put man in relation with his surroundings) and this whole apparatus of Brain ,Senses and Muscles is called – the system of relationship- it puts man in touch with his world (living or non living and with other people) and without its help a man could have no contact with his surroundings or his fellows.
The vegetative systems only help their owner to grow and exist. It is the system of relationship which puts him into contact with the world! There is nothing in the world which plays no part in the universal economy, and if we are endowed with spiritual riches, with aesthetic feelings and a refined conscience, it is not for ourselves, but so that these gifts shall be used for the benefit of all, and take their place in the universal economy of spiritual life. Nature has given us many abilities and these must be developed and used. We know that for the enjoyment of good health, heart, lungs and stomache must all work together. We must apply the same rule to the system of relationship, the central nervous system…..if we have a brain, sense organs and muscles, all these must cooperate. The system must exert itself in all its parts, none of them being neglected for example we want to excel in brain power but to succeed in this we must include the other sides too. To perfect any given activity “movement” will be needed as the last stage of the cycle.
In other words a higher spirituality can be reached only through action and this is the point of view from which movement has to be judged. one of the greatest mistakes of our day is to think of movement by itself, as something apart from the higher functions, we think of our muscles as organs to be used only for health purposes. We “take exercise” or do “gymnastics” to keep ourselves fit, to make us breathe or to eat or sleep better. It is an error which has been taken over by the schools .It is just as though a great prince were being made the servant of the shepherd. The prince – the muscular system –is only being used to help the vegetative life. Such assumptions will lead to enquiry…there comes about a separation between the life of movement and the life of thought. Since the child has a body and mind both, games must be included in the curriculum so as to avoid neglecting any part of nature’s provision. To keep thinking about the mind on one hand and the body on other hand is to break the continuity that should reign between them. This keeps action away from thought. The true purpose of movement is to serve the ends of existence – that is the development of the mind(The absorbent mind, pg 151).
All movement has most intricate and delicate machinery, but in man none of it is established at birth. It has to be formed and perfected by the child’s activity in the world. Movement and activity are natural functions of childhood and learning comes through them .Activity becomes increasingly important to development. It is the movement that starts the intellect working… Till now all educators have thought of movement and the muscular system as aids to respiration, or to circulation, or as a means of building up physical strengthen our new conception the view is taken that movement has great importance in mental development itself, provided that the action which occurs is connected with the mental activity going on. Both mental and spiritual growth are fostered by this, without which neither maximum progress nor maximum health (speaking of the mind) can exist. A child is a discoverer.
He is an amorphous splendid being in search of his own form. For example in the development of speech, we see a growing power of understanding go side by side with an extended use of those muscles by which he forms sounds and words. Observations made on children – the world overconfirms that the child uses his movements to extend his understanding. Movement helps in development of mind and this finds renewed expression in further movement and activity(The absorbent mind, pg 154). The child gains experience through exercises and movement. He coordinates his own movement and records the emotions he experiences in coming into contact with the external world. The importance of physical activity or movement in a psychic development should be emphasized. The child has an internal power to bring about cordinations, which he creates himself, and once these have begun to exist he goes on perfecting them by practice. He himself is clearly one of the principal creative factors in their production. The movements the child acquires are not chosen haphazardly but are fixed. In the sense that each proceeds out of a particular period of development.
When the child begins to move, his mind being able to absorb, has already taken in his surroundings. He Is directed by a mysterious power, great and wonderful that he incarnates little by little. In this way, he becomes a man. He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play then through work. The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence. He constructs his mind step by step till it becomes possessed of memory, the power to understand and the ability to think. “The child’s mind can acquire culture at a much earlier age than is generally supposed, but his way of taking in knowledge is by certain kinds of activity which involves movement….”(Montessori notes) It is very interesting to study the mechanical development of movement, not only because of its intricacy but because each of the phases it passes through is clearly visible. Man’s foot can be studied from three points of view: the psysiological, the biological and the anatomical and all of them are most interesting.
The hand is in direct connection with the man’s soul, but also with different ways of life that men have adopted on the earth in different places and at different times. The skills of man’s hand are bound up with the development of his mind, and in the light of history we see it connected with the development of civilization. The hands of man express his thought and from the time of his first appearance upon the earth traces of his handiwork also appear in the records of history. Hence, the development of manual skill keeps pace with mental development. We are told that St. Francis of Assisi – perhaps the simplest and purest of human souls used to say – “Look at these great hills! They are the walls of our temple and the aspiration of our hearts!”(The absorbent mind, pg 163) The truth is that when a free spirit exists, it has to materialize itself in some form of work and for this hands are needed. (The absorbent mind, pg 163)
The hand are connected with mental life, allows the mind to reveal itself and enables the whole being to enter into special relationship with its environment. His hands under the guidance of his intellect transform this environment and thus enable him to fulfill his mission in the world. The education of the movements is very complex, as it must correspond to all coordinated movements which the child has to establish in his physiological organism. The child if left without guidance is disorderly in his movements and these disorderly movements are the special characteristics of the little child. The child is seeking the exercises in these movements which will organize and coordinate the movements that are useful to a man. The child follows direction/instructions and if his movements are made a little definite then the child grows quiet and contended and becomes an active worker, a being calm and full of joy. This education of movements is one of the principal factors in producing that outward appearance of “discipline” to be found in the “children’s house”.(Montessori notes)
Importance of movement:-
Movement leads to:
Muscle development, both fine and gross – need freedom for movement to take place Stimulates the mind
Stimulates the senses
Develops confidence (through agility/balance and co-ordination) Develops discipline and will
Leads to normalization
Results in a healthy body and mind
Emotional and intellectual development through movement:-
Emotions are the affecting mental stages, organized by external ideas of situations and always act while accompanied by bodily and mental excitement. However, when we talk about emotional development in children, we find that children show a wide range of emotional reactions. Sometimes they are excited and exuberant and at other times they are depressed and sullen and some other time they are just angry, throwing tantrums. We find various shades of emotions in them even at an early age. The word emotion originates from the Latin word “ Emovere” which means to be excited. So, an emotion implies that state of mind which excites a person when man is influenced by emotion he gets excited and his natural state of equilibrium is lost. Pattern of emotional development – if we have to understand the emotions of a child of school age, it is essential to take into consideration his emotional development during the early years.
Sometimes, newly born infants behave as though they are violently aroused. If such vigorous behavior means the intensity of his feelings, then we must conclude that emotional experiences can be as intense during this early period as at any later stage of growth. Again we see that a new born child is relatively unresponsive to many stimuli which are likely to arouse him in later stages. Children are capable of rich and varied emotional experiences in the course of their development till they are adults. Children from birth to 2 years go through a variety of emotions and goes through many emotional experiences that may influence his attitude towards life. Studies show that at birth there are general excitements mostly concerning his hunger and comforts, after 2-3 months the child shows definite signs of distress along with delight.
By 6 months with his exposure of different kinds of stimuli the child starts showing other shades of emotions like distress or discomforts develops into fear, disgust and anger. With the satisfaction of his needs he feels delighted and by the time child completes one year this delight differentiates itself from affection. the child recognizes emotions in others and responds to it clearly. But his emotions are not so strong as regard to joy and happiness when he turns one as they are at the age of 2.Therefore we conclude that by the end of 2nd year the child has already developed various emotions and feelings.
Factors affecting emotional development –
There are many factors that affect the emotional development among children, the major ones are – Fatigue – tired and exhausted child
Order of birth
The child’s emotions are still pure of contrasts. He loves because he takes in, because nature orders him to do so. And what he takes and absorbs to make it a part of his own life, so as to create his own being(The secret of childhood, pg 80). The child follows the grownups and the words of a grownup are supernatural stimuli. The child is enchanted and fascinated by his actions and words. What the grown up tells him remains engraved in his mind like words incised by a chisel on a stone. The adult should count and measure all his words before the child, for the child is hungry to take from him, he is an accumulator of love. The developing child not only acquires the faculties of man: strength, intelligence, language, but at the same time, he adapts the being he is constructing to the conditions of the world about him.
The child has a different relation to his environment from ours. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear. In us the same things produce no change but a child is transformed by them. This vital kind of memory which absorbs is called “ Mneme”. In this process of absorption, learning,acquiring,adapting the child is constructing not only physically but emotionally or psychic as well. The moment the child understands his environment he learns to work and adapt to it and then further wants to master in it which leads to modifications accordingly. In this complete process the following emotions are built;
Feeling of capability
Sense of achievement
Thus, children enjoy process not purpose!
The distinct difference between man and animal – Montessori tends to adopt a different standpoint from many modern psychologists. Most of the psychologists place great emphasis upon the “inherited tendencies to behavior” which man has in common with animals. They maintain that everything we do is based on the instinctive urges of human act.Thus; the love of knowledge is but the sublimated instinct of curiosity. For Montessori, she believes that man differs from animal creation not only in degree but also in kind. She states that the most significant thing about the child development is not instinctive tendencies that are in common with animals, but the capacity to reason which distinguishes us from them.
Here, she is not trying to deny or belittle the significances of their findings, but she is saying that these elementary psychic forces are only a part of the question and a lesser part, her conviction is – “Animals have merely to awaken their instincts towards their specified behavior and their psychic life is limited to this. But in man there is other fact –the creation of human intelligence (Montessori, notes). Unlike man, one can predict the behavior of animals, whereas for man, what he will do in the future, no one can tell. “For man there is no limit”(Montessori notes).
Man is a rational animal to be most “like to God” whose image we are made. Man alone possesses “that capable and god-like reason which enables us to do what no animals has ever achieved –i.e. to rise to a consciousness of our being i.e. self consciousness, to the knowledge that “I am I”. It is with this gift of reason or intellect as foundation that we are able to build our individual characters. How soon does a child begin to reason? According to Montessori, it begins as early as a baby where the child starts from nothing. Its reason revolves round his internal working like a little bud, developing and assuming concrete form from the images it absorbs from the environment. According to Montessori at her lecture in 1944, it was stated that the first year of a child’s life is the period where greatest psychic activity can develop by the human being. This is evident because we know that the brain is one thing that is active during the first year.
That the reason why the head of a one year old has doubled in size since its born. At the third year, its brain is already half that of the adult- at four years eight –tenths of its ultimate size. Montessori further elaborated that it is during the first period that the human being grows principally in intelligence: the rest of its growth during this period, being subordinate to this developing psychic life. The three characteristics we can observe about a child during this period are – The child creates his own mind –Since intelligence is what distinguishes man from all other animals, the first characteristic is the creation of intelligence. As said before he first constructs himself by absorbing everything from the environment by his unconscious mind. With these multitudinous impressions, the child continues to build his conscious intelligence. Montessori said ; to build up this conscious intelligence, the work of the hand plays an important and essential part.
The intelligence builds its own instrument –Second fact is while constructing his own intelligence he also begins to construct his own bodily instruments of expression. The child’s power of movement will develop in subordination to this superior aim i.e. of psychic development. Its activity will not be confined within the narrow limits of instinctive behavior, but will function as an instrument of a free moral agent. His eternal destiny is placed within his own hands. Marvelous adaptive powers of the child –The third characteristic of this period, are the marvelous adaptive power possessed by the child. Montessori illustrated this point by comparing man to animals. Example – if a cat is born in France, England or India, it would meow just the same way wherever it grows up. However for a child he will speak French in France, English in England and Hindi or any other dialect in India. This is because of its “inner construction”.
Movement and mental assimilation leads to integration of personality – The child constructs himself through movement .The value of movement goes deeper that just helping in acquisition of knowledge. It involves the development of child’s personality -in 1st year baby establishes his physical his physical development through movement. He learns to use his limbs and whole body to carry out movements such as crawling, standing and walking and sometimes running. In the next few years he refines his gross motor skills through movement. He continues to develop his fine motor skills through activities that involve movements.
As the child interacts with his environment, he absorbs the environment into his psychic life. Through repeated use of materials in the environment he learns to compare, discriminate, differentiate and judge the qualities of the materials. As the child gains experience through exercises and movements, he co-ordinates his own movement and records the emotions he experienced in coming into contact with the external world. He learns self help skills, taking and sharing. This is the social and emotional development of the child.
It is also not sufficient to allow children to learn without giving him the opportunity to work or explore with the materials. When children work with the materials, it involves creative movement. When teaching children, it is not sufficient for them to hear the things which we wish him to learn.
“We must give no more to eye & ear than we give to the hand”(Montessori notes)
For example, in teaching children ,the idea of dimension, it is no good to show them a diagram of objects of various sizes, instead we need to provide children with concrete materials such as the knobbed cylinder, pink tower, brown stairs, long rods and knobbles cylinders. They must be given the opportunity to explore and experiment with the materials. This is so with all Montessori materials whether it is the four operations in arithmetic, parts of speech or learning of lands and water. It always involves movement.
The child as an individual presents two aspects –the center and the periphery. The center is seen as the innermost citadel of the personality from which action proceeds .At this center the child increases his mental powers by seeking out sensation and movement which takes place at the second part of his personality i.e at the periphery. The periphery is that part of the child’s personality which comes in contact with the external world .It involves the senses, movements and the outward manifestations of his choice. Through continuous interaction of the center and the periphery, the mind of the child develops and expands.
The directress should be concerned with the periphery as it is that part of the child that is accessible to her. The other methods of teaching aims at getting to the center directly. The teacher’s business is to feed the periphery. The teacher prepares the environment that meets the child’s inner needs and in his exploration of the materials, he abstracts ideas from them. As both center and periphery interacts, the child builds his mind. The objects in the environment cannot be chosen at random. Each material possesses an idea or concept to be realized, not to be announced by the teacher. At the child explore with the materials, this concept/idea become presented.
In practice, we often find that even if the directress has prepared the environment and presented the materials to the children, there do not seem to be a click of the center and the periphery. The child does not seem to be interested and his act seems to be in a disorderly manner. According to Montessori, the answer to this missing link is the “Point of Contact”. To explain this, Montessori used the example of teaching the appreciation of music. If the teacher tries to play music morning till night and children are allowed to move about to move about anyhow and anywhere in a disorderly manner, there is a lack of contact. To resolve this problem, the muscles, which move, should move in response to the musical rhythm thus establishing a psychic bridge between the soul of the child and the external reality of music.
The moment the child understands that there exists the connection (i.e between the music and his movement), then the point of contact is established. So if the music changes its rhythm, then the child becomes aware of it and changes his movement accordingly, and he is on the road to perfect himself. This reality may be either material or spiritual; but movement must always accompany the child at any rate. Let’s look at an example to understand how the point of contact helps development. In their presenting of the sensorial materials, children were given new sounds, new shapes etc.The main purpose of it is not just bring new sounds, new shapes but to bring order into this new impression.
The difficulty or the error that the child is to discover and understand must be isolated in a single piece of material. For example the long rods will present to the child only a variation in length and not in colour and design. Such isolation will help child focus on the problem more readily. It is through this method, that it leads the child to be interested in dimension, and develop him to observe them in the world around. Montessori calls her material “keys to the Universe” –it is important to constantly remember that it is through this point of contact limited and exactly but real work, helps the child to summon the mind to wonder at large in fantasy to something real which opens up a new pathway.
With younger children, however, it was observed that the exercises in practical life will play an important part, but always the point of contact will be established through movement. An example was to get up from a chair and carry it from one place to another without any sound. The children would be presented this concept of self perfection and would seek to do the same as it corresponds to his soul. Again, we see the truth of Montessori’s maxim that “education begins through movement”.