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Full text of "A Montessori mother"

^MONTESSORl 
MOTHER 




LIBRARY 
Brigham Young University 




GIFT OF 

Francis W, Kirkham 



371. li 
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MONTESSORI 
MOTHER 



BY 



DOROTHY CANFIELD FISHER .^^^ 

Author of "The Squirrel- Cage'* ^-{j^^^ 



ILLUSTRATED 




NEW YORK 

HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 

1913 



Copyright, 1912, 

BY 

HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 



Published October, 1912 



THE QUINN & BODEN CO. PRESS 
RAH WAY, N. J. 



THE TTPRARY 
BRIGHAM V aVERSITXl 

PROVo, ^r.Ai 



AX.K 



BEDICA TED 

BY PERMISSION 

TO 

MARIA MONTESSORI 



PREFACE 

On my return recently from a somewhat prolonged 
stay in Rome, I observed that my family and circle 
of friends were in a very different state of mind from 
that usually found by the home-coming traveler. I 
was not depressed by the usual conscientious effort 
to appear interested in what I had seen ; not once did 
I encounter the wavering eye and flagging attention 
which are such invariable accompaniments to anec- 
dotes of European travel, nor the usual elated re- 
bound into topics of local interest after a tribute to 
the miles I had traveled, in some such generalizing 
phrase of finality as, "Well, I suppose you enjoyed 
Europe as much as ever." 

If I had ever suffered from the enforced repression 
within my own soul of my various European experi- 
ences I was more than indemnified by the reception 
which awaited this last return to^jny_j]Lativ£L land. 
For I found myself set upon and required to give 
an account of what I had seen, not only by my 
family and friends, but by callers, by acquaintances 
in the streets, by friends of acquaintances, by letters 
from people I knew, and many from those whose 
names were unfamiliar. 

The questions they all asked were of a striking 
similarity, and I grew weary in repeating the same 

Y 



vi PREFACE 

answers, answers which, from the nature of the sub- 
ject, could be neither categorical nor brief. How 
many evenings have I talked from the appearance of 
the cojfFee-cups till a very late bedtime, in answer to 
the demand, " Now, you've been to Rome ; you've seen 
the Montessori schools. You saw a great deal of Dr. 
Montessori herself and were in close personal rela- 
tions with her. Tell us all abo ut it. Is it really so 
wonderful.? Or is it just a fad.? Is i t true that the 
children are al]ow<^^ ^^ ^^ ^^^^r fly as th^y _p^lease? 
I should thiBk.it would^pQil thei^^^^ endurancg. 

Do they really learn to read and write so young? 
AAdJsn'LlL.Vj£ry^ bad-.f or JJiem to stimulate them so 
unnaiuxally ? And ..." this was a never- failing 
cry, " what is there in it for our children, situated 
a§.we_ajx2." 

Staggered by the amount of explanation necessary 
to give the shortest answers that would be intelligible 
to these searching, but, on the whole, quite mis- 
directed questions, I tried to put off my interrogators 
with the excellent magazine articles which have ap- 
peared on the subject, and with the translation of 
Dr. Montessori's book. There were various objec- 
tions to being relegated to these sources of informa- 
tion. Some of my inquisitors had been too doubtful 
of the value of the perhaps over-heralded new ideas 
to take the trouble to read the book with the close 
and serious attention necessary to make anything out 
of its careful and scientific presentation of its theories. 
Others, quite honestly, in the breathless whirl of 



PREFACE vii 

American business, professional and social life, were 
too busy to read such a long work. Some had read 
it and emerged from it rather dazed by the technical 
terms employed, with the dim idea that something 
remarkable was going on in Italy of which our public 
education ought to take advantage, but without the 
smallest definite idea of a possible change in their 
treatment of their own youngsters. All had many 
practical questions to put, based on the difference 
between American and Italian life, questions which, 
by chance, had not been answered in the magazine 
articles. 

I heard, moreover, in varying degree, from all the 
different temperaments, the common note of skepti- 
cism about the results obtained. Everyone hung oji 
my first-hand testimony as an impartial _eyerwitness. 
" Yo u are a parent like u s^ Will _it real l y work.^^ ^ 
they inquired with su ch persistent unanimity tha tJLhe 
existence o f_a_ stil l uns atisfied craving^or informa- 

^^2IL-^S5H!t£^LP^^^^^^^^^^'^^^' -"-^ ^^ many people in 
my small personal circle, ^TiTering in no way from 
any ordinary group of educated Americans, were so 
actively, almost aggressively interested in hearing 
my personal account of the actual working of the new 
system, it seemed highly probable that other people's 
personal circles would be interested. The inevitable 
result of this reasoning has been the composition of 
this small volume, which can claim for partial ex- 
piation of its existence that it has no great preten- 
sions to anything but timeliness. 



viii PREFACE 

I have put into it, not only an exposition, as prac- 
tical as I can make it, of the technic of the method 
as far as it lies within the powers of any one of us 
fathers and mothers to apply it, but in addition I have 
set down all the new ideas, hopes, and visions which 
have sprung up in my mind as a result of my close 
contact with the new system and with the genius who 
is its founder. For ideas, hopes, and visions are as 
important elements in a comprehension of this new 
philosophy as an accurate knowledge of the use of 
the " geometric insets," and my talks with Dr. Mon- 
tessori lead me to think that she feels them to be 
much more essential. Contact with the new ideas is 
not doing for us what it ought, if it does not act as 
a powerful stimulant to the whole body of our thought 
about life. It should make us think, and think hard, 
not only about how to teach our children the alpha- 
bet more easily, but about such fundamental matters 
as what we actually mean by moral life ; whether we 
really honestly wish the spiritually best for our chil- 
dren, or only the materially best; why we are really 
in the world at all. In many ways, this " Montes- 
sori System " is a new religion which we are called 
upon to help bring into the world, and we cannot aid 
in so great an undertaking without considerable 
spiritual as well as intellectual travail. 

The only way for us to improve our children's 
lives by the application of these new ideas is by medi- 
tating on them until we have absorbed their very 
essence and then by making what varying applica- 



PREFACE Ix 

tions of them are necessary in the differing condition 
of our lives. I have set down, without apology, my 
own Americanized meditations on Dr. Montessori's 
Italian text, simply because I chance to be one of 
the first American mothers to come into close contact 
with her and her work, and as such may be of value to 
my fellows. I have, however, honestly labeled and 
pigeon-holed these meditations on the general philos- 
ophy of the system, and set them in separate chapters 
so that it should not be difficult for the most casual 
reader to select what he wishes to read, without being 
forced into social, philosophical, or ethical con- 
siderations. I confess that I shall be greatly disap- 
pointed if he takes too exclusive advantage of this 
opportunity, for I quite agree with the Italian founder 
of the system that its philosophical and ethical ele- 
ments are those which have in them most promise for a 
new future for us all. 

Finally, in spite of all my excuses for the under- 
taking, I seem to myself, now that I am fairly em- 
barked upon it, very presumptuous in speaking at 
all upon such high and grave matters, fit only for 
the sure and enlightened handling of the specialist. 
But this is a subject differing from biology, physi- 
ological psychology, and philosophy (although the 
foundations of the system are laid deep in those sci- 
ences), inasmuch as its usefulness to the race depends 
upon its comprehension by the greatest possible num- 
ber of ordinary human beings. I hearten myself by 
remembering that if it is not to remain an interesting 



X PREFACE 

and futile theory, it must be, in its broad outlines at 
least, understood and practised by just such people 
as I am. We must all collaborate. And here is the 
place to say that I consider this book a very tentative 
performance; and that I will be very grateful for 
suggestions from any of my readers which will help 
to make a second edition more useful and complete. 

This volume of impressions, therefore, lays no 
claim to erudition. It is not written by a biologist 
for other biologists, by a philosopher for an audi- 
ence of college professors, or by a professional peda- 
gogue to enlighten school-superintendents. An ordi- 
nary American parent, desiring above all else the best 
possible chance for her children, addresses this mes- 
sage to the innumerable legion of her companions in 
that desire. ^ 

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Miss M. I. 
Batchelder and Miss Mary G. Gillmore, both of 
the Horace Mann School, for helpful suggestions; 
to Miss Anne E. George, who also read the manu- 
script; to Dr. Maria Montessori's book ''The Mon- 
tessori Method" (Frederick A. Stokes Company, New 
York); and to the House of Childhood, Inc., 200 
Fifth Avenue, New York, for the use of illustrations. 
Dr. Montessori's didactic apparatus is manufactured 
and distributed by the House of Childhood, Inc. 



Cr 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

Preface v 

I. Some Introductory Remarks About Parents . 1 
II. A Day in a Casa dei Bambini 7 

III. More About What Happens in a Casa dei 

Bambini 39 

IV. Something About the Apparatus and About 

THE Theory Underlying It .... 48 

V. Description of the Rest of the Apparatus and 

THE Method for Writing and Reading . . 67 
VI. Some General Remarks About the Montessori 

Apparatus in the American Home . . 91 

VII. The Possibility of American Adaptations of, 

or Additions to, the Montessori Apparatus . 105 

VIII. Some Remarks on the Philosophy of the 

System 117 

IX. Application of This Philosophy to American 

Home Life 127 

X. Some Considerations on the Nature of " Dis- 

. ^ CIPLINE " . 141 

I XI. More About Discipline, with Special Regard to 

^ Obedience . 1^8 

e Difficulties in the Way of a Universal Adop- 
^ ,. TION OF THE MoNTESSORI IdEAS .... / 165' 

XIIL/ Is There Any Real Difference Between the / 

Montessori System and the Kindergarten? . 171 

X^V. Moral Training . 195 

^V. Dr. Montessori's Life and the Origin of the 

Casa dei Bambini . . /. . • . . 210 

XVI. Some Last Remarks . • I • • ^^f^V . ^2 

Index V"^ .... 239 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

Maria Montessori Frontispiece 

The schoolroom in the convent of the Franciscan 

nuns in the Via Giusti page 8 

The meal hour " Q2 

The morning clean-up " 26 

Waiter carrying soup . . " 26 

Exercises in practical life ..,..." 56 

Building " the Tower " « 56 

Buttoning-frames to develop co-ordinated movements 
of the fingers and prepare the children for ex- 
ercises of practical life " 68 

Solid geometrical insets " 70 

The broad stair " 74 

The long stair "74 

Insets which the child learns to place both by sight 

and touch " 78 

Tracing sandpaper letters ** 86 

Tracing geometrical design " 86 

Training the " stereognostic sense " — combining 

motor and tactual images "100 

Color boxes comprising spools of eight colors and 

eight shades of each color "116 

Materials for teaching rough and smooth . . . " 1S8 

Counting boxes " 163 

Insets around which the child draws, and then fills 

in the outline with colored crayons . . . " 188 

Word building with cut-out alphabet . • . . " 224 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

CHAPTER I 

SOME INTRODUCTORY REMARKS ABOUT 

PARENTS 

AN observation often made by philosophic ob- 
jfj^ servers of our social organization is that the 
tremendous importance of primary teachers is ri- 
diculously underestimated. The success or failure 
of the teachers of little children may not perhaps 
determine the amount of information acquired later 
in its educative career by each generation, but no one 
can deny that it determines to a considerable extent 
the character of the next generation, and character 
determines practically everything worth considering 
in the world of men. Yet the mind of the average 
community admits this but haltingly. The teachers of 
small children are paid more than they were, but still 
far less than the importance of their work deserves, 
and they are still regarded by the unenlightened ma- 
jority as insignificant compared to those who impart 
information to older children and adolescents, a class 
of pupils which, in the nature of things, is vastly more 
able to protect its own individuality from the char- 
acter of the teacher. 

But is there a thoughtful parent living who has not 



2 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

quailed at the haphazard way in which Fate has 
pitchforked him into a profession greatly more im- 
portant and enormously more difficult? For it is not 
quite fair to us to say that we chose the profession of 
parent with our eyes open when we repeated the words 
of the marriage service. It cannot be denied that 
every pair of fiances know that probably they will 
have children, but this knowledge has about the same 
degree of first-hand vividness in their minds that the 
knowledge of ultimate certain death has in the mind 
of the average healthy young person: there is as 
little conscious preparation for the coming event in 
the one case as in the other. No, we have some right 
on our side, under the prevailing conditions of educa- 
tion about the facts of life, in claiming that we are 
tossed headlong by a force stronger than ourselves 
into a profession and a terrifying responsibility which 
many of us would never have had the presumption 
to undertake in cold blood. We might conceivably 
have undertaken to build railway bridges, even though 
the lives of multitudes depended on them ; we might 
have become lawyers and settled people's material af- 
fairs for them or even, as doctors, settled the matter 
of their physical life or death ; but to be responsible to 
God, to society, and to the soul in question for the 
health, happiness, moral growth, and usefulness of a 
human soul, what reflective parent among the whole 
army of us has not had moments of heartsick terror 
at the realization of what he has been set to do.? 
I say " moments '' advisedly, for it must be ad- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 3 

mitted that most of us manage to forget pretty con- 
tinually the alarming possibilities of our situation. 
In this we are imitating the curious actual indifference 
to peril which, from time immemorial, has been ob- 
served among those who are exposed to any danger 
which is very long continued. The incapacity of 
human nature to feel any strong emotion for a con- 
siderable length of time, even one connected with the 
supposedly sacrosanct instinct for self-preservation, 
is to be observed in the well-worn examples of people 
living on the sides of volcanoes, and of workers 
among machinery, who will not take the most ele- 
mentary precautions against accidents if the pre- 
cautions consume much time or thought. Conse- 
quently it is not surprising that, as a whole, parents 
are not only not stricken to the earth by the respon- 
sibilities of their situation, but as a class are singu- 
larly blind to their duties, and oddly difficult to move 
to any serious, continued consideration of the task 
before them. This attitude bears a close relation to 
the axiom which has only to be stated to win instant 
recognition from any self-analyzing human being, 
" We would rather lie down and die than think! '* 
We cannot, as a rule, be forced to think really, seri- 
ously, connectedly, logically about the form of our 
government, about our social organization, about how 
we spend our lives, even about the sort of clothes we 
wear or the food we eat, — questions affecting our com- 
fort so cruelly that they would make us reflect if any- 
thing could. But we ourselves are the only ones to 



4 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

suffer from our refusal to use our minds fully and 
freely on such subjects. It is intolerable that our 
callous indifference and incurable triviality should 
wreak themselves upon the helpless children com- 
mitted to our care. The least we can do, if we will not 
do our own thinking, is to accept, with all gratitude, 
the thinking that someone else has done for us. 

For there is one loop-hole of escape in our modern 
world from this self-imprisonment in shiftless ways 
of mental life, and that is the creation and wide dif- 
fusion of the scientific spirit. There is apparently in 
human nature, along with this invincible repugnance 
to use reason on matters closely connected with our 
daily life, a considerable pleasure in ratiocination if 
it is exercised on subjects sufficiently removed from 
our personal sphere. The man who will eat hot mince- 
pie and rarebit at two in the morning and cry out 
upon the Fates as responsible for the inevitable 
sequence of suffering, may be, often is, in his chem- 
ical laboratory, or his surgical practice, or his bio- 
logical research, an investigator of the strictest in- 
tegrity of reasoning. 

Reflection on this curious trait of human nature may 
bring some restoration of self-respect to parents in 
the face of the apparently astounding fact that most 
of the great educators have been by no means parents 
of large families, and a large proportion of them 
have been childless. This but follows the usual ec- 
centric route taken by discoveries leading to the 
amelioration of conditions surrounding man. It was 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 6 

not an inhabitant of a malarial district, driven to 
desperation by the state of things, who discovered the 
crime of the mosquito. That discovery was made by 
men working in laboratories not in the least incom- 
moded by malaria. Hundreds of generations of de- 
voted mothers, ready and willing to give the last 
drop of their blood for their children's welfare, never 
discovered that unscalded milk-bottles are like prussic 
acid to babies. Childless workers in white laboratory 
aprons, standing over test-tubes, have revolutionized 
the physical hygiene of infancy and brought down the 
death-rate of babies beyond anything ever dreamed 
of by our parents. 

But let it be remembered as comfort, exhortation, 
and warning to us that the greatest army of labora- 
tory workers ever financed by a twentieth-century 
millionaire, would have be^n of no avail if the parents 
of the babies of the world had not taken to scalding 
the milk-bottles. Let us insist upon the recognition 
of our merit, such as it is. We will not, apparently 
we cannot, do the hard, consecutive, logical, investi- 
gating thinking which is the only thing necessary in 
many cases to better the conditions of our daily life ; 
but we are not entirely impervious to reason, inas- 
much as the world has seen us in this instance fol- 
lowing, with the most praiseworthy docility, the 
teachings of those who have thought for us. The 
milk-bottles in by far the majority of American homes 
are really being scalded to-day ; and " cholera 
morbus,'' " second summers," " teething fevers," and 



6 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

the like are becoming as out-of-date as " fever ^n' 
ague," " galloping consumption," and the like. 

The lessened death-rate among babies is not only 
the most heartening spectacle for lovers of babies, 
but for hopers and believers in the general advance- 
ment of the race. This miraculous revolution in the 
care of infants under a year of age has taken place 
in less than a human generation. The grandparents 
of our children are still with us to pooh-pooh our 
sterilizings, and to look on with bewilderment while 
we treat our babies as intelligently as stock-breeders 
treat their animals. Let us take heart of grace. If 
scientific methods of physical hygiene in the care of 
children can be thus quickly inculcated, it is cer- 
tainly worth while to storm the age-old redoubts shel- 
tering the no less hoary abuses of their intellectual 
and spiritual treatment. 

A scientist of another race, taking advantage of 
the works of all the other investigators along the 
same line (works which nothing could have induced 
us to study), laboring in a laboratory of her own in- 
vention, has been doing our hard, consecutive, logical, 
investigating thinking for us. Let us have the grace 
to take advantage of her discoveries, many of which 
have been stumbled upon from time to time in a hap- 
hazard, unformulated way by the instinctive wisdom 
of experience, but the synthesis of which into a co- 
herent, usable system, with a consistent philosophical 
foundation, has been left to a childless scientific in- 
vestigator. 



CHAPTER II 
A DAY IN A CASA DEI BAMBINI 

I HAD not seen a Montessori school when I first 
read through Dr. Montessori's book. I laid it 
down with the mental comments, " All very well to 
write about! But, of course, it can't work anything 
like that in actual practice. Everyone knows that a 
child's party of only five or six children of that age 
(from two and a half to six) is seldom carried 
through without some sort of quarrel, even though 
an equal number of mothers are present, devoting 
themselves to giving the tots exactly whatever they 
want. It stands to reason that twenty or thirty chil- 
dren of that tender age, shut up together all day long 
and day after day, must, if they are normal children, 
have a great many healthy normal battles with each 
other ! " 

After putting myself in a dispassionate and judicial 
frame of mind by laying down these fixed preconcep- 
tions, I went to visit the Casa dei Bambini in the 
Franciscan Nunnery on the Via Giusti. 

I half turn away in anticipatory discouragement 
fi^b'm the task of attempting, for the benefit of Ameri- 
can readers, any description of what I saw there. 
They will not believe it. I know they will not, be- 
cause I myself, before I saw it with my own eyes, 

7 



8 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

would have discounted largely the most moderate 
statements on the subject. But even though stay-at- 
home people in other centuries may have salted lib- 
erally the tall stories of old-time travelers, they cer- 
tainly had a taste for hearing them ; and so possibly 
my plain account of what I saw that day may be read, 
even though it be to the accompaniment of incredu- 
lous exclamations. 

My first glimpse was of a gathering of about 
twenty-five children, so young that several of them 
looked like real babies to me. I found afterwards 
that the youngest was just under three, and the old- 
est just over six. They were scattered about over a 
large, high-ceilinged, airy room, furnished with tiny, 
lightly-framed tables and chairs which, however, by 
no means filled the floor. There were big tracts of 
open space, where some of the children knelt or sat on 
light rugs. One was lying down on his back, kick- 
ing his feet in the air. A low, cheerful hum of con- 
versation filled the air. 

As my companion and I came into the room I no- 
ticed first that there was not that stiffening into self- 
consciousness which is the inevitable concomitant of 
" visitors " in our own schoolrooms. Most of the chil- 
dren, absorbed in various queer-looking tasks, did not 
even glance up as we entered. Others, apparently rest- 
ing in the intervals between games, looked over across 
the room at us, smiled welcomingly as I would at a 
visitor entering my house, and a little group near us 
ran up with outstretched hands, saying with a pleas- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 9 

ant accent of good-breeding, " Good-morning ! 
Good-morning! " They then instantly went off about 
their own affairs, which were evidently of absorbing 
interest, for after that, except for an occasional 
friendly look or smile, or a momentary halt by my 
side to show me something, none of the little scholars 
paid the least attention to me. 

Now I myself, like all the American matrons of my 
circle of acquaintances, am laboring conscientiously 
to teach my children " good manners," but I decided, 
on the instant, nothing would induce me to collect 
twenty children of our town and have a Montessori 
teacher enter the room to be greeted by them. The 
contrast would be too painful. These were mostly 
children of very poor, ignorant, and utterly un- 
trained parents, and ours are children of people who 
flatter themselves that they are the opposite of all 
that; but I shuddered to think of the long silent, 
discourteous stare which is the only recognition of 
the presence of a visitor in our schools. And yet I 
felt at once that I was attaching too much im- 
portance to a detail, the merest trifle, the slightest, 
most superficial indication of the life beneath. We 
Anglo-Saxons notice too acutely, I thought, these sur- 
face differences of manner. 

But, on the other hand, I was forced to consider 
that I knew from bitter experience that children of 
that age are still near enough babyhood to be abso- 
lutely primeval in their sincerity, and that it is prac- 
tically impossible to make them, with any certainty 



10 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

of the result, go through a form of courtesy which 
they do not feel genuinely. Also I observed that no 
one had pushed the children towards us, as I push 
mine, toward a chance visitor, with the command 
accompanied by an inward prayer for obedience, " Go 
and shake hands with Mrs. Blank." 

In fact, I noticed it for the first time, there seemed 
no one there to push the children or to refrain from 
doing it. That collection of little tots, most of them 
too busy over their mysterious occupations even to 
talk, seemed, as far as a casual glance over the room 
went, entirely without supervision. Finally, from a 
corner, where she had been sitting (on the floor ap- 
parently) beside a child, there rose up a plainly- 
dressed woman, the expression of whose quiet face 
made almost as great an impression on me as the 
children's greetings had. I had always joined with 
heartfelt sympathy in the old cry of " Heaven help 
the poor teachers ! " and in our town, where we all 
know and like the teachers personally, their exhausted 
condition of almost utter nervous collapse by the 
end of the teaching year is a painful element in our 
community life. But I felt no impulse to sympathize 
with this woman with untroubled eyes who, perceiving 
us for the first time, came over to shake hands with 
us. Instead, I felt a curious pang of envy, such as 
once or twice in my sentimental and stormy girl- 
hood I felt at the sight of the peaceful face of a nun. 
I am now quite past the possibility of envying the 
life of a nun, but I must admit that it suddenly oc- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER , 11 

curred to me, as I looked at that quiet, smiling Italian 
woman, that somehow my own life, for all its full 
happiness, must lack some element of orderliness, of 
discipline, of spiritual economy which alone could 
have put that look of calm certainty on her face. 
It was not the passive, changeless peace that one sees 
in the eyes of some nuns, but a sort of rich, full- 
blooded confidence in life. 

She lingered beside us some moments, chatting with 
my companion, who was an old friend of hers, and 
who introduced her as Signorina Ballerini. I noticed 
that she happened to stand all the time with her 
back to the children, feeling apparently none of 
that lion-tamer's instinct to keep an hypnotic eye 
on the little animals which is so marked in our in- 
structors. I can remember distinctly that there was 
for us school-children actually a different feel to the 
air and a strange look on the familiar school- furniture 
during those infrequent intervals when the teacher 
was called for an instant from the room and left us, 
as in a suddenly rarefied atmosphere, giddy with the 
removal of the pressure of her eye ; but when this 
teacher turned about casually tc face the room again, 
these children did not seem to notice either that she 
had stopped looking at them or that she was now 
doing it again. 

We used to know, as by a sixth sense, exactly 
where, at any moment, the teacher was, and a sudden 
movement on her part would have made us all start 
as violently and as instinctively as little chicks at 



12 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

the sudden shadow of a hawk . . . and this, al- 
though we were often very fond indeed of our teach- 
ers. Remembering this, I noticed with surprise that 
often, when one of these Httle ones lifted his face 
from his work to ask the teacher a question, he had 
been so unconscious of her presence during his con- 
centration on his enterprise that he did not know 
in the least where to look, and sent his eager eyes rov- 
ing over the big room in a search for her, which ended 
in such a sudden flash of joy at discovering her that 
I felt again a pang of envy for this woman who had so 
many more loving children than I have. 

What could be these " games " which so absorbed 
these children, far too young for any possibility of 
pretense on their part? Moving with the unham- 
pered, unobserved ease which is the rule in a 
Montessori schoolroom, I began walking about, look- 
ing more closely at what the children were holding, 
and I could have laughed at the simplicity of 
many of the means which accomplished the apparent 
miracle of self-imposed order and discipline be- 
fore me ... if I had not been ready to cry 
at my own stupidity for not thinking of them my- 
self. One little boy about three and a half years 
old had been intent on some operation ever since we 
had entered the room, and even now as I drew near 
his little table and chair, he only glanced up for an 
instant's smile without stopping the action of his 
fingers. I leaned over him, hoping that the device 
which so held his attention was not too complicated 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 13 

for my inexperienced, unpedagoglcal mind to take in. 
He was holding a light wooden frame about eighteen 
inches square, on which were stretched two pieces of 
cotton cloth, meeting down the middle like the joining 
of a garment. On one of these edges was a row of 
buttonholes and on the other a row of large bone 
buttons. The child was absorbed in buttoning and 
unbuttoning those two pieces of cloth. 

He was new at the game, that was to be seen by the 
clumsy, misdirected motions of his baby fingers, but 
the process of his improvement was so apparent as, 
his eyes shining with interest, he buttoned and un- 
buttoned steadily, slowly, without an instant's inter- 
ruption, that I watched him, almost as fascinated as 
he. A child near us, apparently playing with blocks, 
upset them with a loud noise, but my buttoning boy, 
wrapped in his magic cloak of concentration, did not 
so much as raise his eyes. I myself could not look 
away, and as I gazed I thought of the many times a 
little child of mine had tried to learn the secret of the 
innumerable fastenings which hold her clothes to- 
gether and how I, with the kindest impulse in the 
world, had stopped her fumbling little fingers saying, 
" No, dear. Mother can do that so much better. Let 
Mother do it." It occurred to me now that the situa- 
tion was very much as if, in the midst of a fascinat- 
ing game of billiards, a professional player had 
snatched the cue from my husband's hands, saying, 
" You just stand and watch me do this. I can do it 
much better than you." 



14 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

The child before me stopped his work a moment 
and looked down at his little cotton waist. There 
was a row of buttons there, smaller but of the same 
family as those on the frame. As he gazed down, 
absorbed, at them, I could see a great idea dawn in 
his face. I leaned forward. He attacked the mid- 
dle button, using with startling exactitude of imita- 
tion the same motion he had learned on his frame. 
But this button was not so large or so well placed. 
He had to bend his head over, his fingers were 
cramped, he made several movements backward. But 
then suddenly the first half of his undertaking was 
accomplished. The button was on one side, the but- 
tonhole on the other. I held my breath. He set to 
work again. The cloth slipped from his boneless 
little fingers, the button twisted itself awry, I fairly 
ached with the idiotic habit of years of interference to 
snatch it and do it for him. And then I saw that he 
was slowly forcing it into place. When the bone 
disk finally shone out, round and whole, on the far 
side of the buttonhole, the child drew a long breath 
and looked up at me with so ecstatic a face of tri- 
umph that I could have shouted, " Hurrah ! " Then, 
without paying any more attention to me, he rose, 
sauntered over to a corner of the room where a thick 
piece of felt covered the floor, and lay down on his 
back, his hands clasped under his head, gazing with 
tranquil, reposeful vacuity at the ceiling. He was 
resting himself after accomplishing a great step for- 
ward. I did not fail to notice that, except for my 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 15 

entirely fortuitous observation of his performance, 
nobody had seen his absorption any more than they 
now saw his apparent idleness. 

I tucked all these observations away in a comer of 
my mind for future reflection, and moved on to the 
nearest child, a little girl, perhaps a year older than 
the boy, who was absorbed as eagerly as he over a 
similar light wooden frame, covered with two pieces 
of cloth. But these were fastened together with pieces 
of ribbon which the child was tying and untying. 
There was no fumbling here. As rapidly, as deftly, 
with as careless a light-hearted ease as a pianist run- 
ning over his scales, she was making a series of the 
flattest, most regular bow-knots, much better, I knew 
in my heart, than I could accomplish at anything like 
that speed. Although she had advanced beyond the 
stage of intent struggle with her material, her inter- 
est and pleasure in her own skill was manifest. She 
looked up at me, and then smiled proudly down at 
her flying fingers. 

Beyond her another little boy, with a leather- 
covered frame, was laboriously inserting shoe-buttons 
into their buttonholes with the aid of an ordinary 
button-hook. As I looked at him, he left off, and 
stooping over his shoes, tried to apply the same sys- 
tem to their buttons. That was too much for him. 
After a prolonged struggle he gave it up for the 
time, returning, however, to the buttons on his frame 
with entirely undiminished ardor. 

Next to him sat a little girl, with a pile of small 



16 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

pieces of money before her on her tiny table. She 
was engaged in sorting these into different piles ac- 
cording to their size, and, though I stood by her 
some time, laughing at the passion of accuracy which 
fired her, she was so absorbed that she did not even 
notice my presence. As I turned away I almost 
stumbled over a couple of children sitting on the floor, 
engaged in some game with a variety of blocks which 
looked new to me. They were ten squared rods of 
equal thickness, of which the shortest looked to be a 
tenth the length of the longest, and the others of 
regularly diminishing lengths between these two ex- 
tremes. These were painted in alternate stripes of 
red and blue, these stripes being the same width as 
the shortest rod. The children were putting these 
together in consecutive order so as to make a sort of 
series, and although they were evidently much too 
young to count, they were aiding themselves by touch- 
ing with their fingers each of the painted stripes, 
and verifying in this way the length of the rod. I 
could not follow this process, although it was plainly 
something arithmetical, and turned to ask the teacher 
about it. 

I saw her across the room engaged in tying a band- 
age about a child's eyes. Wondering if this were some 
new, scientific form of punishment, I stepped to that 
part of the room and watched the subsequent proceed- 
ings. The child, his lips curved in an expectant smile, 
even laughing a little in pleasant excitement, turned 
his blindfolded face to a pile of small pieces of cloth 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER IT 

before him. Several children, walking past, stopped 
and hung over the edge of his desk with lively interest. 
The boy drew out from the pile a piece of velvet. 
He felt of this intently, running the sensitive tips of 
his fingers lightly over the nap, and cocking his head 
on one side in deep thought. The child-spectators 
gazed at him with sympathetic attention. When he 
gave the right name, they all smiled and nodded 
their heads in satisfaction. He drew out another 
piece from the big pile, coarse cotton cloth this time, 
which he instantly recognized ; then a square of satin 
over which his little finger-tips wandered with evident 
sensuous pleasure. His successful naming of this was 
too much for his envious little spectators. They 
turned and fled toward the teacher and when I reached 
her, she was the center of a little group of children, 
all clamoring to be blindfolded. 

" How they do love that exercise ! " she said, look- 
ing after them with shining eyes ... I could have 
sworn, with mother's eyes ! 

" Are you too busy and hurried," I asked, " to ex- 
plain to me the game those children are playing with 
the red and blue rods ? '' 

She answered with some surprise, " Oh, no, I'm 
not busy and hurried at all!" (quite as though we 
were not all living in the twentieth century) and went 
on, " The children can come and find me if they need 
me." 

So I had my first lesson in the theory of self- 
education and self-dependence underlying the Mon- 



18 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

tessori apparatus, to the accompaniment of occa- 
sional requests for aid, or demands for sympathy over 
an achievement, made in clear, baby treble. That 
theory will be taken up later in this book, as this 
chapter is intended only to be a plain narration of a 
few of the sights encountered by an ordinary ob- 
server in a morning in a Montessori school. 

After a time I noticed that four little girls were 
sitting at a neatly-ordered small table, spread with 
a white cloth, apparently eating their luncheons. 
The teacher, in answer to n^y inquiring glance at 
them, explained that it was their turn to be the 
waitresses that day, for the children's lunch, and so 
they ate their own meal first. 

She was called away just then, and I sat looking at 
the roomful of busy children, listening to the pleas- 
ant murmur of their chat« together, watching them 
move freely about as they liked, noting their ab- 
sorbed, happy concentration on their tasks. Al- 
ready some of the sense of the miraculous which had 
been so vivid in my mind during my first survey of 
the school was dulled, or rather, explained away. 
Now that I had seen some of the details composing the 
picture, the whole seemed more natural. It was not 
surprising, for instance, that the little girl sorting the 
pieces of money should not instead be pulling another 
child's hair, or wandering in aimless and potentially 
naughty idleness about the room. It was not neces- 
sary either to force or exhort her to be a quiet and 
untroublesome citizen of that little repubKc. She 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 19 

would no more leave her fascinating occupation to 
go and " be naughty " than a professor of chemistry 
would leave an absorbing experiment in his labora- 
tory to go and rob a candy-store. In both cases it 
would be leaving the best sort of a " good time " for 
a much less enjoyable undertaking. 

In the midst of these reflections (my first glimmer 
of understanding of what it was all about), a lively 
march on the piano was struck up. Not a word was 
spoken by the teacher, indeed I had not yet heard her 
voice raised a single time to make a collective re- 
mark to the whole body of children, but at once, act- 
ing on the impulse which moves us all to run down the 
street towards the sound of a brass band, most of the 
children stopped their work and ran towards the open 
floor-space near the piano. Some of the older ones, 
of five, formed a single-file line, which was rapidly 
recruited by the monkey-like imitativeness of the little 
ones, into a long file. The music was martial, the 
older children held their heads high and stamped 
loudly as they marched about, keeping time very ac- 
curately to the strongly marked rhythm of the tune. 
The little tots did their baby best to copy their big 
brothers and sisters, some of them merely laughing 
and stamping up and down without any reference to 
the time, others evidently noticing a difi^erence be- 
tween their actions and those of the older ones, and 
trying to move their feet more regularly. 

No one had suggested that they leave their work- 
tables to play in this way (indeed a few too absorbed 



20 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

to heed the call of the music still hung intently over 
their former occupations), no one suggested that 
they step in time to the music, no one corrected them 
when they did not. The music suddenly changed from 
a swinging marching air to a low, rhythmical croon. 
The older children instantly stopped stamping and be- 
gan trotting noiselessly about on their tiptoes, imi- 
tated again as slavishly as possible by the admiring 
smaller ones. The uncertain control of their equilib- 
rium by these littler ones, made them stagger about, as 
they practised this new exercise, like the little 
bacchantes, intoxicated with rhythm, which their 
glowing faces of delight seemed to proclaim them. 

I was penetrated with that poignant, almost tear- 
ful sympathy in their intense enjoyment which chil- 
dren's pleasure awakens in every adult who has to 
do with them. " Ah, what a good time they are 
having ! " I cried to myself, and then reflected that 
they had been liaving some sort of very good time 
ever since I had come into the room. And yet even 
my unpractised eye could see a diff'erence between this 
good time and the kindergarten, charming as that is 
to watch. No prettily-dressed, energetic, thorough- 
going young lady had beckoned the children away 
from their self-chosen occupations. There was no set 
circle here with the lovely teacher in the middle, and 
every child's eyes fastened constantly on her nearly 
always delightful but also overpoweringly developed 
adult personality. There was no set " game " being 
played, the discontinuation of which depended on the 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 21 

teacher's more or less accurate guess at when the 
children were becoming tired. Indeed, as I reflected 
on this, I noticed that, although the bigger ones were 
continuing their musical march with undiminished 
pleasure, the younger ones had already exhausted 
the small amount of consecutive interest their infant 
organisms are capable of, and, without spoiling the 
fun for the others, indeed without being observed, 
had suddenly stopped dancing and prancing as sud- 
denly as they began and, with the kitten-like fitful- 
ness of their age, were wandering away in groups of 
two and three out to the great, open courtyard. 

I suppose they went on playing quieter games 
there, but I did not follow them, so absorbed was I in 
watching the four little girls who had now at last 
finished their very leisurely meal and were preparing 
the tables for the other children. They were about 
four and a half and five years old, an age at which 
I would have thought children as capable of solving a 
problem in calculus as of undertaking, without super- 
vision, to set tables for twenty other babies. They 
went at their undertaking with no haste, indeed with 
a slowness which my racial impatience found abso- 
lutely excruciating. They paused constantly for pro- 
longed consultations, and to verify and correct them- 
selves as they laid the knife, fork, spoon, plate, and 
napkin at each place. Interested as I was, and be- 
ginning, as I did, to understand a little of the ideas 
of the school, I still was so under the domination of 
my lifetime of over-emphasis on the importance of the 



22 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

immediate result of an action, that I felt the same 
impulse I had restrained with difficulty beside the 
buttoning boy — ^to snatch the things from their in- 
competent little hands and whisk them into place on 
the tables. 

But then I noticed that the clock showed only a 
little after eleven, and that evidently the routine of 
the school was planned expressly so that there would 
be no need for haste. 

The phrase struck my mental ear curiously, and 
arrested my attention. I reflected on that condition 
with the astonished awe of a modern, meeting it al- 
most for the first time. " No need for haste '' — it 
was like being transported into the timeless ease of 
eternity. 

And then I fell to asking myself why there was 
always so much need for haste in my own life and in 
that of my children.^ Was it, after all, so necessary.? 
What were we hurrying so to accomplish.'^ I remem- 
bered my scorn of the parties of Cook's tourists, clat- 
tering into the Sistine Chapel for a momentary glance 
at the achievement of a lifetime of genius, painted 
on the ceiling, and then galloping out again for a 
hop-skip-and-jump race down through the Stanze of 
Raphael. It occurred to me, disquietingly, that pos- 
sibly, instead of really training my children, I might 
be dragging them headlong on a Cook's tour through 
life. It also occurred to me that if the Montessori 
ideas were taken up in my family, the children would 
not be the only ones to profit by them. 




o 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 23 

When I emerged from this brown study, the little 
girls had finished their task and there stood before 
me tables set for twenty little people, set neatly and 
regularly, without an item missing. The children, 
called in from their play in the courtyard, came 
marching along (they do take collective action when 
collective interests genuinely demand it) and sat down 
without suggestions, each, I suppose, at the place he 
had occupied while working at those same tiny tables. 
I held my breath to see the four little waitresses enter 
the room, each carrying a big tureen full of hot soup. 
I would not have trusted a child of that age to carry 
a glass of water across a room. The little girls ad- 
vanced slowly, their eyes fixed on the contents of 
their tureens, their attention so concentrated on their 
all-important enterprise that they seemed entirely ob- 
livious of the outer world. A fly lighted on the nose 
of one of these solemnly absorbed babies. She twisted 
the tip of that feature, making the most grotesque 
grimaces in her eff'ort to dislodge the tickling in- 
truder, but not until she had reached a table and set 
down her sacred tureen in safety, did she raise her 
hand to her face. I revised on the instant all my 
fixed convictions about the innate heedlessness and 
lack of self-control of early childhood; especially as 
she turned at once to her task of ladling out the 
soup into the plates of the children at her table, a 
feat which she accomplished as deftly as any adult 
could have done. 

The napkins were unfolded, the older children 



24 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

tucked them under their chins and began to eat their 
soup. The younger ones imitated them more or less 
handily, though with some the process meant quite 
a struggle with the napkin. One little boy, only one 
in all that company, could not manage his. After 
wrestling with it, he brought it to the teacher, who 
had dropped down on a chair near mine. So sure was 
I of what her action inevitably would be, that I fairly 
felt my own hands automatically follow hers in the 
familiar motions of tucking a napkin under a child's 
round chin. 

I cannot devise any way to set down on paper 
with sufficient emphasis the fact that she did not tuck 
that napkin in. She held it up in her hands, showed 
the child how to take hold of a larger part of the 
corner than he had been grasping, and, illustrating 
on herself, gave him an object-lesson. Then she gave 
it back to him. He had caught the idea evidently, 
but his undisciplined little fingers, out of sight there, 
under his chin, would not follow the direction of his 
brain, though that was evidently, from the grave in- 
tentness of his baby face, working at top speed. 
With a sigh, that irresistible sigh of the little child, 
he took out the crumpled bit of linen and looked at it 
sadly. I clasped my hands together tightly to keep 
them from flying at him and accomplishing the opera- 
tion in a twinkling. Why, the poor child's soup was 
getting cold! 

Again I wish to reiterate the statement that the 
teacher did not tuck that napkin in. She took it 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 25 

once more and went through very slowly all the 
necessary movements. The child's big, black eyes 
fastened on her in a passion of attention, and I no- 
ticed that his little empty hands followed auto- 
matically the slow, distinctly separated, analyzed 
movements of the teacher's hands. When she gave 
the napkin back to him, he seized it with an air of 
resolution which would have done honor to Napoleon, 
grasping it firmly and holding his wandering baby- 
wits together with the aid of a determined frown. 
He pulled his collar away from his neck with one 
hand and, still frowning determinedly, thrust a large 
segment of the napkin down with the other, spread- 
ing out the remainder on his chest, with a long sigh of 
utter satisfaction, which went to my heart. As he 
trotted back to his place, I noticed that the incident 
had been observed by several of the children near 
us, on whose smiling faces, as they looked at their 
triumphant little comrade, I could see the reflection 
of my own gratified sympathy. One of them reached 
out and patted the napkin as its proud wearer passed. 
But I had not been all the morning in that chil- 
dren's home, perfect, though not made with a mother's 
hands, without having my mother's jealousy sharply 
aroused. A number of things had been stirring up 
protests in my mind. I was alarmed at the sight of 
all these babies, happy, wisely occupied, perfectly 
good, and learning unconsciously the best sort of 
lessons, and yet in an atmosphere diff^ering so en- 
tirely from all my preconceived ideas of a home. All 



26 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

this might be all very well for Italian mothers so poor 
that they were obliged to leave their children in order 
to go out and help earn the family living ; or for Eng- 
lish mothers, who expect as a matter of course that 
their little children shall spend most of their time with 
nurse-maids and governesses. But I could not spare 
my children, I told myself. I asked nothing better 
than to have them with me every moment they were 
awake. What was to be done about this ominously 
excellent institution which seemed to treat the chil- 
dren more wisely than I, for all my efforts ? I felt an 
uneasy, apprehensive hostility towards these methods, 
contrasting so entirely with mine, for mine were, I 
assured myself hotly, based on the most absolute, 
supreme mother's love for the child. 

I now turned to the teacher and said protestingly, 
" That would have been a very little thing to do for 
a child." 

She laughed. " I'm not his nurse-maid. I'm his 
teacher," she replied. 

" That's all very well, but his soup zdll be cold, you 
know, and he will be late to his luncheon ! " 

She did not deny this, but she did not seem as struck 
as I was by the importance of the fact. She answered 
whimsically, " Ah, one must remember not to obtrude 
one's adult materialism into the idealistic world of 
children. He is so happy over his victory over 
himself that he wouldn't notice if his soup were 
iced." 

'' But warm soup is a good thing, a very good 




The Morxixg Cleax-up. 




Waiter Carrying Soup. 

Copyright 1912. by Carl R. Byoir 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 27 

thing," I insisted, " and you have literally robbed 
him of his. More than that, I seem to see that all 
this insistence on self-dependence for children must 
interfere with a great many desirable regularities of 
family life." 

She looked at me indulgently. " Yes, warm soup 
is a good thing, but is it such a very important thing? 
According to our adult standards it is more palatable, 
but it's really about as good food if eaten cold, isn't 
it.? And, anyhow, he eats it cold only this once. 
You'd snatch him away from his plate of warm soup 
without scruple if you thought he was sitting in a 
draught and would take cold. Isn't his moral health 
as important as his physical? " 

" But it might be very inconvenient for someone 
else, in an ordinary home, to wait so interminably for 
him to learn to wait on himself." 

Her answer was a home-thrust. " If it's too much 
trouble to give him the best conditions at home, 
wouldn't he be better sent to a Casa dei Bambini, 
which has no other aim than to have things just right 
for his development ? " 

This silenced me for a time. I turned away, but 
was recalled by her remarking, " Besides, I've put him 
more in the way of getting his soup hot from now on, 
than you would, by tucking in his napkin and send- 
ing him back at once. To-day's plateful would have 
been warm; but how about to-morrow and the day 
after, and so on, unless you, or some other grown- 
up happened to be at hand to wait on him. And 



28 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

on my part, what could I do, if all twenty-five of the 
children were helpless ? " 

I seized on this opportunity to voice some of the 
mother's jealousy which underlay all my extreme ad- 
miration and astonishment at the sights of the morn- 
ing, " If you didn't keep such an octopus clutch on 
the children, separating them all day in this way from 
their own families, if they were sent home to eat their 
luncheons, why, there would be mothers enough to go 
around. They would be only too glad to tuck the 
little napkins in ! " 

The teacher looked at me, level-browed, and said, 
with a dry, enigmatic accent which made me reflect 
uneasily, long afterwards, on her words, " They cer- 
tainly would. Do you really think that would be an 
improvement? " 



53366 



CHAPTER III 

MORE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS IN A CASA DEI 

BAMBINI 

OF course one day's observations do not give even 
a bird's-eye view of all the operations of a 
Montessori school, and this chapter is intended to 
supplement somewhat the very incomplete survey of 
the last and to touch at least, in passing, upon some 
of the other important activities in which the children 
are engaged. If this description seems lacking in con- 
tinuity and uniformity, it represents all the more 
faithfully the impressions of an observer of a Casa 
dei Bambini. For there one sees no trace of the 
slightly Prussian uniformity of action to which we 
are accustomed in even the freest of our primary 
schools and kindergartens. You need not expect at 
ten o'clock to hear the " ten-o'clock class in reading," 
for possibly on that day no child will happen to feel 
like reading. You need not think that the teacher 
will call up the star pupil to have him write for you. 
He may be lying on the floor absorbed in an arith- 
metical game and a Montessori teacher would as soon 
blowup her schoolroom with dynamite as interfere 
with the natural direction, taken for the moment by 
the self-educating instincts ofjierjjhildren, 

29 



*i!>->--7l>/-,r<:v, 



80 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

In planning a visit to a Casa dei Bambini, you can 
be sure of only one thing, not, however, an incon- 
siderable thing, and that is that aU the children will 
be happily absorbed in some profitable undertaking. 
It never fails. There are no " blue Mondays." Rain 
or shine outdoors, inside the big room there always 
blows across the heart of the visitor a fine, tonic 
breath of free, and hence, never listless life. On days 
in winter when the sirocco blows, the debilitating 
wind from Africa, which reduces the whole population 
of Rome to inert and melancholy passivity, the chil- 
dren in the Casa are perhaps not quite so briskly 
energetic as usual in their self-imposed task of teach- 
ing and governing themselves, but they are by far the 
most briskly energetic Romans in the city. 

It is all so interesting to them, they cannot stop to 
be bored or naughty. Just as one of our keen, 
hungry-minded Yankee school-teachers, turned loose 
for the first time in an historic European city, throws 
herself with such fer\^or into the exploration of all 
its fascinating and informing sights that she is as- 
tonished to hear later that it was one of the hottest 
and most trying summers ever known, so these equally 
hungry-minded, healthy children fling themselves upon 
the fascinating and informing wonders of the world 
about them with such ardor that they are always 
astonished when the long, happy day is done. 

3Hhe freedom accorded them is absolute, the only 
rule being that they must not hurt or annoy others, 
a rule which, after the first brief chaos at the begin- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 31 

ning, when the school is being organized, is always 
respected with religious care by these little citizens ; 
although to call a Montessori school a " little repub- 
lic '' and the children " little citizen^," gives much too 
formal an idea of the free-and-easy, happily unforced 
and natural relations of the children with each other. 
The phrase Casa dei Bambini is being translated 
everywhere nowadays by English-speaking people as 
" The House of Childhood," whereas its real meaning, 
both linguistic and spiritual, is, " The Children's 
Home." 

That is wh at it is, a re al home for children^ where ? 
everything is arranged for their best interests, where \ 
the furniture is the right size for them, where there 
are no adult occupations going on to be interrupted 
and hindered by the mere presence of the children, 
where there are no rules made solely to facilitate life 
for grown-ups, where children, without incurring the 
reproach (expressed or tacit) of disturbing their 
elders, can freely and joyously, and if they please, 
noisily, develop themselves by action from morning to 
night. With the removal by this simple means of most 
of the occasions for friction in the life of little chil- 
dren, it is amazing to see how few, how negligibly 
few occasions there are for naughtiness. The great 
question of discipline which so absorbs us all, solves 
itself, melts into thin air, becomes non-existent. Each 
child gives himself the severest sort of self -discipline 
by his interest in his various undertakings. He 
learns self-control as a by-product of his healthy 



32 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

absorption in some fascinating pursuit, or as a result 
of his instinctive imitation of older children. ^ 

For instance, no adult was obliged to shout com- 
mandingly to the little-girl waitress not to drop her 
soup-tureen to brush the fly from her nose. She was 
so filled with the pride of her responsible position 
that she obeyed the same inner impulse towards self- 
control which induces adult self-sacrifice. On the 
other hand, the buttoning boy did not refrain by a 
similar, violent effort of his will from snatching the 
blocks from the arithmetical children. It simply 
never occurred to him, so happily absorbed was he 
in his own task. 

I asked, of course, the question which obsesses 
every new observer in a Children's Home, " But what 
do you do, with all this fine theory of absolute free- 
dom, when a child is naughty? Sometimes, even if 
not often, you surely must encounter the kicking, 
screaming, snatching, hair-pulling ' bad ' child ! " I 
was told then that the health of such a child is 
looked into at once, such perverted violence being 
almost certainly the result of deranged physical con- 
dition. If nothing pathological can be discovered, 
he is treated as a morally sick child, given a Uttle 
table by himself, from which he can look on at the 
cheerful, ordered play of the schoolroom, allowed any 
and all toys he desires, petted, soothed, indulged, 
pitied, but (of course this is the vital point) severely 
let alone by the other children, who are told that he 
is " sick " and so cannot play with them until he gets 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 33 

well. This quiet isolation, with its object-lesson of 
good-natured play among the other children, has a 
hypnotically calming effect, the child's " naughti- 
ness " for very lack of food to feed upon, or resistance 
to blow its flames, disappears and dies away. 

This, I say, was the explanation given me at first, 
but later, when I came to know more intimately the 
little group of Montessori enthusiasts in Rome, I 
learned more about the matter. One of my Montessori 
friends told me laughingly, " We found that nobody 
would believe us at all when we told the simple truth, 
when we said that we never, literally never, do en- 
counter that hypothetical, ferociously naughty, small 
child. They look at us with such an obvious in- 
credulity that, for the honor of the system, we had to 
devise some expedient. So we ransacked our mem- 
ories for one or two temporary examples of ^ badness ' 
which we met at first before the system was well 
organized, and remembered how we had dealt with 
them. Now, when people ask us what we do when the 
children begin to scratch and kick each other, in- 
stead of insisting that children as young as ours, when 
properly interested, never do these things, we tell 
them the old story of our device of years ago." 

I have said that the real translation for Casa dei 
Bambini is The Children's Home, and I feel like in- 
sisting upon this rendering, which gives us so much 
more idea of the character of the institution. At 
least, from now on, in this book, that English phrase 
will be used from time to time to designate a Montes- 



84 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

sori school. It is, for instance, their very own home 
not only in the sense that it is a place arranged spe- 
cially for their comfort and convenience, but further- 
more a place for which they feel that steadying sense 
of responsibility which is one of the greatest moral 
advantages of a home over a boarding-house, a moral 
advantage of home life which children in ordinary 
circumstances are rarely allowed to share with their 
elders. They are boarders (though gratuitous ones) 
with their father and mother, and, as a natural con- 
sequence, they have the remote, detached, unsym- 
pathetic aloofness from the problem of running the 
house which is characteristic of the race of boarders. 
In the Casa dei Bambini this is quite different. Be- 
cause it is their home and not a school, the hours are 
very long, practically all the day being spent there. 
The children have the responsibility not only for th^ir 
own persons, but for the care of their Home. They"^ 
arrive early in the morning and betake themselves at ^ 
once to the small washstands with pitchers and bowls 
of just the size convenient for them to handle. Here 
they make as complete a morning toilet as anyone 
could wish, washing their faces, necks, hands, and 
ears (and behind the ears!), brushing their teeth, 
making manful efforts to comb their hair, cleaning 
their finger-nails with scrupulous care, and helping 
each other with fraternal sympathy. It is astonish- 
ing (for anyone who had the illusion that she knew 
child-nature) to note the contrast between the vivid 
purposeful attention they bestow on all these proc- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 35 

esses when they are allowed to do them for them- 
selves, and the bored, indifferent impatience we all 
know so well when it is our adult hands which are 
doing all the work. The big ones (of five and six) 
help the little ones, who, eager to be " big ones " 
in their turn, struggle to learn as quickly as possible 
how to do things for themselves. 

After the morning toilet of the children is finished, 
it is the turn of the schoolroom. The fresh-faced, 
shining-eyed children scatter about the big room, 
with tiny brushes and dust-pans and little brooms. 
They attack the corners where dust lurks, they dust 
off all the furniture with soft cloths, they water the 
plants, they pick up any litter which may have ac- 
cumulated, they learn the habit of really examining 
a \ room to see if it is in order or not. One natural 
result of this daily training in close observation of a 
room is a much greater care in the use of it during 
the day, a result the importance of which can be 
certified by any mother who has to " pick up " after 
a family of small children. 

After the room is fresh and clean, the " order of 
exercises " is very flexible, varying according to cir- 
cumstances, the weather, the desire of the children. 
They may perhaps sing a hymn together before dis- 
persing to their different self-chosen exercises with 
the apparatus. Sometimes the teacher gives them 
some exercises in manners, showing them how to rise 
gracefully and quietly from their little chairs, how to 
say good-morning; how to give and receive politely 



36 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

I some object; how to carry things safely across the 
room, etc., etc. Sometimes they all sit about the 
j teacher and have a talk with her, an exercise in ordi- 
nary well-bred conversation which is sadly needed by 
jour American children, who are seldom, at least as 
young as this, trained to express themselves in any 
but trivial requests, or, as in the kindergarten, in re- 
peating stories. The teacher questions the children 
about the happenings of their lives, about anything 
of more general interest which they may have ob- 
served, or on any topic which excites a general interest 
which they may have observed. Of course, because she 
is a Montessori teacher she does as little of this talking* 
as possible herself, confining herself to brief remarks 
which may draw out the children. Such conversa- 
tion is of the greatest help to the fluency and cor- 
rectness of speech and to an early enriching of the 
vocabulary, all important factors in the release of 
the child from the prison of his baby limitations. 
The habit of listening while others talk acquired in 
these general morning conversations is also of incal- 
culable value, as is attested by the proverbial rarity 
of the good listener even among adults. 

Of course the main business of the day is the use 
of the apparatus, the diiFerent Montessori exercises, 
and these soon occupy the attention of all the chil- 
dren. With intervals of outdoor play in the court- 
yard garden, care of the plants there, the morning 
progresses till the lunch hour, which has been de- 
scribed. After this, or indeed, whenever they feel 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 37 

sleepy, the smal ler children tak e their naps, and they 
do not go home until five or six o'clock in the after- 
noon, having back of them a peaceful, harmonious 
day, every instant of which has been actively, happily, 
and profitably employed, and which has been full 
from morning till night of goodwill and comrade- 
ship. 

From time to time it happens that a new brother 
or sister is introduced into this big family, with its 
regime of perfect freedom from unnecessary re- 
straint. The behavior of children who are brought 
into the school after the beginning of the school- 
year is naturally extremely various, since they are 
allowed then, as always, to express with perfect lib- 
erty their own individualities. Some join at once, of 
their own accord, in one or another of the interesting 
" games " they see being played by the other children 
already initiated, and in half an hour are indis- 
tinguishable from the older inhabitants of that little 
world, drawing their fingers alternately over sand- 
paper and smooth wood to learn the difference between 
" rough '' and " smooth," or delightedly matching the 
different-colored spools of silk. Others, naturally 
shy ones, naturally reserved ones, those who have been 
rendered suspicious by injudicious home treatment, or 
those who have naturally slow mental machines, hold 
aloof for a time. They are allowed to do this as long 
as they please. They are welcomed once smilingly, 
and then left to their own devices. 

I remember, in the Via Giusti school, seeing for 



38 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

several days in succession a tiny girl, not more than 
three, with wide, shy, fawn-eyes, sitting idle at a 
little table, in the middle of the morning, with all her 
wraps on. When I inquired the meaning of this very 
unusual sight, the Directress told me that, apparently, 
the child had something of the wild-animal terror of 
being caught in a trap, and had indicated, terrified, 
when her mother, on the first morning, tried to take 
off her cap and cloak, that she wished to be free at 
any moment to make her escape from these new and 
untried surroundings. So her wraps were not re- 
moved, she was allowed to sit near the door, which 
was kept ajar, and not a look or gesture from the 
Directress disturbed the reassuring isolation in which 
that baby, by slow degrees, found herself and learned 
her first lesson of the big world. I think she sat thus 
for three whole days, at first starting nervously if 
anyone chanced to approach her, with the painful, 
apprehensive glare of the constitutionally timid child, 
but little by little conquering herself. 

One day she reached over shyly for a buttoning 
frame, left on the next table by a child who had 
wandered off to other joys. She sat with this some 
time, looking about suspiciously to see if some adult 
were meditating that condescending swoop of patron- 
izing congratulation which is so offensive to the self- 
respecting pride of a naturally reserved personality. 
No one noticed her. Still glancing up with frequent 
suspicious starts, she began trying to insert the but- 
tons in the buttonholes, and then, by degrees, lost 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 39 

herself, forgot entirely the tragic self-consciousness 
which had embittered her little life, and with a real 
" Montessori face," a countenance of ardent, happy, 
self-forgetting interest in overcoming obstacles, she 
set definitely to work. After a time, finding that her 
cape impeded her motions, she flung it off, taking 
unconsciously the step into which, three days before, 
only superior physical force could have coerced 
her. 

I watched her through the winter with much inter- 
est, her reticent, self-contained nature always mark- 
ing her off from the other little ones more or less, 
and I rejoiced to see that all the natural manifesta- 
tions of her differing individuality were religiously 
respected by the wise Directress. It was not long 
before she was trotting freely about the room choos- 
ing her activities with lively delight, and looking on 
with friendly, though never very intimate, interest at 
the doings of the other children. But it was months 
before she cared to join at all in enterprises under- 
taken in common by the majority of the pupils, the 
rollicking file, for instance, which stamped about 
lustily in time to the music. She watched them, half- 
astonished, half-disapproving, wholly contented with 
her own permitted aloofness, like a slim little grey- 
hound watching the light-hearted, heavy-footed antics 
of a litter of Newfoundland puppies. At least one 
person who saw her thanked Heaven many times 
that a kind Providence had saved her from well-mean- 
ing adult efforts to make her over according to the 



40 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

Newfoundland pattern. Hers was a rare individu- 
ality, the integrity of which was being preserved en- 
tire for the future leavening of an all-too-uniform 
civilization. For although the Montessori school fur- 
nishes the best possible practical training for democ- 
racy, inasmuch as every child learns speedily first 
the joys of self-dependence and then the self-abnegat- 
ing pleasure of serving others, it is also preparing 
the greatest possible amelioration of our present-day 
democracy, by counteracting that bad, but appar- 
ently not inevitable, tendency of democracy to a 
dead level of uniform and characterless mediocrity. 
The Casa dei Bambini proves in actual practice that 
even the best interests of the sacred majority do 
not demand that powerful and differing individ- 
ualities be forced into a common mould, but only 
guided into the higher forms of their own natural 
activities. 

This brief digression is an illustration of the way 
in which every thoughtful observer in a Montessori 
school falls from time to time into a brown study 
which takes him far afield from the busy babies before 
him. No greater tribute to the broadly human and 
universal foundation of the system could be presented 
than this inevitable tendency in visitors to see in the 
diff^ering childish activities the unchaining of great 
natural forces for good which have been kept locked 
and padlocked by our inertia, our short-sightedness, 
our lack of confidence in human nature, and our deep- 
rooted and unfounded prejudice about childhood, our 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 41 

instinctive, mistaken, harsh conviction that it will be 
industrious, law-abiding, and self-controlled only 
under pressure from the outside. 

It must be admitted that there is one variety of,, 
child who is the mortal terror of Montessori teachers.! 
This is not the violently insubordinate child, because J 
his violence and insubordination at home only indi-f 
cate a strong nature which requires nothing butl 
proper activities to turn it to powerful and energetic^ 
life. No, what reduces a Montessori teacher tq 
despair is a child like one I saw in a school for the 
children of the wealthy, a beautiful, exquisitely at-? 
tired little fairy of four, whose lovely, healthful bodj^ 
had been cared for with the most scientific exactitude 
by trained nurses, governesses, and nurse-maids, and 
the very springs of whose natural initiative and inven- 
tion seemed to have been broken by the debilitating! 
ministrations of all those caretakers. It is significant 
that the teacher of this school admitted to me that 



she found her carefully-reared pupils generally more] 
listless, more selfish, harder to reach, and harder to! 
stimulate than poor children ; but the least prosperous! 
of us need not think that because we cannot afford; 
nurse-maids our children will fare better than those 
of millionaires, for one too devoted mother can equal, 
a regiment of servants in crushing out a child's in-! 
itiative, his natural desire for self-dependence, hisi 
self-respect, and his natural instinct for self-educa-* 
tion. 

Tjie jggaj^point of vantage of a Montessori school 



42 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

over an ordinary school in dealing with these morally 
starved children of too prosperous parents, is that it 
catches them younger, before the pernicious habit of 
passive dependence has continued long enough entirely 
to wreck their natural instincts. Beside the beauti- 
ful child of four with the sapped and weakened will- 
power mentioned above, was an equally beautiful, ex- 
quisitely dressed little tot of just three, whose glow- 
ing face of happy energy provided the most welcome 
contrast to the saddening mental torpor of the older 
child, who, though naturally in every way a normal 
little girl, stood hopelessly apathetic before all the 
fascinating lures to her invention which the Montes- 
sori apparatus spread before her. The little girl 
of three, without a word from the teacher, regulated 
for herself a busy, profitable, happy, purposeful life, 
getting out one piece of apparatus after another, 
" playing " with it until her fresh interest was gone, 
putting it away, and falling with equal ardor upon 
something else. The older child regarded her with the 
curious passive wonder of a Hindu when he sees us 
Occidentals getting our fun out of dancing and en- 
gaging in various active sports ourselves instead of 
reclining upon pillows to watch other people paid 
thus to exert themselves. She was given a choice of 
geometric insets, and provided with colored pencils 
and a big sheet of paper, baits which not even an 
idiot child can resist, and, sitting uninventive before 
this delightful array, remarked with a polite indiffer- 
ence that she was used to having people draw pictures 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 43 

for her. The poor child had acquired the habit of 
having somebody else do even her playing. 

In the face of this melancholy sight, I was com- 
forted by the teacher's hopeful assurance that the 
child had made some advance since the beginning of 
the school, and showed some signs that intellectual 
activity was awakening naturally under the well- 
nigh irresistible stimulus of the Montessori appa- 
ratus. 

One exception to the general truth that the children 
in a Montessori school do not take concerted action 
is in the " lesson of silence." This is often mentioned 
in accounts of the Casa dei Bambini, but it is so im- 
portant that it may perhaps be here described again. 
It originated as a lesson for one of the senses, hearing, 
but though it undoubtedly is an excellent exercise for 
the ears it has a moral effect which is more impor- 
tant. It is certainly to visitors one of the most im- 
pressive of all the impressive sights to be seen in 
the Children's Home. 

One may be moving about between the groups of 
busy children, or sitting watching their lively anima- 
tion or listening to the cheerful hum of their voices, 
when one feels a curious change in the atmosphere 
like the hush which falls on a forest when the sun 
suddenly goes behind a cloud. If it is the first time 
one has seen this " lesson," the effect is startling. A 
quick glance around shows that the children have 
stopped playing as well as talking, and are sitting 
motionless at their tables, their eyes on the black- 



44 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

board where in large letters is written " Silenzio " 
(Silence). Even the little ones who cannot read, fol- 
low the example of the older ones, and not only sit 
motionless, but look fixedly at the magic word. The 
Directress is visible now, standing by the blackboard 
in an attitude and with an expression of tranquillity 
which is as calming to see as the meditative impassiv- 
ity of a Buddhist priest. The silence becomes more 
and more intense. To untrained ears it seems abso- 
lute, but an occasional faint gesture or warning 
smile from the Directress shows that a little hand has 
moved almost but not quite inaudibly, or a chair 
has creaked. 

At first the children smile in answer, but soon, 
under the hypnotic peace of the hush which lasts min- 
ute after minute, even this silent interchange of lov- 
ing admonition and response ceases. It is now evi- 
dent from the children's trance-like immobility that 
they no longer need to make an effort to be motion- 
less. They sit quiet, rapt in a vague, brooding reverie, 
their busy brains lulled into repose, their very souls 
looking out from their wide, vacant eyes. This ex- 
pression of utter peace, which I never before saw on a 
child's face except in sleep, has in it something pro- 
foundly touching. In that matter-of-fact, modern 
schoolroom, as solemnly as in shadowy cathedral 
aisles, falls for an instant a veil of contemplation, 
between the human soul and the external realities of 
the world. 

And then a real veil of twilight falls to intensify 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 45 

the effect. The Directress goes quietly about from 
window to window, closing the shutters. In the en- 
suing twilight, the children bow their heads on their 
clasped hands in the attitude of prayer. The 
Directress steps through the door into the next room 
and a slow voice, faint and clear, comes floating back, 
calling a child's name. 

"El...e...na!" 

A child lifts her head, opens her eyes, rises as 
silently as a little spirit, and with a glowing face of 
exaltation, tiptoes out of the room, flinging herself 
joyously into the waiting arms. 

The summons comes again, " Vit. . .to. . .ri. . .o! " 

A little boy lifts his head from his desk, showing 
a face of sweet, sober content at being called, and 
goes silently across the big room, taking his place by 
the side of the Directress. And so it goes until per- 
haps fifteen children are clustered happily about the 
teacher. Then, as informally and naturally as it 
began, the " game " is over. The teacher comes back 
into the room with her usual quiet, firm step ; light 
pours in at the windows; the mystic word is erased 
from the blackboard. The visitor is astonished to 
see that only six or seven minutes have passed since 
the beginning of this new experience. The children 
smile at each other, and begin to play again, perhaps 
a little more quietly than before, perhaps more gently, 
certainly with the shining eyes of devout believers 
who have blessedly lost themselves in an instant of 
rapt and self-forgetting devotion. 



46 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

And, in a sense, they too have been to church. This 
modern scientific Roman woman-doctor, who probably 
never heard of William Penn, has rediscovered the 
mystic joys of his sect, and has appropriated to her 
system one of the most beneficial elements of the 
Quaker Meeting. 

Before seeing this " lesson of silence " one does not 
realize that there is a lack in the world of the Casa 
dei Bambini. After seeing it one feels instantly that 
it is an essential element, this brief period of perfect 
repose from the mental activity which, though un- 
stimulated, is practically incessant ; this brief excur- 
sion away from all the restless, shifting, rapid things 
of the world into the region of peace and calm and 
immobility. And yet who of us, without seeing this 
in actual practice, would ever have dreamed that little 
children would care for such an exercise, would submit 
to it for an instant, much less throw themselves into 
it with all the ardor of little Yogis, and emerge from 
it sweeter, more obedient, calmed, and gentler as from 
a tranquilizing prayer? Sometimes, once in a daj^ 
is not enough for them, and later they ask of their 
own accord to have this experience repeated. Their 
pleasure in it is inexpressible. The expression which 
comes over their little faces when, in the midst of their 
busy play, they feel the first hush fall about them is 
something never to be forgotten. 

It makes one feel a sort of envy of these children 
who are so much better understood than we were at 
their age. And the fact that our own hearts are 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 47 

somehow calmed and refreshed by this bath of silent 
peace makes one wonder if we are not all of us still 
children enough to benefit by many of the habits of 
life taught there, to profit by the adaptation to our 
adult existence of some of the principles underlying 
this scheme of education for babies- 



CHAPTER IV 

SOMETHING ABOUT THE APPARATUS AND 
ABOUT THE THEORY UNDERLYING IT 

AS I look at the title of this chapter before setting 
^ to work on it, the sight of the word " Theory " 
makes me apprehensively aware that I am stepping 
down into very deep water without any great con- 
fidence in my powers as a swimmer. But I recall 
again the reflection which has buoyed me up more 
than once in the composition of these unscientific im- 
pressions, namely that I am addressing an audience 
no more scientific than I am, an audience of ordi- 
nary, fairly well educated American parents. Fur- 
thermore I am convinced that my book can do no 
more valuable service than if by the tentative incom- 
pleteness of its account it drives every reader to the 
study of the system in Dr. Montessori's own carefully 
written treatise. 

It is always, I believe, essential to an understanding 
of any educational system to comprehend first of all 
the underlying principle before going on to its adap- 
tation to actual conditions. This adaptation natu- 
rally varies as the actual conditions vary, and should 
change in many details if it is to embody faithfully, 
under diff'ering conditions, the fundamental principle. 
But the master idea in every system is unvarying, 

48 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 49 

eternal, and it should be stated, studied, and grasped, 
before any effort is made to learn the details of its 
practical application. A statement of this funda- 
mental principle will be found in different phrasings, 
several times in the course of this book, because it is 
essential not only to learn it once, but to bear it con- 
stantly in mind. Any attempt to use the Montessori 
apparatus or system by anyone who does not fully 
grasp or is not wholly in sympathy with its bed- 
rock idea, results inevitably in a grotesque, tragic 
caricature of the method, such a farcical spectacle as 
we now see the attempt to Christianize people by 
forcible baptism to have been. 

The central idea of the Montessori system, on 
which every smallest bit of apparatus, every detail 
of technic rests solidly, is a full recognition of the 
fact that no human being can be educated by anyone 
else. He must do it himself or it is never done. And 
this is as true at the age of three as at the age of 
thirty; even truer, for the man of thirty is at least 
as physically strong as any self-proposed mentor is 
apt to be, and can fight for his own right to chew 
and digest his own intellectual food. 

It can be readily seen how this dominating idea 
changes completely the old-established conditions in 
the schoolroom, turning the high light from the 
teacher to the pupil. Since the child can really be 
taught nothing by the teacher, since he himself must 
do every scrap of his own learning, it is upon the 
child that our attention centers. The teacher should 



50 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

be the all-wise observer of his natural activity, giving 
him such occasional quick, light-handed guidance as 
he may for a moment need, providing for him in the 
shape of the ingenious Montessori apparatus stimuli 
for his intellectual life and materials which enable him 
to correct his own mistakes; but, by no means, as 
has been our old-time notion, taking his hand in hers 
and leading him constantly along a fixed path, which 
she or her pedagogical superiors have laid out before- 
hand, and into which every childish foot must be 
either coaxed or coerced. 

We have admitted the entire validity of this theory 
in physical life. We no longer send our children for 
their outdoor exercise bidding them walk along the 
street, holding to Nurse's hand like little ladies and 
gentlemen. If we can possibly manage it we turn 
them loose with a sandpile, a jumping-rope, hoops, 
balls, bats, and other such stimuli to their natural 
instinct for vigorous body-developing exercise. And 
we have a " supervisor " in our public playgrounds 
only to see that children are rightly started in their 
use of the different games, not at all to play every 
game with them. We do this nowadays because we 
have learned that little children are so devoted to 
those exercises which tend to increase their bodily 
strength that they need no urging to engage in them. 
The Montessori child, analogously, is allowed and 
encouraged to let go the hand of his mental nurse, to 
walk and run about on his own feet, and an almost 
endless variety of stimuli to his natural instinct for 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 51 

vigorous mind-developing, intellectual exercise is 
placed within his reach. 

The teacher, under this system, is the scientific, ob- 
serving supervisor of this mental " playground " 
where the children acquire intellectual vigor, inde- 
pendence, and initiative as spontaneously, joyfully, 
and tirelessly as they acquire physical independence 
and vigor as a by-product of physical play. We have 
long realized that children do not need to be driven 
by force, or even persuaded, to take the amount 
of exercise necessary to develop their growing bodies. 
Indeed the difficulty has been to keep them from doing 
it so continuously as to interfere with our sedentary 
adult occupations and tastes. We have learned that 
all we need to do is to provide the jumping-rope and 
then leave the child alone with other children. The 
most passionately inspired pedagogue can never learn 
to skip rope for a child, any more than in after years 
he can ever learn the conjugation of a single irregu- 
lar verb for a pupil. The learner must do his own 
learning, and, this granted, it follows naturally that 
the less he is interfered with by arbitrary restraint 
and vexatious, unnecessary rules, the more quickly 
and easily he will learn. An observation of the typical, 
joyfully busy child in a Casa dei Bambini furnishes 
more than sufficient proof that he enjoys acquiring 
mental as well as physical agility and strength, and 
asks nothing better than a fair and unhindered chance 
at this undertaking. 

But even when this deep-laid foundation principle 



62 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

of self-education has been grasped, all is not plain 
sailing for the adventurer on the Montessori ocean. 
A set of theories relating to such complicated organ- 
isms as human beings, cannot in the nature of things 
be of primer-like simplicity. For my own convenience 
I very soon made two main divisions of the different 
branches on which the Montessori system is developed 
out of its central main idea. One division, the prac- 
tical, is made up of theories based on acute, scientific 
knowledge of the child's body, his muscles, brain, 
and nerves, such as only a doctor and a physiological 
psychologist combined can have. The second division 
is made up of theories based on the spiritual nature of 
man, as disclosed by the study of history, by unbiased 
direct observation of present-day society, and by that 
divining fervor of enthusiastic reverence for the ele- 
ment of perfectibility in human nature which has al- 
ways characterized founders of new religions. 

This chapter is to be devoted to the narration of 
what a person, neither a doctor nor a physiological 
psychologist, was able to understand of the first 
division. 

I think the first point which struck me especially 
was the insistence on the fact that very little children 
have no greater natural interest than in learning how 
to do something with their bodies. We all know how 
much more fascinating a place our kitchens seem to 
be for our little children than our drawing-rooms. I 
have heard this inevitable gravitation towards those 
back regions of the house accounted for on the theory 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 53 

the " children seem to like servants better than other 
people. There seems to be some sort of natural 
affinity between a child and a cook.'' One morning 
spent in the Casa dei Bambini showed me the true 
reason. Children like cooks and chamber-maids 
better than callers in the parlor, because servants 
are always doing something imitable; and they like 
kitchens and pantries better than drawing-rooms be- 
cause the drawing-room is a museum full of objects, 
interesting it is true, but inclosed in the padlocked 
glass-case of the command, " Now, don't touch ! " 
while the kitchen is a veritable treasure-house of Mon- 
tessori apparatus. 

The three-year-old child who, eluding pursuit from 
the front of the house, sits down on the kitchen floor 
with a collection of cookie-cutters of different shapes 
in his lap, and amuses himself by running his fingers 
around their edges, is engaged in a true " stereognos- 
tic exercise " as it is alarmingly dubbed in scientific 
nomenclature. If there is a closet of pots and pans, 
and he has time before he is dragged off to clean 
clothes and the vacuity of adult-invented toys, to 
fit the right covers to the pots and see which pan 
goes inside which, he has gone through a " sensory 
exercise for developing his sense of dimension." If he 
is struck by the fact that the package of oatmeal, 
although so large, weighs less than the smaller bag of 
salt, he has been initiated into a " baric exercise " ; 
while if there are some needles of ice left on the floor 
by a careless iceman, with these and a permitted dab- 



54 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

bling in warm dishwater, he unconsciously invents 
for himself a " thermic exercise." If the cook is in- 
dulgent or too busy to notice, there may be added to 
these interests the creative rapture to be evolved 
from a lump of dough, or a fumbling attempt to 
fathom the mysterious inwardness of a Dover egg- 
beater. 

I have heard it said of the Montessori method that 
a system of education accomplished with such simple 
everyday means could scarcely claim that it is either 
anything new or the discovery of any one person. 
It seems to me that is about like denying any novelty 
to the discovery that pure air will cure consumption. 
The pure air has always been there, consumptives 
have had nothing to do but to breathe it to get well, 
but the doctors who first drove that fact into our im- 
pervious heads deserve some credit and can certainly 
claim that they were innovators with their descent 
upon the stuffy sickrooms and their command to open 
the windows. 

Children from time immemorial have always done 
their best, struggling bravely against the tyranny of 
adult good intentions, to educate themselves by train- 
ing their senses in all sorts of sense exercise. They 
have always been (generations of exasperated 
mothers can bear witness to it!) "possessed" to 
touch and handle all objects about them. What Dr. 
Montessori has done is to appear suddenly, like the 
window-breaking doctors, and to cry to us, " Let 
them do it ! " Or rather, to suggest something better 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 65 

for them to touch and handle since It is neither neces- 
sary nor desirable that one's three-year-old should 
perfect his sense of form either on one's cherished 
Sevres vase or on a more or less greasy cooking 
utensil. Nor has he that perverse fondness for the 
grease of the kettle, or that wicked joy in the destruc- 
tion of valuable bric-a-brac which our muddle-headed 
observation has led us to attribute to him. Those are 
merely fortuitous, and for him negligible, accompani- 
ments to the process of learning how to distinguish 
accurately different forms. Dr. Montessori assures 
us, and proves her assertion, that his sole interest is 
in the varying shapes of the utensils he handles, and 
that if he is given cleaner, lighter articles with more 
interesting shapes, he requires no urging to turn to 
them from his greasy and heavy pots and pans. 

Bearing in mind, therefore, the humble and fa- 
miliar relatives of the Montessori apparatus to be 
found in our own kitchens and dining-rooms, let us 
look at it a little more in detail. 

The buttoning-frames have been described (page 
13). One's invention can vary them nearly to in- 
finity. In the Casa dei Bambini there are these 
frames arranged for buttons and buttonholes, for 
hooks and eyes, for lacings, patent snap-fasteners, 
ribbon-ends to tie, etc., etc. The aim of this exercise 
is so apparent that it is scarcely necessary to mention 
it, except for the constant temptation of a child- 
lover before the Montessori apparatus to see in it 
only the most enchanting diversion for a child, which 



56 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

amuses him, though so simply, far more than the 
most elaborate of mechanical toys. But, and here is 
where our wool-gathering wits must learn a lesson 
from purposeful forethought : we should never forget 
that there is no smallest item in the Montessori train- 
ing which is intended merely to amuse the child. He 
is given these buttoning-frames not because they fas- 
cinate him and keep him out of mischief, but because 
they help him to learn to handle, more rapidly than 
he otherwise would, the various devices by which his 
clothes and shoes are held together, on his little 
body. As for the profound and vitally important 
reason why he should be taught and allowed as soon 
as possible to dress himself, that will be treated in 
the discussion of the philosophical side of this baby- 
training (page 129 ff.). 

It is apparent, of course, that the blindfolded child 
who was identifying the pieces of different fabrics 
was training his sense of touch. The sight of this 
exercise reminds the average person with a start of 
surprise that he too was born with a sense of touch 
which might have been cultivated if anyone had 
thought of it ; for most of us, by the enormity of our 
neglect of our five senses, reduce them, for all prac- 
tical purposes to two, sight and hearing, and dis- 
trust any information which comes to us by other 
means. Our complacency under this self-imposed 
deprivation is astonishing. It is as if a man should 
wear a patch over one eye because he is able to see 
with one and thinks it not worth while to use two. 




Exercises in Practical Life. 




BuiLDixr. "the Tower." 

Copyriglii 1912. by Carl R. Byoir 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 67 

Now, it is apparent that our five senses are our only 
means of conveying information to our brains about 
the external world which surrounds us, and it is 
equally apparent that to act wisely and surely in the 
world, the brain has need of the fullest and most ac- 
curate information possible. Hence it is a foregone 
conclusion, once we think of it at all, that the educa- 
tion of all the senses of a child to rapidity, agility, 
and exactitude is of great importance, not at all for 
the sake of the information acquired at the time 
by the child, but for the sake of the five, finely 
accurate instruments which this education puts under 
his control. The child who was identifying the dif- 
ferent fabrics was blindfolded to help him concen- 
trate his sense of touch on the problem and not aid 
this sense or mislead it, as we often do, with his sight. 
It may be well here to set down a few facts about 
the relative positions of the senses of touch and of 
sight, facts which are not known to many of us, and 
the importance of which is not realized by many who 
happen to know them. Everyone knows, to begin 
with, that a new-born baby's eyes, while physically 
perfect, are practically useless, and that the ability 
to see with them accurately comes very gradually. It 
seems that it comes much more gradually than the 
people usually in charge of little children have ever 
known, and that, roughly speaking, up to the age of 
six, children need to have their vision reinforced by 
touch if, without great mental fatigue, they are to 
get an accurate conception of the objects about them. 



68 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

It appears furthermore that, as if in compensa- 
tion for this slow development of vision, the sense of 
touch is extraordinarily developed in young children. 
In short, that the natural way for little ones to 
learn about things is to touch them. Dr. Mon- 
tessori found that the finger-tips of little children 
are extremely sensitive, and she claims that there is 
no necessity, granted proper training, why this valu- 
able faculty, only retained by most adults in the 
event of blindness, should be lost so completely in 
later life. 

Now it is plain to be seen that we adults, with our 
fixed habit of learning about things from looking at 
them, have, in neglecting this means of approach to 
the child-brain, been losing a golden opportunity. 
If children learn more quickly and with less fatigue 
through their fingers than through their eyes, why 
not take advantage of this peculiarity — a peculiarity 
which extends even more vividly to child-memory, for 
it is established beyond question that a little child 
can remember the " feel " of a given object much 
more accurately and quickly than the look of it. It 
is easy to understand, once this explanation is given, 
the great stress that is laid, in Montessori training, on 
the different exercises for developing and utilizing 
the sense of touch. 

One of the first things a child just admitted to a Casa 
deJ Bambini is taught is to keep his hands scrupu- 
lously clean, because we can " touch things better '* 
with clean finger-tips than with dirty ones. And, of 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 69 

course, he is allowed to take the responsibility of 
keeping his own hands clean, and encouraged to do it 
by the presence of the little dainty washstands, just 
the right height for him, supplied with bowl, pitcher, 
etc., just the right size for him to handle. The joy 
of the children in these simple little washstands, and 
their deft, delighted, frequent use of them is a re- 
proach to us for not furnishing such an easily secured 
amelioration in the life of every one of our babies. 

The education of the sense of touch, like all the 
Montessori exercises for the senses, begins with a few 
simple and strongly contrasting sensations and pro- 
ceeds little by little, to many only very slightly 
differing sensations, following the growth of the 
child's ability to differentiate. The child with clean 
finger-tips begins, therefore, with the first broad dis- 
tinction between rough and smooth. He is taught to 
pass his finger-tips lightly, first over a piece of sand- 
paper, and then over a piece of smoothly polished 
wood, or glossy enameled paper, and is told briefly, 
literally in two words, the two names of those two 
abstract qualities. 

Here, in passing, with the first mention of this 
sort of exercise, it should be stated that the children 
are taught to make these movements of the hand 
and all others like them always from left to right, so 
that a muscular habit will be established which will 
aid them greatly later when they come to " feel " 
their letters, which are, of course, always written 
from left to right. 



60 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

The children are encouraged to keep their eyes 
closed while they are " touching " things, because 
they can concentrate their attention in this way. 
And here another general observation should be 
made : that in the Montessori language " touching " 
does not mean the brief haphazard contact of hand 
with object which we usually mean, but a systematic 
examination of an object by the finger-tips such as a 
blind person might make. 

After the first broad distinction is learned between 
rough and smooth, there are then to be conquered all 
the intervening shades and refinements of those quali- 
ties. The children take the greatest delight in these 
exercises and almost at once begin to invent new ones 
for themselves, " feeling " whatever materials are 
near them and giving them their proper names, or 
asking what their names are. It is as if their little 
minds were suddenly opened, as our dully perceptive 
adult minds seldom are, to the infinite variety of sur- 
faces in the world. They notice the materials of 
their own dresses, the stuffs used in upholstering fur- 
niture, curtains, dress fabrics, wood, smooth and 
rough, steel, glass, etc., etc., with exquisitely fairy- 
light strokes of their sensitive little finger-tips, 
which seem almost visibly to grow more discrimi- 
nating. 

The " technical apparatus " for continuing this 
training is varied, but always simple. A collection of 
slips of sandpaper of varying roughness to be placed 
in order from fine to coarse by the child (blindfolded 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 61 

or not, as he seems to prefer) ; other collections of 
bits of fabrics of all sorts to be identified by touch 
only; of slips of cardboard, enameled or rough; 
blotting-paper, writing-paper, newspaper, etc., etc. ; 
of objects of different shapes, cubes, pyramids, balls, 
cylinders, etc., for the blindfolded child to identify; 
later on of very small objects like seeds of different 
shapes or sizes; finally, of any objects which the 
child knows by sight, his playthings, articles around 
the house, to be recognized by his touch only. 

There is one result on the child's character of this 
sort of exercise which Dr. Montessori does not spe- 
cifically mention but which has struck me forcibly in 
practical experimentation with it. I have found that 
little hands and fingers trained by these fascinating 
" games '? to light, attentive, discriminating, and un- 
hurried handling of objects, lose very quickly that 
instinctive childish, violent but very uncertain clutch 
at things, which has been for so many generations 
the cause of so much devastation in the nursery. 
Little tots of four, trained in this way, can be trusted 
with glassware and other breakable objects, which 
would go down to certain destruction in the fitfully 
governed hands of the average undisciplined child of 
twelve. In other words the child of four has fitted 
himself by means of a highly enjoyable process to be, 
in one more respect, an independent, self-respecting, 
trustworthy citizen of his world. 

Of course all these different exercises are much 
more entertaining when, like other fun-producing 



6£ A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

"games," they are "played" with a crowd of other 
children. When one child of a group is blindfolded, 
and as our American children say " It," while the 
others sit about, watching his identification of more 
and more difficult objects, ready, all of them, for a 
shout of applause at a success, or at a failure 
for an instant laughing pounce on the coveted 
blindfold and application of it to the child next 
in order, of course there is much more jolly 
laughter, the interest is keener, and the attention 
more concentrated by the contact with other wits, 
than can be the case with a single child, even with an 
audience of the most sympathetic mother or aunt. 
There is absolutely no adequate substitute for the 
beneficial action and reaction of children upon one 
another such as form such a considerable part of the 
Montessori training in a Casa dei Bambini. On the 
other hand, those of us who live, as we almost all do, 
far from any variety of a Montessori school, can, 
with the exercise of our ingenuity and mother-wit, 
arrange a great number of more or less adequate tem- 
porary expedients. A large number of the Montessori 
devices, if they were not called " sensory exercises," 
would be recognized as merely fascinating new games 
for children. What is blind-man's buff but a " sen- 
sory exercise for training the ear," since what the 
person who is " It " does is to try to catch the slight 
movements made by the other players accurately 
enough to pursue and capture them? Children have 
another game called, for some mysterious reason of 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 63 

childhood, " Still pond, no more moving ! " a variety 
of blind-man's bufF, which trains still more finely the 
sense of hearing, since the players are required to 
stand perfectly still, and the one who is " It '' must 
detect their presence by such almost imperceptible 
sounds as their breathing, or the rustling caused by 
an involuntary movement. If Montessori herself 
had invented this game, it could not be more per- 
fectly devised for bodily control. Children who 
wriggle about in ordinary circumstances without the 
slightest capacity to control their bodies, even in re- 
sponse to the sternest adult commands for quiet, will 
stand in some strained position without moving a 
finger, their concentration so intense that even their 
breathing is light and inaudible. We must all have 
seen children happily playing such games ; many of 
us have spent hours and hours of our childhood over 
them ; Froebel used them and others like them plenti- 
fully in his system ; there are all sorts of more or less 
hit-or-miss imitations of them being constructed by 
modern child-tamers ; but no one before this Italian 
woman-doctor ever analyzed them so that we plain 
unprofessional people could fully grasp their fascina- 
tion for us; ever told us that children like them 
because they afford an opportunity to practise self- 
control, and that similar games based on the same 
idea that it is " fun " to exercise one's different 
senses in company or in competition with one's youth- 
ful contemporaries, would be just as entertaining as 
these self-invented games, handed down for untold 



64 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

generations from one set of children to another. All 
the varieties of blindfold sensory exercises are varia- 
tions on the theme of blind-man's buff, which is so 
perennially interesting to all children. Any small 
group of young children, two or three little neighbors 
come in to play, will with a little guidance at first read- 
ily " play " any of the " tactile exercises " described 
above (pages 60, 61) for hours on end, instead of 
wrangling about the rocking-horse — a toy invented 
for solitary or semi-solitary consumption. Any 
group of children, collected anywhere for ever so 
short a time, can be converted into a half-hour's 
Montessori school, though as a rule the younger 
they are the better material they are, since they have 
not fallen into bad mental habits. 

The various exercises or " games " for exercising 
the sense of touch, although not described here in all 
the detail of their elaboration in the Casa dei Bambini, 
can be elaborated from these suggestions as one's 
own, or what is more likely, the children's inventive- 
ness may make possible. 

The definite education of taste and smell has not 
been very much developed by Dr. Montessori, al- 
though simple exercises have been successfully devised, 
such as dropping on the tongue tiny particles of 
substances, sweet, sour, salt, bitter, etc., having the 
child rinse his mouth out carefully between each test. 
Similar exercises with different-smelling substances 
can be undertaken with blindfolded children, asking 
them to guess what they are smelling. Dr. Montes- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 66 

sori lays no great stress on this, however, as the sense 
of smell with children is not highly developed. 

Practice in judging weight is given by the use of 
pieces of wood of the same size but of different 
weights, chestnut contrasted with oak, poplar-wood 
with maple, etc., etc., the child learning by slightly 
lifting them up and down on the palm of his hand. 
Later on this can be varied by the use of any objects 
of about the same size but of different weights, and 
later still by single objects of weights dispropor- 
tionate to their size, such as a bit of lead or a small 
pillow. 

The difference between these carefully devised exer- 
cises and the haphazard, almost unconscious compari- 
son by the child in the kitchen of the bag of salt 
and the box of oatmeal, is a very good example of 
the way in which Dr. Montessori has systematized 
and ordered, graded and arranged the exercises which 
every child instinctively craves. The average mother, 
with leisure to devote to her much-loved child, calls 
him away from the pantry-shelf where he may upset 
the oatmeal box or spill the salt, thus " getting into 
mischief," and leads him, with mistaken affection, 
back to his toy animals. The luckier child of a 
poorer, busier, or more indifferent mother is allowed 
to " mess around " in the kitchen until he makes him- 
self too intolerable a nuisance. He goes through in 
this way many valuable sense exercises, but he wastes 
a great deal of his time in misdirected and futile 
effort, and does, as a matter of fact, make a great 



66 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

deal of trouble for his elders which is not at all a 
necessary accompaniment to his own life, liberty, or 
pursuit of information. 

Dr. Montessori has neither led the child away from 
his instinctively chosen occupations, nor left him in 
the state of anarchic chaos resulting from his natu- 
ral inability to choose, among the bewildering variety 
of objects in the world, those which are best suited 
for his self-development. She has, so to speak, taken 
out into the kitchen, beside the child, busy with his 
self-chosen amusements, her highly trained brain, 
stored with pertinent scientific information, and she 
has looked at him long and hard. As a result she is 
able to show us, what our own blurred observation 
never would have distinguished, just which elements, 
in the heterogeneous mass of his naturally preferred 
toys, are the elements towards which the tendrils of 
his rapidly-growing intellectual and muscular organ- 
ism are reaching. 



CHAPTER V 

DESCRIPTION OF THE REST OF THE APPA^ 
RATUS AND THE METHOD FOR WRITING 
AND READING 

THE carefully graded advance, from the simpler 
to the harder exercises, which is so essential a 
part of the correct use of the Montessori, as of all 
other educational apparatus, seems to most mothers 
contemplating the use of the system, a very dif- 
ficult feature. "How am I to know?" they ask. 
" Which exercise is the best one to offer a child to 
begin with, how can I tell when he has sufficiently 
mastered that so that another is needed, and how 
shall I select the right one to go on with? " 

Perhaps the first answer to make to these ques- 
tions is the one which so often successfully solves 
Montessori problems : " Have a little more trust in 
your child's natural instincts. Don't think that a 
single mistake on your part will be fatal. It will not 
hurt him if you happen to suggest the wrong thing, 
if you do not insist on it, for, left freely to himself, 
he will not pay the least attention to anything that 
is not suitable for him. Give him opportunity for 
perfectly free action, and then watch him carefully.'* 

If he shows a lively spontaneous interest in a 
Montessori problem, and devotes himself to solving it, 

67 



68 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

you may be sure that you have hit upon something 
which suits his degree of development. If he goes 
through with it rather easily and, perhaps, listlessly, 
and needs your reminder to keep his attention on it, 
in all probability it is too easy; he has outgrown it, 
he no longer cares to occupy himself with it, just as 
you no longer care to jump rope, though that may 
have been a passion with you at the age of eight. 

If, on the other hand, he seems distressed at the 
difficulties before him, and calls repeatedly for help 
and explanation, one of three conditions is present. 
Either the exercise is too hard for him, or he has ac- 
quired already the bad habit of dependence on others, 
in both of which cases he needs an easier exercise ; or, 
lastly, he has simply had enough formal " sensory ex- 
ercises " for a while. It is the most mistaken no- 
tion about the Montessori Children's Home to con- 
ceive that the children are occupied from morning 
till night over the apparatus of her formal instruc- 
tion. They use it exactly as long, or as often, or as 
seldom, as they please, just as a child in an ordinary 
nursery uses his ordinary toys. It must be kept con- 
stantly in mind that the wonderful successes attained 
by the Montessori schools in Rome cannot be repeated 
by the mere repetition of sensory exercises, thrust 
spasmodically into the midst of another system, or 
lack of system, in child-training. The Italian chil- 
dren of five or six, who have had two or three years 
of Montessori discipline, and who are such marvels 
of sweet, reasonable self-control, who govern their 




-!^R^M^vv 



-% ---— % 



"t r I 



f I 



"I 
I 







o 

a 









A MONTESSORI MOTHER 69 

own lives so sanely, who have accomplished such 
astonishing feats in reading and writing, are the re- 
sults of many other factors besides buttoning-f rames 
and geometric insets, important as these are. 

Perhaps the most vital of these other factors is 
the sense of responsibility, genuine responsibility, not 
the make-believe kind, with which we are too often 
apt to put off our children when they first show their 
touchingly generous impulse to share some of the 
burdens of our lives. For instance, to take a rather 
extreme instance, but one which we must all have seen, 
a child in an ordinary home is allowed to pick up a 
bit of waste-paper on the floor, after having had his 
attention called to it, and is told to throw it in the 
waste-paper basket. This action of mechanical obedi- 
ence, suitable only for a child under two years of age, 
is then praised insincerely to the child's face as an 
instance of " how much help he is to Mother ! " 

The Montessori child is trained, through his feel- 
ing of responsibility for the neatness and order of 
his schoolroom, to notice litter on the floor, just as 
any housekeeper does, without needing to have her 
attention called to it. It is her floor and her busi- 
ness to keep it clean. And this feeling of responsi- 
bility is fostered and allowed every opportunity to 
grow strong, by the sincere conviction of the Mon- 
tessori teacher that it is more important for the child 
to feel it, than for the floor to be cleaned with adult 
speed. As a result of this long patience on the part 
of the Directress, a child who has been under her 



70 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

care for a couple of years, will (to go on with our 
chosen instance) pick up litter from the floor and 
dispose of it, as automatically as the mistress of the 
house herself, and with as little need for the goad 
either of upbraiding for neglect, or praise incom- 
mensurate with the trivial service. This is an at- 
titude in marked contrast to that of many of our 
daughters who often attain high-school age without 
acquiring this feeling, apparently perfectly possible 
to inculcate if the process is begun early enough, of 
loyal solidarity with the interests of the household. 

With this caution that a Montessori life for a little 
child does not in the least mean his incessant oc- 
cupation with formal sensory exercises, let us again 
take up the description and use of the apparatus. 

The first thing which is given a child is usually 
either one of the buttoning- frames (shown in the 
illustration facing page 68), or what are called the 
'^ solid geometric insets." This latter game with the 
formidable name is illustrated opposite this page, 
where it is seen to resemble the set of weights kept 
beside their scales by old-fashioned druggists. No 
other Montessori exercise is more universally pop- 
ular with the littlest ones who enter the Children's 
Home, and few others hold their attention so long. 
This combines training for both sight and touch, 
since, as an aid to his vision, the child is taught to 
run his finger-tips around the cylinder which he is 
trying to fit in, and then around the edges of the 
holes. His finger-tips recognize the similarity of 



ii»f-ilitiiii 




lllllti** 




Solid Geo3ietrical Ixsets. 

Copyright 1912. by Carl R. Byoir 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 71 

size before his eyes do. This piece of apparatus 
is, of course, entirely self-corrective, and needs no 
supervision. When it becomes easy for a child 
quickly to get all the cylinders into the right holes, 
he has probably had enough of this exercise, al- 
though his interest in it may recur from time to 
time, during many weeks. 

One of the exercises which it is usual to offer him 
next is the construction of the Tower. This game 
could be played (and often is) with the nest of hol- 
low blocks which nearly every child owns, and it con- 
sists of building a pyramid with them, the biggest at 
the bottom, the next smaller on this, and so on to the 
apex made by the tiniest one. This is to learn the 
difference between big and small; and as the child 
progresses in exactitude of vision, the game can be 
varied by piling the blocks in confusion at one side 
of the room and constructing the pyramid, a piece 
at a time, at some distance away. This means that 
when the child leaves his pyramid to go and get the 
block needed next, he must " carry the size in his 
eye '' as the phrase runs, and pick out the block next 
smaller by an effort of his visual memory. 

The difference between long and short is taught by 
means of ten squared rods of equal thickness, but 
regularly varying length, the shortest one being just 
one-tenth as long as the longest. The so-called Long 
Stair (illustration facing page 74) is constructed by 
the child with these. This is perhaps the most dif- 
ficult game among those by which dimensions are 



72 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

taught, and a good many mistakes are to be an- 
ticipated. The material is again quite self-cor- 
rective, however, and little by little, with occasional 
silent or brief reminders from the adult onlooker, the 
child learns first to correct his own mistakes, and then 
not to make them. Thickness and thinness are 
studied with ten solids, brick-like in shape, all of the 
same length, but of regularly varying thickness, the 
thinnest one being one-tenth as thick as the biggest 
one. With these the child constructs the Big Stair 
(illustration facing page 74). Later on (consider- 
ably later), when the child begins to learn his num- 
bers, these " stairs " are used to help him. The large 
numbers cuts out of sandpaper and pasted on smooth 
cardboard, are placed by the child beside the right 
number of red and blue sections on each rod of the 
Long Stair. 

After the construction of the Long and Big Stair 
the child is usually ready for the exercises with dif- 
ferent fabrics to develop his sense of touch, and for 
the first beginning of the exercises leading to writing ; 
especially the strips of sandpaper pasted upon 
smooth wood used to > teach the difference between 
rough and smooth. At the same time with these ex- 
ercises, begin the first ones with color which consist 
of simply matching spools of identical color, two by 
two. 

When these simple exercises of the tactile sense 
have been mastered, the child is allowed to attempt 
the more difficult undertaking of recognizing all the 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 73 

minute gradations between smoooth and rough, be- 
tween dark blue and light blue, etc., etc. 

The training of the eye to discriminate between 
minute differences in shades, is carried on steadily in 
a series of exercises which result in an accuracy of 
vision in this regard which puts most of us adults to 
shame. These color-games are played with silk 
wound around flat cards, like those on which we often 
buy our darning-cotton. There are eight main col- 
ors, and under each color eight shades, ranging from 
dark to light. The number of games which can be 
played with these is only limited by the ingenuity of 
the Directress or mother, and, although most of 
them are played more easily with a number of chil- 
dren together, many are quite available for the soli- 
tary " only child at home." He can amuse himself by 
arranging his sixty-four bobbins in the correct order 
of their colors, or he can later, as in the pyramid- 
making game, pile them all on one side of the room, 
and make his graduated line at a distance, " holding 
the color " in his mind as he crosses the room, a feat 
which almost no untrained adult can accomplish ; al- 
though it is surprising what results can be obtained 
any time in life by conscious, definite eff^ort to train 
one of the senses. There is nothing miraculous in 
the results obtained in the Casa dei Bambini. They 
are the simple, natural consequence of definite, direct 
training, which is so seldom given. The remarkable 
improvement in general acuteness of his vision after 
training his eyes to follow the flight of bees, has been 



74 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

picturesquely and vigorously recorded by John Bur- 
roughs; and all of us know how many more chest- 
nuts we can see and pick up in a given time, after a 
few hours' concentration on this exercise, than when 
we first began to look for them in the grass. 

The color-games played by a number of children 
together with the different-colored spools are vari- 
ous, but resemble more or less the old-fashioned game 
of authors. One of them is played thus. Eight 
children choose each the name of a color. Then the 
sixty-four spools are poured out in confusion on the 
table around which the children sit. One of them 
(the eldest or one chosen by lot) begins to deal out 
to the others in turn. That is, the one on his right 
asking for red, the dealer must quickly choose a spool 
of the right color and hand it to his neighbor. Then 
the child beyond asks for blue, and so it goes until the 
dealer makes a mistake. When he does, the deal goes 
to the child next him. After every child has before 
him in a mixed pile the eight shades of his chosen 
color, they all set to work as fast as they can to see 
who can soonest arrange them in the right chromatic 
order. The child who does this first has " won " 
the game, and is the one who deals first in the next 
game. Children of about the same age and ability 
repeat this game with the monotonously eternal vivid 
interest which characterizes an old-established quartet 
of whist-players, and they attain, by means of it and 
similar games with the color spools, a control of their 
eyes which is a marvel and which must forever add 



H 
CO 

o 

M 




A MONTESSORI MOTHER 75 

to the accuracy of their impressions about the world. 
When a generation of children trained in this man- 
ner has grown up, landscape painters will no longer 
be able to complain, as they do now, that they are 
working for a purblind public. 

We are now approaching at last the extremely im- 
portant and hitherto undescrlbed " geometric insets," 
whose mysterious name has piqued the curiosity of 
more than one casual and hasty reader of accounts of 
the Montessori system. A look at the pictures of 
these shows them to be as simple as all the rest 
of Dr. Montessori's expedients. Anyone who was 
ever touched by the picture-puzzle craze, or who in 
his childhood felt the fascination of dissected maps, 
needs no explanation of the pleasure taken by little 
children of four and five In fitting these queer-shaped 
bits of wood Into their corresponding sockets, the 
square piece Into the square socket, the triangle into 
the three-cornered hole, the four-leafed clover shape 
into the four-lobed recess. There can be no better 
description of the way in which a child is initiated into 
the use of this piece of apparatus than the one writ- 
ten by Miss Tozier for McClure^s Magazine : 

" A small boy of the mature age of four, who has 
been sitting plunged either in sleep or meditation, 
now starts up from his chair and wanders across to 
his directress for advice. He wants something to 
amuse him. She takes him to the cupboard, throws 
in a timely suggestion, and he strolls back to his 
table with a smile. He has chosen half a dozen or 



76 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

more thin, square tablets of wood and a strip of 
navy-blue cloth. He begins by spreading down the 
cloth, then he puts his blocks on it in two rows. 
They are of highly-varnished wood, light blue, with 
geometrical figures of navy-blue in the centre ; there 
is a triangle, a circle, a rectangle, an oval, a square, 
an octagon. The teacher, who has followed him, 
stands on the other side of the table. She runs two 
of her fingers round one of the edges of the triangle. 
' Touch it so,' she says. He promptly and delight- 
edly imitates her. She then pulls all the figures out 
of their light-blue frames by means of a brass but- 
ton in each, mixes them up on the table ; and tells him 
to call her when he has them all in place again. The 
dark-blue cloth shows through the empty frame, so 
that it appears as if the figures had only sank down 
half an inch. While he continues to stare at this 
array, off goes the teacher. 

' Is she not going to show him how to begin .f^ ' 
An axiom of our practical pedagogy is to aid 
the child only to be independent,' answers Dr. Mon- 
tessori. ' He does not wish help.' 

" Nor does he seem to be troubled. He stares a 
while at his array of blocks; yet his eye does not 
grow quite sure, for he carefully selects an oval from 
the mixed-up pile and tries to put it in the circle. 
It won't go. Then, quick as a flash, as if subcon- 
sciously rather than designedly, he runs his little fore- 
finger around the rim of the figure and then round 
the edge of the empty space left in the light-blue 



6i 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 77 

frames of both the oval and the circle. He discov- 
ers his mistake at once, puts the figure into its place, 
and leans back a moment in his chair to enjoy his own 
cleverness before beginning with another. He finally 
gets them all into their proper frames, and instantly 
pulls them out again, to do it quicker and better next 
time. 

" These blocks with the geometric insets are among 
the most valuable stimuli in the Casa dei Bambini. 
The vision and the touch become, by their use, accus- 
tomed to a great variety of shapes. It will be noted, 
too, that the child apprehends the forms synthetic- 
ally, as given entities, and is not taught to recognize 
them by aid of even the simplest geometrical analysis. 
This is a point on which Dr. Montessori lays par- 
ticular stress." 

Now it is to be borne in mind that although, for the 
children, this is only a " game," as fascinating to 
them as the picture-puzzle is to their elders, their far- 
seeing teacher is utilizing it, far cry though it may 
seem, to begin to teach them to write. And here I 
realize that I have at last written a phrase for which 
my bewildered reader has probably been waiting in an 
astonished impatience. For of all the profound, 
searching, regenerating effects of the Montessori sys- 
tem, none seems to have made an impression on the 
public like the fact, almost a by-product of the 
method, that Montessori children learn to write and 
read more easily than others. I have heard Dr. Mon- 
tessori exclaim in wonder many times over the pop- 



78 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

ular insistence on that interesting and important, but 
by no means central, detail of her work; as though 
reading and writing were our only functions in life, as 
though we could get information and education only 
from the printed page, a prop which is already, in the 
opinion of many wise people, too largely used in our 
modem world as a substitute for first-hand, individual 
observation. 

It cannot be denied, however, that the way Montes- 
sori children learn to write is very spectacular. The 
theory underlying it is far too complicated to describe 
in complete detail in a book of this sort, but for the 
benefit of the person who desires to run and read at 
the same time, I will set down a short-cut, unscientific 
explanation. 

The inaccuracy and relative weakness of a little 
child's eyesight, compared to his sense of touch, has 
been already mentioned (page 57). This simple 
element in child physiology must be borne constantly 
in mind as one of the determining factors in the Mon- 
tessori method of teaching writing. The child who 
is " playing " with the geometric insets soon learns, 
as we have seen from Miss Tozier's description, that 
he can find the shallow recess which is the right shape 
for the piece of wood which he holds in his hand if he 
will run the fingers of his other hand around the edge 
of his piece of wood and then around the different re- 
cesses. 

It is hard for an ordinary adult really to conceive 
of the importance of this movement for a little child. 




Insets Which the Chtt-d I.earns to Place Both by Sight 

AXD BY Touch. 

Copyright 1912. by Carl R. Byoir 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 79 

Indeed, so fixed is our usual preference for vision as 
a means of gaining information, that it gives one a 
very queer feeling to watch a child, with his eyes wide 
open, apparently looking intently at the board with 
its different-shaped recesses, but unable to find the 
one matching the inset he holds, until he has gone 
through that eerie, blind-man's motion with his finger- 
tips. 

Now that motion, very frequently repeated, not 
only tells him where to fit in his inset, but, like all 
frequently repeated actions, wears a channel in his 
brain which tends, whenever he begins the action, 
to make him complete it in the way he always 
has done it. It can be seen that, if, instead of a 
triangle or a square, the child is given a letter of 
the alphabet and shown how to follow its outlines 
with his fingers in the direction in which they move 
when the letter is written, the brain channel and 
muscular habit resulting are of the utmost im- 
portance. 

But before he can make any use of this, he needs to 
learn another muscular habit, quite distinct from (al- 
though always associated with) the mastery of the 
letters of the alphabet, namely, the mastery of the 
pencil. The exceeding awkwardness naturally felt by 
the child in holding this new implement for the first 
time, has nothing to do with his recognition of A or 
B, although it adds another great difficulty to his re- 
producing those letters. He must learn how to man- 
age his pencil before he engages upon the much more 



80 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

complicated undertaking of constructing with it 
certain fixed symbols, just as he must learn how to 
walk before he can be sent on an errand. The old- 
fashioned way (still generally in use in Italy, and 
not wholly abandoned in all parts of our own coun- 
try) was to force the child to fill innumerable copy- 
books with monotonous straight lines or " pot-hooks," 
a weariness of the spirit and a thorn in the flesh which 
any one who has suffered from it can describe feel- 
ingly. One way adopted by modern educators to avoid 
this dreary exercise is by frankly running away from 
the issue and postponing teaching children to write 
until a much more mature age than formerly, in the 
hope that general exercises in free-hand drawing will 
sufficiently supplement the general strengthening and 
steadying of the muscles which come with more ma- 
ture development. It is an inaccurate but, perhaps, 
suggestive comparison to say that this is a little as 
though young children should not be taught how to 
walk because it is so hard for them to keep their bal- 
ance, but made to wait until all their bones are 
mature. 

Dr. Montessori has solved the difficulty by another 
use of the geometric insets. This time it is the hole 
left by the removal of one of the insets which is used. 
Suppose, for instance, that one chooses the tri- 
angular inset. It is set down on a piece of paper 
and the triangle is lifted out, leaving the paper show- 
ing through. The child is provided with colored 
crayons and shown how to trace around the outline 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 81 

of the triangular-shaped piece of paper. The fact 
that the metal frame stands up a little from the 
paper prevents his at first wildly unsteady pencil 
from going outside the triangle. When he has 
traced around the outline * with his blue crayon, he 
lifts the frame up and there is the most beautiful 
blue triangle, all the work of his own hands! He 
usually gazes at this in delighted surprise, and then 
it is suggested to him to fill in this outline with 
strokes of his pencil. He is allowed to make these 
as he chooses, only being cautioned not to pass out- 
side the line. At first the crayon goes " every which 
way," and the " drawings " are hardly recognizable 
because the outline has been so overrun at every 
point; but gradually the child's muscular control 
is improved and finally carried to a very high degree 
of perfection. Regular, even parallel lines begia 
to appear and the final result is as even as a Jap- 
anese color-wash. It is evident that in the course 
of this work he makes of his own accord, with the 
utmost interest animating each stroke, as many lines 
as would fill hours and hours of enforced drudgery 
over copy-books. When, after much practice, the 
muscles have learned almost automatically to control 
fingers holding a pencil, that particular muscular 
habit is sufficiently well-learned for the child to 
begin on another enterprise. 

Now of course, though it is most interesting to 

* At first he traces only the outline of the inside figure. Later 
the square frame is also outlined. 



82 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

color triangles and circles, a child does not spend 
all his day at it. Among other things which occupy 
and amuse him at this time is getting acquainted with 
the look and feel of the letters of the alphabet. The 
children are presented, one at a time, sometimes only 
one a day, with large script letters, made of black 
sandpaper pasted on smooth white cards, and are 
taught how to draw their fingers over the letter in the 
direction taken when it is written. At the same time 
the teacher repeats slowly and distinctly the sound of 
the letter, making sure that the child takes this in. 
After this, the little Italian child, happy in the pos- 
session of a phonetically spelled language, has an 
easier time than our English-speaking children, who 
begin then and there their lifelong struggle with the 
insanities of English spelling. But this is a struggle 
to which they must come under any system, and much 
less formidable under this than it has ever been be- 
fore. For the next step is, of course, to put these 
letters together into simple words. There is no need 
to wait until a child has toiled all through the alpha- 
bet before beginning this much more interesting 
process. As soon as he knows two letters he can spell 
Mamma. There is no question as yet of his con- 
structing the letters with his own hands. He simply 
takes them from their separate compartments and 
lays them on the floor or table in the right order. In 
handling them throughout all of these exercises the 
children are encouraged constantly to make that 
blind-man's motion of tracing around the letter. The 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 83 

rough sandpaper apparently shouts out informa- 
tion to the Httle finger-tips highly sensitized by the 
tactile exercises, for the child nearly always corrects 
himself more surely by touching than by looking at 
his sandpaper alphabet. Of course, the strongest of 
muscular habits is being formed as he does this. 

A pleasant variation on this routine is a test 
of the child's new knowledge. The teacher asks 
him to give her B, give her D, P, M, etc. The 
letters are kept in little pasteboard compartments, a 
compartment for all the B's, another for all the D's, 
and so on. The child, in answer to the teacher's re- 
quest, looks over these compartments and picks out 
from all the others the letter she has asked for. This, 
of course, seems only like a game to him, a variation 
on hide-and-seek. 

All these processes go on day after day, side by 
side, all invisibly converging towards one end. The 
practice with the crayons, the recognition of the 
letters by eye and touch, the revelation as to the 
formation of words with the movable alphabet, are so 
many roads leading to the painless acquisition of the 
art of writing. They draw nearer and nearer to- 
gether, and then, one day, quite suddenly, the fa- 
mous " Montessori explosion into writing " occurs. 
The teacher of experience can tell when this explosion 
is imminent. First the parallel lines which the child 
makes to fill and color the geometric figures become 
singularly regular and even ; second, his acquaintance 
with the alphabet becomes so thorough that he recog- 



84 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

nizes the letters by sense of touch only, and, third, 
he increases in facility for composing words with the 
movable alphabet. The burst into spontaneous writ- 
ing usually comes only after these three conditions 
are present. 

It usually happens that a child has a crayon in 
his hand and begins the motion of his fingers made as 
he traces around one of his sandpaper letters. But 
this time he has the pencil in his fingers, and the idea 
suddenly occurs to him, usually reducing him to 
breathless excitement, that if he traces on the paper 
with his pencil the form of the letters, he will be 
writing. In the twinkling of an eye it is done. He 
has written with his own hand one of the words which 
he has been constructing with the movable alphabet. 
He is usually as proud of this achievement as though 
he had invented the art of writing. The first children 
who were taught in this manner and who experienced 
this explosion into writing did really believe, I 
gather, that writing was something of their own in- 
vention. They rushed about excitedly to explain, to 
anyone who would listen, all about this wonderful 
new discovery : " Look ! Look ! You don't need the 
movable letters to make words. See, you just take 
a pencil or a piece of chalk, and draw the letters for 
yourself ... as many as you please . . . any- 
where ! " And, in fact, for the first few days after 
this explosion, their teachers and mothers found writ- 
ing "anywhere!." all over the house. The children 
were in a fever of excited pride. Since then, al- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 85 

though the first word always causes a spasm of joy, 
children In a Children's Home are so used to seeing 
the older ones writing and reading, that their own 
feat is taken more calmly, as a matter of course. It 
really always takes place in this sudden way, how- 
ever. One day a child cannot write, and the next 
he can. 

The formation of the letters, so hard for children 
taught in the old way, offers practically no difficulty 
to the Montessori child. He has traced their outline 
so often with his finger-tips that his knowledge of 
them is lodged where, in his infant organism, it be- 
longs, in his muscular memory ; so that when, pencil 
in his well-trained hand, he starts his fingers upon an 
action already so often repeated as to be automatic, 
muscular habit and muscular memory do the rest. He 
does not need consciously to direct each muscle in 
the action of writing, any more than a practised 
piano-player thinks consciously of which finger goes 
after which. The vernacular phrase expressing this 
sort of involuntary, muscular-memory facility is 
literally true in his case, " He has done it so often 
that he could do it with his eyes shut." It is to be 
noted that for a long time after this explosion into 
writing, the children continue incessantly to go 
through the three preparatory steps, tracing with 
their fingers the sandpaper letters, filling in the 
geometric forms and composing with the movable 
alphabet. These are for them what scales are for 



86 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

the pianist, a necessary practice for " keeping 
the hand in.'' By means of constantly tracing the 
sandpaper letters the children write almost from the 
first the most astonishingly clear, firm, regular hand, 
much better than that of most adults of my ac- 
quaintance. 

It is apparent, from even this short-hand account 
of this remarkably successful method, that children 
cannot learn to write by means of it without con- 
siderable (even if unconscious and painless) effort on 
their part, and without intelligence, good judgment, 
and considerable patience on the part of the teacher. 
The popular accounts of the miracles accomplished 
by Dr. Montessori's apparatus have apparently led 
some American readers to fancy that it is a sort of 
amulet one can tie about the child's neck, or plaster 
to apply externally, which will cause the desired ef- 
fect without any further care. As a matter of fact, 
it is a carefully devised trellis which starts the child's 
sensory growth in a direction which will be profitable 
for the practical undertaking of learning how to 
write, a trellis invented and patented by Dr. Mon- 
tessori, but which those of us who attempt to teach 
children must construct for ourselves on her pattern, 
following step by step the development of each of 
the children under our care. 

And yet, although the Montessori apparatus does 
not teach children by magic how to write a good 
hand, in comparison with the methods now in use, it is 
really almost miraculous in its results. In our schools 




5^ S 



h3 U 







A MONTESSORI MOTHER 87 

children learn slowly to write (and liow badly !) when 
they are seven or eight, cannot do it fluently until 
they are much older, and never do it very well, if the 
average handwriting of our high-school and college 
student is any test of our system. In the Montessori 
schools a child of four usually spends about a month 
and a half in the definite preparation for writing, 
and children of five usually only a month. Some very 
quick ones of this age learn to write with all the 
letters in twenty days. Three months' practice, after 
they once begin to write, is, as a rule, enough to 
steady their handwriting into an excellently clear and 
regular script, and, after six months of writing, a 
Montessori tot of five can write fluently, legibly, and 
(most important and revolutionary change) with 
pleasure, far beyond that usually felt by a child in, 
say, our third or fourth grades. 

He has not only achieved this valuable accomplish- 
ment with enormous economy of time, but he has been 
spared, into the bargain, the endless hours of soul- 
killing drudgery from which the children in our 
schools now suff*er. The Montessori child 'has, it is 
true, gone through a far more searching preparation 
for this achievement, but it has all been without any 
strain on his part, without any consciousness of ef- 
fort except that which springs from the liveliest spon- 
taneous desire. It has tired him, literally, no more 
than if he had spent the same amount of time play- 
ing tag. 

I have heard some scientific talk which sounded to 



88 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

my Ignorant ears very profound and psychological, 
about whether this capacity of Montessori children 
to write can be considered as a truly " intellectual 
achievement/' or only a sort of unconsciously learned 
trick. This is a fine theoretic distinction which I 
think most mothers will feel they can safely Ignore. 
Whatever it is from a psychological standpoint, and 
however it may be rated In the Bradstreet of pure 
science, it is an inestimable treasure for our chil- 
dren. 

Reading comes after writing in the Montessori sys- 
tem, and has not apparently as inherently close a 
connection with it as Is sometimes thought. That is, 
a child who can form letters perfectly with his pen- 
cil and can compose words with the movable alphabet 
may still be unable to recognize a word which he 
himself has neither written nor composed. But, of 
course, with such a start as the Montessori system 
gives him, the gap between the two processes is soon 
bridged. There are various reasons why a detailed 
account of the Montessori method of teaching read- 
ing need not be given here. One is that this book 
is written for mothers and not teachers, and since 
the methods for teaching reading In our schools are 
much better than those used for teaching writing, 
mothers will naturally, as a rule, leave reading until 
the child is under a teacher. Furthermore, there is 
nothing so very revolutionary in the Montessori 
method In this regard and there exist already in this 
country several excellent methods for teaching read- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 89 

ing. And yet a few notes on some features of the 
Montessori system will be of interest. 

Like many variations of our own system it begins 
with the recognition of single words. At first these 
are composed with the movable alphabet. Later, 
when the child can interpret readily words composed 
in this way, they are written in large clear script 
on slips of paper. The child spells the word out 
letter by letter, and then pronounces these sounds 
more and more rapidly until he runs them together 
and perceives that he is pronouncing a word familiar 
to him. This is always a moment of great satis- 
faction to him and of encouragement to his teacher. 

After this has continued until the children recog- 
nize single words quickly, the process is extended to 
phrases. Here the teacher goes very slowly, with 
great care, to avoid undue haste and lack of thor- 
oughness. There is a danger here that the children 
will fall into the mechanical habit (familiar to us all) 
of reading aloud a page with great glibness, although 
the sense of the words has made no impression on 
their minds. To avoid this the Montessori Directress 
adopts the simple expedient of not allowing them at 
first to read aloud. She carries on, instead, a series 
of silent conversations with the children, writing on 
the board some simple request for an action on their 
part. " Please stand up," " Please shut your eyes," 
and so on. Later longer and more complicated 
sentences are written on slips of paper and distributed 
to the children. They read these to themselves (not 



90 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 



being misled by their oral fluency into thinking they 
understand what they do not), and show that they 
have understood by performing the actions requested. 
In other words, these are short letters addressed by 
the teacher to the children, and answered by silent 
action on the part of the children. Like all of the 
Montessori devices, this is self-corrective. It is per- 
fectly easy for the child to be sure whether he has 
understood the sentence or not, and his attention is 
fixed, not on pronouncing correctly (which has 
nothing to do with understanding the sentences be- 
fore him), but on the comprehension of the written 
symbols. As for the teacher, she has an absolutely 
perfect check on the child. If he does not under- 
stand, he does not do the right thing. It means the 
elimination of the " fluent bluffier," a phenomenon not 
wholly unfamiliar to teachers, even when they are 
dealing with very young children. 



CHAPTER VI 

SOME GENERAL REMARKS ABOUT THE MON- 
TESSORI APPARATUS IN THE AMERICAN 
HOME 

THE first thing to do, if you can manage it, is to 
secure a set of the Montessori apparatus. It is 
the result of the ripest thought, ingenuity, and prac- 
tical experience of a gifted specialist who has concen- 
trated all her forces on the invention of the different 
devices of her apparatus. But there are various sup- 
plementary statements to be made which modify this 
simple advice. 

One is, that the arrival in your home of the box 
containing the Montessori apparatus means just as 
much for the mental welfare of your children as the 
arrival in the kitchen of a box of miscellaneous gro- 
ceries means for their physical health. The pres- 
ence on the pantry shelf of a bag of the best flour 
ever made will not satisfy your children's hunger un- 
less you add brains and good judgment to it, and 
make edible, digestible bread for them. There is 
nothing magical or miraculous about the Montessori 
apparatus. It is as yet the best raw material pro- 
duced for satisfying the intellectual hunger of nor- 
mal children from three to six, but it will have prac- 
tically no effect on them if its use Is not regulated by 

91 



92 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

the most attentive care, supplemented by a keen and 
never-ceasing objective scrutiny of the children who 
are to use it. This is one reason why mothers find 
it harder to educate their children by the Montessori 
system (as by all other systems) than teachers do, 
for they have an age-long mental habit of clasping 
their little ones so close in their arms that, fig- 
uratively speaking, they never get a fair, square look 
at them. 

This study of the children is an essential part of all 
education which Dr. Montessori is among the first 
pointedly and definitely to emphasize. The neces- 
sity for close observation of conditions before any 
attempt is made to modify them is an intellectual 
habit which is the direct result of the methods of 
positive sciences, in the study of which she received 
her intellectual training. Just as the astronomer 
looks fixedly at the stars, and the biologist at the 
protoplasm before he tries to generalize about their 
ways of life and action, so we must learn honestly 
and whole-heartedly to try to see what sort of chil- 
dren Mary and Bob and Billy are, as well as to love 
them with all our might. This should not be, as it is 
apt to be, a study limited to their moral character- 
istics, to seeing that Mary's fault is vanity and 
Bob's is indifference, but should be directed with the 
most passionate attention to their intellectual traits 
as well, to the way in which they naturally learn or 
don't learn, to the doors which are open, and those 
which are shut, to their intellectual interest. For 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 93 

children of three and four have a life which it is no 
exaggeration to call genuinely intellectual, and their 
constant presence under the eyes of their parents 
gives us a chance to know this, which helps to make 
up for our lack of educational theory and experience 
in which almost any teacher outstrips us. 

There are no two plants, in all the infinity of 
vegetable life, which are exactly alike. There are 
not, so geologists tell us, even two stones precisely 
the same. To lump children (even two or three chil- 
dren closely related) in a mass, with generalizations 
about what will appeal to them, is a mental habit 
that experience constantly and luridly proves to be 
the extremest folly. This does not mean individu- 
alism run wild. There are some general broad prin- 
ciples which hold true of all plants, and which we will 
do well to learn from an experienced gardener. All 
plants prosper better out-of-doors than in a cellar, 
and all children have activity for the law of their na- 
ture. But lilies-of-the-valley shrivel up in the amount 
of sunshine which supplies just the right condi- 
tions for nasturtiums, and your particular three-year- 
old may need a much quieter (or more boisterous) 
activity than his four-year-old sister. Neither of 
them may be, at first, in the least attracted by the 
problem of the geometric insets, or by the idea of 
matching colors. They may not have reached that 
stage, or they may have gone beyond it. You will 
need all your ingenuity and your good judgment to 
find out where they are, intellectually, and what they 



94 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

are intellectually. The Montessori rule is never to 
try to force or even to coax a child to use any part 
of the apparatus. The problem involved is explained 
to him clearly, and if he feels no spontaneous desire 
to solve it, no effort is made to induce him to under- 
take it. Some other bit of apparatus is what, for the 
moment, he needs, and one only wastes time in trying 
to persuade him to feel an interest which he is, for 
the time, incapable of. 

If you doubt this, and most of us feel a lingering 
suspicion that we know better than the child what he 
wants, look back over your own school-life and con- 
fess to yourself how utterly has vanished from your 
mind the information forced upon you in courses 
which did not arouse your interest. My own private 
example of that is a course on " government." I was 
an ordinarily intelligent and conscientious child, and I 
attended faithfully all the interminable dreary reci- 
tations of that subject, even filling a note-book with 
selections from the teacher's remarks, and, at the 
end of the course, passing a fairly creditable exam- 
ination. The only proof I have of all this is the rec- 
ord of the examination and the presence, among my 
relics of the past, of the note-book in my hand- 
writing; for, among all the souvenirs of my school- 
life, there is not one faintest trace of any knowledge 
about the way in which people are governed. I can- 
not even remember that I ever did know anything 
about it. My mind is a perfect, absolute blank on the 
subject, although I can remember the look of the 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 95 

schoolroom In which I sat to hear the lectures on it, 
I can see the face of the teacher as plainly as though 
she still stood before me, I can recall the pictures on 
the wall, the very graining of the wood on my desk. 
There is only no more recollection of the subject 
than if the lectures had been delivered in Hin- 
dustani. The long hours I spent in that classroom 
are as wholly wasted and lost out of my all-too-short 
life as though I had been thrust into a dark closet 
for those three hours a week. Even the amount of 
" discipline " I received, namely the capacity to sit 
still and endure almost intolerable ennui, would have 
been exactly as great in one case as in the other, 
and would have cost the State far less. 

All of us must have some such recollection of our 
school-life to set beside the vivifying, exciting, never 
to be forgotten hours when we first really grasped a 
new abstract idea, or learned some bit of scientific 
information thrillingly in touch with our own under- 
standable lives; and we need no other proof of the 
truth of the maxim, stated by all educators, but 
stated and constantly acted upon by Dr. Montessori, 
that the prerequisite of all education is the interest of 
the student. There is no question here to be dis- 
cussed as to whether he learns more or less quickly, 
more or less well, according as he is interested or not. 
The statement is made flatly by the Italian educator 
that he does not, he cannot learn at all, anything, if 
he is not interested. There is no use trying to call 
in the old war-horse of " mental discipline " and say 



96 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

that it is well to force him to learn whether he has an 
interest in the subject or not, because the fact is 
that he cannot learn without feeling interest; and 
the appearance of learning, the filled note-books, the 
attended recitations, the passed examinations, we all 
know in our hearts to be but the vainest of illusions 
and to represent only the most hopelessly wasted 
hours of our youth. 

Dr. Montessori, with her usual bold, startlingly 
consistent acceptance as a practical guide to con- 
duct of a fact which her reason tells her to be true, 
acts on this principle with her characteristic whole- 
souled fervor. If the children are not interested, it is 
the business of the educator to furnish something 
which will interest them (as well as instruct them) 
rather than to try to force their interest to center it- 
self on some occupation which the educator has 
thought beforehand would turn the trick.* When we 
capture and try to tame a little wild creature of un- 
known habits (and is not this a description of each 
little new child?) our first effort is to find some food 
which will agree with him, and experimentation is al- 
ways our first resort. We offer him all sorts of things 

* A note here may perhaps clear up a possible misconception. 
It is to be remembered that all these statements about the neces- 
sity for interest in the child's mind refer only to educatixe proc- 
esses. Occasions may arise when it is desirable that a child shall 
do something which does not interest him— for instance, sit still 
in a railway train until the end of the journey. But no one need 
think that he will ever acquire a taste for this occupation through 
being forced to it. 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 97 

to eat, and observe which he selects. It is true that we 
do make some broad generahzations from the results 
of our experiences with other animals, and we do not 
try to feed a little creature who looks like a wood- 
chuck on honey and water, nor a new variety of moth 
on lettuce-leaves. But even if the unknown animal 
looks ever so close a cousin of the woodchuck family, 
we do not try to force the lettuce-leaves down his 
throat if, after a due examination of them, he shows 
plainly that he does not care for them. We cast 
about to see what else may be the food he needs ; and 
though we may feel very impatient with the need for 
making all the troublesome experiments with diet, we 
never feel really justified in blaming the little creature 
for having preferences for turnip-tops, nor do we 
have a half-acknowledged conviction that, perhaps, if 
we had starved him to eat lettuce-leaves, it might have 
been better for him. We are only too thankful to 
hit upon the right food before our little captive dies 
of hunger. 

Something of all this is supposed to go through the 
mind of the Montessori mother as she refrains from 
arguing with her little son about the advisability of 
his being interested in one, rather than another, of 
the Montessori contrivances ; and these considerations 
are meant to explain to her the prompt acquiescence 
of the Montessori teacher in the child's intellectual 
" whims." She is not foolishly indulging him to 
make herself less trouble, or to please him. She is 
only trying to find out what his natural interest 



98 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

is, so that she may pounce upon it and utilize it for 
teaching him without his knowing it. She is only 
taking advantage of her knowledge of the fact that 
water runs down-hill and not up, and that you may 
keep it level by great efforts on your part, and even 
force it to climb, but that you can only expect it to 
work for you when you let it follow the course marked 
out for it by the laws of physics. In other words, she 
sees that her business is to make use of every scrap 
of the children's interest, rather than to waste her 
time and theirs trying to force it into channels where 
it cannot run; to carry her waterwheel where the 
water falls over the cliff, and not to struggle to turn 
the river back towards the watershed. And anyone 
who thinks that a Montessori teacher has " an easy 
time because she is almost never really teaching," 
underestimates grotesquely the amount of alert, 
keen ingenuity and capacity for making fine dis- 
tinctions, required for this new feat of educational 
engineering. 

On the other hand, the advanced modem educators 
who cry jealously that there is nothing new in all 
this, that it is the principle underlying their own 
systems of education, need only to ask themselves 
why their practice is so different from that of the 
Italian doctor, why a teacher who can force, coerce, 
coax, or persuade all the members of a class of thirty 
children to " acquire " practically the same amount 
of information about a given fixed number of topics 
within a given fixed period of time, is called a " good " 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 99 

teacher? They will answer inevitably that chaos and 
anarchy in the educational world would result from 
any course of study less fixed than that in their 
schools. And an impartial observer, both of our 
schools and of history, might reply that chaos and 
anarchy have been prophesied every time a more lib- 
eral form of government, giving more freedom to 
the individual, has been suggested, anywhere in the 
world. 

In any case, the Montessori mother, with the newly 
acquired apparatus spread out before her, needs to 
gird herself up for an intellectual enterprise where 
she will need not only all the strength of her brain, 
but every atom of ingenuity and mental flexibility 
which she can bring to bear on her problem. She will 
do well, of course, to fortify herself in the first place 
by a careful perusal of Dr. Montessori's own descrip- 
tion of the apparatus and its use, or by reading any 
other good manual which she can find. The booklet 
sent out with the apparatus gives some very useful 
detailed instructions which it is not necessary to re- 
peat here, since it comes into the hands of everyone 
who secures the apparatus. One of the main things 
for the Montessori mother to remember is that the 
teachers in the Casa dei Bambini are trained to make 
whatever explanations are necessary, as brief as pos- 
sible, given in as few words as they can manage, and 
with good long periods of silence in between. 

Much of the apparatus is so ingeniously devised 
that any normally inventive child needs but to have 



100 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

it set before him to divine its correct use. The but- 
toning-frames, and the solid and plane geometric in- 
sets need not a single word of explanation, even to 
start the child upon the exercise. But the various 
rods and blocks, used for the Long and Broad Stair 
and the Tower, are so much like ordinary building- 
blocks that, the first time they are presented, the 
child needs a clear presentation of how to handle 
them. This can be made an object-lesson conducted 
in perfect silence ; although later, when the child be- 
gins to use the sandpaper numbers with them as he 
learns the series of numbers up to ten, he needs, of 
course, to be guided in this exercise. 

With these rods and blocks especially, care should 
be taken to observe the Montessori rule that ap- 
paratus is to be used for its proper purpose only, in 
order to avoid confusion in the child's mind. He 
should never use the color spools, for instance, to 
build houses with. Not that, by any means, he should 
be coaxed to continue the exercises in color if he feels 
like building houses; but other material should be 
given him — a pack of cards, building-blocks, small 
stones, anything handy, but never apparatus in- 
tended for another exercise. 

In the exercises for learning the difference between 
rough and smooth, the child needs at first a little 
guidance in learning how to draw his finger-tips 
lightly from left to right over the sandpaper strips ; 
and in the exercises of discrimination between differ- 
ent fabrics, he needs someone to tie the bandage over 




5»> 






o 






H 
C 

C3 
O 

H 
C/2 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 101 

his eyes and, the first time, to show him how to set 
to work. 

A silent object-lesson, or a word or two, are needed 
to show him how to separate and distinguish between 
the pieces of wood of different weights in the baric 
exercises, and a similar introduction is needed to the 
cylindrical sound-boxes. 

As he progresses both in age and ability, and be- 
gins some of the more complicated exercises, he needs 
a little longer explanation when he begins a new ex- 
ercise, and a little more supervision to make sure 
that he has understood the problem. In the later 
part of the work with plane geometric insets, and in 
the work with colored crayons, he needs occasional 
supervision, not to correct the errors he makes, but 
to see that he keeps the right aim in sight. Of 
course, when he begins work with the alphabet he 
needs more real " teaching," since the names of the 
letters must be told him, and care must be taken that 
he learns firmly the habit of following their outlines 
in the right direction, of having them right side up, 
etc. But throughout one should remember that most 
" supervision " is meddling, and that one does the 
child a real injury in correcting a mistake which, with 
a little more time and experience, he would have been 
able to correct for himself. It is well to keep in 
mind, also, that little children, some of them at least, 
have a peculiarity shared by many of us adults, and 
that is a nervousness under even silent inspection. I 
know a landscape painter of real ability who is re- 



102 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

duced almost to nervous tears and certainly to para- 
lyzed impotence, by the harmless presence of the 
group of silent, staring spectators who are apt to 
gather about a person making a sketch out of doors. 
Even though we may refrain from actually interfering 
in the child's fumbling efforts to conquer his own lack 
of muscular precision, we may wear on him nervously 
if we give too close an attention to his efforts. The 
right thing is to show him (if necessary) what he is 
to try to do, and then if it arouses his interest so 
that he sets to work upon it, we will do well to busy 
ourselves somewhat ostentatiously with something else 
in the room. Occasionally a child, even a little child, 
has acquired already the habit of asking for help 
rather than struggling with an obstacle himself. The 
best way to deal with this unfortunate tendency is to 
provide simpler and simpler exercises until, through 
making a very slight effort " all himself," the child 
learns the joy of self -conquest and re-acquires his 
natural taste for independence. Most of us, with 
healthy normal children, however, meet with no 
trouble of this kind. The average child of three, or 
even younger, set before the solid geometric insets, 
clears the board for action by the heartiest and most 
instinctive rejection of any aid, suggestions, or even 
sympathy. His cry of " Let me do it ! " as he 
reaches for the little cylinders with one hand and 
pushes away his would-be instructor with the other, 
^oes one's heart good. 

It is to be seen that Dr. Montessori's demand for 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 103 

child-liberty does not mean unbridled and unregulated 
license for him, even intellectual license ; nor does her 
command to her teachers to let him make his own for- 
ward advance mean that they are to do nothing for 
him. They may, indeed, frequently they must, set 
him carefully on a road not impossibly hard for him, 
and head him in the right direction. What they are 
not to do, is to go along with him, pointing out with 
a flood of words the features of the landscape, 
smoothing out all the obstacles, and carrying him up 
all the hills. 

More important than any of the details in the use 
of the apparatus is the constant firm intellectual 
grasp on its ultimate purpose. The Montessori 
mother must assimilate, into the very marrow of her 
bones, the fundamental principle underlying every 
part of every exercise, the principle which she must 
never forget an instant in all the detailed complexity 
of its ingenious practical application. She is to re- 
member constantly that the Montessori exercises are 
neither games to amuse the children (although they 
do this to perfection), nor ways for the children to 
acquire information (although this is also accom- 
plished admirably, though not so directly as in the 
kindergarten work). They are, like all truly edu- 
cative methods, means to teach the child how to learn. 
It is of no great importance that he shall remember 
perfectly the form of a square or a triangle, or even 
the sacred cube of Froebelian infant-schools. It is of 
the highest importance that he shall acquire the men- 



104 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

tal habit of observing quickly and accurately the 
form of any object he looks at or touches, because if 
he does, he will have, as an adult, a vision which will 
be that of a veritable superman, compared to the un- 
reliable eyesight on which his parents have had to de- 
pend for information. It is of no especial im- 
portance that he shall learn quickly to distinguish 
with his eyes shut that a piece of maple the same 
size as a piece of pine is the heavier of the two. It 
is of the utmost importance that he shall learn to 
take in accurate information about the phenomena 
of the world, from whichever sense is most convenient, 
or from all of them at once, correcting and supple- 
menting each other as they so seldom do with us 
badly trained adults. 



CHAPTER VII 

THE POSSIBILITY OF AMERICAN ADAPTA- 
TIONS OF, OR ADDITIONS TO, THE MON- 
TESSORI APPARATUS 

HOLDING firmly in mind the guiding principle 
formulated in the paragraph preceding, it 
may not be presumptuous for us, in addition to exer- 
cising our children with the apparatus devised by 
Dr. Montessori, to attempt to apply her main prin- 
ciples in ways which she has not happened to hit 
upon. She herself would be the first to urge us to do 
this, since she constantly reiterates that she has but 
begun the practical application of her theories, and 
she calls for the co-operation of the world in the 
task of working out complete applications suitable for 
diiferent conditions. 

It is my conviction that, as soon as her theories 
are widely known and fairly well assimilated, she 
will find, all over the world, a multitude of ingenious 
co-partners in her enterprise, people who, quite un- 
conscious of her existence, have been for years ap- 
proximating her system, although never doing so 
systematically and thoroughly. Is it not said that 
each new religion finds a congregation ready-made, of 
those who have been instinctively practising the as 
yet unformulated doctrines? 

105 



106 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

An incident in tny own life which happened years 
ago, is an example of this. One of the children of 
the family, an adored, delicate little boy of five, fell 
ill while we were all in the country. We sent at once 
in the greatest haste to the city for a trained nurse, 
and while awaiting her arrival, devoted ourselves to 
the task of keeping the child amused and quiet in his 
little bed. The hours of heart-sickening difficulty 
and anxiety which followed can be imagined by any- 
one who has, without experience, embarked on that 
undertaking. We performed our wildest antics before 
that pale, listless little spectator, we offered up our 
choicest possessions for his restless little hands, we set 
in motion the most complicated of his mechanical 
toys ; and we quite failed either to please or to quiet 
him. 

The nurse arrived, cast one glance at the situation, 
and swept us out with a gesture. We crept away, 
exhausted, beaten, wondering by what possible mi- 
raculous tour de force she meant single-handed to 
accomplish what had baffled us all, and holding our- 
selves ready to secure for her anything she thought 
necessary, were it the horns of the new moon. In a 
few moments she thrust her head out of the door and 
asked pleasantly for a basket of clothes-pins, just 
common wooden clothes-pins. 

When we were permitted to enter the room an hour 
or so later, our little patient scarcely glanced at us, 
so absorbed was he in the fascinatingly various angles 
at which clothes-pins may be thrust into each other's 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 107 

clefts. When he felt tired, he shut his eyes and 
rested quietly, and when returning strength brought 
with it a wave of interest in his own cleverness, he 
returned to the queer agglomeration of knobby wood 
which grew magically under his hands. Now Dr. Mon- 
tessori could not possibly have used that " sensory 
exercise," as they have no clothes-pins in Italy, 
fastening their washed garments to wires, with knotted 
strings ; and the nurse was probably married with 
children of her own before Dr. Montessori opened 
the first Casa dei Bambini ; but that was a true Mon- 
tessori device, and she was a real " natural-born " 
Montessori teacher. And I am sure that everyone 
must have in his circle of acquaintances several per- 
sons who have such an intuitive understanding of 
children that Dr. Montessori's arguments and theo- 
ries will seem to them perfectly natural and axiomatic. 
One of my neighbors, the wife of a farmer, a plain 
Yankee woman who would be not altogether pleased 
to hear that she is bringing up her children according 
to the theories of an inhabitant of Italy, has, by the 
instinctive action of her own wits, hit upon several 
inventions which might, without surprising the Di- 
rectress, be transferred bodily to any Casa dei Bam- 
bini. All of her children have gone through what she 
calls the " folding-up fever," and she has laid away in 
the garret, waiting for the newest baby to grow up to 
it, the apparatus which has so enchanted and in- 
structed all the older ones. This " apparatus," to 
use the unfortunately mouth-filling and inflated name 



108 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

which has become attached to Dr. Montessori's simple 
expedients, is a set of cloths of all shapes and sizes, 
ranging from a small washcloth to an old bedspread. 
When the first of my neighbor's children was a little 
over three, his mother found him, one hot Tuesday, 
busily employed in " folding up," that is, crumpling 
and crushing the fresh shirtwaists which she had just 
laboriously ironed smooth. She snatched them away 
from him, as any one of us would have done, but she 
was nimble-witted enough to view the situation from 
an impersonal point of view which few of us would 
have adopted. She really " observed " the child, to 
use the Montessori phrase ; she put out of her mind 
with a conscious effort her natural, extreme irritation 
at having the work of hours destroyed in minutes, and 
she turned her quick mind to an analysis of the 
child's action, as acute and sound as any the Roman 
psychologist has ever made. Not that she was in the 
least conscious of going through this elaborate mental 
process. Her own simple narration of what fol- 
lowed, runs : " I snatched 'em away from him and I 
was as mad as a homit for a minit or two. And 
then I got to thinkin' about it. I says to myself, 
' He's so little that 'tain't nothin' to him whether 
shirtwaists are smooth or wrinkled, so he couldn't 
have taken no satisfaction in bein' mischievous. 
Seems 's though he was wantin' to fold up things, 
without really sensin' what he was doin' it with. 
He's seen me fold things up. There's other things 
than shirtwaists he could fold, that 'twouldn't 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 109 

do no harm for him to fuss with.' And I set 
th' iron down and took a dish-towel out'n the 
basket and says to him, where he set cryin', ' Here, 
Buddy, here's somethin' you can fold up.' And he 
set there for an hour by the clock, foldin' and un- 
foldin' that thing." 

That historic dish-towel is still among the " ap- 
paratus " in her garret. Five children have learned 
deftness and exactitude of muscular action by means 
if it, and the sixth is getting to the age when his 
mother's experienced eye detects in him signs of the 
" fever." 

Now, of course, the real difference between that 
woman and Dr. Montessori, and the real reason why 
Dr. Montessori's work comes in the nature of a revela- 
tion of new forces, although hundreds of " natural 
mothers " long have been using devices strongly re- 
sembling hers, is that my neighbor hasn't the slightest 
idea of what she is doing and she has a very erroneous 
idea of why she is doing it, inasmuch as she regards 
the fervor of her children for that fascinating sense 
exercise, as merely a Providential means to enable 
her to do her housework untroubled by them. She 
could not possibly convince any other mother of any 
good reason for following her examples because she is 
quite ignorant of the good reason. 

Dr. Montessori, on the other hand, with the keen 
self-consciousness of its own processes which char- 
acterizes the trained mind, is perfectly aware not 
not only of what she is doing, but of a broadly 



110 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

fundamental and wholly convincing philosophical 
reason for doing it; namely, that the child's body is 
a machine which he will have to use all his life in 
whatever he does, and the sooner he learns the ac- 
curate and masterful handling of every cog of this 
machine the better for him. 

Now, whenever frontier conditions exist, people 
generally are forced to learn to employ their senses 
and muscles much more competently than is possible 
under the usual modern conditions of specialized labor 
performed almost entirely away from the home ; and 
though for most of us the old-fashioned conditions of 
farm-life so ideal for children, the free roaming of 
field and wood, the care and responsibility for ani- 
mals, the knowledge of plant-life, the intimate ac- 
quaintance with the beauties of the seasons, the en- 
forced self-dependence in crises, are impossibly out 
of reach, we can give our children some of the bene- 
fits to be had from them by analyzing them and seeing 
exactly which are the elements in them so tonic and 
invigorating to child-life, and by adapting them to 
our own changed conditions. There are even a few 
items which we might take over bodily. A number of 
families in my acquaintance have inherited from their 
ancestors odd " games " for children, which follow 
perfectly the Montessori ideas. One of them is called 
the " hearth-side seed-game " and is played as the 
family sits about the hearth in the evening, — though 
it might just as well be played about a table in the 
dining-room with the light turned low. Each child 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 111 

IS given a cup of mixed grains, corn, wheat, oats, and 
buckwheat. The game is a competition to see who can 
the soonest, by the sense of touch only, separate them 
into separate piles, and it has an endless fascination 
for every child who tries it — if he is of the right 
age, for it is far too fatiguing for the very little 
ones. Another family makes a competitive game of 
the daily task of peeling the potatoes and apples 
needed for the family meals. Once the general prin- 
ciple of the " Montessori method " is grasped, there 
is no reason why we should not apply it to every 
activity of our children. Indeed Dr. Montessori is as 
impatient as any other philosopher, of a slavishly 
close and unelastic interpretation of her ideas. Fur- 
thermore, it is to be remembered that the set of Mon- 
tessori apparatus was not intended by its inventor 
to represent all the possible practical applications 
of her theories. For instance, there are in it none of 
the devices for gymnastic exercises of the whole body 
which she recommends so highly, but which as yet 
she has been able to introduce but little into her 
schools. Here, too, what she would wish us to do is 
to make an effort to comprehend intelligently what her 
general ideas are and then to use our own invention 
to adapt them to our own conditions. 

A good example of this is the enlightenment which 
comes to most of us, after reading her statement about 
the relative weakness of little children's legs. She 
calls our attention to the fact that the legs of the new- 
bom baby are the most negligible members he pos- 



112 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

sesses, small and weak out of all proportion to his 
body and arms. Then with an imposing scientific 
array of carefully gathered statistics, she proves that 
this disproportion of strength and of size continues 
during early childhood, up to six or seven. In other 
words, that a little child's legs are weaker and tire 
more quickly than the rest of him, and hence he craves 
not only those exercises which he takes in running 
about in his usual active play, but others which he 
can take without bearing all his weight on his still 
rather boneless lower extremities. 

This fact, although doubtless it has been common 
property among doctors for many years, was en- 
tirely new to me ; and probably will be to many of the 
mothers who read this book, but an ingenious per- 
son has only to hear it to think at once of a num- 
ber of exercises based on it. Dr. Montessori herself 
suggests a little fence on which the children can walk 
along sideways, supporting part of their weight with 
their arms. She also describes a swing with a seat 
so long that the child's legs stretched out in front of 
him are entirely supported by it, and which is hung 
before a wall or board against which the child presses 
his feet as he swings up to it, thus keeping himself 
in motion. These devices are both so simple that 
almost any child might have the benefit of them, but 
even without them it is possible to profit by the above 
bit of physiological information, if it is only by 
restraining ourselves from forbidding a child the in- 
stinctive gesture we must all have seen, when he 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 113 

throws himself on his stomach across a chair and kicks 
his hanging legs. If all the chairs in the house are 
too good to allow this exercise, or if it shocks too 
much the adult ideas of propriety, a bench or kitchen- 
chair out under the trees will serve the same purpose. 

Everyone who is familiar with the habits of natural 
children, or who remembers his own childish passions, 
knows how they are almost irresistibly fascinated 
by a ladder, and always greatly prefer it to a stair- 
case. The reason is apparent. After early infancy 
they are not allowed to go upstairs on their hands and 
knees, but are taught, and rightly taught, to lift the 
whole weight of their bodies with their legs, the in- 
herent weakness of which we have just learned. Of 
course this very exercise in moderation is just what 
weak legs need; but why not furnish also a length 
of ladder out of doors, short enough so that a fall on 
the pile of hay or straw at the foot will not be seri- 
ous.'^ As a matter of fact, you will be astonished to 
see that even with a child as young as three, the hay 
or straw is only needed to calm your own mind. The 
child has no more need of it than you, nor so much, 
his little hands and feet clinging prehensilely to the 
rounds of the ladder as he delightedly ascends and 
descends this substitute for the original tree-home. 

The single board about six inches wide and three 
or four inches from the ground (a length of joist or 
studding serves very well) along which the child 
walks and runs, is an exercise for equilibrium which 
is elsewhere described (page 149). This can be 



114 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

varied, as he grows in strength and poise, by having 
him try some of the simpler rope-walking tricks of 
balance, walking on the board with one foot, or back- 
ward, or with his eyes shut. It is fairly safe to say, 
however, thg^ having provided the board, you need 
exercise your own ingenuity no further in the mat- 
ter. The variety and number of exercises of the sort 
which a group of active children can devise goes far 
beyond anything the adult brain could conceive. 
The exercises with water are described (page 
151). These also can be varied to infinity, by the 
use of receptacles of different shapes, bottles with 
wide or narrow mouths, etc. 

The f olding-up exercises seem to me excellent, and 
the hearth-side seed-game is, in a modified form, al- 
ready in use in the Casa dei Bambini. Small, low 
see-saws, the right size for very young children, are 
of great help in aiding the little one to learn the 
trick of balancing himself under all conditions ; and 
let us remember that the sooner he learns this all- 
important secret of equilibrium, the better for him, 
since he will not have the heavy handicap of the bad 
habit of uncertain, awkward, misdirected movements, 
and he will never know the disheartening mental dis- 
tress of lack of confidence in his own ability deftly, 
strongly, and automatically to manage his own body 
under all ordinary circumstances. 

A very tiny spring-board, ending over a heap of 
hay, is another expedient for teaching three- and 
four-year-olds that they need not necessarily fall in 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 115 

a heap if their balance is quickly altered. If this 
simple device is too hard to secure, a substitute 
which any woman and even an older child can ar- 
range for a little one, is a long thin board, with plenty 
of " give " to it, supported at each end by jbig stones, 
or by two or three bits of wood. The little child 
bouncing up and down on this and " jumping himself 
off " into soft sand, or into a pile of hay, learns un- 
consciously so many of the secrets of bodily poise 
that walking straight soon becomes a foregone con- 
clusion. 

One of the blindfold games in use in Montessori 
schools is played with wooden solids of different 
shapes, cubes, cylinders, pyramids, etc. The blind- 
folded child picks these, one at a time, out of the 
pile before him and identifies each by his sense of 
touch. In our family this has become an after-dinner 
game, played in the leisure moments before we all 
push away from the table and go about our own 
affairs, and managed with a napkin for blindfold, and 
with the table-furnishings for apparatus. 

The identification of different stuffs, velvet, cot- 
ton, satin, woolen, etc., can be managed in any house 
which possesses a rag-bag. I do not see why the pos- 
session of a doll, preferably a rag-doll, should not 
be as valuable as the Montessori frames. Most dolls 
are so small that the hooks and eyes and the buttons 
and buttonholes on their minute garments are too 
difficult for little fingers to manage, whereas a doll 
which could wear the child's own clothes would cer- 



116 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

tainly teach him more about the geography of his 
raiment than any amount of precept. I can lay no 
claim to originality in this idea. It was suggested 
to my mind by the constant appearance in new cos- 
tumes of the big Teddy-bear of a three-year-old 
child, whose impassioned struggles with the buttons of 
her bear's clothes forms the most admirable of self- 
imposed manual gymnastics. 

Lastly, it must not be forgotten that the " sets of 
Montessori apparatus " must be supplemented by sev- 
eral articles of child-furniture. There is not in it 
the little light table, the small low chair so necessary 
for children's comfort and for their acquiring cor- 
rect, agreeable habits of bodily posture. Such little 
chairs are easily to be secured but, alas ! rarely found 
in even the most prosperous households. We must not 
forget the need for a low washstand with light and 
easily handled equipment; the hooks set low enough 
for little arms to reach up to them, so that later we 
shall not have to struggle with the habit fixed in the 
eight-year-old boy, of careless irresponsibility about 
those of his clothes which are not on his back ; the 
small brooms and dust-pans so that tiny girls will 
take it as a matter of course that they are as much 
interested as their mothers in the cleanliness of a 
room ; in short, all the devices possible to contrive to 
make a little child really at home in his father's house. 



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CHAPTER VIII 

SOME REMARKS ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF 
THE SYSTEM 

WHEN I first began to understand to some 
extent the thoroughgoing radicalism of the 
philosophy of liberty which underlies all the intricate 
detail of Dr. Montessori's system, I used to wonder 
why it went home to me with such a sudden inward 
conviction of its truth, and why it moved me so 
strangely, almost as the conversion to a new religion. 
This Italian woman is not the first, by any means, to 
speak eloquently of the righteousness of personal lib- 
erty. As far back as Rabelais' " Fay ce que 
vouldras " someone was feeling and expressing that. 
Even the righteousness of such liberty for the child 
is no invention of hers. Jean Jacques Rousseau's 
" Emile," in spite of all its disingenuous evading of 
the principle in practice, was founded on it in theory ; 
and Froebel had as clear a vision as any seer, as 
Montessori herself, of just the liberty his followers 
admit in theory and find it so hard to allow in 
practice. 

Why, then, should those who come to Rome to 
study the Montessori work, stammerers though they 
might be, wish, all of them, to go away and prophesy.? 
For almost without exception this was the common 

117 



118 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

result among the widely diverse national types I saw 
in Rome; always granting, of course, that they had 
seen one of the good schools and not those which 
present a farcical caricature of the method. 

In thinking the matter over since, I have come tor 
the conclusion that the vividness of inward convic- 
tion arises from the fact that the founder of this 
" new " philosophy bases it on the theory of democ- 
racy ; and there is no denying that the world to-day is 
democratic, that we honestly in our heart of hearts 
believe, as we believe in the law of gravity, that, on 
the whole, democracy, for all its shortcomings, has in 
it the germ of the ideal society of the future. 

Now, our own democracy was based, a hundred or 
so years ago, on the idea that men reach their high- 
est development only when they have, for the growth of 
their individuality, the utmost possible freedom which 
can be granted them without interfering with the 
rights and freedom of others. Little by little dur- 
ing the last half-century the idea has grown that, 
inasmuch as women form half the race, the betterment 
of the whole social group might be hastened if this 
beneficial principle were applied to them. 

If you will imagine yourself living sixty or so 
years ago, when, to conservative minds, this idea of 
personal liberty for women was like the sight of 
dynamite under the foundations of society, and to 
radical minds shone like the dawn of a brighter day, 
you can imagine how startling and thrilling is the 
first glimpse of its application to children. I felt, 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 119 

during the beginning of my consideration of the 
question, all the sharp pangs of intellectual growing- 
pains which must have racked my grandfather when 
it first occurred to him that my grandmother was a 
human being like himself, who would very likely 
thrive under the same conditions which were good for 
him. For, just as my grandfather, in spite of the 
sincerest affection for his wife, had never conceived 
that he might be doing her an injury by insisting on 
doing her thinking for her, so I, for all my love for 
my children, had never once thought that, by my 
competent, loving " management " of them, I might 
be starving and stunting some of their most valuable 
moral and intellectual qualities. 

In theory I instantly granted this principle of as 
much personal liberty as possible for children. I 
could not help granting it, pushed irresistibly for- 
ward as I was by the generations of my voting, self- 
governing ancestors ; but the resultant splintering up- 
heaval of all my preconceived ideas about children 
was portentous. 

The first thing that Dr. Montessori's penetrating 
and daring eye had seen in her survey of the problem 
of education, and the fact to which she devotes 
throughout her most forceful, direct, and pungent 
explanation, had simply never occurred to me, in spite 
of FroebePs mild divination of it ; namely, that chil- ^ 
dren are nothing more or less than human beings. I 
was as astonished by this fact as I was amazed that 
I had not thought of it myself ; and I instantly per- 



120 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

ceived a long train of consequences leading off from 
it to a wholly unexplored country. True, children 
are not exactly like adults; but then, neither are 
women exactly like men, nor are slow, phlegmatic men 
exactly like the red-headed, quick-tempered type ; but 
they all belong to the genus of human beings, and 
those principles which slow centuries of progress have 
proved true about the genus as a whole hold true 
about subdivisions of it. Children are much weaker 
physically than most adults, their judgment is not so 
seasoned by experience, and their attention is more fit- 
ful. Hence, on the whole, they need more guidance 
than grown-ups. But, on the other hand, the motives, t 
the instincts, the needs, the potential capacities of chil- 
dren are all human and nothing but human. Their 
resemblances to adults are a thousand times more 
numerous and vital than their differences. What is 
good for the one must, in a not excessively modified 
form, be good for the other. 

With this obvious fact firmly in mind. Dr. Mon- 
tessori simply looked back over history and drew upon 
the stores of the world's painfully acquired wisdom 
as to the best way to extract the greatest possibilities 
from the world's inhabitants. If it is true, she rea- 
soned, that men and women have reached their highest 
development only when they have had the utmost pos- 
sible liberty for the growth of their individualities, 
if it is true that slavery has been the most ruinously 
unsatisfactory of all social expedients, both for mas- 
ters and slaves, if society has found it necessary for 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 121 

its own good to abolish not only slavery but caste 
laws and even guild rules; if, with all its faults, we 
are agreed that democracy works better than the 
wisest of paternal despotisms, then it ought to be 
true that in the schoolroom's miniature copy of so- 
ciety there should be less paternal despotism, more 
democracy, less uniformity of regulation and more, — 
very much more, — individuality. 

Therefore, although we cannot allow children as 
much practical freedom as that suitable for men of 
ripe experience, it is apparent that it is our first duty ] 
as parents to make every effort to give them as full 
a measure of liberty as possible, exercising our utmost 
ingenuity to make the family life an enlightened 
democracy. But this is not an easy matter. A 
democracy, being a much more complicated machine 
than an autocracy, is always harder to organize and 
conduct. Moreover the family is so old a human in- 
stitution that, like everything else very old, it has 
acquired barnacle-like accretions of irrelevant tradi- 
tion. Elements of Russian tyranny have existed in 
the institution of the family so long that our very 
familiarity with them prevents us from recognizing 
them without an effort, and prevents our conceiving 
family life without them ; quite as though in this age 
of dentistry, we should find it difficult to conceive of 
old age without the good old characteristic of tooth- 
lessness. To renovate this valuable institution of the 
family (and one of the unconscious aims of the Mon- 
tessori system is nothing more or less than the renova- 



123 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

tion of family life), we must engage upon a daily 
battle with our own moral and intellectual inertia, 
rising each morning with a fresh resolve to scrutinize 
with new eyes our relations to our children. We must 
realize that the idea of the innate " divine right of 
parents " is as exploded an idea as the " divine right 
of kings." Fathers and mothers and kings nowadays 
hold their positions rightfully only on the same con- 
ditions as those governing other modern office-holders, 
that they are better fitted for the job than anyone 
else. 

I speak from poignant personal experience of the 
difficulty of holding this conception in mind. When 
I said above that I " saw at once a long train of 
consequences following this new principle of personal 
liberty for children," I much overstated my own acu- 
men; for I am continually perceiving that I saw 
these consequences but very vaguely through the 
dimmed glasses of my unconscious, hidebound con- 
servatism, and I am constantly being startled by the 
possibility of some new, although very simple ap- 
plication of it in my daily contact with the child- 
world. A wholesome mental exercise in this connec- 
tion is to run over in one's mind the dramatic changes 
in human ideas about family life which have taken 
place gradually from the Roman rule that the father 
was the governor, executioner, lawgiver, and absolute 
autocrat, down to our own days. For all our cling- 
ing to the idea of a closely intimate family-life, most 
of us would turn with horror from any attempt to re- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 123 

turn to such tyranny as that even of our own Puritan 
forebears. It is possible that our descendants may 
look back on our present organization with as much 
astonished and uncomprehending revulsion. 

The principle, then, of the Montessori school is 
the ideal principle of democracy, namely, that human 
beings reach their highest development (and hence 
are of most use to society) only when for the growth 
of their individuality they have the utmost possible 
liberty which can be granted them without interfering • 
with the rights of others. Now, when Dr. Montessori, 
five years ago, founded the first Casa dei Bambini, she 
not only believed in that principle but she saw that 
children are as human as any of us ; and, acting with 
that precipitate Latin faith in logic as a guide to 
practical conduct which is so startling to Anglo- 
Saxons, she put these two convictions into actual 
practice. The result has electrified the world. 

She took as her motto the old, old, ever-misunder- 
stood one of " Liberty ! " — that liberty which we still 
distrust so profoundly in spite of the innumerable 
hard knocks with which the centuries have taught us it 
is the only law of life. She was convinced that tfe 
" necessity for school discipline '' is only another ex^^ 
pression of humanity's enduring suspicion of that 
freedom which is so essential to its welfare, and that 
schoolroom rules for silence, for immobility, for uni- 
formity of studies and of results, are of the same' 
nature and as outworn as caste rules in the world 
of adults, or laws against the free choice of residence 



lU A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

for a workman, against the free choice of a profession! 
for women, against the free advance of any Individual 
to any position of responsibility which he Is capably 
of fining. 

All over again In this new field of education Dr. 
Montessorl fought the old fight against the old Idea 
that Hberty means red caps and riots and guillotines. 
All afresh, as though the world had never learned the 
lesson, she was obliged to show that liberty means 
the only lasting road to order and discipline and self- 
control. Once again, for the thousandth time, people 
needed to be reminded that the reign of the tyrant 
who Imposes laws on human souls from the outside 
(even though that tyrant Intends nothing but the best 
for his subjects and be called " teacher"), produces 
smothered rebellion, or apathy, or broken submlsslve- 
ness, but never energetic, forward progress. 

For this constant turning to that trust In the 
safety of freedom which Is perhaps the only lasting 
spiritual conquest of our time. Is the keynote of her 
system. This Is the real answer to the question, 
" What Is there In the Montessorl method which Is 
so different from all other educational methods.?" 
This Is the vital principle often overlooked In the 
fertility of Invention and scientific Ingenuity with 
which she has applied It. 

This reverence for the child's personality, this su- 
preme faith that liberty of action Is not only safe 
to give children, but Is the prerequisite of their 
growth, Is the rock on which the edifice of her sys- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 125 

tern is being raised. It is also the rock on which the 
barks of many investigators are wrecked. When 
they realize that she really puts her theory into exe- 
cution, they cry out aghast, " What ! a school with-'j 
out a rule for silence, for immobility, a school with-! 
out fixed seats, without stationary desks, where chil-| 
dren may sit on the floor if they like, or walk about as \ 
they please ; a school where children may play all \ 
day if they choose, may select their own occupations, 
where the teacher is always silent and in the back- \ 
ground — why, that is no school at all — it is anarchy ! " 

One seems to hear faint echoes from another gen- 
eration crying out, " What ! a society without 
hereditary aristocracy, without a caste system, where 
a rail-splitter may become supreme governor, where 
people may decide for themselves what to believe 
without respect for authority, and may choose how 
they wish to earn their livings, . . . this is no society 
at all ! It is anarchy ! " 

Dr. Montessori has two answers to make to such * 
doubters. One is that the rule in her schools, like 
the rule in civilized society, is that no act is allowed 
which transgresses against the common welfare, or is 
in itself uncomely or ofi^ensive. That the children are 
free, does not mean that they may throw books at 
each other's heads, or light a bonfire on the floor, any 
more than free citizens of a republic may obstruct 
traffic, or run a drain into the water-supply of a 
town. It means simply that they are subject to no . 
unnecessary restraint, and above all to no meddling 



126 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

with their instinctive private preferences. The second 
answer, even more convincing to hard-headed people 
than the first, is the work done in the Case dei Bam- 
bini, where every detail of the Montessori theory has 
been more than proved, with an abundance of con- 
firmatory detail which astonishes even Dr. Montessori 
herself. The bugbear of discipline simply does not 
exist for these schools. By taking advantage of their \ 
natural instincts and tendencies, the children are made 
to perform feats of self-abnegation, self-control, and 
collective discipline, impossible to obtain under the 
most rigid application of the old rules, and, as for 
the amount of information acquired unconsciously 
and painlessly by those babies, it is one of the fairy- 
stories of modem times. -^ 



CHAPTER IX 

APPLICATION OF THIS PHILOSOPHY TO 
AMERICAN HOME LIFE 

NATURALLY, the question which concerns us is, 
how the spiritual discoveries made in this new 
institution in a far-away city of Italy, can be used 
to benefit our own children, in our own everyday, 
American family life. It must be stated uncom- 
promisingly, to begin with, that they can be applied 
to our daily lives only if we experience a " change 
of heart." The use of the vernacular of religion 
in this connection is not inappropriate, for what 
we are facing, in these new principles, is a new 
phase of the religion of humanity. We are simply, 
at last, to include children in humanity, and since 
despotism, even the most enlightened varieties of 
it, has been proved harmful to humanity, we are to 
abstain from being their despots, even their paternal, 
wise, and devoted despots. This does not mean that 
they are not to live under some form of government 
of which we are the head. We have as much right 
to safeguard their interests against their own weak- 
nesses as society has to safeguard ours, in forbid- 
ding grade railways in big cities for instance, but 
W^ have no more right than society has to interfere 

137 



128 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

with inoffensive individual tastes, preferences, needs, 
and, above all, initiative. 

At this point I can hear in my mind's ear a 
chorus of indignant parents' voices, crying out that 
nothing is further from their theory or practice 
than despotism over the children, and that, so far 
from ruling their little ones, they are the absolute 
slaves of their offspring (forgetting that in many 
cases there is no more despotic master than a slave 
of old standing). To answer this natural protest 
I wish here to be allowed a digression for the pur- 
pose of attempting a brief analysis of a trait of 
human egotism, the understanding of which bears 
closely on this phase of the relations of parent and 
child. I refer to the instinctive pleasure taken by 
us all in the dependence of someone upon us. 

This is so closely connected with benevolence that 
it is usually wholly unrecognized as a separate and 
quite different characteristic. Even when it is seen, 
it is identified only by those who suffer from it, and 
any intimation of its existence on their part savors 
so nearly of ingratitude that they have not, as a 
rule, ventured to complain of what is frequently an 
almost intolerable tyranny. Just as it is the spiteful 
member of a family who is the only one to blurt 
out home-truths which run counter to the traditional 
family illusions, so it is only a thoroughly bad- 
tempered analyst, one who takes a malicious pleasure 
in dwelling on human meannesses, who can perform 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 129 

the useful function of diagnosing this little suspected, 
very prevalent, human vice. 

Here is the sardonic Hazlitt, derisively relieving 
his mind on the subject of benefactors. "... Ben- 
efits are often conferred out of ostentation or pride. 
As the principle of action is a love of power, the 
complacency in the object of friendly regard ceases 
with the opportunity or the necessity for the manifest 
display of power ; and when the unfortunate protege 
is just coming to land and expects a last helping 
hand, he is, to his surprise, pushed back in order 
that he may be saved from drowning once more. 
You are not haled ashore as you had supposed by 
those kind friends, as a mutual triumph, after all 
your struggles and their exertions on your behalf. 
It is a piece of presumption in you to be seen walk- 
ing on terra firma; you are required at the risk of 
their friendship to be always swimming in troubled 
waters that they may have the credit of throwing 
out ropes and sending out life-boats to you without 
ever bringing you ashore. The instant you can go 
alone, or can stand on your own ground, you are 
discarded." 

Now the majority of us in these piping times of 
mediocrity have no grounds, fancied or real, for as- 
suming the role of tyrannical Providence to other 
people. But the instinct, in spite of the decreased 
opportunity for its exercise, is none the less alive 
in our hearts; and when chance throws in our way 
a little child, our primitive, instinctive affection for 



130 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

whom confuses in our minds the motives underlying 
our pseudo-benevolent actions, do we not wreak upon 
it unconsciously all that latent desire to be depended 
upon, to be the stronger, to be looked up to, to 
gloat over the weakness of another? 

If this seems an exaggerated statement, consider 
for a moment the real significance of the feeling 
expressed by the mothers we have all met, when they 
cry, " Oh, I can't bear to have the babies grow up ! '' 
and when they refuse to correct the pretty, lisping, 
inarticulate baby talk. I have been one of those 
mothers myself, and I certainly would have regarded 
as malicious and spiteful any person who had told 
me that my feelings sprang from almost unadul- 
terated egotism, and that I " couldn't bear to have 
the babies grow up " because I wanted to continue 
longer in my complacent, self-assumed role of God, 
that I wished to be surrounded by little sycophants 
who, knowing no standard but my personality, could 
not judge me as anything but infallible, and that I 
was wilfully keeping the children granted me by a 
kind Heaven as weak and dependent on me as pos- 
sible that they might continue to secrete more food 
for my egotism. 

What I now see to be a plain statement of the 
ugly truth underlying my sentimental reluctance 
to have the babies grow up would have seemed to 
me the most heartless attack on mother-love. It 
now occurs to me that mother-love should be some- 
thing infinitely more searching and subtle. Modem 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 131 

society with its enforced drains and vaccinations and 
milk inspection and pure-food laws does much of 
the physical protecting which used to fall to the 
lot of mothers. Our part should not be, like be- 
wildered bees, to live idly on the accumulation of 
virtues achieved for us by the hard won battles of 
our ancestors against their lower physical instincts ; 
but to catch up the standard and advance into the 
harder battle against the hidden, treacherous am- 
bushes of egotism, to conceive a new, high devotion 
for our children, a devotion which has in it courage 
for them as well as care for them; which is made 
up of faith in their better, stronger natures, as well 
as love for them, and which begins by the ruthless 
slaughter, so far as we can reach it, of the selfishness 
which makes us take pleasure in their dependence on 
us, rather than in seeing them grow (even though 
it may mean away from us) in the ability wisely 
to regulate their own lives. We must take care 
that we mothers do not treat our children as we 
reproach men for having treated women, with 
patronizing, enfeebling protection. We must learn 
to wish, above all things, to see the babies grow 
up since there is no condition (for any creature 
not a baby) more revolting than babyishness, just 
as there is no state more humiliating (for any but 
a child) than childishness. Let us learn to be 
ashamed of our too imperious care, which deprives 
them of every chance for action, for self-reliance, 
for fighting down their own weaknesses, which 



132 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

snatches away from them every opportunity to 
strengthen themselves by overcoming obstacles. We 
must learn to see in a little child not only a much- 
loved little body, informed by a will more or less pliable 
to our own, but a valiant spirit, longing for the 
exercise of its own powers, powers which are different 
from ours, from those of every human being who has 
ever existed. 

There is no danger that in combating this subtle 
vice, we will fall back into the grosser one of physical 
tyranny over women, children, or the poor. That 
step forward has been taken conclusively. That ques- 
tion has been settled for all time and has been 
crystallized in popular opinion. We may still tyran- 
nize coarsely over the weak, but we are quite con- 
scious that we are doing something to be ashamed 
of. We can therefore, without fear of reactionary 
setbacks, devote ourselves to creating a popular con- 
sciousness of the sin of moral and intellectual tyranny. 

Now all this reasoning has been conducted by 
means of abstract ideas and big words. It may 
seem hardly applicable to the relations of an affec- 
tionate parent with his three-year-old child. How, 
practically, concretely, at once, to-day, can we be- 
gin to avoid paternal despotism over little children? 

To begin with, by giving them the practical train- 
ing necessary to physical independence of life. Any- 
one who knows a woman who lived in the South during 
the old regime must have heard stories of the pathetic, 
grotesque helplessness to which the rich white popula- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 133 

tlon was reduced by the presence and personal service 
of the slaves . . . the grown women who could not 
button their own shoes, the grown men who had never 
in their lives assembled all the articles necessary for 
a complete toilet. Dr. Montessori says, " The para- 
lytic who cannot take off his boots because of a patho- 
logical fact, and the prince who dare not take them 
off because of a social fact, are in reality reduced to 
the same condition." How many mothers whose 
willing fingers linger lovingly over the buttons and 
strings and hooks and eyes of the little costume are 
putting themselves in the pernicious attitude of the 
slave? How many other bustling, competent, quick- 
stepping mothers, dressing and undressing, washing 
and feeding and regulating their children, as though 
they were little automata, because " it's so much 
easier to do it for them than to bother to teach them 
how to do it," are reducing the little ones to a state 
of practical paralysis.? As if ease were the aim of 
a mother in her relations to her child ! It would be 
easier, as far as that is concerned, to eat the child's 
meals for it ; and a study of the " competent " brand 
of mother almost leads one to suspect that only the 
physical impossibility of this substituted activity 
keeps it from being put into practice. The too 
loving mother, the one who is too competent, the 
one who is too wedded to the regularity of her house- 
hold routine, the impatient mother, the one who is 
" no teacher and never can tell anybody how to do 
things," all these diverse personalities, though actu- 



134 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

ated by quite differing motives, are doing the same 
thing, unconsciously, benevolently, overbearingly in- 
sisting upon living the child's life for him. 

But it is evident that simply keeping our hands 
off is not enough. To begin with the process of 
dressing himself, the first in order of the day's 
routine, a child of three, with no training, turned 
loose with the usual outfit of clothes, could never 
dress himself in the longest day of the year. And 
here, with a serious problem to be solved, we are 
back beside the buttoning boy of the Children's 
Home. The child must learn how to be independent, 
as he must learn how to be anything else that is worth 
being, and the only excuse for existence of a parent 
is the possibility of his furnishing the means for the 
child to acquire this information with all speed. Let 
us take a long look at the buttoning boy over there 
in Rome and return to our own three-year-old for 
a more systematic survey of his problem, which is 
none other than the beginning of his emancipation 
from the prison of babyishness. Let him learn the 
different ways of fastening garments together on 
the Montessori frames if you have them, or in any 
other way your ingenuity can devise. Old garments 
of your own, put on a cheap dress form, are not a bad 
substitute for that part of the Montessori apparatus, 
or the large doll suggested on page 115 may serve. 

Then apply your mind, difficult as that process 
is for all of us, to the simplification of the child's 
costumes, even if you are led into such an unheard- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 135 

of innovation as fastening the little waists and dresses 
up the front. Let me wonder, parenthetically, why 
children's clothes should all be fastened at the back? 
Men manage to protect themselves from the weather 
on the opposite principle. 

Then, finally, give him time to learn and to practise 
the new process ; and time is one of the necessary 
elements of life most often denied to little children, 
who always take vastly longer than we do to complete 
a given process. I am myself a devoted adherent of 
the clock, and cannot endure the formless irregularity 
of a daily life without fixed hours, so that I do not 
speak without a keen realization of the fact that 
time cannot be granted to little children to live their 
own lives, without our undergoing considerable in- 
convenience, no matter how ingeniously we arrange 
the matter. We must feel a whole-hearted willing- 
ness to forego a superfluity in life for the sake 
of safeguarding an essential of life. When I feel 
the temptation, into which my impatient tempera- 
ment is constantly leading me, to perform some 
action for a child which he would better do for him- 
self, because his slowness interferes with my house- 
hold schedule, I bring rigorously to mind the Mon- 
tessori teacher who did not tuck in the child's napkin. 
And I severely scrutinize the household process, the 
regularity of which is being upset, to see if that 
regularity is really worth a check to the child's 
growth in self-dependence. 

Once in a while it really does seem to me, on 



136 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

mature consideration, that regularity is worth that 
sacrifice, but so seldom as to be astonishing. One 
of the few instances is the regularity of the three 
meals a day. This seems to be an excellent means 
of inculcating real social feeling in the child, of 
making him understand the necessity for occasional 
sacrifices of individual desires to benefit the common 
weal. One should take care not to neglect or pass 
over the few genuine opportunities in the life of a 
little child, when he may feel that in common with 
the rest of the family he is making a sacrifice which 
counts for the sake of the common good. 

But most other situations yield very different 
results when analyzed. For instance, if a child must 
dress in a cold room it is better for an adult to 
stuff the little arms and legs into the clothes with 
all haste, rather than run the risk of chilling the 
child. But as a rule, if the conditions are really 
honestly examined, these two alternatives are seen 
not to be the only ones. He is set perhaps to dress 
in a cold room because we have a tradition that it 
is " messy '' and " common " to have dressing and 
undressing going on anyivhere except in a bedroom. 
The question I must then ask myself is no longer, 
" Is there not danger that the child will take cold 
if I give him time to dress himself? " but, " Is the 
ordered respectability of my warm parlor worth a 
check to my child's normal growth ? " 

And it is to some such quite unexpected question 
that one is constantly led by the attempt really to 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 137 

analyze the various restrictions we put upon the 
child's freedom to live his own life. These restric- 
tions multiply in such a perverse ratio with the 
material prosperity and conventionality of our lives 
that it is a truism that the children of the very poor 
fare better than ours in the opportunities offered 
them for the development of self-reliance, self-con- 
trol, and independence, almost the most valuable out- 
fit for the battle of life a human being can have. 

It is impossible, of course, to consider here all 
the processes of the child's day in as minute detail 
as this question of his morning toilet. But the same 
procedure of " hands off " should be followed, because 
help that is not positively necessary is a hindrance to 
a growing organism. It is well to put strings for your 
vines to climb up, but it does them no good to have you 
try to " help " them by pulling on the tips of the 
tendrils. The little child should be allowed time to 
wash his own face and hands, to brush his teeth, and 
to feed himself, although it would be quicker to 
continue our Strasbourg goose tradition of stuffing 
him ourselves. He should, as soon as possible, learn 
to put on and take off his own wraps, hat, and 
rubbers. He should carry his own playthings, should 
learn to open and shut doors, go up and down stairs 
freely, hang up his own clothes (hooks placed low 
must not be forgotten), and look himself for articles 
he has misplaced. 

Adults who, for the first time, try this regime 
with little children are astonished to find that it is 



138 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

not the patience of the little child, but their own, 
which is inadequate. A child (if he is young enough 
not to have acquired the invalid's habit of being 
waited upon) will persevere unendingly through a 
series of grotesquely awkward attempts, for instance, 
to climb upon an adult's chair. The sight of this la- 
borious attempt to accomplish a perfectly easy feat 
reduces his quick-stepping, competent mother to 
nervous fidgets, requiring all her self-control to 
resist. She is almost irresistibly driven to rushing 
forward and lifting him up. If she does, she is very 
apt to see him slide to the floor and begin all over 
again. It is not elevation to the chair which he 
desires. It is the capacity ta attain it himself, 
unaided, which is his goal, a goal like all others in 
his life which his mother cannot reach for him. 

And if all this sounds too troublesome and com- 
plicated, let it be remembered that the Children's 
Home looms close at hand, ominously ready to de- 
vote itself to making conditions exactly right for 
the child's growth, never impatient, with no other 
aim in life and no other occupation but to do what 
is best for the child. If we are to be allowed to keep 
our children with us, we must prove worthy the 
sacred trust. 

For, practically, the highly successful existence 
of the Casa dei Bambini, keeping the children as 
it does all day, takes for granted that the average 
parent cannot or will not make the average home 
into a place really suited for the development of 





Materials for Teaching Rough a:n^d S^iooth. 

Copyright 1912, by Carl R. Byoir 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 1S9 

small children. It is visibly apparent that, as far 
as physical surroundings are concerned, he is Gulli- 
ver struggling with the conditions of Brobdingnag. 
He eats his meals from a table as high for him as 
the mantelpiece would be for us, he climbs up and 
down stairs with the painful effort we expend on the 
ascent of the Pyramids, he gets into an armchair as 
we would climb into a tree, and he can no more alter 
the position of it than we could that of the tree. 

As for the conduct of life, he is considered 
" naughty " if he interferes with adult occupations, 
which, going on all about him all the time and being 
entirely incomprehensible to him, are very difBcult to 
avoid ; and he is " good '' like the " good Indian " 
according to the degree of his silent passivity. When 
we return after a brief absence and inquire of a little 
child, " Have you been a good child? " do we not 
mean simply, " Have you been as little inconvenient 
as possible to your elders ? " To most of us who 
are honest with ourselves it comes as rather a sur- 
prise that this standard of virtue should not be the 
natural and inevitable one. 

I leave to the last chapter the question, a most 
searching and painful one for me, as to whether the 
Casa dei Bambini will not ultimately be the Home 
for all our children, and here confine myself to the 
statement, which no unprejudiced mind can deny, that 
such an institution, arranged as it has been with 
the most single-hearted desire to further the chil- 
dren's interests, is now better adapted for child-life 



140 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

than our average homes, into which children may be 
welcomed lovingly, but which are adapted in every 
detail of their material, intellectual, and spiritual 
life for adults only. It is my firm conviction that, 
in my own case, a working compromise may be 
effected, thanks to my alarmed jealousy of the greater 
perfection of the Montessori Children's Home; but 
I realize that it required the alarming sight and 
study of that institution to make me see that I was 
forcing my children to live under a great many 
unnecessary restrictions. And, if there is one thing 
above all others to be kept in mind by a convert to 
these new ideas it is that an unnecessary restriction 
m a child's life is a crime. The most puritanical 
soul among us must see that there are quite enough 
necessary restrictions for the child, if they are all 
recognized and rigorously obeyed, to serve as dis- 
ciplinary forces to the most turbulent nature. 



CHAPTER X 

SOME CONSIDERATIONS ON THE NATURE OF 
" DISCIPLINE " 

WITH the last affirmation of the preceding 
chapter I have brought myself to another 
bed-rock principle of this new religion of childhood, 
one which at first I was unable to understand and 
hence to accept. In my very blood there runs that 
conviction of the necessity for discipline which 
colored so profoundly all early New England life. 
At the sight of this too-pleasant and too-smiling world 
of children, some old Puritan of an ancestor sprang 
to life in me and cried out sourly, " But it's good 
for children to do what they don't like to do, and to 
keep on with something after they want to stop. 
They must in later life. They should begin now." 

The answer to this objection is one I have had 
practically to work out for myself, since the Italian 
exponents of the system, having back of them an un- 
broken line of life-loving and life-trusting Latin fore- 
fathers, found it practically impossible to understand 
what was in my mind. There was much talk of "dis- 
cipline" in their discussion of the theories of the 
method; but evidently they did not attach the same 
meaning to the word as the one I had been trained to 

141 



142 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

use. This fact led me to meditate on what I myself 
really meant by discipline: a process of definition 
which, as it always does, clarified my ideas and proved 
them in some respects quite different from what I 
had thought them. 

Discipline means, of course, "the capacity for 
self-control." I had no sooner formulated this defini- 
tion than I saw that I had been, in my practical use 
of the word, omitting half of it, and that the vital 
half. It was not discipline I had been vainly seeking 
at the Casa dei Bambini, it was compulsion. 

Now, compulsion is a force very much handier to 
use in education than self-control, since it depends 
on the adult and not on the child, and practically any 
adult with a club (physical or moral) can compass it, 
if the child in his power is small enough. But the 
most elementary experience of life proves that the 
effects of compulsion last exactly as long as the 
physical or moral club can be applied. Evidently 
its use can scarcely prepare the child for the search- 
ing tests of independent adult life when no one has 
any longer even a pseudo-right to club him into moral 
action. 

And yet self-control, like all other vital processes 
of individual life, is tantalizingly elusive and subtle. 
My untrained mind, face to face at last with the real 
problem, despaired of securing this real self-control 
and not the valueless compulsory obedience to exter- 
nal force or persuasion with which I had been con- 
fusing it. I saw that it is secured in the Children's 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 143 

Home and betook myself once more to an examina- 
tion of their methods. 

Their method for solving this problem is like the 
one they use in all other problems of child-life. They 
use the adult brain to analyze minutely all the com- 
plex processes involved, and then they begin at the 
beginning to teach the children all the different ac- 
tions, one after another. 

For instance, the capacity for close, consecutive! 
attention to any undertaking is a very valuable form 
of self-control and self -discipline (one which a good 
many adults have never mastered). The natural 
tendency of childhood, as of all untrained humanity, is 
for flightiness, for mental vagrancy, for picking up 
and fitfully dropping an enterprise. It is obvious 
that the sternest of external so-called discipline can- 
not lay a finger on this particular mental fault, be- ' 
cause all it can command is physical obedience, which 
ceases when the compulsion is no longer active. In 
the Children's Home, the child is provided with a task 
so exactly suited to the instinctive needs of his grow- 
ing organism, that his own spontaneous interest in it 
overcomes his own equally spontaneous aversion to 
mental concentration. Later on in life he must learn 
to concentrate mentally, whether he feels a strong 
spontaneous interest in the subject or not; but it is 
evident that he cannot do that, if he has not learned 
first to control his wandering wits when the sub- 
ject does interest him. And that this last is not the 
perfectly easy undertaking it seems, is apparent when 



144 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

one considers all the hopelessly flighty women there 
are in the world, who could not, to save their lives, 
mentally concentrate on anything. The Montessori 
apparatus sets a valuable vital force in the child's 
own intellectual make-up to master an undesirable 
instinct, and naturally the valuable force grows 
stronger with every exercise of its power, just as a 
muscle does. The little boy who was so much inter- 
ested in his buttoning-frame that he stuck to his 
enterprise from beginning to end without so much as 
glancing up at the activities of the other children, 
showed real self-control, even though it was not asso- 
ciated with the element of pain which my grim an- 
cestors led me to think was essential. 
% It is true that self-control in the face of pain or 
indifference is a necessary element in adult moral and 
intellectual life, but it now appears that, like every 
other factor in life, it must start from small begin- 
nings and grow slowly. The buttoning boy showed 
not only self-control, but the only variety of it which 
a baby is capable of manifesting. When I had the 
notion that I ought (for his own good, of course) 
to demand of him self-control in the face of pain, 
even of a very small pain, I was asking something 
which he could not as yet give, and of which compul- 
sory obedience could only obtain an empty and mis- 
leading appearance, an appearance really harmful 
to the child's best interests since it completely blinded 
me to the fact that he had not made the least begin- 
ning towards attaining a real self-control. He must 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 145 

begin slowly to learn self-control, as he must begin 
slowly to learn how to walk. I am quite satisfied if 
he takes a single step at first, because I know that is 
the essential. If he can do that, he will ultimately 
learn to climb a mountain. If he can overcome the 
naturally vagrant impulses of his mind through in- 
tellectual interest (for it is none other) in the com- 
pletion of his task of buttoning up the cloth on his 
frame, he has begun a mental habit the value of 
which cannot be overestimated, and which will later, 
in its full development, make it possible for him to 
master calculus without the agonizing, too-tardy ef- 
fort at mental self-control which embittered my own 
struggle with that subject. 

From time immemorial, the child himself has al- 
ways instinctively used in his games and plays this 
method of learning self-control and mental concen- 
tration, as much as adults would allow him. The ad- 
mirable, thoroughgoing concentration of a child on a 
game of marbles or ball is proverbial ; but while the 
rest of us, with some unsystematic exceptions, have 
looked idly on at this great natural stream of mental 
vigor pouring itself out in profusion before our eyes, 
Dr. Montessori has stepped in with an ingeniously 
devised waterwheel and set It to work. 

The child in the Casa dei Bambini advances from 
one scientifically graded stage of mental self-control 
to the next, from the buttoning-frames to the geo- 
metric insets, from these to their use in drawing and 
the control of the pencil, and then on into the mas- 



146 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

tery of the alphabet, always with a greater and 
greater control of the processes of his mind. 

The control of the processes of his body are learned 
in the same analyzed, gradual progression from the 
easy to the difficult. He learns in the " lesson of 
silence '' how to do nothing with his body, an accom- 
plishment which his fidgety elders have never ac- 
quired ; he learns in all the sensory exercises the com- 
plete control of his five servants, his senses; and in 
moving freely about the furniture suited to his size, 
in handling things small enough for him to manage, 
in transferring objects from one place to another, he 
learns how to go deftly through all the ordinary 
operations of everyday life. 

This physical adroitness has a vitally close re- 
lation to discipline of all sorts. When we say to 
the average, untrained, muscularly uncontrolled child 
of four, " Now do sit still for a while ! " we are mak- 
ing a request about as reasonable as though we cried, 
" Do stand on your head ! " And then we shake him 
or reprove him for not obeying what is for him an 
impossible command. By so doing we start in his mind 
the habit, both of not obeying and of being punished 
for it ; and as Nature is exuberant in her protective 
devices, he very soon grows a fine mental callous over 
his capacity for remorse at not obeying. The effort 
required to accede to our request is entirely too great 
for him, even if he wholly understands what we wish, 
which is often doubtful. And because he often has 
been forced to disobey a command to do something 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 14T 

impossible, he falls Into the way of disobeying a 
command which is within his powers. The Montes- 
sori training makes every impassioned attempt to 
teach a child exactly how to do a thing before he 
is requested to do it. 

We give a child the enormously compendious com- 
mand, " Don't be so careless ! " without reflecting 
that it is about as useful and specific an exhortation 
as if one should cry to us, " Do be more virtuous ! " 
Dr. Montessorl is continually admonishing us to use 
our grown-up brains to analyze Into Its component 
parts the child's carelessness, so that, part by part, it 
can be corrected. Suppose that it has manifested 
itself (as it not Infrequently does) by a reckless 
plunge across the room, carrying a plateful of cookies 
which have most of them fallen to the floor by the end 
of the trip. Almost without exception, what we all 
cry impatiently to a child, even to a very little child, 
under those circumstances, is "For mercy's sake, do 
look at what you're doing ! " which is, considered at 
all analytically, exactly what it Is our business as his 
leaders and guides in the world to do for him. 

A little reflection on the subject makes us realize, in 
spite of the sharpness of our reproof to him, that he 
takes no pleasure In spilling the cookies and falling 
over the chairs ; that is, that he had no set purpose to 
do this. Instead of walking correctly across the room 
and setting the plate down on ithe table. The question 
we should ask ourselves, Is obviously, " Why then, did 
he do all those troublesome and careless things ? " Ob- 



148 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

viously because we were requiring him to go through 
a complicated process, the separate parts of which he 
has not mastered ; as though a musician should com- 
mand us to play the chromatic scale of D minor, and 
then blame us for the resultant discord. He should 
have taught us a multitude of things before requiring 
such a complicated achievement, — how to hold our 
fingers over the piano-keys, how to read music, how 
to play simpler scales. 

^ The child with the cookie-plate needs, in the first 
place, a course of exercises in learning to walk in a 
straight line directly to the spot where he means to go, 
exercises continued until this process becomes auto- 
matic, so that the greatest haste on his part will not 
send him reeling about as most children (and a con- 
siderable number of their ill-trained elders) do when 
they undertake to move from one side of the room to 
another. 

How can he learn to do this ? Dr. Montessori sug- 
gests drawing a chalk-line on the floor and having the 
children play the "game" (either with or without 
music) of trying to walk along it without stepping 
off. I myself, remembering the forbidden joys of 
my reckless childhood in walking the top-rail of a 
fence, have tried the expedient of providing a less 
dangerous top-rail laid flat on the ground. Did any 
healthy child ever need more than one chance to walk 
along railway tracks? The objection in the past to 
these exercises has been that they were connected 
with something dangerous and undesirable. I do not 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 149 

blame my parents for forbidding me to try to balance 
myself either on the top-rail of a fence or on a rail- 
way track. Both of these were highly risky diver- 
sions. But it does seem odd that neither they nor I 
ever thought of providing, in some safe form, the 
exercises in equilibrium so violently craved by all 
healthy children. A narrow board, or length of so- 
called "two-by-four" studding, laid on the ground, 
furnishes a diversion as endlessly entertaining for a 
child of three as the most dangerously high fence- 
rail for an older child, and the never-failing zest with 
which a little child practises balancing himself on this 
narrow "sidewalk'' is a proof that the exercise is 
one for which he unconsciously felt a need. 

^^Another trick of equilibrium, which is hard for 
a little child, is to lift one foot from the floor and 
perform any action without falling over. If he is 
provided with a loose rope-end, hanging where he 
can easily reach it, his parent and guardian can sug- 
gest any number of entertaining things to do while 
his equilibrium is assured by his grasp on the rope. 
My experience has been that one suggestion is enough. 
The child's invention does the rest. Another exer- 
cise which is of great benefit for very little children 
is to walk backwards, a process which needs no more 
gymnastic apparatus than a helping hand from 
father or mother, an apparatus which is equally effect- 
ive in teaching a young child the fascinating game of 
crossing one foot over the other without falling down. 
Does all this physical training of tiny children 



160 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

seem too remote from the older child who spilled the 
cookies? He stands at the end of the road over which 
the balancing, backward-walking, highly entertained 
three-year-old is advancing. 

Although it is not mentioned in any Montessori 
suggestions I have seen (possibly because of the dif- 
ficulty of managing it in a schoolroom), it occurred 
to me one day that water is a neglected but very 
valuable factor in training a little child to accuracy 
of muscular movement. This reflection occurred to 
me just after I had instinctively led away a little 
child from a basin of water in which I had " caught 
her " dabbling her hands. Making a desperate eff^ort 
to put into practice my new resolution to question 
myself sharply each time that I denied a child any 
activity he seemed to desire, I perceived that in this 
case, as so often, I was acting traditionally, without 
considering the essential character of the situation. 
I could not, of course, allow the child to dabble in 
that basin of water, there, because she would be apt 
to spatter it on the floor and to get her clothes wet. 
But on that warm summer day, why could I not set her 
outdoors on the grass, with a bit of oilcloth girded 
about her waist so that she should not spoil her 
dress .'^ Her evident interest in the water was an in- 
dication of a natural force which it might be possible 
to utilize to give her some muscular training which 
would entertain her at the same time. When I really 
came to think about it, there is nothing inherently 
wicked in playing in water. 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 151 

For the almost superhuman effort necessary to use 
reason about a fact the outlines of which are dulled by 
familiarity, I was rewarded many times over by the 
discovery of a " sensory exercise " which apparently 
is of the highest value. The child in question, pro- 
vided with a pan of water, and various cups and 
jelly-molds of different sizes, which I snatched at 
random from the kitchen-shelf, was in a state of silent 
bliss. She filled the little cups up to the brim, she 
lifted them with an anxious care which no exhortation 
of mine could have induced her to apply, she drank 
from them, she poured their contents into each other, 
discovering for herself that the smaller ones must be 
emptied into the bigger ones and not vice versa, she 
filled them again with a spoon. At first she did all 
this very clumsily, although always with the most 
painstaking care, but as the days went on with repeti- 
tions of this game, her dexterity became astonishing, 
as was her eternal interest in the monotonous pro- 
ceeding. 

Now she is not only kept quiet and happy for 
about an hour a day by this amusement, and she has 
not only learned to fill and handle her little cups and 
jelly-molds very deftly, but the operation of drink- 
ing out of a water-glass at the table is of a simplicity 
fairly beneath her contempt. I smile to see our 
guests gasp and dodge in dismay as, with the reck- 
less abandon of her age, she grasps her water-glass 
with one hand, not deigning even to look at it, and 
conveys it to her lips. But as a matter of fact, no 



152 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

matter how hastily or carelessly she does this, she 
almost never spills a drop. The control of utensils 
containing liquids has been so thoroughly learned by 
her muscles In the long hours of happy play with her 
little cups that it Is perfectly automatic. She no 
more spills water from her glass than I fall down 
on the floor when I cross a room, even though I may 
be quite absent-minded about that undertaking. 



I 



CHAPTER XI 

MORE ABOUT DISCIPLINE, WITH SPECIAL 
REGARD TO OBEDIENCE 

I MUST stop at this point and devote a paragraph 
or two to laying the ghost of another Puritan 
ancestor who demands, " But where does the disci- 
pline come in here, if it is all automatic and uncon- 
scious? Why sneak exactitude of muscular action 
into the child's life by the back door, so to speak? 
Would it not be better for her moral nature to com- 
mand her outright not to spill the water from her 
glass at table, and force her to use her will-power by 
punishing her if she does ? " 

There are several answers to this searching ques- 
tion, which is by no means so simple and direct as it 
sounds. The most obvious one is the retort brutal, 
i.e., that a great many generations have experi- 
mented with that simple method of training children, 
with the result that family life has been considerably 
embittered and the children very poorly trained. In 
other words, that practical experience has shown it 
to be a very bad method indeed and in use only be- 
cause we know no better one. 

One of the reasons why it is bad is because it con- 
fuses two radically different activities in the child's 
life, including both under one far too-sweeping com- 

153 



154^ A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

mand. The jchild's ability to handle a _^la-ss of 
water is an entirely different function from its will- 
ingness to obey orders. To require of its nascent 
capacities at the same instant a new muscular skill 
and the moral effort necessary to obey a command is 
to invite almost certain failure. Worse than this, and 
in fact as bad as anything can be, the result of this 
impossibly compendious command is to bring about a 
hopeless confusion in the child's mind which means 
unnecessary nervous tension and friction and the 
beginning of an utterly deplorable mental habit of 
nervous tension and irritated resistance in the child's 
mind, whenever a command is given. That this in- 
stinct of irritated resistance is not a natural one is 
proved by the happily obedient older children in the 
Casa dei Bambini in Rome. Furthermore, anyone 
who will, under ordinary circumstances, try the sim- 
ple experiment of asking a little child (too young to 
have acquired this bad mental habit) to perform some 
operation which he has thoroughly mastered, will be 
convinced that obedience in itself involves no pain to a 
child. 

As to the second demand of my Puritan ancestor, 
which runs, " And force her to use her will-power by 
punishment," the same flat denial must be given that 
proposition. Experience proves that you can prevent 
a child from performing some single special action 
by means of external punishment, but that stimulat- 
ing the proper use of the will-power is something 
entirely different. Apparently the will-power is more 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 165 

apt to be perverted into grotesque and unprofitable 
shapes by the use of punishment than to be encour- 
aged into upright, useful, and vigorous growth. 

And here it is well to question our own hearts deeply 
to make sure that we really wish, honestly, without 
mental reservations, to stimulate the will-power of our 
children — their will-power, be it remembered, not our 
own. Is there, in the motives which actuate our at- 
tempts at securing obedience from children, a trace of 
the animal-trainer's instinct? For, though it is true 
that children are little animals, and that they can 
be successfully trained by the method of the animal- 
trainer, it is not to be forgotten that they are trained 
by those methods only to feats of exactly the same 
moral and intellectual caliber as those performed by 
trick dogs and cats. They are forced to struggle 
blindly, and wholly without aid, towards whatever 
human achievements they may later accomplish, with 
the added disadvantage of the mental habit either 
of sullen dissembled revolt or crushed mental servil- 
ity, according to their temperaments. 

The end and aim of the horse-breaker's effort is to 
create an animal who will obey literally, with no voli- 
tion of his own, any command of any human being. 
The conscientious parent who faces squarely this 
ultimate logical conclusion of the animal-trainer's 
system, must see that his own aim, being entirely 
opposed to that, must be attained by very different 
means ; and that, since his final goal is to produce a 
being wholly and wisely self-governing, the sooner 



166 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

the child can be induced to begin the exercise of the 
faculty of self-government, the more seasoned in ex- 
perience it will be when vital things begin to depend 
on it. 

It is highly probable that in the heart of the mod- 
em parent of the best type, if there is still some 
of the animal-trainer's instinct, he is quite and hon- 
estly unconscious of it and would be ashamed of it 
if he recognized it. I think most of us can say sin- 
cerely that we have no conscious wish for anything 
but the child's best welfare. But in saying this, we 
admit at once that our problem is vastly more subtle 
and complicated than the horse-breaker's, and that we 
are in need of every ray of light from any source 
possible. 

The particular, vivifying truth which we must im- 
print on our minds in this connection is that spon- 
taneity of action is the absolute prerequisite for any 
moral or intellectual advance on the part of any 
human being. Nor is this, though so constantly in- 
sisted upon by Dr. Montessori, any new invention of 
hers. Dimly felt, it has regulated more or less the 
best action of the best preachers, the best teachers 
and lawgivers since the beginning of the world. 
Pestalozzi formulated it in the hard saying, all the 
more poignant because it came from a man who had 
devoted himself with such passionate affection to his 
pupils, " I have found that no man in God's wide 
earth is able to help any other man. Help must come 
from the bosom alone." Froebel, in all his general 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 157 

remarks on education, states this principle clearly. 
Finally, it has been crystallized in the homely adage 
of old wives, " Every child's got to do its own 
growing." 

We all admit the truth of this theory. What is 
so startling about Dr. Montessori's attitude towards 
it, is that she really acts upon it ! More than that, 
she expects us to act on it, all the time, in all the 
multiform crises of our lives as parents, in this intri- 
cate problem of discipline and the training of the 
wjjl-power as well as in the simpler form of physically 
refraining from interfering with the child's efforts to 
feed and dress himself. 

And yet it is natural enough that we should find 
at ^st sight such general philosophic statements 
rather vague and remote, and not at all sufficiently 
reassuring as we stand face to face with the prob- 
lem of securing obedience from a lively child of three. 
We may have seen how we overlooked the obvious 
reason why a child who cannot obey a command will 
not; and we may be quite convinced that the first 
step in securing both self-control and obedience from 
a child is to put the necessary means in his power ; and 
yet we may be still frankly at a loss and deeply 
apprehensive about what seems the hopeless under- 
taking of directly securing obedience even after the 
child has learned how to obey. All that Dr. Montes- 
sori has done for us so far is to call our attention 
to the fact, which we did not in the least perceive be- 
fore, that a child is no more born into the world with 



158 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

a full-fledged capacity to obey orders, than to do a 
sum in arithmetic. But though we agree that we must 
first teach him his numbers before expecting him to 
add and subtract, how, we ask ourselves anxiously, 
can we be in the least sure that he will be willing to 
use his numbers to do sums with, that he will be will- 
ing to utilize his careful preparatory training when 
it comes to the point of really obeying orders. 

At this juncture I can recommend from successful 
personal experience a courageous abandonment of 
our traditional attitude of deep distrust towards life, 
of our medieval conviction that desirable traits can 
only be hewed painfully out across the grain of 
human nature. The old monstrous idea which under- 
lay all schooling was that the act of educating him- 
self was fundamentally abhorrent to a child and that 
he could be forced to do it only by external violence. 
This was an idea, held by more generations of school- 
teachers and parents than is at all pleasant to con- 
sider, when one reflects that it would have been swept 
out upon the dump-heap of discarded superstitions 
by one single, unprejudiced survey of one normal 
child under normal conditions. 

Dr. Montessori, carrying to its full extent a theory 
which has been slowly gaining ground in the minds of 
all modern enlightened teachers, has been the first to 
have the courage to act without reservation on the 
strength of her observation that the child prefers 
learning to any other occupation, since the child is 
the true representative of our race which does ad- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 159 

vance, even with such painful slowness, away from 
ignorance towards knowledge. Now, in addition she 
tells us just as forcibly, that they prefer right, or- 
derly, disciplined behavior to the unregulated dis- 
obedience which we slanderously insist is their natural 
taste. As a result of her scientific and unbiased 
observation of child-life she informs us that our 
usual lack of success in handling the problems of 
obedience comes because, while we do not expect a 
child at two or three or even four to have mastered 
completely even the elements of any other of his 
activities, we do expect him to have mastered all the 
complex muscular, nervous, mental, and moral ele- 
ments involved in the act of obedience to a command 
from outside his own individuality. 

She points out that obedience is evidently a deep- 
rooted instinct in human nature, since society is 
founded on obedience. Indeed, on the whole, history 
seems to show that the average human being has alto- 
gether too much native instinct to obey anyone who 
will shout out a command ; and that the advance from 
one bad form of government to another only slightly 
better, is so slow because the mass of grown men are 
too much given to obeying almost any positive order 
issued to them. Going back to our surprised recog- 
nition of the child as an inheritor of human nature in 
its entirety, we must admit that obedience is almost 
certainly an instinct latent in children. 

The obvious theoretic deduction from this rea- 
soning is, that we need neither persuade nor force a 



160 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

child to obey, but only clear-sightedly remove the 
various moral and physical obstructions which lie in 
the way of his obedience, with the confident expecta- 
tion that his latent instinct will develop spontaneously 
in the new and favorable conditions. 

When we plant a bean in the ground we do not 
feel that we need to try to force it to grow ; indeed, 
we know very well that we can do nothing whatever 
about that since it is governed entirely by the pres- 
ence or absence in the seed of the mysterious element 
of life; nor do we feel any apprehension about the 
capacity of that smooth, small seed, ultimately to 
develop into a vine which will climb up the pole we 
have set for it, will blossom, and bear fruit. We know 
that, barring accidents (which it is our business as 
gardeners to prevent), it cannot do anything else, 
because that is the nature of beans, and we know 
all about the nature of beans from a long acquaintnce 
with them. 

We would laugh at an ignorant, city-bred person 
gardening for the first time, who, the instant the 
two broad cotyledons showed above the ground, began 
tying strings to them to induce them to climb his 
pole. Our advice to him would be the obvious coun- 
sel, " Leave them alone until they grow their tendrils. 
You not only can't do any good by trying to induce 
those first primitive leaves to climb, but you may 
hurt your plant so that it will never develop nor- 
mally.'' 

The question seems to be, whether we will have the 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 161 

courage and good sense to take similar sound advice 
from a more experienced and a wiser child-gardener. 
Dr. Montessori not only expounds to us theoretically 
this doctrine that the child, properly trained, will 
spontaneously obey reasonable orders suited to his 
age with a prompt willingness which grows with his 
growth, but she shows us in the garden of her schools, 
bean-poles wreathed triumphantly with vines to the 
very top. Or, to drop a perhaps too-elaborated 
metaphor, she shows us children of three or four who 
willingly obey suggestions suited to their capacities, 
developing rapidly and surely into children of six and 
seven whose obedience in all things is a natural and 
delightful function of their lives. She not only says 
to us, " This theory will work in actual practice," 
but, " It has worked. Look at the result ! " 

Of course the crux of the matter lies in that phrase, 
" proper training." It means years of patient, in- 
telligent, faithful effort on the part of the guardian, 
to clear away from before the child the different ob- 
stacles to the free natural growth of this, as of all 
other desirable instincts of human nature. To give 
our children this " proper training " it is not enough 
to have intellectually grasped the theory of the Mon- 
tessori method. With each individual child we have 
a fresh problem of its application to him. Our 
mother-wits must be sharpened and in constant use. 
Dr. Montessori has only compiled a book of recipes, 
which will not feed our families, unless we exert our- 
selves, and unless we provide the necessary ingredients 



162 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

of patience, intelligence, good judgment, and devo- 
tion. 

The prize which seems possible to attain by such 
efforts makes them, however, worthy of all the time 
and thought we may possibly put upon them. Ap- 
parently, judging by the results obtained in the Casa 
dei Bambini among Italian children, and by Miss 
George in her school for American children, there is 
no more need for the occasional storms of temper or 
outbreaks of exasperated egotism which are so fa- 
miliar to all of us who care for children, than there 
is for the occasional " fits of indigestion," " feverish- 
ness," or " teething-sickness " the almost universal 
absence of which in the lives of our scientifically- 
reared children so astonishes the older generation. 

For the notable success of Miss George's Tarry- 
town school disposes once and for all of the theory 
that " it may work for Italians, but not with our 
naturally self-indulgent, spoiled American children." 
Fresh from the Casa dei Bambini in Rome, I visited 
Miss George's Children's Home and, except for the 
language, would have thought myself again on the 
Via Giusti. The same happy, unforced interest in 
the work, the same Montessori atmosphere of spon- 
taneous life, the same utter unconsciousness of visi- 
tors, the same astonishing industry. 

When theoretically by talk and discussion with ex- 
perts on the subject and practically by the sight of 
the astonishing results shown in the enlightenment 
and self-mastery of the older children who had been 



01/^3^^ 




Cou>sTixG Boxes. 

Copyright 1912. by Carl R. Byoir 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 163 

trained in the system, I was led towards the convic- 
tion that children really have not that irresistible 
tendency towards naughtiness which my Puritan 
blood led me unconsciously to assume, but that their 
natural tendency is on the whole to prefer to do what 
is best for them, I felt as though someone had tried 
to prove to me that the world before my eyes was 
emancipating itself from the action of some sup- 
posedly inexorable natural law. 

Naturally, being an Anglo-Saxon, an inhabitant of 
a cold climate, and the descendant of those trouble- 
some Puritan forefathers, who have interfered so 
much with the composition of this book, I could not, 
all in a breath, in this dizzying manner lose that firm 
conviction of Original Sin which, though no longer 
insisted upon openly in the teachings of the church, 
which I no longer attend as assiduously as my par- 
ents, still is, I discovered, a very vital element in my 
conception of life. 

No, the doctrine of Original Sin is in the very 
marrow of my New England bones, but, as a lover 
of my kind, I rejoice to be convinced of the smallness 
of its proportion in relation to other elements of 
human nature, and I bear witness gladly that I never 
saw or heard of a single case of wilful naughtiness 
among all the children in the Casa dei Bambini in 
Rome. And though I still cling unreasonably to my 
superstition that there is, at least in some American 
children, an irreducible minimum of the quality which 
our country people picturesquely call " The Old 



164 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

Harry," I am convinced that there is far, far less 
of it than I supposed, and I am overcome with retro- 
spective remorse for all the children I have mis- 
judged in the course of my life. 

To put it statistically, I would estimate that out 
of every thousand cases of " naughtiness " among 
little children, nine hundred and ninety-nine are due 
to something else than a " bad " impulse in the child's 
heart. Old-wife wisdom has already reduced by one- 
half the percentage of infantile wickedness, in its fire- 
side proverb, " Give a young one that's acting bad 
something to eat and put him to bed. Half the time 
he's tired or starved and don't know what ails him." 

It now seems likely that the other half of the time 
he is either hungry for intellectual food, weary with 
the artificial stimulation of too much mingling with 
adult life, or exasperated by perfectly unnecessary 
insistence on a code of rules which has really nothing 
to do with the question of right or wrong conduct. 
When it comes to choosing between really right and 
really wrong conduct, apparently the majority of the 
child's natural instincts are for the really right, as is 
shown by his real preference for the orderly, educat- 
ing activity of the Children's Home over disorderly 
" naughtiness." Our business should be to see to it 
that he is given the choice. 



CHAPTER XII 

DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF A UNIVERSAL 
ADOPTION OF THE MONTESSORI IDEAS 

NOW, of course, it is infinitely easier in the first 
place to cry out to a child, " Oh, don't be so 
careless ! " than to consider thus with painful care all 
the elements lacking in his training which make him 
heedless, and throughout years of conscientious effort 
to exercise the ingenuity necessary to supply those 
lacking elements. But serious-minded pa.rents do not 
and should not expect to find life a flowery bed of ease, 
and it is my~cbnviction that most of us will welcome 
with heartfelt joy any possible solution of our des- 
perately pressing problems, even if it involves the 
process of oiling and setting in motion the little- 
used machinery of our brains. 

I am opposed in this optimistic conviction by that 
small segment of the circle of my acquaintances com- 
posed of the doctors whom I happen to know person- 
ally. They take a gloomy view of the matter and tell 
me that their experience with human nature leads 
them to fear that the rules of moral and intellectual 
hygiene of childhood, of this new system, excellent 
though they are, will be observed with as little faith- 
fulness as the equally wise rules of physical hygiene 
for adults which the doctors have been endeavoring 

165 



166 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

vainly to have us adopt. They inform me that they 
have learned that, if obedience to the laws of hygiene 
requires continuous effort, day after day, people will 
not obey them, even though by so doing they would 
avoid the pains and maladies which they so dread. 
" People will take pills," physicians report, " but 
they will not take exercise. If your new system told 
them of some one or two supreme actions which 
would benefit their children, quite a number of par- 
ents would strain every nerve to accomplish the neces- 
sary feats. But what you are telling them is only 
another form of what we cry so vainly, namely that 
they themselves must observe nature and follow her 
laws, and that no action of their doctors, wise though 
they may be, can vicariously perform this function 
for them. You will see that your Dr. Montessori's 
exhortations will have as little effect as those of any 
other physician." 

I confess that at first I was somewhat cast down 
by these pessimistic prophecies, for even a casual 
glance over any group of ordinary acquaintances 
shows only too much ground for such conclusions. 
But a more prolonged scrutiny of just such a casually 
selected group of acquaintances, and a little more 
searching inquiry into the matter has brought out 
facts which lead to more encouraging ideas. 

In the first place, the doctors are scarcely correct 
when they assume that they have always been the re- 
pository of a wisdom which we laity have obstinately 
refused to take over from them. Comparatively 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 16T 

speaking, it is only yesterday that the doctors them- 
selves outgrew the idea that pills were the divinely 
appointed cures for all ills. So recent is this revo- 
lution in ideas that there are still left among us in 
eddies, out of the main stream, elderly doctors who 
lay very little of the modern fanatical stress on diet, 
and burn very little incense before the modern altar 
of fresh air and exercise. It seems early in the day 
to conclude that the majority of mankind will not 
take good advice if it is offered them, a sardonic con- 
clusion disproved by the athletic clubs all over the 
country, the sleeping-porches burgeoning out from 
large and small houses, the millions of barefooted 
children in rompers, the regiments of tennis-playing 
adolescents and golf-playing elders, the myriads of 
diet-studying housewives, the gladly accepted army 
of trained nurses. We may not do as well as we 
might, but we certainly have not turned deaf ears to 
all the exhortations of reason and enlightenment. 

Furthermore, beside the fact that doctors have been 
preaching " hygiene against drugs " to us only a 
short time, it is to be borne in mind that, as a class, 
they do not add to their many noble and glorious 
qualities of mind and heart a very ardent proselytiz- 
ing fervor. It seems to be against the "tempera- 
ment " of the profession. If you go to a doctor's office, 
and consult him professionally he will, it is true, tell 
you nowadays not to take pills, but to take plenty 
of exercise and sleep, to eat moderately, avoid worry, 
and drink plenty of pure water ; but you do not ever 



168 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

run across him preaching these doctrines from a bar- 
rel-head on the street-corner, to all who will hear. 
The traditional dignity of his profession forbids such 
Salvation Army methods. The doctors of a town are 
apt, prudently, to boil the water used in their own 
households and to advise this course of action to any 
who seek their counsel, rather than to band together 
in an aggressive, united company and make themselves 
disagreeably conspicuous by clamoring insistently at 
the primaries and polls for better water for the town. 
It is perhaps not quite fair to accuse us laity of ob- 
stinacy in refusing advice which has been offered with 
such gentlemanly reserve. 

Then, there is the obvious fact that doctors, like 
lawyers, see professionally only the ailing or mal- 
contents of the human family, and they suffer from a 
tendency common to us all, to generalize from the re- 
sults of their own observation. Our own observa- 
tion of our own community may quite honestly lead 
us to the opposite of their conclusions, namely that 
it is well worth while to make every effort for the 
diffusion of theories which tend to improve daily 
life, since, on the whole, people seem to have picked 
up very quickly indeed the reasonable doctrine of 
the prevention of illness by means of healthy lives. If 
they have done this, and are, to all appearances, try- 
ing hard to learn more about the process, it is rea- 
sonable to hope that they will catch at a similar rea- 
sonable mental and moral hygiene for their children, 
and that they will learn to leave off the unnecessary 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 169 

mental and moral restrictions, the unwise interference 
with the child's growth and undue insistence on con- 
formity to adult ideas of regularity, just as they 
have learned how to leave off the innumerable layers 
of starched petticoats, the stiff scratchy pantalets, 
and the close, smothering sunbonnets in which our lov- 
ing and devoted great-grandmothers required our 
grandmothers to grow up. 

Lastly, there is a vital element in the situation 
which is perhaps not sufficiently considered by peo- 
ple anxious to avoid the charge of sentimentality. 
This element is the strength of parental affection, 
perhaps the strongest and most enduring passion 
which falls to the lot of ordinary human beings. 
Only a Napoleon can carry ambition to the intensity 
of a passion. Great, overmastering love between man 
and woman is not so common as our romantic tradi- 
tion would have us believe. In the world of religion, 
saints are few and far between. Most of us manage 
to live without being consumed by the reforming 
fever of those rare souls who suffer under injustice 
to others as though it were practised on themselves. 
But nearly every house which contains children, shel- 
ters also two human beings the hard crust of whose 
natural egotism and moral sloth has been at least 
cracked by the shattering force of this primeval pas- 
sion for their young, two human beings, who, no mat- 
ter how low their position in the scale of human 
ethical development, have in them to some extent 
that divine capacity for willing self-sacrifice which 



170 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

comes, under other conditions, only to the rarest and 
most spiritual-minded members of the race. It is not 
sentimentality but a simple statement of fact to say 
that there is in parents who take care of their own chil- 
dren (as most American parents do) a natural fund 
of energy, patience, and willingness to undergo self- 
discipline, which cannot be counted upon in any other 
numerous class of people. The Montessori system, 
with its fresh, vivid presentation of axiomatic truths, 
with a fervent hope of a practical application of 
them to the everyday life of every child, addresses It- 
self to these qualities in parents ; and, for the sound 
development of its fundamental idea of self-education 
and self-government, trusts not only to the wise con- 
claves of professional pedagogues, but to the co- 
operation of the fathers and mothers of the world. 



CHAPTER XIII 

IS THERE ANY REAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 
THE MONTESSORI SYSTEM AND THE 
KINDERGARTEN? 

NO one realizes more acutely than I that the com- 
position of this chapter presupposes an amount 
of courage on my part which it is perhaps hardly 
exaggeration to call foolhardiness. That I am 
really venturing upon a battleground is evident to 
me from the note of rather fierce anticipatory dis- 
approval which I hear in the voice of everyone who 
asks me the question which heads this chapter. It 
always accented, " Is there any real difference be- 
tween the Montessori system and the kindergarten? " 
with the evident design of forcing a negative answer. 
Oddly enough, the same reluctance to grant the 
possibility of anything new in the Italian method 
characterizes the attitude of those who intensely dis- 
like the kindergartens, as well as that of its devoted 
adherents. People who consider the kindergarten 
" all sentimental, enervating twaddle " ask the ques- 
tion with a truculent tone which makes their query 
mean, " This new system is just the same sort of 
nonsense, isn't it now?"; while those who feel that 
the kindergarten is one of the vital, purifying, and 
uplifting forces in modern society evidently use the 

171 



172 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

question as a means of stating, " It can't be anything 
different from the best kindergarten ideas, for they 
are the best possible." 

I have seen too much beautiful kindergarten work 
and have too sincere an affection for the sweet and 
pure character of Froebel to have much community 
of feeling with the rather brutal negations of the 
first class of inquirers. If they can see nothing 
in kindergartens but the sentimentality which is 
undoubtedly there, but which cannot possibly, even 
in the most exaggerated manifestations of it, vitiate 
all the finely uplifting elements in those institutions, 
it is of no use to expect from them an understanding 
of a system which, like the Froebelian, rests ulti- 
mately upon a religious faith in the strength of the 
instinct for perfection in the human race. 

It is therefore largely for the sake of people like 
myself, with a natural sympathy for the kindergar- 
ten, that I am setting out upon the difficult undertak- 
ing of stating what in my mind are the differences 
between a Froebelian and a Montessori school for 
infants. 

I must begin by saying that there are a great 
many resemblances, as is inevitable in the case of 
two methods which work upon the same material — 
children from three to six. And of course it is hardly 
necessary formally to admit that the ultimate aim 
of the two educators is alike, because the aim which 
is common to them — ^an ardent desire to do the best 
thing possible for the children without regard for 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 173 

the convenience of the adults who teach them — is the 
sign manual throughout all the ages, from Plato and 
Quintilian down, which distinguishes the educator 
from the mere school-teacher. 

There are a good many differences in the didactic 
apparatus and use of it, some of which are too tech- 
nical to be treated fully here, such as the fact that 
Froebel, moved by his own extreme interest in crystals 
and their forms, provides a number of exercises 
for teaching children the analysis of geometrical 
forms, whereas Dr. Montessori thinks best not to 
undertake this with children so young. Kindergarten 
children are not taught reading and writing, and 
Montessori children are. Kindergarten children 
learn more about the relations of wholes to parts 
in their " number work," while in the Casa dei Bam- 
bini there is more attention paid to numbers in their 
series. 

There are of course many other differences in 
technic and apparatus, such as might be expected in 
two systems founded by educators separated from 
each other by the passage of sixty years and by a 
difference in race as well as by training and environ- 
ment. This is especially true in regard to the 
greater emphasis laid by Dr. Montessori on the 
careful, minute observation of the children before 
and during any attempt to instruct them. Trained 
as she has been in the severely unrelenting rule for 
exactitude of the positive sciences, in which intelli- 
gent observation is elevated to the position of the 



174 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

cardinal virtue necessary to Intellectual salvation, her 
instinct, strengthened since then by much experience, 
was to give herself plenty of time always to examine 
the subject of her experimentation. Just as a scien- 
tific horticulturist observes minutely the habits of a 
plant before he tries a new fertilizer on it, and after 
he has made the experiment goes on observing the 
plant with even more passionately absorbed attention, 
so Dr. Montessori trains her teachers to take time, 
all they need, to observe the children before, during, 
and after any given exercise. This is, of course, 
the natural instinct of Froebel, of every born teacher, 
but the routine of the average school or kindergarten 
gives the teacher only too few minutes for it, not 
to speak of the long hours necessary. 

On the other hand, even in the details of the 
technic, there is much similarity between the two 
systems. Some of the kindergarten blocks are used 
in Montessori " sensory exercises." In both insti- 
tutions the ideal, seldom attained as yet, is for the 
systematic introduction of gardening and the care 
of animals. In both the children play games and 
dance to music; some regular kindergarten games 
are used in the Casa dei Bambini; in both schools 
the first aim is to make the children happy; in 
neither are they reproved or punished. Both sys- 
tems bear in every detail the imprint of extreme 
love and reverence for childhood. And yet the moral 
atmosphere of a kindergarten is as different from 
that of a Casa dei Bambini as possible, and the real 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 175 

truth of the matter is that one is actually and funda- 
mentally opposed to the other. 

To explain this, a few words of comment on 
Froebel, his life, and the subsequent fortunes of 
his ideas may be useful. These facts are so well 
known, owing to the universal respect and affection 
for this great benefactor of childhood, that the 
merest mention of them will suffice. The dates of 
his birth and death are significant, 1782-1852, as 
is a brief bringing to mind of the intensely German 
Protestant piety of his surroundings. He died sixty 
years ago, and a great deal of educational water has 
flowed under school bridges since then. He died be- 
fore anyone dreamed of modern scientific labora- 
tories, such as those in which the Italian educator 
received her sound, practical training, a training 
which not only put at her disposition an amount of 
accurate information about the subject of her in- 
vestigation which would have dazzled Froebel, but 
formed her in the fixed habit of inductive reasoning 
which has made possible the brilliant achievements of 
modern positive sciences, and which was as little com- 
mon in Froebel's time as the data on which it works. 
That he felt instinctively the needs for this solid 
foundation is shown by his craving for instruction 
in the natural sciences, his absorption of all the 
scanty information within his reach, his subsequent 
deep meditation upon this information, and his at- 
tempts to generalize from it. 

Another factor in Froebel's life which scarcely 



176 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

exists nowadays was the tradition of physical vio- 
lence and oppression towards children. That this 
has gradually disappeared from the ordinary civilized 
family, is partly due to the general trend away from 
physical oppression of all sorts, and partly to 
Froebel's own softening influence, for which we can 
none of us feel too fervent a gratitude. He was 
forced to devote considerable of his energy to com- 
bating this tendency, which was not a factor at 
all in the problems which confronted Dr. Montes- 
sori. 

Some time after his death his ideas began to spread 
abroad not only in Europe (the kindergartens of 
which I know nothing about, except that they are 
very successful and numerous), but also in the 
United States, about whose numerous and success- 
ful kindergartens we all know a great deal. The 
new system was taken up by teachers who were in- 
tensely American, and hence strongly characterized 
by the American quality of force of individuality. 
It is a universally accepted description of American 
women (sometimes intended as a compliment, some- 
times as quite the reverse) that, whatever else they 
are, they are less negative, more forceful, more 
direct, endowed with more positive personalities than 
the women of other countries. These women, full of 
energy, quivering with the resolution to put into 
full practice all the ideas of the German educator 
whose system they espoused, *^ organized a cam- 
paign for kindergartens " which, with characteristic 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 177 

thoroughness, determination, and devotion, they have 
carried through to high success. 

They, and the educators among men who became 
interested in the Froebelian ideas, have been by no 
means wilhng to consider all advance impossible 
because the founder of the system is no longer 
with them. They have been progressively and in- 
telligently unwilling to let 1852 mark the culmina- 
tion of kindergarten improvement, and they have 
changed, and patched, and added to, and taken away 
from the original method as their best judgment and 
the increasing scientific data about children enabled 
them. This process, it goes without saying, has 
not taken place without a certain amount of friction. 
Naturally everyone's " best judgment " scarcely coin- 
cided with that of everyone else. There have been 
honest differences of opinion about the interpretation 
of scientific data. True to its nature as an essen- 
tially religious institution, the kindergarten has un- 
dergone schisms, been rent with heresies, has been 
divided into orthodox and heterodox, into liberals 
and conservatives, although the whole body of the 
work has gone constantly forward, keeping pace 
with the increasing modern preoccupation with child- 
hood. 

Indeed it seems to me that one may say without 
being considered unsympathetic that it has now cer- 
tain other aspects of a popular, prosperous religious 
sect, among which is a feeling of instinctive jealousy 
of similar regenerating influences which have their 



178 A MONTESSORI MOTHER * 

origin outside the walls of the original orthodox 
church. 

Undoubtedly they have some excuse in the ab- 
surdly exaggerated current reports and rumors of 
the miracles accomplished by the Montessori appa- 
ratus; but it seems to outsiders that what we have 
a right to expect from the heads of the organized, 
established kindergarten movement is an open-minded, 
unbiased, and extremely minute and thorough investi- 
gation into the new ideas, rather than an inspection 
of popular reports and a resultant condemnation. 
It is because I am as much concerned as I am aston- 
ished at this attitude on their part that I am ven- 
turing upon the following slight and unprofessional 
discussion of the differences between the typical kin- 
dergarten and the typical Casa dei Bambini. 

To begin with, kindergarteners are quite right 
when they cry out that there is nothing new in the 
idea of self-education, and that Froebel stated as 
plainly as Montessori does that the aim of all edu- 
cation is to waken voluntary action in the child. 
For that matter, what educator worthy of the name 
has not felt this? The point seems to be, not that 
Froebel states this vital principle any less clearly, 
but so much less forcibly than the Italian educator. 
Not foreseeing the masterful women, with highly 
developed personalities, who were to be the apostles 
of his ideas in America, and not being surrounded 
by the insistence on the value of each individuality 
which marks our modem moral atmosphere, it did 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 179 

not occur to him, apparently, that there was any 
special danger in this direction. For, of course, our 
modern high estimate of the value of individuality 
results not only in a vague though growing realiza- 
tion of the importance of safeguarding the nascent 
personalities of children, but in a plenitude of 
strongly marked individualities among the adults who 
teach children, and in a fixed habit of using the 
strength of this personality as a tool to attain de- 
sired ends. 

The difference in this regard between the two 
educators may perhaps be stated fancifully in the 
following way: Froebel gives his teachers, among 
many other maxims to hang up where they may be 
constantly in view, a statement running somewhat 
in this fashion: "All growth must come from a 
voluntary action of the child himself." Dr. Mon- 
tessori not only puts this maxim first and foremost, 
and exhorts her teachers to bear it incessantly in 
mind during the consideration of any and all other 
maxims, but she may be supposed to wish it printed 
thus: " All growth must come from a VOLUNTARY 
action of the child HIMSELF." 

The first thing she requires of a directress in her 
school is a complete avoidance of the center of the 
stage, a self-annihilation, the very desirability (not 
to mention the possibility) of which has never oc- 
curred to the kindergarten teacher whose normal 
position is in the middle of a ring of children 
with every eye on her, with every sensitive, budding 



180 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

personality receiving the strongest possible impres- 
sions from her own adult individuality. Without the 
least hesitation or doubt, she has always considered 
that her part is to make that individuality as perfect 
and lovable as possible, so that the impression the 
children get from it may be desirable. The idea that 
she is to keep herself strictly in the background for 
fear of unduly influencing some childish soul which 
has not yet found itself, is a;n idea totally unheard of. 

I find in a catalogue of kindergarten material this 
sentence in praise of some new device. " It obviates 
the need of supervision on the part of the teacher as 
far as is consistent with conscientious child-training.^^ 
Now the Montessori ideal is a device which shall be 
so entirely self-corrective that absolutely no inter- 
ference by the teacher is necessary as long as the 
child is occupied with it. I find in that sentence the 
keynote of the difference between the two systems. 
In the kindergarten the emphasis is laid, consciously, 
or unconsciously, but very practically always, on 
the fact that the teacher teaches. In the Casa dei 
Bambini the emphasis is all on the fact that the 
child learns. 

In the beginning of her study the kindergarten 
teacher is instructed, it is true, as a philosophic 
consideration, that Pestalozzi held and Froebel ac- 
cepted the dictum that, just as the cultivator creates 
nothing in his trees and plants, so the educator 
creates nothing in the children under his care. This 
is duly set down in her note-book, but the apparatus 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 181 

given her to work with, the technic taught her, what 
she sees of the work of other teachers, the whole 
tendency of her training goes to accentuate what is 
already racially strong in her temperament, a fixed 
conviction of her own personal and individual re- 
sponsibility for what happens about her. She feels 
keenly (in the case of nervous constitutions, crush- 
ingly) the weight of this responsibility, really awful 
when it is felt about children. She has the quick, 
energetic, American instinct to do something herself, 
at once to bring about a desired condition. She is 
the swimmer who does not trust heartily and wholly 
to the water to keep him up, but who stiffens his 
muscles and exhausts himself in the attempt by his 
own efforts to float. Indeed, that she should be re- 
quired above all things to do nothing, not to inter- 
fere, is almost intellectually inconceivable to her. 

This, of course, is a generalization as inaccurate 
as all generalizations are. There are some kinder- 
garten teachers with great natural gifts of spiritual 
divination, strengthened by the experiences of their 
beautiful lives, who feel the inner trust in life which 
is so consoling and uplifting to the Montessori 
teacher. But the average American kindergarten 
teacher, like all the rest of us average Americans, 
needs the calming and quieting lesson taught by the 
great Italian educator's reverent awe for the spon- 
taneous, ever-upward, irresistible thrust of the mirac- 
ulous principle of growth. 

In spite of the horticultural name of her school 



182 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

the ordinary kindergarten teacher has never learned 
the whole-hearted, patient faith in the long, slow 
processes of nature which characterizes the true gar- 
dener. She is not penetrated by the realization of 
the vastness of the forces of the human soul, she 
is not subdued and consoled by a calm certainty 
of the rightness of natural development. She is far 
gayer with her children than the Montessori teacher, 
but she is really less happy with them because, in 
her heart of hearts, she trusts them less. She feels 
a restless sense of responsibility for each action of 
each child. It is doubtless this difference in mental 
attitude which accounts for the physical difference 
of aspect between our pretty, smiling, ever-active, 
always beckoning, nervously conscientious kinder- 
garten teacher, always on exhibition, and the calm, 
unhurried tranquillity of the Montessori directress, 
always unobtrusively in the background. 

The latter is but moving about from one little 
river of life to another, lifting a sluice gate here 
for a sluggish nature, constructing a dam there to 
help a too impetuous nature to concentrate its 
forces, and much of the time occupied in quietly 
observing, quite at her leisure, the direction of the 
channels being constructed by the different streams. 
The kindergarten teacher tries to do this, but she 
seems obsessed with the idea, unconscious for the 
most part, that it is, after all, her duty to manage 
somehow to increase the flow of the little rivers by 
pouring into them some of her own superabundant 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 183 

vital force. In her commendable desire to give her- 
self and her whole life to her chosen work, she con- 
ceives that she is lazy if she ever allows herself 
a moment of absolute leisure, and unoccupied, im- 
personal observation of the growth of the various 
organisms in her garden. She must be always help- 
ing them grow ! Why else is she there ? she demands 
with a wrinkled brow of nervous determination to 
do her duty, and with the most honest, hurt surprise 
at any criticism of her work. 

It is possible that this tendency in American kin- 
dergartens is not only a result of the American 
temperament, but is inherent in Froebel's original 
conception of the kindergarten as the place where 
the child gets his real social training, as opposed to 
the home where he gets his individual training. 
Standing midway between Fichte with his hard dic- 
tum that the child belongs wholly to the State and 
to society, and Pestalozzi's conviction that he be- 
longs wholly to the family, Froebel thought to make 
a working compromise by dividing up the bone of 
contention, by leaving the child in the family most 
of the time, but giving him definite social training 
at definite hours every day. 

Now there is bound to be, in such an effort, some 
of the same danger involved in a conception of 
religious life which ordains that it shall be lived 
chiefly between half-past ten and noon on every 
Sunday morning. It may very well happen that a 
child does not feel social some morning between nine 



184 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

and eleven, but would prefer to pursue some laudable 
individual enterprise. It may be said that the slight 
moral coercion involved in insisting that he join 
in one of the group games or songs of the kinder- 
garten is only good discipline, but the fact remains 
that coercion has been employed, even though coated 
with sweet and coaxing persuasion, and the picture 
of itself conceived by the kindergarten as a place 
of the spontaneous flowering of the social instinct 
among children has in it some slight pretense. In the 
Casa dei Bambini, on the other hand, the children 
learn the rules and conditions of social life as we 
must all learn them, and in the only way we all learn 
them, and that is by living socially/. 

The kindergarten teacher, set the task of seeing 
that a given number of children engage in social 
enterprises practically all the time during a given 
number of hours every day, can hardly be blamed 
if she is convinced that she must act upon the chil- 
dren nearly every moment, since she is required to 
round them up incessantly into the social corral. 
The long hours of the Montessori school and the 
freedom of the children, living their own everyday 
lives as though they were (as indeed they are) in 
their own home, make a vital difference here. The 
children, in conducting their individual lives in com- 
pany with others, are reproducing the actual con- 
ditions which govern social life in the adult world. 
They learn to defer to each other, to obey rules, 
even to rise to the moral height of making rules, 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 185 

to sink temporarily their own interests in the com- 
mon weal, not because it is " nice " to do this, not 
because an adored, infallible, lovely teacher supports 
the doctrine by her unquestioned authority, not be- 
cause they are praised and petted when they do, but 
(and is not this the real grim foundation of laws 
for social organization?) because they find they can- 
not live together at all without rules which all re- 
spect and obey. 

In other words, when there is some real occasion 
for formulating or obeying a law which facilitates 
social life, they formulate it and obey it from an 
inward conviction, based on genuine circumstances 
of their own lives, that they must do so, or life would 
not be tolerable for any of them ; and when there is 
no genuine occasion for their making this really 
great sacrifice for the common weal, they are left, 
as we all desire to be left, to the pursuit of their 
own lives. No artificial occasion for this sacrifice 
is manufactured by the routine of the school — an 
artificial occasion which is apt to be resented by the 
stronger spirits among children even as young as 
those of kindergarten age. They feel, as we all do, 
that there is nothing intrinsically sacred or valuable 
about the compromises necessary to attain peaceable 
social life, and that they should not be demanded 
of us except when necessary. Crudely stated, 
FroebePs purpose seems to have been that the child 
should, in two or three hours at a given time every 
day, do his social living and have it over with. And 



186 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

although this statement is both unsympathetic and 
incomplete, there is in it the germ of a well-founded 
criticism of the method which many of us have 
vaguely felt, although we have not been able to 
formulate it before studying the principles of a sys- 
tem which seems to avoid this fault. 

A conversation I had in Rome with an Italian 
friend, not in sympathy with the Montessori ideas, 
illustrates another phase of the difference between 
the average kindergarten and the Casa dei Bam- 
bini. My friend is a quick, energetic, positive 
woman who " manages '' her two children with a 
competent ease which seems the most conclusive proof 
to her that her methods need no improvement. " Oh, 
no, the Case dei Bambini are quite failures," she told 
me. " The children themselves don't like them." I 
recalled the room full of blissful babies which I had 
come to know so well, and looked, I daresay, some of 
the amused incredulity I felt, for she went on hastily, 
" Well, some children may. Mine never did. I had 
to put both the boy and the girl back into a kinder- 
garten. My little Ida summed up the whole matter. 
She said, ' Isn't it queer how they treat you at a 
Casa dei Bambini ! They ask me, " Now which would 
you like to do, Ida, this, or this.?" It makes me 
feel so queer. I want somebody to tell me what to 
do ! ' " 

My friend went on to generalize, quite sure of 
her ground, " That's the sweet and natural child 
instinct^ — to depend on adults for guidance. That's 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 187 

how children are, and all the Dr. Montessoris in the 
world can't change them." 

The difference between that point of view and 
Dr. Montessori's is the fundamental difference be- 
tween the belief in aristocracy, and the value of 
authority for its own sake, which still lingers among 
conservatives even in our day, and the whole-hearted 
belief in democracy which is growing more and more 
pronounced among most of our thinkers. 

Ida is being trained under her mother's masterful 
eye to carry on docilely what an English writer has 
called " the dogmatic method with its demand for 
mechanical obedience and its pursuit of external 
results." She is acquiring rapidly the habit of stand- 
ing still until somebody tells her what .to do, and 
she has already acquired an unquestioning acqui- 
escence in the illimitable authority of somebody else, 
anyone who will speak positively enough to regulate 
her life in all its details. In other words, a finely 
consistent little slave is being manufactured out of 
Ida, and if in later years she should develop more 
of her mother's forcefulness, it will waste a great 
deal of its energy in a wild, unregulated revolt 
against the chains of habit with which she finds her- 
self loaded, and in the end will probably wreak itself 
on crushing the individuality out of her children in 
their turn. 

Sweet little four-year-old Ida, freed for a mo- 
ment from the twilight cell of her passive obedience, 
and blinking pitifully in the free daylight of the 



188 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

Casa dei Bambini, is a figure which has lingered long 
in my memory and has been one of the factors in- 
ducing me to undertake the perhaps too ambitious 
enterprise of writing this book. 

In still another way the Montessori insistence on 
spontaneity of the children's action safeguards them, 
it seems to me, against one of the greatest dangers 
of kindergarten life, and obviates one of the justest 
criticisms of the American development of Froebel's 
method, namely overstimulation and mental fatigue. 
When I first thoroughly grasped this fundamental 
difference, I was reminded of the saying of a wise 
old doctor who, when I was an intense, violently 
active girl of seventeen, had given me some sound 
advice about how to lift the little children with 
whom I happened to be playing: "Don't take hold 
of their hands to swing them around ! " he cried to 
me. " You can't tell when the strain may be too 
great for their little bones and tendons. You may 
do them a serious hurt. Have them take hold of 
your hands ! And when they're tired, they'll let go." 

It now seems to me that in the kindergarten the 
teachers are the ones who take hold of the children's 
hands, and in the Casa dei Bambini it is the other 
way about. What Dr. Montessori is always crying 
to her teachers is just the exhortation of my old 
doctor. What she is endeavoring to contrive is a 
system which allows the children to " let go " when 
they themselves, each at a different time, feel the 
strain of effort. The kindergarten teacher is making 




Insets Arouxd Which the Child Draws, and Then Fills in 
THE Outline With Colored Crayons. 

Copyright 1912, by Carl R. Byoir 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 189 

all possible conscientious efforts to train herself to 
an impossible achievement, namely to know (what 
of course she never can know with certainty) when 
each child loses his spontaneous interest in his ex- 
ercises or game. She is as genuinely convinced as 
the Montessori directress that she must " let go " 
at that moment, but she is not trained so to take 
hold of the child that he himself makes that all- 
important decision. 

It is true that the best kindergarteners learn from 
years of experience (which involves making mistakes 
on a good many children) about when, in general, 
to let go; l^ut not the most inspired teacher can 
tell, as the child himself does, when the strain is 
first felt in the immature, undeveloped brain. And it 
is this margin of possibility of mistake on the part of 
the best kindergarten teachers which results only too 
frequently, with our nervous, too responsive Amer- 
ican children, in the flushed faces and unnaturally 
bright eyes of the little ones who return to us after 
their happy, happy morning in the kindergarten, 
unable to eat their luncheons, unable to take their 
afternoon naps, quivering between laughter and 
tears, and finding very dull the quiet peace of the 
home life. 

This observation finds any amount of confirma- 
tory evidence in the astonishingly great diversity 
in mental application among children when really 
left to their own devices. There is no telling how 
long or how short a time any given play or game 



190 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

will hold their attention, and both kindergarteners 
and Montessori teachers agree that it is of value 
only so long as it really does genuinely hold their 
attention. Some children are interested only so 
long as they must struggle against obstacles, and 
once the enterprise runs smoothly, have no further 
use for it. With others, the pleasure seems to in- 
crease a hundredfold when they are once sure of their 
own ability. 

For it is by no means true that the kindergarten 
teacher is always apt to continue a given game or 
exercise too long. It is only too long for some 
of the children. There are apt to be others whom 
she deprives, by her discontinuation of the game, of 
an invigorating exercise which they crave with all 
their might, and which they would continue, if left 
free to follow their own inclination, ten times longer 
than she would dare to think of asking them to do. 
The pertinacity of children in some exercise which 
happens exactly to suit their needs is one of the 
inevitable surprises to people observing them care- 
fully for the first time. Since my attention has 
been called to it, I have observed this crazy perse- 
verance on unexpected occasions in all children act- 
ing freely. Not long ago a child of mine con- 
ceived the idea of climbing up on an easy-chair, 
tilting herself over the arm, sliding down into the 
seat on her head, and so off in a sprawling heap 
on the floor. I began to count the number of times 
she went through this extremely violent, fatiguing, 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 191 

and (as far as I could see) uninteresting exercise, 
and was fairly astounded by her obstinacy in stick- 
ing to it. She had done it thirty-four times with 
unflagging zest, shouting and laughing to herself, 
and was apparently going on indefinitely when, to 
my involuntary relief, she was called away to 
supper. 

In Rome I remember watching a little boy going 
through the exercises with the wooden cylinders 
of different sizes which fit into corresponding holes 
(page 70). He worked away with a busy, serene, 
absorbed industry, running his forefinger around the 
cylinders and then around the holes . until he had 
them all fitted in. Then with no haste, but with 
no hesitation, he emptied them all out and began 
over again. He did this so many times that I felt an 
impatient fatigue at the sight of the laborious little 
creature, and turned my attention elsewhere. I had 
counted up to the fourteenth repetition of his feat 
before I stopped watching him, and when I glanced 
back again, a quarter of an hour later, he was still at 
it. All this, of course, without a particle of that 
" minimum amount of supervision consistent with con- 
scientious child- training." He was his own super- 
visor, thanks to the self-corrective nature of the 
apparatus he was using. If he put a cylinder in the 
wrong hole he discovered it himself and was forced 
to think out for himself what the trouble was. 

Dr. Montessori says (and I can easily believe her 
from my own experience) that nothing is harder for 



192 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

even the most earnest and gifted teachers to learn 
than that their duty is not to solve all the difficulties 
in the way of the children, or even to smooth these 
out as much as possible, but on the contrary ex- 
pressly to see to it that each child is kept constantly 
supplied with difficulties and obstacles suitable to 
his strength. 

A kindergarten teacher tries faithfully to teach 
her children so that they will not make errors in their 
undertakings. She holds herself virtually respon- 
sible for this. With a Puritan conscientiousness she 
blames herself if they do make mistakes, if they do 
not understand, by grasping her explanation, all the 
inwardness of the process under consideration, and 
she repeats her explanations with unending patience 
until she thinks they do. The Montessori teacher, 
on the other hand, confines herself to pointing out 
to the child what the enterprise before him is. She 
does not, it is true, drop down before him the material 
for the Long Stair and leave him to guess what is 
to be done with it. She herself constructs the edifice 
which is the goal desired. She makes sure that he 
has a clear concept of what the task is, and then 
she mixes up the blocks and leaves him to work out 
his own salvation by the aid of the self -corrective 
material. 

Dr. Montessori has a great many amusing stories 
to tell of her first struggles with her teachers to 
make them realize her point of view. Some of them 
became offended, and resolved, since they were not 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 193 

allowed to help the children, to do nothing at all for 
them, a resolution which resulted naturally in a state 
of things worse than the first. It was very hard for 
them to learn that it was their part to set the 
machinery of an exercise in motion and then let the 
child continue it himself. I quite appreciate the 
difficulty of learning the distinction between direct- 
ing the children's activity and teaching them each 
new step of every process. My own impulse made 
me realize the truth of Dr. Montessori's laughing 
picture of the teacher's instinctive rush to the aid 
of some child puzzling over the geometric insets, and 
I knew, from having gone through many such pro- 
fuse, voluble, vague, confusing explanations myself, 
that what they always said was, "No, no, dear; 
you're trying to put the round one in the square hole. 
See, it has no corners. Look for a hole that hasn't 
any corners, etc., etc," It was not until I had sat by 
a child, restraining myself by a violent effort of self- 
control from " correcting " his errors, and had seen 
the calm, steady, untiring hopeful perseverance of his 
application, untroubled and unconfused by adult 
'' aid," that I was fully convinced that my impulse 
was to meddle, not to aid. And I admit that I have 
many backslidings still. 

Half playfully and half earnestly, I am continu- 
ally quoting to myself the curious quatrain of the 
Earl of Lytton, a verse which I think may serve as 
a whimsical motto for all of us energetic American 
mothers and kindergarteners who may be trying to 



194 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 



learn more self-restraint in our relations with little 
children : 



" Since all that I can do for thee 
Is to do nothing, this my prayer must be, 
That thou mayst never guess nor ever see 
The all-endured, this nothing-done costs me/' 



CHAPTER XIV 
MORAL TRAINING 

A PERUSAL of the methods of the Montessori 
schools and of the philosophy underlying them 
may lead the reader to question if under this new 
system the child is regarded as a creature with muscu- 
lar and intellectual activities only, and without a 
soul. While the sternest sort of moral training is 
given to the parent or teacher who attempts to use 
the Montessori system, apparently very little is ad- 
dressed directly to the child. 

Nothing could more horrify the founder of the sys- 
tem than such an idea. No modern thinker could 
possibly be more penetrated with reverence for the 
higher life of the spirit than she, or could bear its 
needs more constantly in mind. 

Critics of the method who claim that it makes no 
direct appeal to the child's moral nature, and tends 
to make of him a little egotist bent on self-develop- 
ment only, have misapprehended the spirit of the 
whole system. 

One answer to such a criticism is that conscious 
moral existence, the voluntary following of spirit- 
ual law, being by far the rarest, highest, and most 
difficult achievement in human life, is the one 

195 



196 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

which develops latest, requires the longest and 
most careful preparation and the most mature 
powers of the individual. It is not only un- 
reasonable to expect in a little child much of this 
conscious struggle toward the good, but it is utterly 
futile to attempt to force it prematurely into exist- 
ence. It cannot be done, any more than a six-months 
baby can be forced to an intellectual undertaking of 
even the smallest dimension. 

As a matter of fact, a normal child under six is 
mostly a little egotist bent on self-development, and to 
develop himself is the best thing he can do, both for 
himself and others, just as the natural business of 
a healthy child under a year of age is to extract all 
the physical profit possible out of the food, rest, care, 
and exercise given him. And yet even here, the line be- 
tween the varieties of growth — physical, intellectual, 
and moral — is by no means hard and fast. The six- 
months baby, although living an almost exclusively 
physical life, in struggling to co-ordin^-te the mus- 
cles of his two arms so that he can seize a rattle with 
both hands, is battling for the mastery of his brain- 
centers, just as the three-year-old, who leads a life 
composed almost entirely of physical and intellectual 
interests, still, in the instinct which leads him to pity 
and water a thirsty plant, is struggling away from 
that exclusive imprisonment in his own interests and 
needs which is the Old Enemy of us all. The fact 
that this altruistic interest is not an overmastering 
passion which moves him to continuous responsible 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 197 

care for the plant, and the other fact that, even while 
he is giving it a drink, he has very likely forgotten 
his original purpose in the fascinations of the antics 
of water poured out of a sprinkling-pot, should not 
in the least modify our recognition of the sincerely 
moral character of his first impulse. 

Now, sincerity in moral impulse is a prerequisite 
to healthy moral life, the importance of which can- 
not be overstated by the most swelling devices of 
rhetoric. It is an essential in moral life as air is in 
physical life ; in other words moral life of any kind 
is entirely impossible without it. Hypocrisy, con- 
scious or unconscious, is a far worse enemy than ig- 
norance, since it poisons the very springs of spiritual 
life, and yet few things are harder to avoid than un- 
conscious hypocrisy. A realization of this truth is 
perhaps the explanation of a recent tendency in 
America for fairly intelligent, fairly conscientious 
parents utterly to despair of seeing any light on 
this problem, and to attempt to solve it by running 
away from it, to throw up the whole business in dis- 
may at its diifficulty, to attempt no moral training 
at all because so much that is given is bad, and to 
"let the children go, until they are old enough to 
choose for themselves." 

It is possible that this method, chosen in des- 
peration, bad though it obviously is, is better than 
the older one of attempting to explain to little chil- 
dren the mysteries of the ordering of the universe be- 
fore which our own mature spirits pause in bewildered 



198 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

uncertainty. The children of six who conceive of 
God as a policeman with a long white beard, oddly 
enough placed in the sky, lying on the clouds, and 
looking down through a peephole to spy upon the 
actions of little girls and boys, have undoubtedly 
been cruelly wronged by the creation of this gro- 
tesque and ignoble figure in their little brains, a 
figure which, so permanent are the impressions of 
childhood, will undoubtedly, in years to come, uncon- 
sciously render much more difficult a reverent and 
spiritual attitude towards the Ultimate Cause. But 
because this attempt at spiritual instruction is as 
bad as it can be, it does not follow that the moral 
nature of the little child does not need training fitted 
to its capacities, limited though these undoubtedly are 
in early childhood. There is no more reason for 
leaving a child to grow up morally unaided by a life 
definitely designed to develop his moral nature, than 
for leaving him to grow up physically unaided by 
good food, to expect that he will select this instinct- 
ively by his own unaided browsings in the pantry 
among the different dishes prepared for the varying 
needs of his elders. 

The usual method by which bountiful Nature, 
striving to make up for our deficiencies, provides for 
this, is by the action of children upon each other. 
This factor is, of course, notably present in the Casa 
dei Bambini in the all-day life in common of twenty 
children. In families it is especially to be seen in 
the care and self-sacrifice which older children are 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 199 

obliged to show towards younger ones. But in our 
usual small prosperous American families, this ele- 
ment of enforced moral effort is often wanting. 
Either there are but one or two children, or if more, 
the younger ones are cared for by a nurse, or by the 
mother sufficiently free from pressing material care to 
give considerable time to the baby of the family. 
And on the whole it must be admitted that Nature's 
expedient is at best a rough-and-ready one. Though 
the older children may miss an opportunity for 
spiritual discipline, it is manifestly better for the 
baby to be tended by an adult. 

But there are other organisms besides babies which 
are weaker than children, and the care for plants and 
animals seems to be the natural door through which 
the little child may first go forth to his lifelong battle 
with his own egotism. It is always to be borne in 
mind that the Case dei Bambini now actually existing 
are by no means ideal embodiments of Dr. Montes- 
sori's ideas (see page 227). She has not had a per- 
fectly free hand with any one of them and herself says 
constantly that many phases of her central principle 
have never been developed in practice. Hence the 
absence of any special morally educative element in 
the present Casa dei Bambini does not in the least 
indicate that Dr. Montessori has deliberately omitted 
it, any more than the perhaps too dryly practical 
character of life in the original Casa dei Bambini 
means anything but that the principle was being 
applied to very poor children who were in need, first 



200 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

of all, of practical help. For instance, music and art 
were left out of the life there, simply because, at that 
time, there seemed no way of introducing them. It is 
hard for us to realize that the whole movement is so 
extremely recent that there has not been time to over- 
come many merely material obstacles. In the same 
way, although circumstances have prevented Dr. 
Montessori from developing practically the Casa dei 
Bambini as far in the direction of the care of plants 
and animals as she would like, she is very strongly 
in favor of making this an integral and important 
part of the daily life of little children. 

In this she is again, as in so many of the features 
of her system, only using the weight of her scientific 
reputation to force upon our serious and respectful 
attention means of education for little children which 
have all along lain close at hand, which have been 
mentioned by other educators (Froebel has, of course, 
his elder boys undertake gardening), but of which, 
as far as very young children go, our recognition 
has been fitful and imperfect. She is the modern 
doctor who proclaims with all the awe-compelling 
paraphernalia of the pathological laboratory back 
of him, that it is not medicine, but fresh air which is 
the cure for tuberculosis. Most parents already make 
some effort to provide pets (if they are not too much 
trouble for the rest of the family) with a vague, in- 
stinctive idea that they are somehow "good for chil- 
dren,'' but with no conscious notion of how this 
" good " is transferred or how to facilitate the proc- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 201 

ess ; and child-gardens are not only a feature of some 
very advanced and modern schools and kindergartens, 
but are provided once in a while by a family, al- 
though nearly always, as in Froebel's system, for 
older children. But as those institutions are now con- 
ducted in the average family economy, the little child 
gets about as casual and irregular an opportunity to 
benefit by them as the consumptive of twenty years 
ago by the occasional whifFs of fresh air which the 
protecting care of his nurses could not prevent from 
reaching him. The four-year-old, as he and his pets 
are usually treated, does not feel real responsibility 
for his kitten or his potted plant and, missing that, 
he misses most of the good he might extract from his 
relations with his little sisters of the vegetable and 
animal world. 

Our part, therefore, in this connection, is to catch 
up the hint which the great Italian teacher has let 
fall and use our own Yankee ingenuity in developing 
it, always bearing religiously in mind the fundamen- 
tal principle of self-education which must underlie 
any attempt of ours to adapt her ideas to our condi- 
tions. For, of course, there is nothing new in the idea 
of associating children with animals and plants — an 
idea common to nearly all educators since the first 
child played with a puppy. What is new is 
our more conscious, sharpened, more definite idea, 
awakened by Dr. Montessori's penetrating analysis, 
of just how these natural elements of child-life 
can be used to stimulate a righteous sense of re- 



202 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

sponsibility. Our tolerant indifference towards the 
children's dogs and cats and guinea-pigs, our fa- 
tigued complaint that it is more bother than it is 
worth to prepare and oversee the handling of garden- 
plots for the four- and five-year-olds, would be 
transformed into the most genuine and ardent interest 
in these matters, if we were penetrated with the real- 
ization that their purposeful use is the key to open 
painlessly and naturally to our children the great 
kingdom of self-abnegation. There is not, as is apt 
to be the case with dolls, a more or less acknowledged 
element of artificiality, even though it be the sweet 
" pretend " mother-love for a baby doll. The chil- 
dren who really care for plants and animals are in a 
sane world of reality, as much as we are in caring for 
children. Their services are of real value to another 
real life. The four-year-old youngster who rushes 
as soon as he is awake to water a plant he had for- 
gotten the day before, is acting on as genuine and 
purifying an impulse of remorse and desire to make 
amends as any we feel for a duty neglected in adult 
life. The motives which underlie that most valuable 
moral asset, responsibility, have been awakened, exer- 
cised, strengthened far more vitally than by any num- 
ber of those Sunday morning " serious talks " in 
which we may try fumblingly and futilely from the 
outside to touch the child's barely nascent moral con- 
sciousness. The puppy who sprawls destructively 
about the house, and the cat who is always under our 
feet when we are in a hurry, should command respect- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 203 

ful treatment from us, since they are rehearsing 
quaintly with the child a first rough sketch of the 
drama of his moral life. The more gentleness, 
thoughtfulness, care, and forbearance the little child 
learns to show to this creature, weaker than himself, 
dependent on him, the less difficult he will find the 
exercise of those virtues in other circumstances. He 
is forming spontaneously, urged thereto by a natural 
good impulse of his heart, a moral habit as valuable 
to him and to those who are to live with him, as the 
intellectual habits of precision formed by the use of 
the geometric insets. 

Of course, he will in the first place form this habit 
of unvarying gentleness towards plants and animals, 
only as he forms so many other habits, in simian 
imitation of the actions of those about him. He must 
absorb from example, as well as precept, the idea 
that plants and animals, being dependent on us, have 
a moral right to our unfailing care — a conception 
which is otherwise not suggested to him until he is 
several years older and has back of him the habit of 
several years of indifference toward this duty of the 
strong. 

And so here is our hard-working Montessori parent 
embarked upon the career of animal-rearing, as well 
as child-training, with the added difficulty that he 
must care for the animals through the children, and 
resist stoutly the almost invincible temptation to take 
over this, like all other activities which belong by 
right to the child, for the short-cut reason that it is 



204 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

less trouble. If this Impulse of the parent be fol- 
lowed, the mere furry presence will be of no avail 
to the child, except casually. The kitten must be the 
little girl's kitten if she is really to begin the long 
preparation which will lead her to the steady and 
resolute self-abnegations of maternity, the prepara- 
tion which we hope will make her generation better 
mothers than we undisciplined and groping creatures 
are. 

As for plant-life, the Antseus-like character of hu- 
manity is too well known to need comment. We are 
all healthier and saner and happier if we have not 
entirely severed our connection with the earth, and it 
is surprising that, recognizing this element as con- 
sciously as we do, we have made so comparatively 
little systematic and regular use of it in the family to 
benefit our little children. It is not because it is very 
hard to manage. What has been lacking has been 
some definite, understandable motive to make us act in 
this way, beyond the sentimental notion that it is 
pretty to have flowers and children together. No 
one before has told us quite so plainly and forcibly 
that this observation of plants and imaginative 
sympathy with their needs is the easiest and most 
natural way for little minds to get a first general 
notion of the world's economy, the struggle between 
helpful and hurtful forces, and of the duty of not 
remaining a passive onlooker at this strife, but of 
entering it instinctively, heartily throwing all one's 
powers on the side of the good and useful. 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 205 

I know a child not yet quite three, who, by the 
maddeningly persistent interrogations characteristic 
of his age, has succeeded in extracting from a pair of 
gardening elders an explanation of the difference be- 
tween weeds and flowers, and who has been so struck 
by this information that he has, entirely of his own 
volition, enlisted himself in the army of natural-born 
reformers. With the personal note of very little chil- 
dren, who find it so impossible to think in terms at all 
abstract, he has constructed in his baby mind an 
exciting drama in the garden, unfolding itself before 
his eyes ; a drama in which he acts, by virtue of his 
comparatively huge size and giant strength, the gen- 
erous role of deus ex macMna, constantly rescuing 
beauty beset by her foes. He throws himself upon a 
weed, uproots it, and casts it away with the right- 
eously indignant exclamation, " Horrid old weed ! 
Stop eating the flowers' dinner ! " 

I do not think that it can be truthfully said that 
there are no moral elements in his life. He is a baby 
Sir Galahad, with roses for his maidens in distress. 
He has felt and exercised and strengthened the same 
impulse that drove Judge Lindsey to his battle for the 
children of Denver against the powers of graft. He 
has recognized spontaneously his duty to aid the 
good and useful against their enemies, the respon- 
sibility into which he was born when he opened his 
eyes upon the world of mingled good and evil. 

All this is not a fanciful literary flight of the 
imagination. It is not sentimentality. It is calling 



206 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

things by their real names. Because the little child's 
capacity for a genuine moral impulse is small and has, 
like all his other capacities, little continuity, is no 
reason why we should not think clearly about it and 
recognize it for what it is — ^the key to the future. 
Because he " makes a play " of his good action and is 
not priggishly aware of his virtue is all the more rea- 
son for us to be thankful, for that is a proof of its 
unforced existence in his spirit. Just as the child 
" makes a play " out of his geometric insets, and 
is not pedantically aware that he is acquiring knowl- 
edge, so, to take an instance from the Casa dei Bam- 
bini, the little girls who set the tables and bring in 
the soup are only vastly interested in the fun of 
" playing waitress." It is their elders who perceive 
that they are unconsciously and painlessly acquiring 
the habit of willing and instinctive service to others, 
which will aid them in many a future conscious and 
painful struggle against their own natural selfishness 
and inertia. 

This use of the sincerely common life in the Chil- 
dren's Home to promote sincerely social feeling 
among the children has been mentioned in the pre- 
ceding chapter. It is one of the most vitally im- 
portant of the elements in the Montessori schools. 
The genuine, unforced acceptance by the children 
of the need for sacrifices by the individual for the 
good of all, is something which can only be brought 
about by genuinely social life with their equals, such 
as they have in the Children's Home and not else- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 207 

where. We must do the best we can in the family- 
life by seeing that the child shares as much as pos- 
sible and as sincerely as possible in the life of the 
household. But at home he is inevitably living with 
his inferiors, plants, animals, and babies ; or his 
superiors, older children and adults ; whereas in the 
Children's Home he is living as he will during the 
rest of his life, mostly with his equals. And it is in 
the spontaneous adjustments and compromises of this 
continuous life with his equals that he learns most 
naturally, most soundly, and most thoroughly, the 
rules governing social life. 

As for moral life, it seems to me that we need neither 
make a vain attempt to subscribe to a too-rosy be- 
lief in the unmixed goodness of human nature, and 
blind ourselves to the saddening fact that the battle 
against one's egotism is bound to be painful, nor, on 
the other hand, go back to the grim creed of our 
forefathers, that the sooner children are thrust into 
the thick of this unending war the better, since they 
must enter it sooner or later. The truth seems to lie 
in its usual position, between two extremes, and to 
be that children should be strengthened by proper 
moral food, care, and exercises suited to their 
strength, and allowed to grow slowly into adult 
endurance before they are forced to face adult moral 
problems ; and that we may protect them from too 
great demands on their small fund of capacity for 
self-sacrifice by allowing them and even encouraging 
them to wreathe their imaginative " plays " about the 



208 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

self-sacrificing action, provided, of course, that we 
keep our heads clear to make sure that the " plays " 
do not interfere with the action. 

It is well to make a plain statement to the child 
of five, that he is requested to wipe the silver-ware 
because it will be of service to his mother (if he is 
lucky enough to have a mother who ever does so ob- 
viously necessary and useful a thing as to wash the 
dishes herself), but it is not necessary to insist that 
this conception of service shall uncompromisingly oc- 
cupy his mind during the whole process. It does no 
harm if, after this statement, it is suggested that the 
knives and forks and spoons are shipwrecked people 
in dire need of rescue, and that it would be fun to 
snatch them from their watery predicament and re- 
store them safely to their expectant families in the 
silver-drawer. By so doing we are not really confus- 
ing the issue, or " fooling " the child into a good ac- 
tion, if clear thinking on the part of adults accom- 
pany the process. We are but suiting the burden to 
the childish shoulders, but inducing the child-feet to 
take a single step, which is all that any of us can 
take at one time, in the path leading to the service 
of others. 

Most of this chapter has been drawn from Mon- 
tessori ideas by inference only, by the development 
of hints, and it is probable that other mothers, medi- 
tating on the same problems, may see other ways of 
applying the principle of self-education and spon- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 209 

taneous activity to this field of moral life. It is 
apparent that the first element necessary, after a firm 
grasp on the fundamental idea that our children must 
do their own moral as well as physical growing, and 
after a vivid realization that the smallest amount of 
real moral life is better than much simulated and 
unreal feeling, is clear thinking on our part, a definite 
notion of what we really mean by moral life, a defini- 
tion which will not be bounded and limited by the 
repetition of committed-to-memory prayers. This 
does not mean that simple nightly aspirations to be 
a good child the next day may not have a most bene- 
ficial eff^ect on even a very young child and may sat- 
isfy the first stirrings to life of the religious instinct, 
as much as the constant daily kindnesses to plants 
and animals satisfy the ethical instinct. This latter, 
however, at his age, is apt to be vastly more developed 
and more important than the religious instinct. 

Indeed the religious instinct, which apparently 
never develops in some natures, although so strong 
in others, is in all cases slow to show itself and, like 
other slowly germinating seeds, should not be pushed 
and prodded to hasten it, but should be left untouched 
until it shows signs of life. Our part is to prepare, 
cultivate, and enrich the nature in which it is to grow. 



CHAPTER XV 

DR. MONTESSORI'S LIFE AND THE ORIGIN 
OF THE CASA DEI BAMBINI 

DR. MONTESSORI and the average Ameri- 
can parent are as different in heredity, train- 
ing, and environment as two civilized beings can very 
well be. Every condition surrounding the average 
American child is as materially different as possible 
from those about the children in the original Casa dei 
Bambini. Hence the usual sound rule that the indi- 
viduality and personal history of the scientist do not 
concern the student of his work does not hold in 
this case. The conditions in Rome where Dr. Mon- 
tessori has done her work, differ so entirely from those 
of ordinary American life, in the conduct of which 
we hope to profit by her experiments, that it is only 
fair to Americans interested in her work, to give them 
some notion of the varying influences which have 
shaped the career of this woman of genius. 

This is so especially in her case, because, as a na- 
tion, we are more ignorant of modern Italian life 
than of that of any great European nation. Modern 
Italy, wrestling with all the problems of modern in- 
dustrial and city life grafted upon an age-old civi- 
lization, endeavoring to enlighten itself, to take the 

210 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 211 

best from twentieth-century progress without los- 
ing its own individual virtues, this is a country as 
unknown to us as the regions of the moon. And yet 
to understand Dr. Montessori's work and the vicis- 
situdes of her undertakings, we must have at least 
a summary knowledge that the Italian world of to- 
day is in a curious ferment of antiquated prejudices 
and highly progressive thought. 

To us, as a rule, Rome is " The Eternal City " of 
our school-Latin days, whereas, in reality, it is, for 
all practical purposes as a city, much more recent 
than New York — about as old, let us say, as Detroit. 
But Detroit planted its vigorously growing seedling 
in the open ground and not in a cracked pot of small 
dimensions. Hence the problems of the two mod- 
ern cities are dissimilar. I heard it suggested by a 
man of authority in the Italian government that 
a great mistake had been made when the modem 
capital of Italy had been dumped down upon the 
heap of historic ruins which remained of ancient 
Rome. It had been bad for the ruins and very hard 
on the modern capital. If a site had been selected 
just outside the walls of old Rome, a nineteenth-cen- 
tury metropolis could have sprung up with the 
effortless haste with which our own Middle Western 
plains have produced cities. One thing is certain, 
Dr. Montessori's Case dei Bambini would not have 
taken their present form under other conditions, and 
this is what concerns us here. 

But before the origin of the Case dei Bambini is 



212 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

taken up, a brief biography of their creator will 
help us to understand her development. Her early 
life, before her choice of a profession, need not inter- 
est us beyond the fact that she is the only child of 
devoted parents, not materially well-to-do. Now, as 
a result of a too-rapid social transformation among 
the Italians, the " middle class " population forms a 
much smaller proportion of the inhabitants of Italy 
than in other modern nations. One result of this 
condition is that the brilliant daughter of parents 
not well-to-do, finds it much harder to pass into a 
class of associates and to find an intellectual back- 
ground which suits her nature, than a similarly in- 
tellectual and original American girl. Even now in 
Italy such a girl is forced to fight an unceasing 
battle against social prejudice and intellectual 
inertia. It can be imagined that when Dr. Montes- 
sori was the beautiful, gifted girl-student of whom 
older Romans speak with enthusiasm or horror, ac- 
cording to the centuries in which they morally live, 
her will-power and capacity for concentration must 
have been finely tempered in order not to break in the 
long struggle. 

Judging by the talk one hears in Rome about the 
fine, youthful fervor of Dr. Montessori's early strug- 
gle against conditions hampering her mental and 
spiritual progress, she is a surviving pioneer of 
social frontier prejudice, who has emerged from the 
battle with pioneer conditions endowed with the 
hickory-like toughness of intellectual fiber of will 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 213 

and of character which is the reward of sturdy 
pioneers. Certain it is that her battles with preju- 
dices of all sorts have hardened her intellectual mus- 
cles and trained her mental eye in the school of 
absolute moral self-dependence, that moral self- 
dependence which is the aim and end of her method 
of education and which will be, as rapidly as it can 
be realized, the solvent for many of our tragic and 
apparently insoluble modern problems. 

It is hard for an American of this date to realize 
the bomb-shell it must have been to an Italian family 
a generation ago when its only daughter decided to 
study medicine. So rapidly have conditions sur- 
rounding women changed that there is no parallel 
possible to be made which could bring home to us 
fully the tremendous will-power necessary for an 
Italian woman of that time and class to stick to her 
resolution. The fangs of that particular prejudice 
have been so well-nigh universally drawn that it is 
safe to say that an American family would see its 
only daughter embark on the career of animal-tamer, 
steeple- jack, or worker in an iron foundry, with less 
trepidation than must have shadowed the early days 
of Dr. Montessori's medical studies. One's imagina- 
tion can paint the picture from the fact that she 
was the first woman to obtain the degree of Doctor 
of Medicine, from the University of Rome, an 
achievement which was probably rendered none the 
easier by the fact that she was both singularly beau- 
tiful and singularly ardent. 



214 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

After graduation she became attached, as assistant 
doctor, to the Psychiatric Clinic at Rome. At that 
time, one of the temporary expedients of self- 
modernizing Italy was to treat the idiot and feeble- 
minded children in connection with the really insane, 
a rough-and-ready classification which will serve 
vividly to illustrate the desperate condition of Italy 
of that date. The young medical graduate had taken 
up children's diseases as the " specialty " which no 
self-respecting modern doctor can be without, and 
naturally in her visits to the insane asylums (where 
the subjects of her Clinic lived), her attention was 
attracted to the deficient children so fortuitously 
lodged under the same roof. 

I go into the details of the oblique manner in 
which she embarked upon the prodigious undertaking 
of education without any conscious knowledge of the 
port toward which she was directing her course, in 
order to bring out clearly the fact that she ap- 
proached the field of pedagogy from an entirely new 
direction, with absolutely new aims and with a wholly 
dijfFerent mental equipment from those of the tech- 
nically pedagogical, philosophic, or social-reforming 
persons who have labored so conscientiously in that 
field for so many generations. 

This young doctor, then, trained by hard knocks to 
do her own thinking and make her own decisions, 
found that her absorbed study of abnormal and 
deficient children led her straight along the path 
taken by the nerves from their unregulated external 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 215 

activities to the brain-centers which rule them so 
fitfully. The question was evidently of getting at 
the brain-centers. Now the name of the process of 
getting at brain-centers is one not usually encoun- 
tered in the life of the surgeon. It is education. 

The doctor at work on these problems was all the 
time in active practice as a physician, an influence 
in her life which is not to be forgotten in summing 
up the elements which have formed her character. She 
was performing operations in the hospitals, taking 
charge of grave diseases in her private practice, ex- 
posing herself to infection of all sorts in the in- 
fectious wards of the hospitals, liable to be called up 
at any hour of the night to attend a case anywhere 
in the purlieus of Rome. It was a soldier tried and 
tested in actual warfare in another part of the bat- 
tle for the betterment of humanity, who finally took 
up the question of the training of the young. She 
parted company with many of her fellow-students of 
deficient children, and faced squarely the results of 
her reasoning. Not for her the position aloof, the 
observation of phenomena from the detached stand- 
point of the distant specialist. If nervous diseases 
of children, leading to deficient intellectual powers, 
could be best attacked through education, the obvious 
step was to become an educator. 

She gave up her active practice as a physician 
which had continued steadily throughout all her other 
activities, and accepted the post of Director of the 
State Orthophrenic School (what we would call an 



216 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

Institute for the Feeble-Minded), and, throwing her- 
self into the work, heart and soul, with all the ardor 
of her race and her own temperament, she utilized 
her finely-tempered brain and indomitable will, in 
the hand-to-hand struggle for the actual ameliora- 
tion of existing conditions. For years she taught the 
children in the Asylum under her care, devoting her- 
self to them throughout every one of their waking 
hours, pouring into the poor, cracked vases of their 
minds the full, rich flood of her own powerful in- 
tellect. All day she worked with her children, loved 
to idolatry by them, exhausting herself over their 
problems like the simplest, most unthinking, most 
unworldly, and devout sister of charity ; but at night 
she was the scientist again, arranging, classifying, 
clarifying the results of the day's observation, ex- 
amining with minute attention the work of all those 
who had studied her problems before her, applying 
and elaborating every hint of theirs, every clue dis- 
covered in her own experiments. 

Those were good years, years before the world 
had heard of her, years of undisturbed absorption 
in her work. 

TThen, one day, as such things come, after long, 
imcertain eff'orts, a miracle happened. A sup- 
posedly deficient child, trained by her methods, 
passed the examinations of a public school with more 
ease, with higher marks than normal children pre- 
pared in the old way. The miracle happened again 
and again and then so often that it was no longer a 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 217 

miracle, but a fact to be foretold and counted on with 
certainty, y 

Then the woman with the eager heart and trained 
mind drew a long breath and, determining to make 
this first success only the cornerstone of a new tem- 
ple, turned to a larger field of action, the field to 
which her every unconscious step had been leading 
her, the education, no longer only of the deficient, 
but of all the normal young of the human race. 

It was in 1900 that Dr. Montessori left the 
Scuola Ortofrenica, and began to prepare herself 
consciously and definitely for the task before her. 
For seven years she followed a course of self-im- 
posed study, meditation, observation, and intense 
thought. She began by registering as a student of 
philosophy in the University of Rome and turned 
her attention to experimental psychology with espe- 
cial reference to child-psychology. The habit of 
her scientific training disposed her naturally as an 
accompaniment to her own research to examine 
thoroughly the existing and recognized authorities 
in her new field. She began to visit the primary 
schools and to look about her at the orthodox and 
old-established institutions of the educational world 
with the fresh vision only possible to a mind trained 
by scientific research to abhor preconceived ideas 
and to come to a conclusion only after weighing 
actual evidence. 

No more diverting picture can be imagined than 
the one presented by this keen-eyed, clear-headed 



218 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

scientist surveying, with an astonishment which must 
have been almost dramatically apparent, /the rows 
of immobile little children nailed to their stationary 
seats and forced to give over their natural birth- 
right of activity to a well-meaning, gesticulating, 
explaining, always fatigued, and always talking 
teacher^ It was evident at a glance that she could 
not find there what she had hoped to find, that first 
prerequisite of the modern scientist, a prolonged 
scrutiny of the natural habits of the subject of in- 
vestigation. The entomologist seeking to solve some 
of the farmer's problems, spends years with a micro- 
scope, studying the habits of the potato and of the 
potato-bug before he tries to invent a way to help 
the one and circumvent the other. But Dr. Mon- 
tessori found, so to speak, that all the potatoes she 
tried to investigate were being grown in a cellar. 
They grew, somehow, because the upward thrust of 
life is invincible, but their pale shoots gave no evi- 
dence of the possibility of the sturdy stems, which 
a chance specimen or two escaped by a stroke of 
luck from the cellar, proved to be possible for the 
whole species. 

At the same time that she was making these 
amazed and disconcerted visits to the primary 
schools, she was devouring all the books which have 
been written on her subject. My own acquaintance 
with works on pedagogy is limited, but I observe 
that people who do know them do not seem surprised 
that this thoroughly trained modern doctor, with 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 219 

years of practical teaching back of her, should have 
found little aid in them. Two highly valuable 
authorities she did find, significantly enough doctors 
like herself, one who lived at the time of the French 
Revolution and one perhaps fifty years later. She 
tells us in her book what their ideas were and how 
strongly they modified her own ; but as we are here 
chiefly concerned with the net result of her thought, 
it would not be profitable to go exhaustively into 
the investigation of her sources. It is enough to 
say that most of us would never in our lives have 
heard of those two doctors if she had not studied 
them. 

We have now followed the course of Dr. Montes- 
sori's life until it brings us back to that chaotic, 
ancient-modern Rome, mentioned a few paragraphs 
above, struggling with all sorts of modern problems 
of city life. The housing of the very poor is a 
question troublesome enough, even to Detroit or 
Indianapolis with their bright, new municipal ma- 
chinery. In Rome the problem is complicated by the 
medieval standards of the poor themselves as to 
their own comfort ; by the existence of many old 
rookeries where they may roost in unspeakable con- 
ditions of filth and promiscuity; and by the lack of 
a widespread popular enlightenment as to the prog- 
ress of the best modern communities. But, though 
Italian public opinion as a whole seems to be in a 
somewhat dazed condition over the velocity of 
changes in the social structure, there is no country 



220 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

in the world which has more acute, powerful, or 
original intelligences and consciences trained on our 
modern problems. All the while that Dr. Montessori 
had been trying to understand the discrepancy be- 
tween the rapid advance of idiot children under her 
system and the slow advance of normal children 
under old-fashioned methods, another Italian, an in- 
fluential, intelligent, and patriotic Roman, Signor 
Edoardo Talamo, was studying the problem of bet- 
tering at once, practically, the housing of the very 
poor. 

He had decided what to do and had done it, when 
the line of his activity and that of Dr. Montessori's 
met in one of those apparently fortuitous combina- 
tions of elements destined to form a compound which 
is exactly the medicine needed for some unhealthy 
part of the social tissue. The plan of Signor Tala- 
mo's model tenements was so wise and so admirably 
executed that, except for one factor, they really 
deserved their name. This factor was the existence 
of a large number of little children under the usual 
school age, who were left alone all day while their 
mothers, driven by the grinding necessity which is 
the rule in the Italian lower working classes, went 
out to help earn the family living. These little ones 
w^andered about the clean halls and stairways, de- 
facing everything they could reach and constantly 
getting into mischief, the desolating ingenuity of 
which can be imagined by any mother of small chil- 
dren. It was evident that the money taken to repair 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 221 

the damage done by them would be better employed 
in preventing them from doing it in the first place. 
Signor Talamo conceived the simple plan of setting 
apart a big room in every one of his tenement houses 
where the children could be kept together. This, of 
course, meant that some grown person must be there 
to look after them. 

Now Rome is, at least from the standpoint of a 
New Yorker or a Chicagoan, a small city, where 
" everyone who is anyone knows everyone else." Al- 
though the sphere of Signor Talamo's activity was 
as far as possible from that of the pioneer woman 
doctor specializing in children's brain-centers, he 
knew of her existence and naturally enough asked 
her to undertake the organization and the manage- 
ment of the different groups of children in his tene- 
ment houses, collected, as far as he was concerned, 
for the purpose of keeping them from scratching 
the walls and fouling the stairways. 

On her part Dr. Montessori took a rapid mental 
survey of these numerous groups of normal chil- 
dren at exactly the age when she thought them most 
susceptible to the right sort of education, and saw 
in them, as if sent by a merciful Providence, the 
experimental laboratories which she so much needed 
to carry on her work and which she had defi- 
nitely found that primary schools could never be- 
come. 

The fusion of two elements which are destined to 
combine is not a long process once they are brought 



222 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

together. How completely Dr. Montessori was pre- 
pared for the opportunity thus given her can be 
calculated by the fact that the first Casa dei Bambini 
was opened on the 6th of January, 1907, and that 
now, only five years after, there arrive in Rome, from 
every quarter of the globe, bewildered but imperious 
demands for enlightenment on the new idea. 

For it was at once apparent that the fundamental 
principle of self-education, which had been growing 
larger and larger in Dr. Montessori's mind, was as 
brilliantly successful in actual practice as it was 
plausible in abstract thought. Evidently entire free- 
dom for the children was not only better for the pur- 
poses of the scientific investigator, but infinitely the 
best thing for the children. All those meditations 
about the real nature of childhood, over which she had 
been brooding in the long years of her study, proved 
themselves, once put to the test, as axiomatic in 
reality as they had seemed. Her theories held water. 
The children justified all her visions of their capacity 
for perfectibility and very soon went far beyond 
anything even she had conceived of their ability to 
teach and to govern themselves. For instance, she 
had not the least idea, when she began, of teaching 
children under six how to write. She held, as most 
other educators did, that on the whole it was too 
difficult an undertaking for such little ones. It was 
her own peculiar characteristic, or rather the char- 
acteristic of her scientific training, of extreme open- 
ness to conviction which induced her, after practical 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 223 

experience, to begin her famous experiments with 
the method for writing. 

The story of this startling revelation of unsus- 
pected forces in human youth and of the almost 
instant pounce upon it by the world, distracted by 
a helpless sense of the futility and clumsiness of 
present methods of education, is too well known to 
need a long recapitulation. The first Casa dei Bam- 
bini was established in January, 1907, without at- 
tracting the least attention from the public. About 
a year after another one was opened. This time, 
owing to the marked success of the first, the affair 
was more of a ceremony, and Dr. Montessori deliv- 
ered there that eloquent inaugural address which is 
reprinted in the American translation of her book. 
By April of 1908, only a little over a year after the 
first small beginning, the institution of the Casa 
dei Bambini was discovered by the public, keen on 
the scent of anything that promised relief from 
the almost intolerable lack of harmony between 
modern education and modern needs. Pilgrims of 
all nationalities and classes found their way through 
the filthy streets of that wretched quarter, and the 
barely established institution, still incomplete in many 
ways, with many details untouched, with many others 
provided for only in a makeshift manner, was set 
under the microscopic scrutiny of innumerable sharp 
eyes. 

The result, as far as we are concerned, we all 
know: the rumors, vague at first, which blew across 



224 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

our lives, then more definite talk of something really 
new, then the characteristically American promptness 
of response in our magazines and the almost equally 
prompt appearance of an English translation of 
Dr. Montessori's book. 

And, so far, that is all we have from her, and 
for the present it is all we can have, without taking 
some action ourselves to help her. It is a strange 
situation, intensely modern, which could only have 
occurred in this age of instantly tattling cables and 
telegrams. It is, of course, a great exaggeration 
to say that all educated parents and teachers in 
America are interested in the Montessori system, but 
the proportion who really seem to be, is astonish- 
ing in the extreme when one considers the very 
recent date of the beginning of the whole movement. 
Over there in Rome, in a tenement house, a woman 
doctor begins observations in an experimental labora- 
tory of children, and in five years' time, which is 
nothing to a real scientist, her laboratory doors 
are stormed by inquirers from Australia, from Nor- 
way, from Mexico, and, most of all, from the United 
States. Teachers of district schools in the Carolinas 
write their cousins touring in Europe to be sure to 
go to Rome to see the Montessori schools. Mothers 
from Oregon and Maine write, addressing their 
letters, " Montessori, Rome," and make demands for 
enlightenment, urgent, pressing, peremptory, and 
shamelessly peremptory, since they conceive of a pos- 
sibility that their children, their own children, the 



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A MONTESSORI MOTHER 225 

most important human beings in the world, may be 
missing something valuable. From innumerable 
towns and cities, teachers, ambitious to be in the 
front of their profession, are taking their hoarded 
savings from the bank and starting to Rome with the 
naive conviction that their own thirst for informa- 
tion is sufficient guarantee that someone will in- 
stantly be forthcoming to provide it for them. 

When they reach Rome, most of them quite unable 
to express themselves in Italian or even in French, 
what do they find, all these tourists and letters of 
inquiry, and adventuring school-mistresses? They 
find a dead wall. They have an unformulated idea 
that they are probably going to a highly organized 
institution of some sort, like our huge " model 
schools " attached to our normal colleges, through 
the classrooms of which an unending file of observers 
is allowed to pass. And they have no idea whatever 
of the inevitability with which Italians speak Italian. 

They find — if they are relentlessly persistent 
enough to pierce through the protection her friends 
try to throw about her — only Dr. Montessori herself, 
a private individual, phenomenally busy with very 
important work, who does not speak or understand a 
word of English, who has neither money, time, or 
strength enough single-handed to cope with the flood 
of inquiries and inquirers about her ideas. In order 
to devote herself entirely to the great undertaking 
of transmuting her divinations of the truth into a 
definite, logical, and scientific system, she has with- 



226 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

drawn herself more and more from public life. She 
has resigned from her chair of anthropology in the 
University of Rome, and last year sent a substitute 
to do her work in another academic position not con- 
nected with her present research — and this although 
she is far from being a woman of independent means. 
She has sacrificed everything in her private life in 
order to have, for the development of her educational 
ideas, that time and freedom so constantly infringed 
upon by the well-meaning urgency of our demands 
for instruction from her. 

She lives now in the most intense retirement, never 
taking a vacation from her passionate absorption 
in her work, not even giving herself time for the 
exercise necessary for health, surrounded and aided 
by a little group of five devoted disciples, young 
Italian women who live with her, who call her 
" mother," and who exist in and for her and her 
ideas, as ardently and whole-heartedly as nuns about 
an adored Mother Superior. Together they are giv- 
ing up their lives to the development of a complete 
educational system based on the fundamental idea 
of self-education which gave such brilliant results 
in the Casa dei Bambini with children from three to 
six. For the past year, helped spiritually by these 
disciples and materially by influential Italian friends, 
Dr. Montessori has been experimenting with the 
application of her ideas to children from six to nine, 
and I think it is no violation of her confidence to 
report that these experiments have been as astonish- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 227 

ingly successful as her work with younger children. 
It is to this woman burning with eagerness to do 
her work, absorbed in the exhausting problems of 
intellectual creation, that students from all over the 
world are turning for instruction in a phase of her 
achievement which now lies behind her. The woman 
in the genius is touched and heartened by the sudden 
homage of the world, but it is the spirit of the in- 
vestigating scientist which most often inhabits that 
powerful, bulky, yet lightly poised body and looks 
out from those dark, prophetic eyes; and from the 
point of view of the scientist, the world asks too 
much when it demands from her that she give herself 
up to normal teaching. For it must be apparent 
from the sketch of her present position that she 
would need to give up her very life were she to 
accede to all the requests for training teachers in 
her primary method, since she is simply a private 
individual, has no connection with the official edu- 
cational system of her country, is at the head of no 
normal school, gives no courses of lectures, and has 
no model schools of her own to which to invite vis- 
itors. It is hard to believe her sad yet unembittered 
statement that there is now in Rome not one primary 
school which is entirely under her care, which she 
authorizes in all its detail, which is really a " Mon- 
tessori School.'' There are, it is true, some which 
she started and which are still conducted according 
to her ideas in the majority of details, but not one 
where she is the leading spirit. 



228 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

There are a variety of reasons, natural enough 
when one has once taken in the situation, which 
account for this state of things, so bewildering and 
disconcerting to those who have come from so far 
to learn at headquarters about the new ideas. The 
Italian Government, straining to carry the heavy 
burdens of a modern State, feels itself unable to 
undertake a radical and necessarily very costly re- 
organization of its schools, the teachers very natu- 
rally fear revolutionary changes which would render 
useless their hard-won diplomas, and carry on against 
the new system a secret campaign which has been so 
far successful. Hence it happens that investigators 
coming from across seas have the not unfamiliar ex- 
perience of finding the prophet by no means head of 
the official religion of his own country. 

In the other camp, fighting just as bitterly, are 
the Montessori adherents, full of enthusiasm for 
her philosophy, devoting all the forces at their com- 
mand (and they include many of the highest in- 
tellectual and social forces) to the success of the 
cause which they believe to be of the utmost im- 
portance to the future of the race. It can be seen 
that the situation is not orderly, calm, or in any 
way adapted to dispassionate investigation. 

And yet people who have come from California 
and British Columbia and Buenos Ayres to seek for 
information, naturally do not wish to go back to their 
distant homes without making a violent effort to in- 
vestigate. What they usually try to do is to force 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 229 

from someone in authority a card of admission either 
to the Montessori school held in the Franciscan 
Nunnery on the Via Giusti, or to another conducted 
by Signora Galli among the children of an extremely 
poor quarter of Rome, or, innocent and unaware, 
in all good faith go to visit the institutions in the 
model tenements, still called Case dei Bambini. But 
Dr. Montessori's relations with those schools ceased 
in 1911 as a result of an unfortunate disagreement 
between Signor Talamo and herself in which, so far 
as an outsider can judge, she was not to blame; and 
those infant schools are now thought by impartial 
judges to be far from good expositions of her 
methods, and in many cases are actual travesties of 
it. Furthermore, Dr. Montessori has now no con- 
nection with Signora Galli's schools. This leaves 
accessible to her care and guided by her counsels 
only the school held in the Franciscan nunnery, which 
is directed by Signorina Ballerini, one of Dr. Mon- 
tessori's own disciples, as the nearest approach to 
a school under her own control in Rome. This is, 
in many ways, an admirable example of the wonder- 
ful result of the Montessori ideas and is a revelation 
to all who visit it. But even here, though the good 
nuns make every effort to give a free hand to 
Signorina Ballerini, it can be imagined that the eccle- 
siastical atmosphere, which in its very essence is 
composed of unquestioning obedience to authority, 
is not the most congenial one for the growth of a 
system which uses every means possible to do away 



230 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

with dogma of any sort, and to foster self-depend- 
ence and first-hand ideas of things. More than this, 
if this school admitted freely all those who wish to 
visit it, there would be more visitors than children 
on many a day. 

It is not hard to sympathize with the searchers 
for information who come from the ends of the earth, 
who stand aghast at this futile ending of their long 
journey. And yet it would be the height of folly 
for the world to call away from her all-important 
work an investigator from whom we hope so much 
in the future. How can we expect her, against all 
manner of material odds, to organize a normal school 
in a country with a government indifferent, if not 
hostile to her ideas, to gather funds, to rent rooms, 
to arrange hours, hire janitors, and lay out courses! 

But the proselytizer who lives in every ardent 
believer makes her as unreconciled to the state of 
things as we are. She is regretfully aware of the 
opportunity to spread the new gospel which is being 
lost with every day of silence, distressed at the 
thought of sending the pilgrims away empty-handed, 
and above all naturally distracted with anxiety lest 
impure, misunderstanding caricatures of her system 
spread abroad in the world as the only answer to the 
demand for information about it. Busy as she is 
with the most absorbing investigations. Dr. Montes- 
sori is willing to meet the world halfway. If those 
who ask her to teach them will do the tangible, com- 
paratively simple work of establishing an Institute 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 231 

of Experimental Pedagogy in Rome, the Dottoressa, 
for all her concentration on her further research, will 
be more than willing to give enough of her time for 
making the school as wonderful, beautiful, and in- 
spiring as only a Montessori school can be. 

Our part should be to endeavor to learn from her 
what we can without disturbing too much that free- 
dom of life which is as essential to her as to the 
children in her schools, to give generously to an 
Institute of Experimental Pedagogy, and then freely 
allow her own inspiration to shape its course. Surely 
the terms are not hard ones, and it is to be hoped 
that the United States, with the genuine, if some- 
what haphazard, willingness to further the cause of 
education, which is perhaps our most creditable na- 
tional characteristic, will accept the offered oppor- 
tunity and divert a little of the money now being 
spent in America on scientific investigation of every 
sort to this investigation so vital for the coming 
generation. The need is urgent, the sum required 
is not large, the opportunity is one in a century, and 
the end to be gained valuable beyond the possibility 
of exaggeration, for, as Dr. Montessori quotes at the 
end of the preface of her book, " Whoso strives for 
the regeneration of education strives for the regen- 
eration of the human race." 

Note. — Since this chapter was printed, I have heard the good 
news that satisfactory arrangements have been made by the Mon- 
tessori American Committee with Dr. Montessori for a training 
class to be held in Rome for American teachers. 



CHAPTER XVI 

SOME LAST REMARKS 

THAT there is little prospect of an Immediate 
adoption in the United States of Montessori 
ideas of flexibility and unhampered individual 
growth is apparent to anyone who knows even 
slightly the hierarchic rigidity of our system of edu- 
cation with its inexorable advance along fixed fore- 
ordained lines, from the kindergarten through the 
primary school, on through the high school to the 
Chinese ordeal of the college entrance examination, 
an event which casts its shadow far down the line 
of school-grades, embittering the intellectual activ- 
ities and darkening the life of teachers and pupils 
(even pupils who have not the faintest chance of go- 
ing to college) for years before the awful moment 
arrives. 

All really good teachers have always been, as much 
as they were allowed to be, some variety of what is 
called in this book " Montessori teacher." But as the 
State and private systems of education have swollen 
to more and more unmanageable proportions, and 
have settled into more and more exact and cog-like 
relations with each other, teachers have found them- 
selves required to " turn out a more uniform 

232 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 233 

product," a process which is in its very essence ut- 
terly abhorrent to anyone with the soul of an edu- 
cator. 

Our State system of education has come to such 
an exalted degree of uniformity that a child in a 
third grade in Southern California can be trans- 
ported to a third grade in Maine, and find himself 
in company with children being ground out in pre- 
cisely the same educational hopper he has left. His 
temperament, capacity, tastes, surroundings, prob- 
able future and aspirations may be what you will, 
he will find all the children about his age of all 
temperaments, tastes, capacities, probable futures and 
aspirations practically everywhere in the United 
States, being " educated " exactly as he was, in 
his original graded school, wherever it was. School 
superintendents hold conferences of self-congratu- 
lation over this " standardizing " of American edu- 
cation, and some teachers are so hypnotized by 
this mental attitude on the part of their official su- 
periors, that they come to take pride in the Procrus- 
tean quality of their schoolroom where all statures 
are equalized, and to labor conscientiously to drive 
thirty or more children slowly and steadily, like a 
flock of little sheep, with no stragglers and no ad- 
vance-guard allowed, along the straight road to the 
next division, where another shepherdess, with the 
same training, takes them in hand. There is a 
significant anecdote current in school-circles, of an 
educator rising to address an educational convention 



234 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

which had been discussing special treatment for 
mentally slow and deficient children, and solemnly 
making only this pregnant exclamation, " We have 
special systems for the deficient child, and the slow 
child and the stupid child . . . but God help the 
bright child! '* 

Now it is only fair to state that this mechanical 
exactitude of program and of organization has been 
in the past of incalculable service in bringing educa- 
tional order out of the chaos which was the inevitable 
result of the astoundingly rapid growth in popula- 
tion of our country. Our educational system is a 
monument to the energy, perseverance, and organiz- 
ing genius of the various educational authorities, 
city, county, and state superintendents and so on, 
who have created it. But like all other complicated 
machines it needs to be controlled by master-minds 
who do not forget its ultimate purpose in the fas- 
cination of its smoothly-running wheels. That there 
is plenty of the right spirit fermenting among educa- 
tors is evident. For, even along with the mighty de- 
velopment of this educational machine, has gone a 
steadily increasing protest on the part of the best 
teachers and superintendents, against its quite pos- 
sible misuse. 

Few people become teachers for the sake of the 
money to be made in that business ; it is a profession 
which rapidly becomes almost intolerable to anyone 
who has not a natural taste for it; and, as a con- 
sequence of these two factors, it is perhaps, of all the 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 2S5 

professions, the one which has the largest propor- 
tion of members with a natural aptitude for their 
lifework. With the instinctive right-feeling of human 
beings engaged in the work for which they were 
born, a considerable proportion of teachers have 
protested against the tacit demand upon them by 
the machine organization of education, to make the 
children under their care, all alike. They have felt 
keenly the essential necessity of inculcating initiative 
and self-dependence in their pupils, and in many 
cases have been aided and abetted in these heterodox 
ideas by more or less sympathetic principals and 
superintendents ; but the ugly, hard fact remains, not 
a whit diminished for all their efforts, that the 
teacher whose children are not able to " pass " given 
examinations on given subjects, at the end of a given 
time, is under suspicion; and the principal whose 
school is full of such teachers is very apt to give way 
to a successor, chosen by a board of business-men 
with a cult for efBciency. To advise teachers under 
such conditions to " adopt Montessori ideas " is to 
add the grimmest mockery to the difficulties of their 
position. All that can be hoped for, at present, in 
that direction, is that the strong emphasis placed 
by the Montessori method on the necessity for indi- 
vidual freedom of mental activity and growth, may 
prove a valuable reinforcement to those American 
educators who are already struggling along towards 
that goal. 

This general state of things in the formal educa- 



236 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

tion of our country is one of the many reasons why 
this book is addressed to mothers and not to teachers. 
The natural development of Montessori ideas, the 
natural results of the introduction of " Children's 
Homes " into the United States, without this already 
existing fixed educational organization convinced of 
its own perfection, would be entirely in accord with 
the general, vague, unconscious socialistic drift of 
our time. Little by little, various enterprises which 
used to be private and individual, are being carried 
on by some central, expert organization. This is 
especially true as regards the life of women. One 
by one, all the old " home industries " are being taken 
away from us. Our laundry-work, bread-making, 
sewing, house-furnishing, and the like, are all done 
in impersonal industrial centers far from the home. 
The education of children over six has already fol^ 
lowed this general direction and is less and less in 
the hands of the children's mothers. And now here 
is the Casa dei Bambini, ready to take the younger 
children out of our yearning arms, and sternly for- 
bidding us to protest, as our mothers were forbidden 
to protest when we, as girls, went away to college, or 
when trained nurses came in to take the care of their 
sick children away from them, because the best inter- 
ests of the coming generation demand this sacrifice. 
But as things stand now, we mothers have a little 
breathing-space in which to accustom ourselves 
gradually to this inevitable change in our world. At 
some time in the future, society will certainly recog- 



A MONTESSORI MOTHER 237 

nize this close harmony of the successful Casa dei 
Bambini with the rest of the tendencies of our times, 
and then there will be a need to address a detailed 
technical book on Montessori ideas to teachers, for 
the training of little children will be in their hands, 
as is already the training of older children. 

And then will be completed the process which has 
been going on so long, of forcing all women into labor 
suitable to their varying temperaments. The last 
one of the so-called " natural," " domestic " occupa- 
tions will be taken away from us, and very shame at 
our enforced idleness will drive us to follow men into 
doing, each the work for which we are really fitted. 
Those of us who are born teachers and mothers (for 
the two words ought to mean about the same thing) 
will train ourselves expertly to care for the children 
of the world, collected for many hours a day in 
school-homes of various sorts. Those of us who have 
not this natural capacity for wise and beneficent 
association with the young (and many who love chil- 
dren dearly are not gifted with wisdom in their 
treatment) will do other parts of the necessary work 
of the world. 

But that time is still in the future. At present 
our teachers can no more adopt the utter freedom and 
the reverence for individual differences, which con- 
stitute the essence of the " Montessori method," than 
a cog in a great machine can, of its own volition, 
begin to turn backwards. And here is the oppor- 
tunity for us, the mothers, perhaps among the last 



238 A MONTESSORI MOTHER 

of the race who will be allowed the inestimable delight 
and joy of caring for our own little children, a de- 
light and joy of which society, sooner or later, will 
consider us unworthy on account of our inexpertness, 
our carelessness, our absorption in other things, our 
lack of wise preparation, our lack of abstract good 
judgment. 

Our part, during this period of transition, is to 
seize upon regenerating influences coming from any 
source, and shape them with care into instruments 
which will help us in the great task of training little 
children, a complicated and awful responsibility, our 
pathetically inadequate training for which is off'set 
somewhat by our passionate desire to do our best. 

We can collaborate in our small way with the 
scientific founder of the Montessori method, and can 
help her to go on with her system (discovered be- 
fore its completion) by assimilating profoundly her 
master-idea, and applying it in directions which she 
has not yet had time finally and carefully to explore, 
such as its application to the dramatic and aesthetic 
instincts of children. 

Above all, we can apply it to ourselves, to our own 
tense and troubled lives. We can absorb some of 
Dr. Montessori's reverence for vital processes. In- 
deed, possibly nothing could more benefit our children 
than a whole-hearted conversion on our part to her 
great and calm trust in life itself. 



INDEX 



Adult analysis of children's 

problems, 143, 147, 154. 
Animal training different 

from child training, 155. 
Apparatus: 

Big stair, 72, 100. 
Broad stair, 100. 
Buttoning-frames, 13, 

15, 55, 134. 
Color spools, 73. 
Explanation of, 99 ff. 
Geometric insets, flat, 

76. 
Geometric insets, solid, 

70. 
How to use, 67 ff., 91, 

93, 99. 
Long stair, 100, 192. 
The Tower, 71, 100. 
Age of children in Montes- 

sori schools, 8. 
Apathetic child, the, 41 ff. 
Arithmetic, beginnings of, 16, 
100. 

"Bad child," the, treatment 
of, 32. 

Big stair, the. See Appa- 
ratus. 

Buttoning-frames. See Ap- 
paratus. 

Democracy, basis of Montes- 

sori system, 118, 187. 
Discipline, 31, 141 ff. 

Exercises, gymnastic, 146, 
148; for legs, 112; for bal- 
ance, 113, 115, 149. 



Exercises, sensory: 

Baric, 65, 101. 
Blindfolded, 17. 
Color games, 74. 
Color matching, 73. 
Hearth-side seed-game, 

110. 
In dimension, 16. 
In folding up, 107 ff. 
Instinctive desire for, 

52-54. 
Not entire occupation 

of children, 68. 
Simplicity of, 54. 
In smelling, 64. 
Tactile, 59, 60, 100, 

115. 
In tasting, 64. 
By use of water, 150, 

151. 
By use of weights, 65, 

101. 

Family life, how affected by 
Montessori system, 121. 

Freedom, 31, 103, 118, 119, 
123, 131. 

Gardens, value of, in child- 
training, 201, 204. 

Geometric insets. See Ap- 
paratus. 

Individuality, respect for, of 
Montessori system, 40, 93. 

Interest, a prerequisite to 
education, 30, 94 ff., 190. 

Kindergarten compared with 
Montessori system, 20, 173, 



239 



240 



INDEX 



179; as to self-annihila- 
tion of teacher, 180; as to 
absence of supervision, 180; 
as to social life of children, 
184; as to overstimulation, 
188, 189. 

Lesson of silence, 43 ff. 
Long stair. See Apparatus. 



Mental concentration, 

145. 
Music, 19. 



143, 



New pupils, 37 ff. 
Number of pupils in Montes- 
sori school, 8. 

Obedience, 155, 159, 161. 
Observation of children, ne- 
cessity for, 92. 
Overstimulation, 188, 189. 

Patience of children, 137, 138, 

190. 
Plants, care of, for children, 

202, 204. 

Reading, 89. 

Responsibility, inculcation of, 
34, 35, 69, 70, 136, 301. 



School day, length of, 37. 
School-equipment, 8, 59. 
Self-control of children, 142, 

144, 145. 
Self-dependence of children, 

23, 102, 110, 133, 137, 156, 

186. 
Slowness of children, 21, 135. 
Social life of children, 184, 

206, 207. 
Supervision, absence of, 10, 

102, 103, 180, 191, 193. 

Theoretic basis of Montes- 
sori system, vi, 49, 56, 103, 
120, 123, — see also under 
Democracy, Freedom, In- 
terest, Individuality, Re- 
sponsibility, Self-depend- 
ence. 

Touch, sense of, 57, 58; exer- 
cises for, — see Exercises, 
Sensory. 

Tower, the. See Apparatus. 

Writing, training for, begin- 
nings of, 59; theory under- 
lying, 79 ff.; alphabet, 82; 
spontaneous writing, 84 ; 
time required to learn, 87. 



DOROTHY CANFIELD'S THE SQUIRREL-CAGE 

Illustrated by J. A. Williams. 4th printing. $1.35 net. 

This is, first of all, an unusually personal and real story of 

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** One has no hesitation in classing ' The Squirrel-Cage ' with the 
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realistic story of social ambitions in a typical Ohio town, it has all 
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knows vital fiction from brummagem. The author has a moving story 
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alive, well contrasted, wonderfully grouped." — Chicago Record-Herald, 

" She brings her chief indictment against the restless ambition of the 
American business man, and the purposeless and empty life of the 
American wife. . . . The story of a young girl's powerlessness to 
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** A remarkable story of American life to-day, worth reading and 
worth pondering. . . . Her book is, first of all, a story, and a good 
one throughout." — New York Tribune. 

BEULAH MARIE DIX'S THE FIGHTING BLADE 

By the author of " The Making of Christopher Ferringham," 
"AUison's Lad," etc. With frontispiece by George 
Varian. 3rd printing. $1.30 net. 

The " fighting blade ** is a quiet, boyish German soldier 
serving Cromwell, who, though a deadly duelist, is at bottom 
heroic and self-sacrificing. He loves a little tomboy Royalist 
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New York Tribune. — " Lovers of this kind of fiction will find here all 
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Chicago Inter-Ocean. — " The best historical romance the man who 
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a dear maid and innocent, yet nowise sweetish or tamely conven- 
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fighting manhood (with a gentle heart) as ever has been put before 
us. . . . He lives, mind you, he's wholly natural. . . . Oliver Cromwell 
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NEW POPULAR EDITION, WITH APPENDIX 

Containing tables, etc., of the Opera Season 1908-11. 

** The most complete and authoritative . . . pre-eminently the man 
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CHAPTERS OF OPERA 

Being historical and critical observations and records con- 
cerning the Lyric Drama in New York from its 
earliest days down to the present time. 

By Hknry Edward Krehbiel, musical critic of the New York 
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of Opera Houses. 450 pp. i2mo. $2.50 net; by mail, 
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This is perhaps Mr. Krehbiel's most important book. The 
first seven chapters deal with the earliest operatic perform- 
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first quarter-century of the Metropolitan, 1 883-1908. He tells 
how Abbey's first disastrous Italian season was followed by 
seven seasons of German Opera under Leopold Damrosch 
and Stanton, how this was temporarily eclipsed by French 
and Italian, and then returned to dwell with them in har- 
mony, thanks to Walter Damrosch's brilliant crusade, — also 
of the burning of the opera house, the vicissitudes of the 
American Opera Company, the coming and passing of Grau 
and Conried, and finally the opening of Oscar Hammerstein's 
Manhattan Opera House and the first two seasons therein, 
1906-08. 

"Presented not only in a readable manner but without biaa . . . 
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"Invaluable for purpose of reference . . . rich in critical passages 
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the great conductors have come to our shores. . . . Memories of 
them which serve to humanize, as it were, his analyses of their work."— 
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***If the reader will send his name and address, the publishers will send, 
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THE CHILD 

ITS CARE, DIET AND COMMON ILLS 
By E. MATHER SILL, M.D. 

Lecturer in Diseases of Children at the New York Polyclinic 
Medical School and Hospital; Attending Physician at the Good 
Samaritan Dispensary and Assistant Attending at the New York 
Polyclinic Hospital 

With 34 illustrations. $1.00 net; by mail $1.08 



CONTAINS just the information a young mother 
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to give the kind of help a mother needs before a physi- 
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needed. It is written on the assumption that the 
young mother of to-day is not satisfied with the knowl- 
edge handed down to her from mother and grand- 
mother, but wishes a more thorough up-to-date acquaint- 
ance with the modern methods of child care. 



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THE CHILD ; Its Care» Diet, ftnd Common Ills. 

By Dr. E. Mather Sill 

Lecturer in New York Polyclinic, Attending Physician at 
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pages on request. 

"Very well calculated to meet the needs of the young mother. Espe- 
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MAKING A BUSINESS WOMAN. By Anne Shannon Monroe 

A young woman whose business assets are good sense, 
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WHY WOMEN ARE SO. By Mary R. Coolidge 

Explains and traces the development of the woman of 1800 
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THE SQUIRREL-CAGE. By Dorothy Canfield 

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HEREDITY in RELATION to EUGENICS. By C. B. Davenport 

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(With diagrams, 3rd printing. $2.00 net.) 
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A frank spiritual autobiography. (Ath printing. $1.35 net.) 



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THE HOME BOOK OF VERSE 

American and English (1580-1912) 
Compiled by Burton E. Stevenson. Collects the best short 
poetry of the English language — not only the poetry every- 
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reads. (3742 pages; India paper, i vol., 8vo, complete au- 
thor, title and first line indices, $7.50 net ; carriage 40 cents 
extra.) 

The most comprehensive and representative collection of 
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3,120 unabridged poems from some 1,100 authors. 

It brings together in one volume the best short poetry 
of the English language from the time of Spencer, with 
especial attention to American verse. 

The copyright deadline has been passed, and some three 
hundred recent authors are included, very few of whom 
appear in any other general anthology, such as Lionel 
Johnson, Noyes, Housman, Mrs. Meynell, Yeats, Dobson, 
Lang, Watson, Wilde, Francis Thompson, Gilder, Le 
Gallienne, Van Dyke, Woodberry, Riley, etc., etc. 

The poems as arranged by subject, and the classifica- 
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comprehensive sections are: Children's rhymes (300 
pages) ; love poems (800 pages) ; nature poetry (400 
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(400 pages). No other collection contains so many popu- 
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" DELIGHTFUL POCKET ANTHOLOGIES 

The following books are uniform, with full gilt flexible covers and 
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THE GARLAND OF CHILDHOOD 

A little book for all lovers of 
children. Compiled by Percy 
Withers. 

THE VISTA OF ENGUSH VERSE 

Compiled by Henry S. Pan- 
coast. From Spencer to Kip- 
ling. 

LETTERS THAT LIVE 

Compiled by Laura E. Lock- 
wood and Amy R. Kelly. Some 
150 letters. 

POEMS FOR TRAVELLERS 

(About "The Continent") 
Compiled by Miss Mary R. J. 
DuBois. 



THE OPEN ROAD 

A little book for wayfarers. 
Compiled by E. V. Lucas. 

THE FRIENDLY TOWN 

A little book for the urbane, 
compiled by E. V. Lucas. 

THE POETIC OLD-WORLD 

Compiled by Miss L. H. 
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THE POETIC NEW- WORLD 

Compiled by Miss Humphrey. 



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THE THEORY OF THE THEATRE 

And Other Principles of Dramatic Criticism 

By Clayton Hamilton. Author of ** Materials and Methods 
of Fiction." $1.50 net; by mail, $1.60. 

CONTENTS : 
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formances. — Emphasis in the Drama. — The Four Leading Types of 
Drama: Tragedy and Melodrama; Comedy and Farce. — The Modern 
Social Drama. 

Other Principles of Dramatic Criticism. — The Public and the 
Dramatist. — Dramatic Art and the Theatre Business. — The Happy End- 
ings in the Theatre. — The Boundaries of Approbation. — Imitation and 
Suggestion in the Drama. — Holding the Mirror up to Nature. — Blank 
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Journalism. — The Intention of Performance. — The Quality of New 
Endeavor. — The Effect of Plays upon the Public. — Pleasant and Un- 
pleasant Plays. — Themes in the Theatre. — The Function of Imagination. 

DRAMATISTS OF TO-DAY 

Rostand, Hauptmann, Sudermann, 
PiNERO, Shaw, Phillips, Maeterlinck 

By Prof. Edward Everett Hale, Jr., of Union College. With 
gilt top, $1.50 net. (By mail, $1.60.) 

An informal discussion of their principal plays and of the perform- 
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an appendix of all the plays of each author, with dates of their first 
performance or publication. 

New York Evening Post: ** It is not often nowadays that a theat- 
rical book can be met with so free from gush and mere eulogy, or so 
weighted by common sense ... an excellent chronological appendix 
and full index . . . uncommonly useful for reference." 

Dial: ** Noteworthy example of literary criticism in one of the 
most interesting of literary fields. . • . Well worth reading a second 
time." 

THE GERMAN DRAMA OF THE 
NINETEENTH CENTURY 

By Georg Witkowski. Translated by Prof. L. E. Horning. 

i2mo. $1.00. 

Kleist, Grillparzer, Hebbel, Ludwig, Wildenbruch, Sudermann, Haupt- 
mann, and minor dramatists receive attention. 

New York Times Review: "The translation of this brief, clear, and 
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so comprehensive and terse has appeared on the subject, and it is a 
subject of increasing interest to the English-speaking public." 

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Coningsby Dawson's 

THE GARDEN WITHOUT WALLS 

The triple romance of a Pagan- Puritan of to-day, with three 
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Boston Transcript : — ** All vivid with the color of life; a novel to 
compel not only absorbed attention, but long remembrance." 

Cosmo Hamilton in The New York Sun: — "A new writer who is an 
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pulsing with sensitiveness, laughter, idealism, tears, the fire of 
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of the goodness of God and His earth and His children, without 
which nothing is achieved, nothing lives." 

Life: — " The first treat of the new season." 

Chicago Record -Herald: — "His undercurrents always are those of 
hope and sympathy and understanding. Moreover, the book is 
singularly touched to beauty, alive with descriptive gems, and 
gently bubbling humor and humanization of unusual order. Gen- 
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Marjorie Patterson's 

THE DUST OF THE ROAD 

A vivid story of stage life by an actress. Her characters are 
hard-working, but humorous and clean -living. With colored 
frontispiece, ;?i.30 net. 

New York Tribune: — *' Her story would not be so vivid and con- 
vincing if its professional part, at least, had not been lived. 
The glamor of the stage is found here where it should be, in 
the ambition of the young girl, in the fine enthusiasm of the 
manager. There is humor here, and pathos, friendship, loyalty, 
the vanity of which we hear so much." 

New York Sun : — " In a particularly illuminating way, many points 
are touched upon which will be read with interest in these days 
when the young daughters of families are bound to go forth and 
attack the world for themselves." 

Henry L. Mencken in Baltimore Evening Sun: "Lively and interest- 
ing human beings . . dramatic situations . . a vivid background 
. . she knows how to write . . amazing plausibility. These stage 
folk are real . . depicted with humor, insight, vivacity . . abound- 
ing geniality and good humor." 



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HENRI BERGSON»S CREATIVE EVOLUTION 

Translated from the French by Arthur Mitchell of Harvard 
University. 370+37 pp. index, 8vo, $2.50 net.* 

** Berg^son^s resources in the way of erudition are remarkable, and in the 
way of expression they are simply phenomenal. Open Bergson, and new 
horizons open on every page you read. Nothing in Bergson is shop-worn or 
at second hand.'*— William James. 

**Than its entrance upon the field as a well-armed and militant philoso- 
phy, there have been not many more memorable occurrences in the history 
of ideas."— r^^ Nation, 

HELEN R. ALBEES THE GLEAM 

By the Author of ** Hardy Plants for Cottage Gardens " and 
*' Mountain Playmates." $1.35 net.* 

'* Might be called the autobiography of a soul — A record of the develop- 
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*' The record of a woman's religious doubts, her revolt from orthodoxy 
and her unsatisfactory appeal to science to appease the craving of her spirit- 
ual nature, and her final discovery of the means within herself to gratify her 
longings. It is an intimate account of a struggle for peace and comfort told 
without reservation." — New York Sun, 

J. NOVICOW'S WAR AND ITS ALLEGED 
BENEFITS 

By the Vice-President of the International Institute of Sociology. 
Translated by Thomas Seltzer. 130 pp. l6mo. $l.OO net.* 
The Contents include : War as an End in Itself — One-Sided 
Reasoning — War a Solution — Physiological Effects — Economic 
Effects— Political Effects — Intellectual Effects — Moral Effects — 
Survivals, Routine Ideas, and Sophistries — The Psychology of War — 
War Considered as the Sole Form of Struggle — The Theorist of 
Brute Force — Antagonism and Solidarity. 

"A small volume with a large purpose. ... A large number of the 
arguments of war as a beneficial agent are considered and vigorously and 
clearly refuted. . . . Very simple and clear, bristling with crisp, epigrammatic 
sentences. . . . The author has accomplished a marvelous lot in a very small 
compass ; there is no wilderness of words here ; instead, facts sent out with 
gatling gun briskness."— C^/r^^^? Tribune, 

* Postage on net books is S% additional. 

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NEW BOOKS ON THE LIVING ISSUES BY LIVING 
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Points about THE HOME UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 
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the Library. There are no reprints. 

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further study. 

Every volume is written by a recognized authority on its 
subject and the Library is published under the direction of 
four eminent Anglo-Saxon scholars — Gilbert Murray, of 
Oxford; H. A. L. Fisher, of Oxford; J. Arthur Thomson, 
of Aberdeen; and Prof. W. T. Brewster, of Columbia. 

Every subject is of living and permanent interest. These 
books tell whatever is most important and interesting about 
their subjects. 

Each volume is complete and independent; but the series 
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volume will insure receiving announcements of future issues. 

SOME COMMENTS ON THE SERIES AS A WHOLE: 

"Excellent." — The Outlook. "Exceedingly worth while." — The Nation. 

"The excellence of these books." — The Dial. 

"So large a proportion with marked individuality." — New York Sun, 

VOLUMES ON LITERATURE AND ART NOW READY 

Landmarks in French Litera- Dr. Johnson and His Circle 

ture— By G. L. Strachey. ^^ J««n Bailey- 

Architecture The Victorian Age in Litera* 

By W. R. Lethaby. ture— By G. K. Chesterton. 

Mediaeval Enghsh Literature r^, » *^ ^ « ^ 

By Prof. W. P Ker. The Literature of Germany 

Modern English Uteraturo ^^^ J. G. Robertson. 

By G. H. Mair. Painters and Painting 
The English Language By Frederick Wedmore. 

By L. Pearsall Smith. Shelley, Godwin, and their 

^ B^ j'r m:skk.k.d. , C'-l»-^^ H. N Bka:.s.okd. 

Great American Writers Ancient Art and Ritoal 

By W. P. Trent & John Erskine. ^y Jane Harrison. 

Writing English Prose Euripides and His Age 

By W. T. Brewster. By Gilbert Murray. 

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ANTHONY HOPE'S PRISONER OF ZENDA 

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ANTHONY HOPE'S RUPERT OF HENTZAU 

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ANTHONY HOPE'S DOLLY DIALOGUES 

Has passed through over eighteen printings. With illustra- 
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CHARLES BATTELL LOOMIS'S CHEERFUL AMERICANS 

By the author of ** Poe's Raven in an Elevator'' and **A 
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MAY SINCLAIR'S THE DIVINE FIRE 

By the author of '* The Helpmate," etc. Fifteenth printing. 
$1.50. 

BURTON E. STEVENSON'S MARATHON MYSTERY 

This mystery story of a New York apartment house is 
now in its seventh printing, has been republished in England 
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E. L. VOYNICH'S THE GADFLY 

An intense romance of the Italian uprising against the 
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DAVID DWIGHT WELLS'S HER LADYSHIP'S ELEPHANT 

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C. N. and A M. WILLIAMSON'S LIGHTNING CONDUCTOR 

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C. N. and A. M. WILLIAMSON'S THE PRINCESS PASSES 

Illustrated by Edward Penfield. Eighth printing. $1.50. 

HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 

PUBLISHERS (iv'12) NEW YORK 




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