Carolyn Sherwin Bailey.

Montessori children online

. (page 8 of 9)
Online LibraryCarolyn Sherwin BaileyMontessori children → online text (page 8 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

cried again, and struggled against the brutal
force of his mother, who held him tightly
in her lap and changed his shoes for going
out in the afternoon. Again his hands were

The baby had not been in the least naughty.
He wanted to learn how to button his own shoes
and his mother couldn't understand this longing
which he had to express in action, having no words
with which to explain himself.

Nearly all the instincts of babyhood are right


instincts, leading to good conduct. The child's
first longing is to be able to fit himself to his en-
vironment, and this means that he must learn to
handle those objects and do those things which
he sees his family doing. The average American
child grows up rather helpless and useless when it
comes to making social adjustments, because we
continually interfere with his first attempts to be
useful. We do for him those acts of utility which
he should learn himself, very early, while he is
still interested in them.

It is undoubtedly less time-taking to put on a
small boy's shoes, button and lace them for him,
button his under and outer clothes, to tie his neck-
tie, and put on his rubbers, than to slowly and
patiently teach him to dress himself. To bathe a
child and brush and comb his hair is simpler than
to allow the baby to splash in water and revel
in soapsuds, as he must in learning the intricate
movements necessary for keeping himself tidy.
We wish to preserve, also, the immaculate order
of our neat bathrooms.

We like to open and close doors for the tod-
dler; it is our privilege of service, we feel. We
prefer to lay the table ourselves, and keep our


spotless kitchens free of child finger marks. What
about the baby, though, who finds his attempts
to make himself useful thwarted at every turn
until he forms the habit of being waited on? This
is a wrecking habit for childhood; it is, also, a
habit that leads to our present extravagantly high
cost of adult living. The little child who expects
to be continually waited on is going to grow up
into a man or woman who will expect to be waited
on through life. Service is what doubles the
grocer's, the butcher's, the landlord's, the shop-
keeper's bills.

The useful helpfulness of the Montessori-trained
child is easily explained.

The Montessori schoolroom is so planned that
there is nothing which a child can hurt and a good
deal that he can help by his first clumsy, baby
attempts to be useful to himself and to others with
his hands. The children are free to move about
as much as they like, changing the position of the
light little chairs and tables, opening and closing
the doors that lead into the garden, unrolling and
then rolling up again the rugs, putting away the
didactic materials in the cupboards after they are
through with them, washing the tables and black-


boards, caring for plants and animals, and carry-
ing on countless other activities that bring about
hand and eye training.

The children learn, also, all the intricate activi-
ties involved in the care of their bodies. They
wash their faces and hands, brush their hair, clean
their finger nails, black their shoes, put on and
take off their aprons. The dressing frames that
are included in the Montessori didactic materials
include all the different fastenings of a child's
clothing; buttoning on red flannel, buttoning on
leather, buttoning on drill with tapes, lacing on
cloth and on leather, fastening hooks and eyes and
snaps, and tying bow knots.

It is quite amazing to see the eagerness with
which the Montessori children attack these very
universal activities of everyday life. The skill
they obtain in them proves the truth of Dr. Mon-
tessori's words :

" We habitually serve children. This is not
only an act of servility toward them, but it is dan-
gerous because it tends to suffocate their useful,
spontaneous activity. We are inclined to believe
that children are like puppets, and we wash them
and feed them as if they were dolls. We do not


stop to think that the child who does not do,
does not know how to do.

" Our duty toward children is, in every case,
that of helping them to make a conquest of such
useful acts as nature intended man to perform
for himself. The mother who feeds her child with-
out making the slightest effort to teach him to hold
and use a spoon for himself is not a good mother.
She offends the fundamental, human dignity of
her son, she treats him as if he were a doll. In-
stead, he is a man, confided for a time by nature
to her care."

There are certain phases of the Montessori
method which a mother cannot apply in her home
because she has not the preliminary training and
the necessary teaching skill. There is not a single
activity of the Montessori training for personal
and community usefulness of the individual as
carried out in the Montessori school that may not
be practiced in any home. The Montessori school-
room is a working duplicate of the best conditions
which should exist in every home where there is
a baby. It is significant that nations have
been aroused by the education miracles wrought
in the Roman Children's Houses. What, pray,


is the matter with the American children's
houses ?

The home is a big workshop for turning out
child cosmopolites, small world citizens who will
grow up into useful men and women. In the home
the child may learn how to care for his body, how
to care for pets, plants, and all the things that
combine to fill the tool box of everyday living.
Here the child may learn that consideration for
others which will help him to be kind, quiet, un-
selfish, and polite. Here, also, he may take a
small part in the care of the big human family
in preparing food, laying the table, learning
household cleanliness and household order. The
child instinct to fetch and carry, which shows
itself very early in the life of the baby, may be
turned into channels of usefulness if the child is
taught to happily wait on himself and others.

Much emphasis has been laid upon the didactic
apparatus of Montessori which has for its aim the
development of the several intellectual processes.
Considering these appliances for direct stimula-
tion and perfection of mental activity only, the
casual student of Montessori says that the system
is barren, that it takes into account none of the


emotional activities of the child, that it eliminates
educational play from the life of the little one.

As a matter of fact, the play instincts of the
child are so carefully met by Dr. Montessori that
they blossom into usefulness. Dr. Montessori
knows more about the spontaneous play of the
child from two and a half years to six than we do.
She sees that his play instincts are all, at first,
a struggling to be like his elders, to do the same
utilitarian things that he sees them do, to imitate
on a child plane the work of his mother in the
home or his father in the industrial world. With
this understanding of the possibilities of child play
for developing into future usefulness, Dr. Mon-
tessori supplies children with those tools of play
which turn child play into exercises of helpfulness.

In the Trionfale School at Rome the free play
of the children has been especially safeguarded.
The toddlers utilize their instinct to fetch and
carry objects by loading, trundling, and unloading
the specially built, stout little wheelbarrows pro-
vided for them. Very soon this play blossoms into
the desire to fetch and carry with some more useful
object in view. The children begin to show great
skill in removing and replacing their materials


from the school cupboards and putting them back
in an orderly fashion. They attain perfect mus-
cular control in laying the tables for luncheon and
serving the food daintily. In one corner of a
sunlit room at Trionfale there is a fascinating
little salon. Soft rugs of small size, diminutive
green wicker easy-chairs, sofa, and round tea
table, books of colored pictures and large dolls'
dishes make it possible for the children to " play
house " under ideal conditions. They learn
through their play a sweet kind of hospitality, and
the little school " drawing-room " of Montessori
stands for a necessary development of the social
instinct in children which is important.

Dr. Montessori suggests to us those playthings
and play activities which will lead our children into
the art of being helpful and, which is much more
vital, will start in them habits of wanting to be
helpful. Her scheme of play is possible of adapt-
ing to almost any home, and it has for its basis
the instinctive longing of every child to be useful
through his play.

A playroom should be a place, as Dr. Mon-
tessori expresses it, where the children may amuse
themselves with games, stories, possibly music, and


the furnishing should be done with as much taste
as in the sitting-room of the adult members of the
family. Small tables, a sofa, and armchairs of
child size, one or two casts, copies of masterpieces
of art, and vases or bowls in which the children
may arrange flowers should be included. There
should be many picture books, blocks, dolls, and,
if possible, a musical instrument of some kind in
the nursery. Dr. Montessori suggests a piano or
harp of small dimensions. An important play-
room accessory is a low cupboard, with drawers in
which the children may keep their completed draw-
ings, paper dolls, scrap pictures, and any precious
collection of outside material such as seeds, leaves,
twigs, or pebbles which they long to keep and use
in their play. Half of this cupboard should con-
sist of shelves for bowls, plates, napkins, doilies,
spoons, knives, forks, a tray and tumblers for the
children to use in preparing and serving their
luncheon or in entertaining their friends. Stout
pottery of quaint shapes and exquisite gay color-
ing may be obtained now. It is much more at-
tractive to the child of three and four years than
inadequate, tiny sets of dolls' dishes. At least the
necessary bowl, plate, pitcher, and mug for serving


the nursery supper should be supplied and the tod-
dler taught to serve and feed himself at a very
early age.

The child should have a little broom and dust-
pan and scrubbing brush. He should have a low,
painted washstand with a basin, soap, and nail-
brush. He should be taught how to turn on and
off a water tap, filling a small pitcher, pail, or
basin, and carrying it, full, without spilling. He
should have low hooks for hanging his clothing for
outdoor wear. Both small boys and girls should
have bright little aprons, not so much for pur-
poses of cleanliness, although this is important, as
to inspire them to the feeling that work is dig-
nified and needs to be set apart by a uniform of

Dr. Montessori urges that those toys which
we buy be selected having in mind helping the
child to be an actor in a little drama of home life.
A plaything, she feels, should be a work thing,
capable of bringing a life activity down to the
primitive plane of the child's thinking.

Our toy shops offer us now a very wide variety
of such educational toys from which to choose.
We may find large dolls, modeled from life, and


wearing clothes similar to children and requiring
the same muscular co-ordination in fastening and
unfastening. There is large furniture for these
dolls, built on good lines and teaching a little girl
to make a bed neatly and keep the doll's bureau
drawers in order. There are good-sized washing
sets, including tubs, basket, lines, clothespins,
ironing board, and sad irons; we find very com-
plete dolls' houses, sewing materials with dolls'
patterns and small sewing machines, kitchens
where the child can pretend to cook, complete sets
of cooking utensils, and lifelike toy animals.

These toys Dr. Montessori urges us to use, real-
izing that the child's deepest play impulse is to
dramatize in the theater of the home playroom
the everyday utilitarian occupations of the race.


Montessori and the Child's Imagination

MARIO played a great deal, and I noticed, as I
watched him critically, that his play was of a
very strongly imaginative kind.

He was one of the youngest of the little ones
at the Trionfale Children's House, and it had
taken him a rather longer time than it had the
other children to gain control of his impulsive
hands, his little truant feet, his vagrant-tending
mind. During this first period of his Montessori
schooling, when his attention was scattering and
he found difficulty in making muscular co-ordina-
tion and differentiating form and color clearly, he
seemed also to have difficulty in amusing himself.
His play impulses at this time seemed to be very
primitive ; he took pleasure in idling in some sunny
spot, kitten-like, or he arranged and rearranged
the pieces of wicker furniture which filled the salon
corner of the schoolroom, or he found entertain-
ment in interfering with the work of the other



little ones. There seemed to be no element of
creativeness or originality in his play.

Presently, however, Mario began to show a
steady intellectual development in his work.
Through the physical exercises of Montessori,
through the rhythmic exercises carried on with
music and through exercises of usefulness in keep-
ing himself and the room neat and waiting upon
others, he learned an important lesson of muscular

He learned to make his body respond to the
command of his brain.

Through the sense exercises in recognizing fine
differentiations of color and form and weight and
sound and texture, Mario found a clear mental
vision. A month before, the hill back of the
school had been a blur to his mental vision. Now
it was, for him, a clear percept made up of various
component parts. He saw it tall, broad, steep,
colored in varying tints of green and brown; its
outlines were broken for him by the sunshine, the
gardens, the red and yellow tiled houses ; he could
almost smell the sweet perfume from its orchards
and vineyards.

The sense-training of the Montessori system had


quickened and clarified the little boy's perceptive

Following side by side with Mario's new mental
development came as marked a development in
his play. His play impulses were no longer scat-
tering but had objectivity. He was, in fancy, a
steam engine puffing along or the little father of a
group of other children.

As he swung himself over the parallel bars in
the school yard he felt that he was a famous
acrobat entertaining an applauding audience. In
a second he slipped into another path of fancy;
as he piled stones into a pyramid, he was a great
builder. More than this, Mario's newly-found
play impulses carried him into a unique plane of
idealism. Crouched in a sunny corner of the
playground, he was a sleeping seed ; slowly and
with spontaneous grace the little body rose, arms
upstretched, as Mario felt in dreams the growth
of root and branch and flower. No one had taught
four-year-old Mario the skill of making real these
fantasies. How had he taken his way alone into
the fertile fields of the imagination?

It has been suggested that the Montessori sys-
tem does not take into account the stimulating of


the child's imagination. Daily instances of very
original, undirected imaginative play on the part
of Montessori children show a subtle force at work
in the method which results in a spontaneous un-
folding of the imagination. The games and plays
which we teach our children in kindergarten and
primary school are carried on by the Montessori-
trained children without adult supervision. Leav-
ing their work, they run to the garden or play-
ground, imitating with great freedom and beauty
of imagination the activities of the gardener, the
baker, the artisan, the street vender, and the trav-
eling musician. They even impersonate in a more
idealistic way, playing, as did little Mario, that
they are birds and flowers.

This natural expression of imagination in very
young children is an important development of the
method, and a suggestive one.

We are all familiar with the timid, shrinking
little child in the center of a game circle who
doesn't want to be a chickadee, but who is urged
by the teacher in charge of the circle. The child
persists in her disinclination; she is overawed by
so large a ring of spectators; it is possible that
she has never seen a chickadee. The teacher, also,


persists. She goes to the child and tries to teach
her the motions of bird flight, but the child sees
only an adult running about and waving her arms
in an unusual way. She does not connect the
spectacle in any way with the free flight of a bird,
and when she does take courage and tries to follow
the directions of her teacher, the little one is not
giving expression to her own mental image, but is
endeavoring to imitate a rather ungainly adult.

Is this play of the imaginative type?

It would seem as if we have lost sight of the
real character of this elusive, subtle, unexplain-
able fruition of the mental faculties, the imagina-
tion. It is the unforeseen mind power which makes
poets and painters and sculptors and conquerors.
It is a mind vision which sees success beyond de-
feat, worth hidden in rags, and good blossoming
out of evil. It makes us hear the piping of Pan
as the wind blows the reeds beside the river; it
promises us a pot of gold if we can build ourselves
a rainbow bridge across every cloud of despair;
it shows us the lineaments of God in the guise of
sorrow and poverty.

Imagination in the child finds varied expres-
sions. There are a great many instances where


a child who is lonely and longs for companionship
sees and holds daily intercourse with an invisible
playmate whom he can describe with great accu-
racy of detail. In the majority of cases this invis-
ible playmate in disposition, appearance, and tastes
is unlike any member of the family or any friend of
the child's. Where did the child find this fancy?

A child has the power of a seer to develop the
unknown potentialities in apparently dead things.
This dry brown leaf, frost-killed of the sap of life,
is, in the child's fancy, a gnome, jumping along
in the path in front of him to warn the birds of
the coming of winter. An acorn is a golden goblet
brimming with fairy nectar; a hollow tree is a
magic place in which to set up a domicile. No
one schooled the child in these tricks of thought.
How did he find them?

Dr. Montessori explains the growth of child

The child is born with a certain defined mental
equipment. He has instincts, inherited memories
they might be called, and he struggles to feed
these instincts. He has capacities for acquiring
good or bad habits very early. He has a race-old
longing to gain knowledge by means of his senses.


Our part in the education of the child is to study
his instinctive activities, giving them opportuni-
ties for free expression where they are important
for the child's best mental development. A child
likes to play in the dirt because his ancestors lived
in caves and tilled the soil; it is necessary for the
child's best development that he play in sand and
model in clay and plant little gardens. A child
instinctively fights because his ancestors survived
only by warfare; this child instinct we must in-

We must establish good habits in a child early.
We must help him, through various sense exer-
cises, to gain clear percepts of his environment.
We must try not to force our adult view-point
upon the child, but endeavor to establish in him
a habit of independent self-active thought.

Then, after we have strengthened the general
intellectual processes of the child mind, Dr. Mon-
tessori points to us a miracle. Dovetailing in-
stinct and habit and perception, the child intellect
begins to build. Clear percepts become concepts ;
mental images become ideals, imagination appears,
building from the clay of everyday-mind stuff a
golden castle of dreams.


Imagination cannot be taught. It can scarcely
be defined. It can never be prescribed and trained.
It is that flowering of the mind processes by
means of which a bit of brown sod appears tinted
with light and color to the artist, full of poten-
tialities of growth to the gardener, smells of home
to the wanderer. If the three types of minds,
as children, had been told that a similar piece
of sod was a blanket for the sleeping seeds, one
questions if it would have been gilded for them in
adult life with this glow of individual fancy. On
the contrary, the painter has been trained to see
color, the gardener has experienced the cultiva-
tion of life in the earth, the home lover's hungry
senses grasped the memory of former sense stimuli.

Dr. Montessori tells us that the imagination
develops variously in different individuals. There
may be a child who will never be able to pierce the
veil of reality and find his way into the court of
fantasy. There will be also the child who de-
velops a seerlike quality of idealism. He moves
in a world of blissful unrealities ; he sees angels'
wings in the clouds and angels' eyes in the stars.
Our part in the education of little children is to
build the tower for a possible poising of the child's


wings of fancy. Then we will wait hopefully for
the wonder flight.

The various parts of the didactic apparatus of
Montessori presented to a child in their proper
relation to his stage of mental growth have a
definite place in strengthening the mental processes
which lie at the basis of imagination.

We are so unaccustomed to offering any sort of
mind food to the child of two and a half or three
that we have allowed the little child to go mind
hungry. At this early stage of a child's develop-
ment the right kind of mental training will lay a
foundation for the constructive and intellectual
processes of imagination and reasoning.

The child of two and three years of age is at
the sensory-motor stage of mind development. He
longs for experiences which he can turn into ac-
tion ; his mind craves ideas which will express them-
selves in useful muscular co-ordination and the
ability to adjust himself to his environment. To
put into a child's hands the materials for this
sensory-motor education early is not to overtax
his mind; instead, it satisfies his very important
mind hunger.

The didactic materials of Montessori that sup-


ply this sensory-motor need of the very young
child and should be presented early include the
various dressing frames, the solid insets, the sound
boxes, the blocks of the tower, the broad stair
and the long stair, the latter without the use of
the sandpaper numerals. As soon as the little
one has made his own the muscular co-ordination
and ideas of form in relation to size involved in
this material and has begun to find the will power
to correct his own mistakes, other home activities
involving these mental faculties should be added
to the use of the Montessori apparatus. The
child may dress, undress, bathe himself, dress and
undress a doll, build with large blocks, sort various
objects of different shapes and sizes, as seeds, nuts,
spools, button molds ; handle and learn the uses
of the furnishings and equipment of the home:
toilet utensils, brush, broom, duster, dustpan,
kitchen appliances, and the like ; he should receive
simple ear-training in discriminating different bell
tones, high and low, loud and soft notes played
on the piano, and hear good models of speech, both
in diction and modulation.

At the age of three to four years, the sensory
element in the child's mental life is even more


prominent, but it is separated a little from motor
activities. If the child has had adequate training,
he has obtained a large degree of muscular con-
trol; he can handle objects without breaking them,
he can run without falling down, he can minister to
his own bodily needs. Now his mind is hungry
for sense images. He wishes to study his environ-
ment with the aim of securing a series of definite
mind pictures. Ideas are to be stored in the work-
shop of the child mind for future use in building
the power of constructive imagination.

1 2 3 4 5 6 8

Online LibraryCarolyn Sherwin BaileyMontessori children → online text (page 8 of 9)