UNITED STATES BUREAU OF EDUCATION
BULLETIN, 1914, NO. 28 - .... . WHOLE NUMBER 602
THE MONTESSORI METHOD AND
By ELIZABETH HARRISON
NATIONAL KINDERGARTEN COLLEGE, CHICAGO. ILL.
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFF)
UNITED STATES BUREAU OF EDUCATION
BULLETIN. 1914. NO. 28 WHOLE NUMBER 602
THE MONTESSORI METHOD AND
By ELIZABETH HARRISON
NATIONAL KINDERGARTEN COLLEGE. CHICAGO, ILL.
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
OF THIS PUBLICATION MAY BE PROCURED FROM
THE SUPERINTENDENT OF DOCUMENTS
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
WASHINGTON, D. C.
6 CKNTS PER COPY
C N T ]l N T S.
Letter of transmittal 5
I. Introduction i)
II. The principle of freedom lU
III. The didactic material 10
IV. Exercising the muscles of young children-.. 22
V. Training of the senses I 27
VI. The silent game 2!>
A^II. Limitations of the Montessori method 30
LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL.
Department of the Interior,
Bureau of Education,
Washington^ January 5, 191Ji.
Sir: It has been said that Rousseau discovered childhood, and
Froebel, infancy. For the teachers of the eighteenth century the
child was a little man or woman, different from the adult only in size,
strength, and knowledge. For it there was no growth, only expan-
sion. Education consisted in training and instruction — ^not in devel-
opment. It was artificial rather than natural. "V^Hiatever came by
nature could, in the minds of most, be only evil.
The worthiness, rightness, and rights of the child's nature, and
the importance of self-development, formed the burden of the mes-
sage of Rousseau and his disciples. For them childhood was not
manhood or womanhood in miniature, but something different, with
interests, ideals, virtues, and activities of its own, a stage in the
development of the individual, on the proper unfolding, strengthen-
ing, and functioning of which depends the welfare of the future man
or woman. But Rousseau understood little of infancy. He counted
it fortunate if the infant died in infancy. His own children he sent
to the foundling hospital and took care that there were no marks
on their clothing by which they might afterwards be identified. It
remained for Froebel, with his sensitive woman soul, his philo-
sophical mind, his poetic feeling for the oneness of the universe, and
his prescient grasp of the fundamental principles of evolution, to com-
prehend infancy — the first six or seven years of life — as the most
important period in the life of the individual, and its proper treat-
ment as the most important problem in education. After long years
of study of infancy in the light of philosophy, he embodied what he
conceived to be the fundamental principles of the education of little
children in his doctrine of the kindergarten, and his ideas of the
best means for the application of these principles in his kindergarten
program, materials, and devices. This discovery of the kindergar-
ten — for such he called it (not the kindergarten, but infancy was the
real discovery) — made a new tendency in education, and is one of
the significant events marking a new era in the history of the world.
From the day of this discovery until now interest in child study has
6 LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL.
constantly increased, and the care and education of little children has
become constantly more intelligent, l^oth in the home and in the
school. Though suppressed for many years by governmental author-
ity in Germany and received with much suspicion elsewhere, the
kindergarten movement has extended to all the world and has become
an integral part of the public-school system of many cities and States.
Its introduction into England was championed by Charles Dickens,
the novelist and friend of children. In America the kindergarten
found an advocate in our great philosopher and educator. Dr. Wil-
liam T. Harris, sometime United States Commissioner of Education.
For Froebel, as for the originator of every great reform, the
principle was the essential and abiding thing, the form, however per-
fect, more or less accidental and passing. The thing of importance
Avas the proper care and right education of little children rather than
the transmission of an imchanging institution or the perpetuation of
a program. But here, as elsewhere, form is more apparent than prin-
ciple, method than purpose and aim. As in Goethe's Faust, Helen,
the spirit of beauty, vanishes, leaving only her garments, more or less
antiquated and outworn forms, to the aspiring Faust, so from the
organized kindergarten too often has the spirit of the truth-seeking,
child-loving, freedom-desiring Froebel departed, leaving only the
form through which the spirit expressed itself. Not always has the
kindergarten welcomed the discoveries of scientific child stud3% and
to the extent that it has failed to do this it has lost the confidence of
those who are interested more in the child than in a name, program,
or cult. This indictment is, of course, not intended to appl}^ to all
kindergartens, nor the implied loyalt}^ to form rather than to prin-
ciple to all kindergartners. Many, probably most, of the leading
kindergartners have welcomed eagerly every new truth and have
tried earnestly and with niore or less success to make it effective in
their practical teaching.
Recently an earnest, brilliant, and learned Italian woman, Dr.
Maria Montessori, has become famous, probably beyond her desire,
for her contribution to our knowledge of little children and for the
embodiment of her own and the discoveries of others in what she likes
to call " a method of a new science of education." Her scientific in-
vestigations as a biologist and physician have led her to the formula-
tion or acceptance of a doctrine of education for little children essen-
tially the same as that at which Froebel arrived by another road —
that of carefully obserA-ed, intelligently directed self-development.
The schools (case del haml)ini) for little children in Rome in which
Dr. Montessori is trying out the methods and devices which she has
invented or accepted for the application of her principles are at-
tracting earnest students of education from all the world, and
LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL. 7
especially from America, and they count themselves fortunate who
have opportunity to come under Dr. Montessori's immediate instruc-
tion. Enthusiastic disciples are establishing similar schools here and
liave formed themselves into a national society for the study and
extension of the Montessori principles and methods, interest in which
has been much increased by the recent visit of Dr. Montessori to this
country and by the lectures which she delivered in several of our
Though aims and principles are the same for both Froebel and
Montessori, their different methods of approach have resulted in
difference in emphasis, program, and devices. For those who see
no further than the form, there is apparent conflict; many can not
easily understand that the work of both Froebel and Montessori, with
that of many other earnest students and teachers, must finally lose,
each, its distinctive characteristics and individuality, in the larger
whole of a more perfect knowledge of the nature of infancy and the
means of educating young children.
To this end the careful study of Dr. Montessori's work by those
who are familiar with the teachings of Froebel and the best practices
of the kindergarten can not fail to be helpful. For this reason I
recommend that the manuscript transmitted herewith, prepared by
Miss Elizabeth Harrison, president of the National Kindergarten
College, be published as a bulletin of the Bureau of Education, for
distribution among kindergartners and others directly interested in
the education of children below the ordinary American school age.
Miss Harrison, who has long been identified with the kindergarten
movement in America and has observed the kindergarten in all of
its most important centers, was sent to Kome by the National Kinder-
garten Association that she might make a thorough study of Dr.
Montessori's methods. This manuscript was prepared after a stay of
some months in Rome, studying with Dr. Montessori and observing
in the case del hamhini.
P. P. Claxton,
To the Secretary or the Interior.
THE MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE
The educational world is still eagerly discussing the comparative
merits of an experiment which was made by Dr. Maria Montessori
in Rome with a few poor children gathered from the tenement dis-
tricts of that city and placed by her in large, light, airy rooms
connected with a model tenement house recently established by an
association of philanthropic Roman citizens.
Much misunderstanding prevails with regard to Dr. Montessori's
work. Notwithstanding the fact that she has somewhat suddenly
attained a world-wide reputation, she modestly claims to have estab-
lished only one pedagogical laboratory, her idea being that many
more must be established and the results compared before a scientific
system of pedagogy can be worked out. She lays no claims to a
new^ method of pedagogy, but rather to a method of a new science
of pedagogy. The beginnings of this new science had alread}^
manifested themselves in education by the special attention given to
physically handicapped children, to mentally defective individuals,
and to moral derelicts. The same influence is observable in many
other directions — in the attempts to provide a wholesome recreation
for the congested sections of our great cities ; in the effort to deepen
social life for the isolated workers in the agFicultural districts; in
the advocacy of farm life for boys instead of juvenile courts and
houses of correction. It is also observable in the more scientific
treatment of prisoners in our more advanced penal institutions.
Eugenics, hygiene, anthropology, and similar studies have become
topics of general interest instead of subjects reserved only for
specialists. Better still, we are awakening to the fact that the efforts
of "experimental psychology," although they have brought forth
valuable by-products, have failed to reduce man to the laws of
physics. The inner spirit or personality of man has refused to be
reduced to the laws of mere organic matter. Dr. Montessori's worlc
is thoroughly in accord with this principle. Notwithstanding her
exacting and thorough training as a scientist, she has absolute faith
in the importance of the study of the child's ego or personality and
claims that it will be the chief concern of pedagogy in the near
60721°— 14 2 9
10 MONTESSOEI METHOD AND THE KHSTDEEGAETEN.
Any estimate of Madame Montessori's work, to be of practical
value to the mother or teacher, will necessarily involve a comparison
between the Montessori method and that of the kindergarten, since
the kindergarten is the only system of organized educational work
for young children that has so far received general recognition. It
is important to remind ourselves, however, that the welfare of the
little child is of far more significance than the mere settlement of
rival claims between the kindergarten and Montessori. Only by
taking this larger view of the subject can we come to any just or
satisfactory estimate of Dr. Montessori's education of young chil-
dren, and that will be the chief consideration in this bulletin rather
than an extended account of her psychological view, which is not
new. It will be necessary to show, however, how the latter has
shaped the former.
The contributions in Dr. Montessori's work that are of most prac-
tical value to us come largely from her training as a physician and
a student of anthropology. It is doubtful if any kindergartner has
made so thorough a study of the physical needs of children. She
has also the advantage of the scientific advance which experimental
psychology has made since Froebel's day, concerning the effects of
the bodily condition upon the mental progress of children. Owing
to her anthropological studies, she has furnished us with a very
simple and easily comprehended chart, which shows the average
height, weight, etc., of the normal child, at 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 years
of age, and thereby gives a standard, by means of which the
abnormality of any child can be easily ascertained.
The kindergarten as organized by Friedrich Froebel in German}^
in the middle of the last century has been much enriched and im-
proved by American kindergartners. Any one who visits the aver-
age European kindergarten, where the work seems to be in an almost
hopeless stage of formalism, will appreciate this fact. This is not
implying a criticism upon Froebel's central thought, however, for
even in America it has not been fully understood, nor carried out as
it some day will be. Indeed, one of the valuable things Dr. Mon-
tessori has done has been to stir up the kindergarten world and set
its leaders to thinking of their present limitations, and how they
can do better work.
II. THE PEINCIPLE OF FREEDOM.
The first thing to be considered in any method of training worthy
of consideration is the fundamental principle on which that system
is based. In Dr. Montessori's case this is easily stated. She be-
lieves that the child's inner self or personality can not rightfully
THE PEINCIPLE OF FREEDOM. 11
develop unless it is free to express itself undirected and unguided
by another person. Therefore, she insists that each child must be
allowed to be bodily free and have as much unhampered liberty of
action as possible, in order that he may fully express his inner life
in outer activity. The child's liberty is to be unlimited, except
where it clashes with the liberty of another person or endangers life.
Dr. Montessori states in her chapter on discipline:
We call an individual disciplined when lie is master of himself, and can
therefore regulate his own conduct when it shall be necessary to follow some
rule of life. Such concept of active discipline is not easy to comprehend nor
to apply. But certainly it contains the great educational principle, very differ-
ent from the old-time absolute and undiscussed coercion of immobility. And
such technique is necessary to the teacher who is to lead the child along such
a field of discipline, if she is to make it possible for him to continue in this
way all his life; advancing indefinitely toward perfect self-mastery. * * *
If any educational act is to be eflicacious, it will be only that which tends to
help toward the complete unfolding of this life; to be thus helpful, it is neces-
sary rigorously to avoid the arrest of spontaneous movements and the imposi-
tion of arbitrary taslis. It is, of course, understood here that we do not speak
of a useless or dangerous act ; this must be suppressed, destroyed.
In this she differs from Froebel, who would have the mother stimu-
late or help to awaken the child's instincts, even in the young infant,
as shown by his commentary on the little songs included in the
Mother Play Songs, wherein he states that the mother's training
of her child begins by thus guiding aright the first physical and
spontaneous activities of his limbs. It is true that in the " Educa-
tion of Man," written 10 years earlier, Froebel had said : " Education
in instruction and training, originally and initsfirst principles, would
necessarily be passive, following (only guarding and protecting) , not
prescriptive, categorical, interfering."^ This passage in Froebel's
writings has perhaps caused more discussion than any one statement
in any modern pedagogical writing. Yet even in the same volume
Froebel modifies his statement by comparing the child's training to
the trimming of the grapevine, which, to bear its best fruits, must be
occasionally pruned. There is also his belief in the need of a wise and
patient guidance on the part of the mother, as evidenced by the
Mother Play. We shall have to conclude, therefore, that absolute
freedom was not intended.
Herbert Spencer exemplifies the same urging of greater liberty for
the child : " The proper function of education in preparation for com-
plete living is the free exercise of all our faculties." Many more
educators could be quoted as urging greater freedom in childhood.
Undoubtedly there has been too much domineering on the part
of the teacher in the past, yet must not the wisdom of the ages guide
the child ? Else how is he to find the " eternal verities " of life
12 MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE KINDERGAETEN.
or the time-tested standards of real moral conduct ? It is practically
impossible to leave the child absolutely unguided and undirected.
To a large degree, Dr. Montessori substitutes for personal authority,
impersonal materials, which check and direct the child. Yet,
even in her schools in Rome, there were times when the teacher's
authority had to be used, and it still remains a problem as to how far
it is wise to eliminate all consciousness, on the part of the child, of
intelligent authority, sympathetically applied, to his guidance and
Dr. Montessori gives an excellent illustration of the stupid hinder-
ing which untrained or unsympathetic teachers too often impose upon
children, entirely unconscious of the mischief they are doing to the
young and growing life.
One day the cbildreu had gathered themselves, laughing and talking, into
a circle about a basin of water containing some floating toys. We had in the
school a little boy barely 2^ years old. He had been left outside the circle,
alone, and it was easy to see that he was filled with intense curiosity. I
watched him from a distance with great interest; he first drew near to the
other children and tried to force his way among them, but he was not strong
enough to do this, and he then stood looking about him. The expression of
thought on his little face was intensely interesting. I wish that I had had a
camera, so that I might have photographed him. His eyes lighted upon a little
chair, and evidently he made up his mind to place it behind the group of
children and then to climb on it. He began to move toward the chair, his
face illuminated with hope, but at that moment the teacher seized him bru-
tally (or, perhaps, she would have said, gently) in her arms and. lifting him up
above the heads of the other children, showed him the basin of water, saying.
" Come, poor little one, you shall see, too ! " Undoubtedly, the child, seeing
the floating toys, did not experience the joy that he was about to feel through
conquering the obstacle with his own force. The sight of those objects could
be of no advantage to him, while his intelligent efforts would have developed his
inner powers. The teacher hindered the child in this case from educating him-
self without giving him any compensating good in return. The little fellow
had been about to feel himself a conqueror, and he found himself held within
two imprisoning arms, impotent. The expression of joy. anxiety, and hope,
which had interested me so much, faded from his face and left on it the
stupid expression of the child who knows that others will act for him.
There is scarcely a supervisor of kindergartens who has not wit-
nessed similar pathetically injurious scenes. Froebel goes even fur-
ther than this when he says:
The child should, from the very time of his birth, be viewed in accordance
with his nature, treated correctly, and given the free, all-sided use of his
powers. By no means should the use of certain ])owers and members be
enhanced at the expense of others, and these hindered in their development :
the child should neither be partly chained, fettered, nor swathed; nor, later on.
spoiled by too much assistance. The child should learn early how to find in
himself the center and fulcrum of all his powers and members, to seek his sup-
port in this. and. resting therein, to move freely and be active, to grasp and
hold with his own hands, to stand and walk on his own feet, to find and
THE PEINCIPLE OF FREEDOM. 18
observe with his own eyes, to use his members symmetrically and equally. At
an early period the child should learn, apply, and practice the most diflScult of
all arts — to hold fast the center and fulcrum of his life, in spite of all digres-
sions, disturbances, and hindrances.
A kindergartner tells of a child about 5 years of age in her school,
who, owing to the extreme wealth of his parents, had been hampered
and waited upon until he was almost helpless. She describes the effort
which she had made to encourage him in his attempt to put on one of
his own wraps without the aid of herself or his nursery maid. She
led him to watch the other children as they wrapped and unwrapped
themselves and gradually succeeded in having him master the intri-
cacies of fitting on his rubbers, putting on his overcoat and but-
toning it up, pulling his hat over his ears, and slipping his hands into
his gloves. One da}^ at the close of the school, while she was busy
with other duties, she heard him shouting aloud in tones of overflow-
ing joy, "I can do it all myself! I can do it all myself!" as he
danced up and down the room in excitement and glee. In telling
of the incident, she said, " I never saw more pleasure expressed on the
face of a child. I think no present which could have been given to
him could have possibly produced such feeling. It was the joy of
discovery of power within himself." To many unthinking parents
and teachers these simple, ordinarj'^ exercises of self-help are looked
upon as trivial, whereas in reality they are part of the discipline
which produces men and women of power and resource and indi-
viduals who are fearless because they are independent.
This tendency toward freedom from rigidity is perhaps the most
distinctive characteristic of modern education as compared with
that which has come down to us from mediseval times, and which is
even yet too prevalent in many of our schools. It gives greater free-
dom of bodily movement, greater ease of position while studying,
does away with fixed seats crowded close to fi:xed desks, breaks up
the machinelike marching to and from classes, adds relaxation of
muscles and nerves by rhythmic exercises, increases coordination of
muscles and control of bodily movement by well-selected games, and
brings composure of manner and self-control by the introduction of
simple, dramatic plays. This thought of greater freedom is en-
couraged by distributing certain duties of the schoolrooms among the
students and by letting the pupils formulate certain rules for their
own self-government. It is the same principle that allows greater
initiative to pupils in discussion in the classroom; it leads to indi-
vidual research work in the school library; it makes the students
express themselves in their own language rather than that of the text-
book, write out personal opinions or experiences, and compare in-
formation gained from new enterprises with that already known;
and it encourages creative handwork, as well as original composition.
14 MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE KINDERGARTEN.
To avoid running into caprice, this principle of freedom, of course,
must be offset by giving to the pupils the ideal standards of each
line of work by means of which they can compare their own work
Avith that of experts.
It is impossible to resist adding a few words of the Dottoressa's
protest concerning the abominable practice of giving external prizes
and their detrimental effect upon the inner life. With it all true
lovers of the real child will agree. She states that Avhen —
we have once accepted and established these principles of developing power
from within, the abolition of prizes and external forms of punishment will
follow naturally. Man, disciplined, through liberty, begins to desire the true
and only prize which will never belittle or disappoint him — the birth of human
power and liberty within, that inner life of his from which his activities must
"WTien we realize the tremendous influence which well-deserved
praise and just censure have upon the child we begin to comprehend
the immorality of rewarding self-conquest and earnest endeavor
(both of which are spiritual activities) by giving to the child mere
external rewards. The mother who says to her little one, " If you
will be good while I am away I will bring you some candy," lowers
the child's standard of moral conduct to the plane of physical grati-
fication and confuses the child's ideas of the higher and lower stand-
ards of life. The same is true of the awarding of prizes and, alas,
of our universal system of grading pupils by the marking of examina-
tion papers. Here again we meet with a tremendous problem not
This brings up the much-discussed question whether we are to have
in schools arbitrary discipline or no discipline except that which
comes from the deed itself or from remembrances of former expe-
riences of failure or discomfort. The "retributory" theory has long
been held by many modern educators, but it is nowhere ideally carried
out, not even in these Eoman schools. Still, they are an advance in
the effort at self-control and self-discipline, and as such are most
This freedom. Dr. Montessori claims, is absolutely necessary for
" auto-education," which is but another name for the watchword of
the present-day movement in. education, "self-activity," the central
thought of the kindergarten, and strongly insisted upon by Herbart,
Spencer, Dewey, and other modern educational leaders. It is,
therefore, no new doctrine; but she has a new method of pro-
cedure. In the first place, she demands that the schoolroom in which
little children are placed shall have space sufficient for the children
to move about in easily, and to allow them to sit, stand, walk, or lie
down on the small rugs which are part of the room's furnishings.
THE PRINCIPLE OP FEEEDOM. 15
This is in order that their bodies may not be taxed by remaining in
one position too long. The freedom thus given to the impulse to
change the muscular strain of his body whenever the child so wishes
(an excellent point) is an advance over and above the amount of
freedom allowed in the ordinary kindergarten, which is still far
short of the ideal kindergarten. In Rome I saw no boisterousness
nor capricious use of this liberty to move about, not even when a
little one chose to lie down upon the floor. The children were as
natural and normal as any happy and occupied children would be
in their own homes, and merely used the liberty to move about when
the body seemed to demand it. Of course, the use of small rugs on
the floor, which the children unroll when they wish to use them
and roll up again when they have finished using them, demands
daily cleaning of the floor, a demand of common sense not always
carried into execution in our schools.
This keen-sighted physician insists, also, that there shall be two
rooms or a room and a courtyard, garden, or open porch, in order
that any child may feel free at any time to absent himself from the
supervising presence of the teacher and to come and go in the allotted
space as he may please. Just how this added freedom can be given
in our overcrowded city schools is a problem yet to be solved, but
physically and psychologically, it is undoubtedly a good thing for
each child to feel that he is free from the supervision of authority
for some portion of each day and, therefore, is responsible for his
own conduct in order that his personal will power may be developed.
It was Emerson who said, "Unless a man hath a will within him,
you can tie him to nothing." As parents and teachers we have not
fully realized that the development of this much-needed will power
within can be naturally increased by this simple device of freeing a
child from the consciousness of adult authority. Of course, a mother
or teacher who understands this psychological point and who is
tactful enough can grant this freedom from the dominating influence
of another personality while still bodily present. It takes large
sympathies and great self-control to do this, however, and the simple
device of another room or courtyard is excellent. On the other
hand, it is equally true that every young child should feel at times
that he is under guidance and authority, in order that his " group
instinct " may develop into the cooperation needed in every advanc-
ing stage of life. We are much more apt to insist on our authority
being obeyed, however, than on giving a child too much freedom of
^earning from his own experience.
16 MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE KINDEEGAIJTEN.
III. THE DIDACTIC MATERIAL.
For the sake of added development of the spirit of self -helpfulness
and the growth of power of initiation Dr. Montessori has introduced
into her schools what she calls exercises in practical material. These
consist of small, easily handled wooden frames to which are attached
pieces of cloth or leather on which are buttons and buttonholes, hooks
and eyes, eyelets and lacing cords, and strings to be tied and untied.
These are to train the feeble muscles of the small hands of little
children to fasten and unfasten their own clothing and to learn
thereby the sooner to dress and undress themselves. Independence
in the care of their own bodies is considered one of the important
steps toward freedom of action and thought. In speaking of the
value of her practical exercises. Dr. Montessori says :
We habitually serve children. This is not only an act of servility toward
them, but it is dangerous, since 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. He must, nevertheless, do
these things, and nature has furnished him with the physical needs of carrying
on these various activities and with the intellectual means for learning how to
do them ; and our duty toward him is, in every case, that of helping him to
make a conquest of such useful acts as nature intended he should perform for
himself. The mother who feeds her child without making the least effort to
teach him to hold the spoon for himself and to try to tind his mouth with it,
and who does not, at least, eat herself, inviting the child to look and see how
she does it, is not a good mother. She offends the fundamental human dignity
of her son; she treats him as if he were a doll, when he is, instead, a man
confided by nature to her care.
These simple devices for teaching a child to dress and undress
himself, as well as to wash his own face and hands, will be of real
value in day nurseries and in many kindergartens where children
come from disorderly and untrained homes or from homes where
the many servants endanger the right development of self-help of
children by dressing and undressing them long after their services
should be unneeded. I have seen great lubberly boys of 7 and 8 years
of age stop on the street while the nursery maid unbuttoned their
overcoats and took them off as carefully as if they were helpless
infants of 1 year or 2 years of age, thus hindering the real growth of
independence and consciousness of personal power. It is but justice
to Dr. Montessori to state that these exercises are of further value in
the development of the muscles of the hand and the familiarizing of
the child with mechanical movement in general. She also insists
upon the use of geometric forms as the foundation for all correct and
accurate observation of form. In this she agrees once more with
the kindergarten, although her geometric forms are somewhat dif-
ferently presented to the child. Froebel says ;
THE DIDACTIC MATERIAL. 17
Form, and whatever may depend on form, reveals in various ways inner and
spiritual energy. To recognize this inner energy is a part of man's destiny,
for thereby he learns to know himself, his relation to his surroundings, and,
consequently, absolute being. It is, therefore, an essential part of human edu-
cation to teach the human being not only to apprehend but also how to represent
He then proceeds to explain how geometric forms show this inner
energy as incidental forms do not.
Although Dr. Montessori's materials do not possess the creative
possibilities that lie in the kindergarten play tools and handwork,
nevertheless her " didactic material " supplies a recognized need for
that stage of growth in the young child which demands activity for
activity's sake and is concerned not so much with the kind of activity
as with the desire to be doing something.
This stage of growth easily develops into idle dawdling or into
downright destructiveness unless it can be satisfied with strong, sub-
stantial material which may be easily handled and quickly mastered
by a 2 or 3 year old child. If such material is supplied, it furnishes
the beginning of the habit of succeeding at what one undertakes —
an important habit. This new "didactic material" seems, by the
definite consciousness of mastery which it gives to the child, to bring
this desired result.
Perhaps I can not do better than to give a brief account from my
journal of a morning spent in the " Casa dei Bambini," at the Via
Giusta Convent in Rome.
The aclmowledged best demonstration of Dr. Montessori's idea of
the education of young children to be found in Rome is this " Casa
dei Bambini." The school is under the immediate patronage of
Queen Margherita and is in connection with the old and established
orphan asylum under the auspices of the Franciscan nuns. The gray
and unattractive outer walls of the convent give no idea of the two
beautiful and luxuriant courtyards within. These latter are filled
with beds of blossoming plants, and the pillars of the inner porch
or loggia are covered with clinging vines. The two courtyards are
separated by stately series of well-proportioned arches, and the
schoolroom in which the class for the children is held opens with
wide, double doors into one of these lovely courtyards, where the
children play during the hours in which they are not engaged in their
Montessori exercises. Most of them come from near-by tenement
houses. At one side of the schoolroom there is a small washroom
where they all, even the youngest, wash their own hands and faces,
put on clean, neat, calico aprons, so that when they appear in the
schoolroom they look as fresh and clean as children from well-cared-
60721°— 14 — —3
18 MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE , KINDERGARTEN.
I arrived at the Via Giusta Convent on this particular morning
some 15 minutes ahead of the appointed hour, but the rules are rigid,
and I had to wait in the small white and gold chapel until 10.30
o'clock, the regulation time. I could, however, hear the happy voices
of the busy children in the next room, bustling around, getting the
room in order. They had already had the morning prayer before
beginning their domestic duties. In a few moments more I heard
the ringing shouts of gleeful activitj^ in the courtyards, followed by
the rustle and stir of the children returning to the schoolroom, and
then a tall, slender nun in the picturesque white garb of the order
f.ame to me and announced that I might enter. As I opened the door
of the schoolroom the children were busy getting out the " didactic
material " with which they were to employ themselves for the next
hour and a quarter; some came forward to shake hands wdth me, in
accordance with the pretty and cordial custom of these schools ; every
visitor is thus made to feel that she is a friend. Some merely smiled
and nodded and did not interrupt their work to go through the more
ceremonious greeting of handshaking. All seemed busy, happy, and
free. There were three of the white-robed nuns in the room. One
was at a desk near a window copying some music. She remained all
morning, occasionally glancing up from her work, but most of the
time seemingly absorbed by it. The second nun was evidently serv-
ing in the capacity of physician or trained nurse, as she walked
around among the children, occasionally asking a question, feeling
the temperature of the hand, or inspecting their physical condition
in some other way, from time to time jotting down notes in her note-
book. After this tour of inspection she left the room, and her place
was taken by a nursery maid or servant, who remained the rest of
the morning and accompanied the younger children to and from the
toilet when necessary.
There was present a roly-poly, black-eyed baby of about 3 years of
age, who was to me the most interesting child of the morning. Per-
haps it was because he was evidently at the stage of development to
which this " didactic material " was so well suited. He was ap-
parently a newcomer and almost comically helpless. His round fat
body caused him to move slowly, and his stubby fingers were not
yet under his control. He sat for a while merely gazing at the
activities of the busy group around him. By and by the rosy-cheeked
nun brought to him the big horn-button frame. She stopped slowly
to button and then unbutton one or two of the buttons and then with-
out speaking a word she left him. She had given him what is called
a " silent lesson." For one-half an hour by my watch he worked
over that difficult problem of buttoning and unbuttoning the large
horn buttons, concentrated most of the time upon the task. The
first time he succeeded in getting the ])utton through the buttonhole
THE DIDACTIC MATERIAL. 19
he called to the rosy-cheeked nun for her approval. She gave it with
a smile and a pat on the head. The second button which he mastered
he again called to her attention, and again she gave her approval,
but this time with apparently less attention. Each time he asked
for the approval it grew more incidental. She evidently was con-
sciously trjdng to wean him from too much desire for approval. Bj
and by, after many stoppings to rest between efforts and to watch
the other children, he succeeded in buttoning the Avhole set of but-
tons. (There were, I think, six in the frame.) The young nun
being busy, he held it up for the admiration of the nursery maid, and
she (after the manner of her kind) immediately unbuttoned the
entire frame. A wave of indignation overspread the child's face at
thus seeing his monumental work undone. He sat silent, with a
slightly sullen expression on his face, and I sighed as I thought this
was only one incidental evidence on the long list of injustices which
ignorance is constantly practicing on innocence.
After five minutes of inertia. Master Roly-poly again picked up
the frame and began rebuttoning it; this time not so eagerly nor
with such absorbed attention. When it was again buttoned from
top to bottom, a matter of at least 10 minutes for his clumsy littlo
fingers, he took it to the cupboard, laid it carefully on the shelf, and
came back to his seat and rested, leaning back in his chair, with
his hands resting in his lap. He seemed mentally resting as
well as physically, showing little or no interest now in what was
going on about him, but merely gazing idly and inattentively at the
scene before him. No one took the slightest notice of him, appar-
ently. After about 10 minutes of this relaxation some other child
placed a box of cylindrical insets before him. (I noticed that this
was frequently done by an older child when he or she saw a younger
child sitting idle.) He looked at them for a few moments and then
straightened himself up and began to work with them in a most
masterful way, quickly removing them and then just as quicklj
reinserting them. If by chance he put the smaller cylinder into
the larger hole, he instantly removed it and fitted it into its own
place. The whole thing was done with an air of alertness and con-
scious power which contrasted in a remarkable way with the clumsy
and hesitating effort he had made at buttoning the horn buttons.
He seemed to take a real pride in inserting and removing the cylin-
ders, such as I had not seen manifested before by any child in the use
of this particular material. His erect carriage and concentrated
attention gave evidence of his enjoyment of the familiar and well-
It was a striking illustration of the joy which comes from a sense
of power over dumb things — "Man's mastery over nature." This
20 MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE KINDERGARTEN.
inner joy was evident from the fact that he no longer asked for the
stimulation of approval from any outside person, but seemed abso-
lutely unconscious and unmindful as to whether anyone knew or
eared for this wonderful new skill of his, which could fit cylinders
into holes and take them out again just as he pleased. Truly in
this case it was not the information as to varying dimension, but
rather the inspiration of power felt. After exercising his skill much
as a musician would run his fingers lightly over the keys of the piano,
he began playing with the cylinders by purposely putting the small-
est cylinder into the largest hole and smiling to himself at his joke.
Allien he had reached this stage the rosy-cheeked nun brought a
much smaller child, a wee bit of a baby, not more than 2^ years of
age, to sit beside Master Eoly-poly, and placed a similar box of
eylinder insets before this little fellow. Was the deed intentionally
done, or did she merely happen to place him with Master Roly-poly's
familiar instrument so close to him? The result was that Avhen Wee
Baby began to pull the first cylinder out of its socket Master Eoly-
poly promptly assisted him, and from that time until the recess he
superintended and assisted Wee Baby in his difficult task of learning
not to try to put little cylinders into big holes or to let big cylinders
roll away, but to set them on their flat faces. The 3-year-old boy did
it in such a fatherly and manful way, now and then reaching over
and assisting Wee Baby when he " just couldn't for the life of him "
get the right cylinder into the right hole. There was at no time an
assumption of superiority. (He had too recently himself come
through that trying ordeal.) When the time came for putting the
material away. Master Roly-poly saw to it that his own box of cyl-
inders was in order; he then helped Wee Baby put all of his cylinders
in correctly, and gathering up the two boxes in his short, fat arms,
he started to take them to the cupboard with such an air of manly
ability, when an older child came along and authoritatively seized the
two boxes and carried them to the cupboard. His face clouded with
keen disappointment, but he submitted, as the weak must alwaj^s
submit to the strong, and stood wistfully watching the older child
put the treasures into the cupboard. The rosy-cheeked nun stood
near by, but seemed not to see the check which this young soul had
received — so blind are the best of us.
I frequently saw this usurping by older children of the oppor-
tunity for self-help on the part of the younger children, and I won-
dered if it was a part of the discipline of the system, or merely one
of those accidents to which we all have to submit. "When the chil-
dren went out into the. courtynrd for tlieir play period, my blessed
little Roly-poly, who had gained such mastery over cylinder insets
that he could direct an apprentice in the art, again showed the hin-
THE DIDACTIC MATERIAL. 21
drance caused by his overfed body. He could not keep up with the
other children when they ran races, try as he might, and he tried
heroically with all his might. Each time he came trotting in at the
tag-end of the race, but he showed pluck and determination to master
the job, for when the other children stopped their racing and began
the more pleasing exercise of climbing up some stair steps and
walking down again he continued to trot to the far end of the loggia ■
and back again all alone. Evidently he had set himself to the task
of learning how to run, and he continued to run. No wonder he had
already grown to be " master of insets," and doubtless will succeed to
be master of much more if he continues to persist in mastering diffi-
cult tasks. No one took the least notice of his trotting back and
forth, with his arms close to his side, his fists doubled in true ath-
After a time, when the other children were playing a singing game
with gestures, he came and stood by the side of the rosy-cheeked
nun and quietly observed them. He made no attempt whatever to
join in this far too difficult task for him. Wise little head ! I
longed desperately to go to him and play with him and awaken more
power in his resolute young heart.
At luncheon time he was just as slow and deliberate as his heavy
body demanded. Wlien I left the room at 12.45 he had not finished
his soup, although the other children were putting away their lunch
baskets, and little Miss Fidget, in her office as waitress, had been to
his side several times to ask if he did not wish her to remove the
soup plate. But it was such a task for his fat little hand to close
firmly enough around his spoon handle, to fill its bowl with soup,
and to command the not yet well-coordinated muscles of his short,
round arm to carry the spoon full of soup to his waiting lips. Then,
besides, there was so much for him to see that he had to stop eating
now and then just to look, and look, and look, but the young nun did
not hurry him, and even little Miss Fidget was good natured in her
The Montessori didactic material has the advantage of being self-
corrective; that is, while the child is merely handling the material
and enjoying the aimless activity, he incidentally discovers the right
and the wrong way to handle it. If not fitted into the right place,
it refuses to be fitted in at all, and he begins all over again and thus
voluntarily masters his own wayward lack of attention and concen-
tration. At the same time it gives dawning perception of dimension
and geometric form. The material has its limitations, but it un-
doubtedly absorbs the interests of young children and develops
their power of concentration at this stage of their growth. I have
seen as many as 80 visitors in the room where there were only a dozen
22 MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE KINDEEGARTEN.
children, but none of them were in the least disturbed by or seem-
ingly conscious of the presence of the visitors. The building blocks,
clay for modeling, water-color paints, colored crayons, and black-
boards (which were hung low enough for the children to write on)
are also among the materials used, as in the kindergarten.
For some reason Dr. Montessori does not see the value of play with
clean, disinfected sand — a universal, racial play material of all chil-
dren of all races, because it is the most easily controlled, the most
adjustable and most suggestive of the play materials which nature
furnishes for small and unskilled hands. Dr. Montessori also dis-
approves of the use of paper and scissors, by means of which kin-
dergartners have led their children to a wealth of knowledge about
the primitive processes of the industrial world and the beginning
of pictorial art. Mothers who have learned " construction work "
and " free-hand cutting " in their kindergarten days have taught
their children to entertain themselves endlessly and to develop their
creative power amazingly by the use of a small pair of blunt-pointed
scissors and ordinary wrapping paper, or even old newspaper. Of
course, paper construction is to be discarded when the child is skilled
enough to use satisfactorily and unaided more permanent building
materials, but its very flexibility is one of its advantages in that it
encourages effort and quickens the imaginative power of the young
beginner in craftsmanship. And where is the child who does not
love to " cut out " pictures if he has learned how to handle scissors ?
However, this leads to ideas that are not connected with the child's
personal experiences, inasmuch as through pictures he can go far
afield, and the Montessori method would keep him within the limits
of his own sense-perceived experiences.
Next after the stage of growth of the young child who is seeldng
activity for activity's sake comes the beginning of self-expression
regardless of the form. For this stage of development the Montessori
material makes little or no provision.
IV. EXEKCISING THE MUSCLES OF YOUNG CHILDEEN.
The definite and organized muscular exercise of the body is
another thing that Dr. Montessori wisely insists is an important
part of the young child's education. And she practically carries
this training forward by having even the very small children learn
to climb stairs and ladders, to swing from poles and trapeze, to race
with one another to a goal and back again, as well as to walk on a
painted line, or a crack in the floor, and thereby to coordinate their
muscles for easy, well-poised use of the body.
EXERCISING THE MUSCLES. 23
Herein again Froebel and ISIontessori essentially agree-. Froebel
In teaching the child to stand and walli, we should use neither perambu-
lators nor leading strings. He should stand when he is strong enough to keep
his balance freely and independently, and he should walk when, freely moving
forward, he can independently keep his balance. He should not stand before
he can sit erect, draw himself up by some tall object near by, and thus keep his
balance without support. He should not walk before he can creep, rise freely,
maintain his balance, and proceed by his own effort.
Dr. Montessori says:
If there exists an age in which it is necessary to protect a child by means of
a series of gymnastic exercises, between 3 and 6 years is undoubtedly the age.
The special gymnastics necessary, or, better still, hygienic in this period of
life, refer chiefly to walking.
She then explains that the limbs, not having yet attained unto their
full proportion of strength and growth, are much weaker than the
torso, and as a rule are still very short as compared with the body.
From this she argues —
The tender bones of the limbs must therefore sustain the weight of the torso,
which is disproportionately large. We can not, if we consider all these things,
judge the manner of walking in little children by the standards set for our own
equilibrium. If a child is not strong, the erect posture and walking are really
sources of fatigue for him, and the long bones of the lower limbs, yielding to
the weight of the body, usually become deformed and easily bowed. * * *
We are wrong, then, if we consider little children from this physical point of
view as little men. They have, instead, characteristics and proportions that are
entirely special to their age. The tendency of the child to stretch out his back
or kick his legs in the air is an expression of physical needs, related to the
proi)ortions of his body.
Such passages as this in Dr. Montessori's writings delight the
heart of the kindergartner, in that they so exactly correspond with
a theory which underlies the little exercises Imown to her as " Play
with the limbs." The real physical significance of these exercises has
perhaps too often been overshadowed by the spiritual meaning as-
signed to them — that of awakening the child to a consciousness of his
power over his own limbs. In this respect, the doctor-teacher has
again laid us under obligation by strongly emphasizing the physical
importance of the slow and unforced development of the child's l3ody :
The baby loves to walk on all fours just because, like the quadruped ani-_
mals, his limbs are short in comparison with his body. Instead of this, we
divert these natural manifestations by foolish habits which we impose on the
child. We hinder him from throwing himself on the earth, from stretching,
etc., and we oblige him to walk with grown people and to keep up with them.
She describes a very ingenious device which she invented — a little
fence made of strong wires stretched in parallel lines and supported
at intervals by wooden palings driven into the ground. Along the
24 MONTESSOEI METHOD AND THE KINDERGAETEN.
fence ran a little ledge on which the children were in the habit of
sitting down when they were tired. She says :
I found that little ones of 2i years of age would often drop out from the
marching line and instead of sitting down would run to the little fence, catch-
ing hold of the upper line of wire; they would walk along sideways, resting
their feet on the wire which was nearest the ground, moving themselves along
on the wires, pulling their bodies sideways. Thus they discovered for them-
selves a way of moving along without throwing the weight of their bodies upon
their weak legs.
Several other devices for similar i^urposes are described in her
writings on muscular training.
One has but to watch the average proud father striding along in
his Sunday afternoon stroll with his little 2 or 3 year old child trot-
ting eagerly and energetically by his side to realize how much this
explanation of the physical conditions of a child's body is needed.
How often we hear an intelligent-looking father say to a sobbing
3-year-old child who is begging to be carried, "No, papa will not
carry you. You must learn to walk like a little man." Over and
over again similar scenes are enacted in the daily life of the average
child. A very earnest and conscientious mother, who, however, had
not learned to consider the physical difference between herself and
her child, came to my kindergarten one morning, and sitting down
beside me, said, quite emphatically, "I came down this morning to
confess. I gave Albert a good, round spanking last night, and he
deserved it, too!" (She and I had previously had quite a long talk
concerning the right and wrong methods of punishing children.)
The look of defiance in her eyes and emphatic tone of her voice
showed me that it was no time to argue Avith her, so I merely said,
"Is that so ? What had he done ?" She replied :
"I took him down town with me yesterday afternoon to have some shoes
fitted on him, and as I had some other shopping to do, we were quite late in
getting home, and it was his supper hour. I was so tired that I told the nurse
to give him his supper and put him to be<l. He refused to go without me
as I usually sat and talked with him as he ate his supper. I was so tired
that I felt I needed rest before my own dinner hour, and therefore told the
nurse to take him in her arms and carry him to the nursery. At this he
began to kick and scream. I allowed this to go on for five minutes or more,
and then I followed them to the yursery and gave him a good, round spanking,
which settled him for the night."
Then she added, half apologetically, "I was so tired, I couldn't
help it." I looked at her a moment and then said quietly, "And so
you expected Albert's little body to be less fatigued than yours, and
for him to have more control over his nerves than you were able
to maintain." The tears came into her eyes, and I left her to attend
to other duties. No one who reads Dr. Montessori's eloquent plea
EXEECISINQ THE MUSCLES. 25
against over-fatigue for a little child, could make such a mistake
In speaking of the muscular exercises needed by children in the
lower grades of school, Dr. Montessori says :
The generally accepted idea of gymnastics is, I consider, very inadequate.
In tlie common schools we are accustomed to describe as gymnastics a species
of collective muscular discipline which has as its aim that children shall learn
to follow definite ordered movements given in the tone of command. The guid-
ing spirit in such gymnastics is coercion, and I feel that such exercises repress
spontaneous movements and impose others in their place.
She does not seem to realize that all up-to-date American schools
now emphasize games and sports that call forth physical activity.
An example of this is the revival of folk dances in the graded schools.
One of the important features of the kindergarten is the amount of
muscular training which the child gets in the rhythmic plays and
dancing games. There is also a little rhythmic work in the Montes-
sori schools. The children are allowed, Avhen they choose, to keep
time to some regular march music or occasionally to very simple
rhj^thmic music. Still more of this has been introduced into the
American Montessori schools. I saw a few gesture songs in the Eoman
schools, but they are infrequent and are limited to representations
of the child's own experiences. The Montessori system does not hold
these gesture songs and dramatic plays to be important means of self-
expression. The system fails to take into account that all children
love to dramatize, not only the life about them but what they hear
talked of by their elders or what is related to them in story form.
There is no reason why the two forms of physical exercises can not be
combined more fully than they are at present. In each center where
little children are gathered there should be swings, stair steps, walk-
ing planks, jumping bars, etc.; so that, together with various forms
of dramatic play, there might also be certain simple apparatus for
definite and organized physical development.
Dramatic play is one of the important features of the kinder-
garten. By means of it the child's imagination, as well as his body,
is developed. He "makes believe" that he is this or that object or
person. Thus, much of the necessary coordination of muscles and
the poise and mastery of the body are gained by flying like birds,
galloping like horses, hopping like frogs, and by various other dra-
matic presentations, in which the body is thoroughly exercised.
This form of play has the added advantage that ideas are gained
as well as easy grace of bodily movement, although it does not insure
as accurate and ready a mastery of muscular movement as the formal
exercises in running, jumping, etc. Both forms of muscular exercise
26 MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE KINDERGARTEN.
Dr. Montessori sees the value of the mental images made by the
muscular sense and urges the importance of handling objects, de-
claring that the sense of touch is by far the most important sense to
be developed in early childhood, and the one that is oftenest for-
bidden for the sake of the convenience of grown people. In one
of her lectures she wittily remarked that if seeing and hearing were
as troublesome to the average adult as was the touching of objects,
we should undoubtedly hear parents and teachers say, " Do not see
that ! " " Do not hear that ! " as often as they now say, " Do not
touch that ! '' This emphasis upon the training of the sense of touch
is one of the yery strong points, pedagogically considered, of her
method — although our own Dr. Dewey long ago pleaded earnestly
for the satisfying of the "touch hunger" of children. What he
felt the need of was self-corrective materials, which, while satisfy-
ing touch hunger, would also develop accuracy and the consciousness
of mastery. Kindergartners, it is true, have opportunities in their
work with the children to have much handling of objects, but as a
rule it is a haphazard exercising of this sense.
In this connection it is interesting to note how Froebel saw and
stated this same instinctive tendency in very young children to form
mental images by tracing the outline of objects with their finger.
In " education of man " he says :
Here a child traces a table by passing his fingers along its edges and out-
lines, as far as he can reach them. Thus the child slietches the object on the
object itself, as it were. This is the first, and for the child, the safest step
by which he becomes aware of the outlines and form of objects. In like manner
he sketches and studies the chair, the bench, the window. * * * Many
things are gained by these proceedings of the child : A clear conception of forms,
the power to represent the forms independently, the fixing of the forms as
such, strengthening and practice of the arm and hand in free I'epresentation of
This in no Avay need detract from Dr. Montessori's use of the same
tendency in children, or the rediscovery of it. It merely shows how
much the kindergartners have yet to learn from the source of their
inspiration and their own study of the instinctive activities of chil-
dren. Dr. Montessori certainly deserves great credit in applying this
tendency to teaching the letters of the alphabet. It is not necessary
to enlarge upon the remarkable results that have been obtained in
the rapid mastery of Avriting and consequently of reading, by the
device of giving children 2-inch-long script letters, made of sand-
paper, which they learn to trace with the first two fingers of the right
hand, moving the fingers from left to right and thereby strengthen-
ing the muscles used in ordinary writing. This evidently did not
occur to Froebel, who probably had in mind the fact that the mental
image of form led to the awakening of the art instinct in children,
1 Section 37.
TRAINING OF THE SENSES. 27
or their desire to express their ideas in form, which comes much
earlier than the arbitrary means of expression by the letters of the
alphabet. In the judgment of the majority of educators of to-day
this more complex instrument of self-expression comes much later in
the child's development. The time for learning to read and write
must, of course, depend on the stage of development of each child;
but anj^ device that will lessen for the child the difficult task of learn-
ing to write and do away with the stupid copy-book should be wel-
comed with joy.
V. TRAINING OF THE SENSES.
Dr. Montessori has given a definite and scientific organization of
exercises which will not only develop the first fundamental sense of
touch, but will also train the mind through each of the senses into
keener and clearer distinguishing of different sense impressions.
Some of her exercises call for the combined use of two and three
of the senses. She makes clear that to her it is of paramount im-
portance to lead the child to the early gaining of these definite, clear-
cut, and vivid sense impressions. Owing to her, as yet, inadequate
theory of the nature of the self or ego, she believes that all mental
activity depends upon the vividness and lasting nature of sense
impressions. The kindergartners have always advocated the impor-
tance of sense impressions, but in no kindergarten will one see as
definite impressions as those given by the Montessori material and
methods. The " formal training " of the senses, objected to by some
educators, is so infinitesimal that the objection amounts to nothing.
It is always individual and rarely ever lasts more than two minutes —
just long enough to show the child the right way to handle his ma-
terial — and is instantly discontinued if the child does not manifest
an interest in it.
Seguin, in his report of the educational exhibit at Vienna in 1873.
called attention to the distinct differences between " the training of
the senses," and " the training through the senses." He claimed that
the first was physiological and the second was psychological. He also
stated, in this same report, that J. R. Periere, in his work with deaf-
mutes, and Dr. Itard, in his work with the idiot, were the only edu-
cators who at that time had attained any definite results in the train-
ing of the senses. He called attention to the fact that at the Vienna
Exposition there were plenty of objects by means of which the sense
of sight could be trained, but that there was not a single object for
the improvement of the sense of touch.
Let us examine more in detail Dr. Montessori's ideas of the train-
ing of the senses. She speaks of the limited training which can be
2b MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE KINDERGARTEN.
given to the sense organs themselves, but is most enthusiastic over
the development which may come to the child through the training
by means of the senses. She states:
Pedagogy is not intended to measure tlie senses. That belongs to the physio-
logical laboratory work. Pedagogy must educate the senses in a deeper mean-
ing of the term. * * * It is more than likely that the physiological psychol-
ogists will draw their conclusion from pedagogy than vice versa.
Her assigned reason for this conclusion is that the instruments of
the physiological psychologists are so constructed that they can
measure the time between the sensation and the reaction, whereas
she would have the instriunents so normally used by the child that
they do not weai'y him, in order that the nerves of sensation and
reaction may act normally and not abnormally, as is the case in
experimental psychology. She treats of the senses under their more
recent eightfold division, dividing the sense of touch into tactile (or
touch), barick (or weight), thermic (or sensations of heat and cold),
instead of the usual division of the senses into the sense of taste,
smell, touch, seeing, and hearing ; she also adds, " The stereognoestic
sense" (which is a combination of muscular and tactile sense).
She very strongly urges that the more accurate and truthful the
presentation of the external world can be made through the senses
the nearer we come to the real qualities and properties of matter.
She claims that each one of us literally makes his own world by the
mental images stored up within the mind, according to the alertness
and exactness of our perceptive powers. She shows how the defec-
tive and the insane, as well as the criminal, " sense " the world ab-
normally. The realization of this same truth has already led to a
marked improvement in the treatment of these unfortunates. The
insane are no longer considered possessed of a vindictive spirit, but
rather as people with brain sickness who can not view the world
aright. The defectives are no longer pushed to one side as helpless,
but are gently and firmly led to exercise their senses more and more
and are trained to gain a livelihood for themselves. Criminals are
also placed in hygienic surroundings and brought back to normal
health as nearly as possible. We need not, however, turn to these
abnormalities to realize how the " alley " or " ateliers " feed the
mind with equal readiness. And yet Ave too often condemn the
alley-bred man or woman and praise those who have been surrounded
by law, order, beauty, and cleanliness all their lives. One can there-
fore readily see why Dr. Montessori becomes so eloquent in her
pleading for the right environment for children, believing as she does
that all " the content of our mind is made up of what we take mate-
rially from our surroundings by means of sensations."
THE SILENT GAME. 29
Here we come to a true parting of the way between Dr. Montes-
sori and the advocates of the kindergarten. Kindergartners agree
with the earnest doctor that the education of the power accurately to
register sensation is of the greatest possible help to the practical life
of the child; they accept the fact that sense perceptions make the
good cook, the economical marketer, the successful shopper, the skill-
ful physician, and the accurate scientist. In fact, almost all the
great discoveries in the field of science are more or less the results
of accuracy of observation and the development of judgment based
thereon. Kindergartners agree that there is a higher value in "re-
fining the sense perception " until the individual is saved from the
coarse sensual indulgences of the appetites of the body ; but all think-
ing persons must realize that environment alone can not give equal
pleasure to all. The inner self must he reckoned with.
VI. THE SILENT GAME.
We come now to one of the most successful manifestations of
children's inner self-determining power — the " silent game." The
following is Dr. Montessori's statement of it :
The exercise consists iu calling attention, when perfect silence has been
established, to the ticking of the clock, and to all the little noises not commonly
audible to the ear. Finally, we call the little ones, one by one, from an adjoining
room, pronouncing each name in a low voice. In preparing for such an exercise
it is necessary to teach the children the real meaning of silence. Toward this
end I have several games of silence, which help in a surprising way to strengthen
the remarkable discipline of our children.
r call the children's attention to myself, telling them to see how silent I can
be. I assume different positions; standing, sitting, and maintain each pose
silently, without movement. A finger moving can produce a noise, even though
it be imperceptible. We may breathe so that we may be heard. But I main-
tain absolute silence, which is not an easy thing to do. I call a child and ask
him to do as I am doing. He adjusts his feet to a better position, and this
makes a noise. He moves an arm, stretching it out upon the arm of his chair ;
it is a noise. His breathing is not altogether silent; it is not tranquil, abso-
lutely unheard as mine is.
During these maneuvers on the part of the child, and while my brief com-
ments are followed by intervals of immobility and silence, the other children
are watching and listening. Many of them are interested in the fact, which
they have never noticed before, namely, that we make so many noises of which
we are not conscious, and that there are degrees of silence. There is an abso-
lute silence where nothing, absolutely nothing, moves. They watch me in amaze-
ment when I stand in the middle of the room so quietly that it is really as if
" I were not." Then they strive to imitate me, and to do even better. I call
attention here and there to a foot that moves, almost inadvertently. The atten-
tion of the child is called to every pai't of his body in an anxious eagerness to
attain to immobility. When the children are trying in this way, there is estab-
lished a silence very different from that which we carelessly call by that name.
30 MONTESSOEI METHOD AND THE KINDERGARTEN.
It seems as if life gradually vanishes, and that the room becomes, little bj'
little, empty, as if there were no longer anyone in it. Then we begin to hear
the tick-tock of the clock, and this sound seems to grow in intensity as the
silence becomes absolute. From without, from the court which before seemed
silent, there come varied noises — a bird chirps, a child passes. The children
sit fascinated by that silence as if by some conquest of their own. " Here,"
says the directress, " here there is no longer anyone ; the children have all gone
Having arrived at that point, we darken the windows, and tell the children
to close their eyes, resting their heads upon their hands. They assume this
position, and in the darkness the absolute silence returns.
" Now, listen," we say. "A soft voice is going to call your names." Then,
going to a room behind the children, and standing within the open door, I call
in a low voice, lingering over the syllables as if I were calling from across the
mountains. This voice, almost occult, seems to reach the heart and to call
to the soul of the child. Each one as he is called, lifts his head, opens his
eyes as if altogether happy, then rises, silently seeking not to move the chair,
and walks on the tips of his toes, so quietly that he is scarcely heard. Never-
theless his step resounds in the silence and amid the immobility which persists.
[ This silent game, as witnessed by any visitor to these schools, is a
remarkable and surprising evidence of the amount of control a little
child can gain over his body in the matter of consciously inhibiting
its movement. The silence is felt by all in the room, no matter how
many visitors may be present. The amount of self-control which
this develops in children (some of whom were not over 3 years of
age) is marvelous, and no child, so far as I was able to observe,
seemed taxed or strained in doing it ; in fact, I saw an added expres-
sion of placid rest come upon many of their faces. Just how far
such an exercise of concentration and self-control can be developed
in our restless and mixed population remains to be seen. We have in
our kindergarten a " rest period," but it often is merely arrested
physical activity. Even when entire silence is attempted it is usually
brought about by the kindergartner going from table to table with
lier hands folded or clasped together and whispering softly to the
children, who imitate and become quiet. This is entirely different
from the consciousness of power within to inhibit all external
activity as it is induced by an external stimulus, whereas the won-
derful silence in these Roman schools is from a will activity awakened
within the child by his own volition.
VII. LIMITATIONS OF THE MONTESSORI METHOD.
An attempt is made in the following pages to sum up briefly what
seem to be important limitations of the Montessori method.
(a) Emphasis on individual development rather than group traln-
ing. — The kindergarten stresses group activities, on the ground that
the place for individual training is in the prekindergarten stage,
LIMITATIONS OF THE MONTESSOKI METHOD. 31
while Montessori's emphasis is almost exclusively on the development
In the well-developed plan of the Frobelian education the co-
ordinating of muscles, the special training of the child's senses, and
all such phases of necessarily individual development are expected to
come in the nursery. This individual nursery training is strongly
emphasized as needed before the child has developed the "group
instinct," the latter coming when he is old enough to mingle freely
and happily with other children. The kindergartners claim that
this training belongs essentially in the home and should not be ex-
pected of the teacher in the school, who must attend to large groups
of children. The Montessori method neglects almost entirely the
training in group activities, which is one of the kindergarten's real
contributions to civilization.
(h) No place for stories. — The failure to make a place for stories
is one of the serious limitations in Madame Montessori's theory of the
training of little children. Her reason for objecting to stories for
young children is based in part on her psychological theory that all
activities of the mind are derived from the outside world and are
dependent on sense impressions, and that therefore the child should
be kept within the realm of his own personal experience until he is
at least 7 or 8 years old, and in part upon the fact that in her per-
sonal experience she has found it difficult to keep the attention of
children under 5 years of age when telling a story. Much depends
upon the individual child's "previous experience in listening and much
on the story-teller's power. INIany kindergartners could give a dif-
ferent testimony as to the power of attention that children of 3, 4, and
5 years of age have shown in listening intelligently to simple stories.
Let us confess that oftentimes kindergartners tell stories that are
beyond the comprehension of their children. Let us also confess
that kindergartners frequently prolong a story unwisely after the
restlessness of fatigue has begun to manifest itself in the bodies of
the children. Let us also confess that sometimes kindergartners
lack discernment as to what is true literature and what is not, and
therefore tell "silly" stories, merely because they are found among
the old legends or are recommended by some popular leader. They
fail to discern that the time-tested myths of the primitive race and
symbolic stories which furnish the child's imagination with genuine
art forms are one thing and the foolishly exaggerated and capricious
fancy of some shallow mind are quite another thing. Occasionally,
also, a kindergartner does not tell her story well because she is not
interested in it. Yet none of these things alter in the least the value
of a good story, well told, any more than poor playing or singing
destroys the value of good music, or absurd affectation of manner
32 MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE KINDEEGARTEN.
spoils grace of movement, or ceremonious and hollow etiquette de-
stroys the charm of true courtesy.
A good story is a work of art, because it is a fitting form for a
beautiful content. A story is well told when the story-teller, for
the time being, is living in the events related, forgetful of self. Dr.
Montessori fails, seemingly, to see what the psychological value of
the right kind of a story is, namely, that it takes the child into a
larger world than he can possibly enter by means of his senses alone.
It furnishes food for his imagination, which in these early years is
as hungry as is his desire for sense impression; for the imagination
is that power of the human mind which can see things the eyes may
not see, can hear sounds not yet created in the actual world. The
unwise play upon the "credulity" of a child by giving him false and
foolish reasons for the various phenomena of nature or the waste
of precious time by entertaining him with the kind of silly fairy
tales that have no content does not justify the neglect wisely to guide
and develop this great power of seeing the invisible things of the
world of yet-to-be.
((?) Lack of material for self -expression. — With the possible ex-
ception of the musical bells (the tones of which the child can recom-
bine in his own way), the rather meager block building, some little
clay modeling, and the selection of the color of the crayon pencil to
be used in filling in the already traced forms, there seems to be no
opportunity for the child to rearrange or make over his material
according to his own ideas. This, of course, checks a most important
instinct of childhood, namely, the desire to re-create his surrounding
according to his own inner ideas. This lack comes also from what
seems to be the Dottoressa's limitation in the psychological view of
the mind's activity. She insists upon many repetitions of sense im-
pressions before any activity is allowed to the rearrangement or
readjustment of these impressions, whereas it is a well-known fact
to any observer of young children that as soon as a child gets even
a partial mastery of his material he begins to try experiments
with it or, in other words, to test his mastery over it by using it
according to some plan of his own, suggested oftentime by an acci-
dental arrangement of the materials. In the best of these schools in
Rome I saw children trying to use the very limited mathematical
material to represent some form of life which their imagination had
called up. For example, after putting the cylindrical insets into
their sockets a num»ber of times they quite frequently took them out
and tried to use them as wheels, on the top of which they placed the
block containing the sockets as the body of the wagon. Again, they
tried to build houses out of the flat-end spools on Avhich their color
thread was wound. These and all similar efforts at free, creative use
LIMITATIONS OF THE MONTESSORI METHOD. 33
of the material were always checked. When we consider the possi-
bilities that lie dormant in the human mind, which are never discov-
ered or never developed because this initiation into creative activity
has been so often starved, and that precious activity of the will (the
courage to begin a new thing) has been inhibited during the develop-
ing years of early childhood, we realize how serious a limitation this
is, at this period of the child's growth, just as he is beginning to
test his powers and thereby gain confidence in himself. It is not yet
sufficiently realized by the educational world at large that this dawn-
ing within of a feeling of power to transform the objects of the
outside world is the awakening of original, creative instinct.
(d) Lack of definite attitude on religious training. — Dr. Montes-
sori acknowledges the importance of religious training for little
children, but confesses that as yet it is an unsolved problem to her.
She seems to feel that a child's spiritual nature will unfold aright
if freedom is given to it, if it is in no way warped or stunted by
the prejudices and superstitutions of the adult life about it. She
believes that, if the child is kept happy and busy, the " life within "
will unfold and blossom as does the flower. But the questions arise,
" Is it possil^le to have a child's spiritual nature unfold unhampered
by the customs and opinions of the older people about him ? "
" Does not the spiritual life need spiritual nourishment as much
as the body needs physical nourishment?" To all deeply earnest
teachers of little children it is self-evident that "the divine spirit
which lives and is manifest in the finite has an early, though dim,
feeling of its divine origin * * * and that the anticipation
and hope, the trust and disposition of childhood show the way";
and we all agree with the founder of the kindergarten in the theory
of " animism," that " the child approaches the outer world with the
feeling that it, too, is animated and ruled b}^ a spirit like that which
animates him: and he is filled with an intense longing to know this
all-ruling power." And again we assent when he says, " We trust too
little the energizing, uniting power in a child ; we respect it too little
as a spiritual quickening power."
So far the founder of the kindergarten and the Dottoressa agree.
But when Froebel, after declaring that the child unconsciously
manifests the divine impulses within him, continues, "but man is
to follow it (the manifestation) with conscious insight., persisting in
what he knows to be right," and emphasizes the need of definite
training of this kind by adding, "this should be considered by
thoughtful parents who allow their children to grow to school age,
without giving the slightest care as to the religious tendency of
young minds." then we begin to see the parting of the ways. Psy-
chologically this means that the parent and teacher should know
34 MONTESSORI METHOD AND THE KINDERGARTEN.
what the right emotions to be nurtured are. The whole history of
the race tells us that all religion is an outgrowth of the emotion of
reverence for the invisible but ever present power, which is beyond
the comprehension of man. We read in the chronicles of the past
how this emotion, unguided or misdirected, develops into fear or
degenerates into superstition; how, when rightly directed, it devel-
ops into true religion, in some fqrm of love, reverence, and unselfish
service to mankind. It is the most important subject in all educa-
tion ; for, without a sound religious foundation, without a basic belief
in the infinite value of the inner life of man, as compared with mere
external prosperity, no individual can be truly happy, no civiliza-
tion can last long.
It is a grave and serious subject. The child is more often sinned
against in his spiritual life than in any other way. He asks us for
bread, and we give him a stone! It is upon this vital subject that
the psychological study of the kindergarten gives us its most im-
portant help, by turning us back from depending on external forms
and ceremonies to the reverent study of the inner moods of chil-
dren, as manifested by their hungry questionings concerning God
and the invisible side of life. Often we must answer these questions
with " I do not know ; " but always we may rest assured that they
feel and understand our inner attitude of faith or doubt, of reverence
or skepticism. It is this that makes motherhood so sacred, and the
office of teacher so great. It is because Froebel takes this view of
the religious training of children that his book for mothers gives
such definite help in guiding the spiritual life of a little child. Dr.
Montessori's writings and her oral teaching appear to be lacking in
this important particular.
Notwithstanding the limitations of the present stage of Dr. Mon-
tessori's educational method, she has assuredly made a valuable
contribution to the better understanding of young children. Had
she given us nothing else than her own patient, reverent study of
child life, she would have placed us under a debt of gratitude. As
it is, she has given much which every earnest mother and true teacher
should know and apply to her work.
BULLETIN OF THE BUREAU OF EDUCATION.
[Note. — With the exceptions indicated, the documents named below will be sent free of charge upon
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II BULLETIN OF THE BUEEAU OF EDUCATION.
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BULLETIN OF THE BUREAU OF EDUCATION. HI
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James C. Boykin and William R. Hood.
*No. 56. Some suggestive features of the Swiss school system. WiUiam Knox Tate. 25 cts.
No. 57. Elementary education in England, -with special reference to London, Liverpool, and Manchester.
I. L. Kandel.
No. 68. Educational system of rural Denmark. Harold W. Foght.
No. 59. Bibliography of education for 1910-11.
No. 60. Statistics of State universities and other institutions of higher education partially supported
by the State, 1912-13.
*No. 1. Monthly record of current educai ional publications, January, 1914. 5 cts.
No. 2. Compulsory school attendance.
No. 3. Monthly record of current educational pubhcations, February, 1914.
No. 4. The school and the start in Ufe. Meyer Bloomfield.
IV BULLETIN OF THE BUREAU OP EDUCATION.
No. 5. The folk high schools of Denmark. L. L. Friend.
No. 6. Kindergartens in the United States.
No. 7. Monthly record of current educational publications, March, 1914.
No. R. The Massachusetts home-project plan of vocational agricultural education. R. W. Stimson.
No. 9. Monthly record of current educational publications, April, 1914.
No. 10. Physical growth and school progress. B. T. Baldwin.
No. 11. Monthly record of current educational pubUcations, May, 1914.
No. 12. Rural schoolhouses and grounds. F. B. Dresslar.
No. 13. Present status of drawing and art in the elementai-y and secondary schools of the United i
Royal B. Farnum.
No. 14. Vocational guidance.
No. 15. Monthly record of current educational publications. Index.
No. 16. The tangible rewards of teaching. James C. Boykin and Roberta King.
No. 17. Sanitary survey of the schools of Orange County, Va. R. K. Flannagan.
No. 18. The public school system of Gary, Ind. William P. Burris.
No. 19. University extension in the United States. Louis E. Reber.
No. 20. The rural school and hookworm disease. J. A. Ferrell.
No. 21. Monthly record of current educational publications, September, 1914.
No. 22. The Danish folk high schools. H. W. Foght.
No. 23. Some trade schools in Europe. Frank L. Glynn.
No. 24. Danish elementary rural schools. H. W. Foghl.
No. 25. Important features in rural school improvement. V\'. T. Hodges.
No. 26. Monthly record of cmrent educational publications, October, 1914.