Read an Excerpt
DR. MONTESSORI'S OWN HANDBOOK
By MARIA MONTESSORI
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
DR. MONTESORRI'S OWN HANDBOOK
RECENT years have seen a remarkable improvement in the conditions of child life. In all civilised countries, but especially in England, statistics show a decrease in infant mortality.
Related to this decrease in mortality a corresponding improvement is to be seen in the physical development of children; they are physically finer and more vigorous. It has been the diffusion, the popularisation of science, which has brought about such notable advantages. Mothers have learned to welcome the dictates of modern hygiene and to put them into practice in bringing up their children. Many new social institutions have sprung up and have become perfected with the object of assisting children and protecting them during the period of physical growth.
In this way what is practically a new race is coming into being, a race more highly developed, finer and more robust; a race which will be capable of offering resistance to insidious disease.
What has science done to effect this? Science has suggested for us certain very simple rules by which the child has been restored as nearly as possible to conditions of a natural life, and an order and a guiding law have been given to the functions of the body. For example, it is science which suggested maternal feeding, the abolition of swaddling clothes, baths, life in the open air, exercise, simple short clothing, quiet, and plenty of sleep. Rules were also laid down for the measurement of food, adapting it rationally to the physiological needs of the child's life.
Yet with all this, science made no contribution that was entirely new. Mothers had always nursed their children; children had always been clothed; they had breathed and eaten before.
The point is, that the same physical acts which, performed blindly and without order, led to disease and death, when ordered rationally were the means of giving strength and life.
The great progress made may perhaps deceive us into thinking that "everything possible" has been done for children.
We have only to weigh the matter carefully, however, to reflect: Are our children only those healthy little bodies which to-day are growing and developing so vigorously under our eyes? Is their destiny fulfilled in the production of beautiful human bodies? In that case there would be little difference between their lot and that of the animals which we raise in order to have good meat or beasts of burden.
Man's destiny is evidently other than this, and the care due to the child covers a field wider than that which is considered by physical hygiene. The mother who has given her child his bath and sent him in his perambulator to the park has not fulfilled the mission of the "mother of humanity." The hen which gathers her chickens together, and the cat which licks her kittens and lavishes on them such tender care, differ in no wise from the human mother in the services they render.
No, the human mother if reduced to such limits devotes herself in vain, feels that a higher aspiration has been stifled within her. She is not yet the mother of man. Children must "grow" not only in the body but in the spirit, and the mother longs to follow the mysterious spiritual journey of the beloved one who to-morrow will be the intelligent, divine creation, man.
Science, evidently, has not finished its work. On the contrary, it has scarcely taken the first step in advance, for it has hitherto stopped at the welfare of the body. It must continue, however, to advance: on the same positive lines along which it has improved the health and saved the physical life of the children, it is bound in the future to benefit and to reinforce their inner life, which is the real human life. On the same positive lines science will proceed to direct the development of the intelligence, of character, and of those latent creative forces which lie hidden in the marvellous embryo of man's spirit.
As the child's body must draw nourishment and oxygen from its external environment, in order to accomplish a great physiological work, the work of growth, so also the spirit must take from its environment the nourishment which it needs to develop according to its own "laws of growth." It cannot be denied that the phenomena of development are a great work in themselves. The consolidation of the bones, the growth of the whole body, the completion of the minute construction of the brain, the formation of the teeth, all these are very real labours of the physiological organism, as is also the transformation which the organism undergoes during the period of puberty.
Such exertions are very different from those put forth by mankind in so-called external work, that is to say, in " social production," whether in the schools where man is taught, or in the world where, by the activity of his intelligence, he produces wealth and transforms his environment.
It is none the less true, however, that they are both " work." In fact, the organism during these periods of greatest physiological work is least capable of performing external tasks, and sometimes the work of growth is of such extent and difficulty that the individual is overburdened, as with an excessive strain, and for this reason alone becomes exhausted, or even dies.
Man will always be able to avoid "external work" by making use of the labour of others, but there is no possibility of shirking that inner work. Together with birth and death it has been imposed by nature itself, and each man must accomplish it for himself. This difficult, inevitable labour, —this is the " work of the child."
When we say then that little children should rest, we are referring to one side only of the question of work. We mean that they should rest from that external visible work to which the little child through his weakness and incapacity cannot make any contribution useful either to himself or to others.
Our assertion, therefore, is not absolute; the child in reality is not "resting," he is performing the mysterious inner work of his autoformation. He is working to make a man, and to accomplish this it is not enough that the child's body should grow in actual size; the most intimate functions of the motor and nervous systems must also be established, and the intelligence developed.
The functions to be established by the child fall into two groups: (1) the motor functions by which he is to secure his balance and learn to walk, and to co-ordinate his movements; (2) the sensory functions through which, receiving sensations from his environment, he lays the foundations of his intelligence by a continual exercise of observation, comparison and judgment. In this way he gradually comes to be acquainted with his environment and to develop his intelligence.
At the same time he is learning a language, and he is faced not only with the motor difficulties of articulation, sounds and words, but also with the difficulty of gaining an intelligent understanding of names and of the syntactical composition of the language.
If we think of an emigrant who goes to a new, country ignorant of its products, ignorant of its natural appearance and social order, entirely ignorant of its language, we realise that there is an immense work of adaptation which he must perform before he can associate himself with the active life of the unknown people. No one will be able to do for him that work of adaptation. He himself must observe, understand, remember, form judgments, and learn the new language by laborious exercise and long experience.
What is to be said then of the child ? What of this emigrant who comes into a new world, and who, weak as he is and before his organism is completely developed, must in a short time adapt himself to a world so complex?
Up to the present day the little child has not received rational aid in the accomplishment of this laborious task. As regards the psychical development of the child we find ourselves in a period parallel to that in which the physical life was left to the mercy of chance and instinct—the period in which infant mortality was a scourge.
It is by scientific and rational means also that we must facilitate that inner work of psychical adaptation to be accomplished within the child, a work which is by no means the same thing as any external work or production whatsoever.
This is the aim which underlies my method of infant education, and it is for this reason that certain principles which it enunciates, together with that part which deals with the technique of their practical application, are not of a general character, but have special reference to the particular case of the child from three to seven years of age, i.e., to the needs of a formative period of life.
My method is scientific, both in its substance and in its aim. It makes for the attainment of a more advanced stage of progress, in directions no longer only material and physiological. It is an endeavour to complete the course which hygiene has already taken, but in the treatment of the physical side alone.
If to-day we possessed statistics respecting the nervous debility, defects of speech, errors of perception and of reasoning, and lack of character in normal children, it would perhaps be interesting to compare them with statistics of the same nature, but compiled from the study of children who have had a number of years of rational education. In all probability we should find a striking resemblance between such statistics and those to-day available showing the decrease in mortality and the improvement in the physical development of children.
A "CHILDREN'S HOUSE"
The "Children's House" is the environment which is offered to the child that he may be given the opportunity of developing his activities. This kind of school is not of a fixed type, but may vary according to the financial resources at disposal and to the opportunities afforded by the environment. It ought to be a real house; that is to say, a set of rooms with a garden of which the children are the masters. A garden which contains shelters is ideal, because the children can play or sleep under them, and can also bring their tables out to work or dine. In this way they may live almost entirely in the open air, and are protected at the same time from rain and sun.
The central and principal room of the building, often also the only room at the disposal of the children, is the room for " intellectual work." To this central room can be added other smaller rooms according to the means and opportunities of the place: for example, a bath-room, a dining-room, a little parlour or common-room, a room for manual work, a gymnasium and rest-room.
The special characteristic of the equipment of these houses is that it is adapted for children and not adults. They contain not only a didactic material specially fitted for the intellectual development of the child, but also a complete equipment for the management of the miniature family. The furniture is light so that the children can move it about, and it is painted in some light colour so that the children can wash it with soap and water. There are small tables of various sizes and shapes—square, rectangular and round, large and small. The rectangular shape is the most common as two or more children can work at it together. The seats are small wooden chairs, but there are also small wicker armchairs and sofas.
In the working-room there are two indispensable pieces of furniture. One of these is a very long cupboard with large doors (Fig. 1). It is very low so that a small child can set on the top of it small objects such as mats, flowers, etc. Inside this cupboard is kept the didactic material which is the common property of all the children.
The other is a chest of drawers containing two or three columns of little drawers, each of which has a bright handle (or a handle of some colour to contrast with the background), and a small card with a name upon it. Every child has his own drawer, in which to put things belonging to him.
Round the walls of the room are fixed blackboards at a low level, so that the children can write or draw on them, and pleasing, artistic pictures, which are changed from time to time as circumstances direct. The pictures represent children, families, landscapes, flowers and fruit, and more often Biblical and historical incidents. Ornamental plants and flowering plants ought always to be placed in the room where the children are at work.
Another part of the working-room's equipment is seen in the pieces of carpet of various colours—red, blue, pink, green and brown. The children spread these rugs upon the floor, sit upon them and work there with the didactic material. A room of this kind is larger than the customary class-rooms, not only because the little tables and separate chairs take up more space, but also because a large part of the floor must be free for the children to spread their rugs and work upon them.
In the sitting-room, or "club-room," a kind of parlour in which the children amuse themselves by conversation, games, or music, etc., the furnishings should be especially tasteful. Little tables of different sizes, little arm-chairs and sofas should be placed here and there. Many brackets of all kinds and sizes, upon which may be put statuettes artistic vases or framed photographs, should adorn the walls; and, above all, each child should have a little flower-pot, in which he may sow the seed of some indoor plant, to tend and cultivate as it grows. On the tables of this sitting-room should be placed large albums of coloured pictures, and also games of patience, or various geometric solids, with which the children can play at pleasure, constructing figures, etc. A piano, or better, other musical instruments, possibly harps of small dimensions, made especially for children, complete the equipment. In this "club-room" the teacher may sometimes entertain the children with stories, which will attract a circle of interested listeners.
The furniture of the dining-room consists, in addition to the tables, of low cupboards accessible to all the children, who can themselves put in their place and take away the crockery, spoons, knives and forks, table-cloth and napkins. The plates are always of china, and the tumblers and water-bottles of glass. Knives are always included in the table equipment.
The Dressing-room. Here each child has his own little cupboard or shelf. In the middle of the room there are very simple washhand-stands, consisting of tables, on each of which stand a small basin, soap and nail-bush. Against the wall stand little sinks with water-taps. Here the children may draw and pour away their water. There is nothing to limit the equipment of the "Children's Houses" because the children themselves do everything. They sweep the rooms, dust and wash the furniture, polish the brasses, lay and clear away the table, wash up, sweep and roll up the rugs, wash a few little clothes, and cook eggs. As regards their personal toilet, the children know how to dress and undress themselves. They hang their clothes on little hooks, placed very low so as to be within reach of a little child, or else they fold up such articles of clothing, as their little serving-aprons, of which they take great care, and lay them inside a cupboard kept for the household linen.
In short, where the manufacture of toys has been brought to such a point of complication and perfection that children have at their disposal entire dolls' houses, complete wardrobes for the dressing and undressing of dolls, kitchens where they can pretend to cook, toy animals as nearly lifelike as possible, this method seeks to give all this to the child in reality—making him an actor in a living scene.
My pdometer forms part of the equipment of a "Children's House." After various modifications I have now reduced this instrument to a very practical form (Fig. 2).
The purpose of the pædometer, as its name shows, is to measure the children. It consists of a wide rectangular board, forming the base, from the centre of which rise two wooden posts held together at the top by a narrow flat piece of metal. To each post is connected a horizontal metal rod—the indicator—which runs up and down by means of a casing, also of metal. This metal casing is made in one piece with the indicator, to the end of which is fixed an indiarubber ball. On one side, that is to say, behind one of the two tall vertical wooden posts, there is a small seat, also of wood. The two tall wooden posts are graduated. The post to which the seat is fixed is graduated from the surface of the seat to the top, whilst the other is graduated from the wooden board at the base to the top, i.e. to a height of 1·50 metres. On the side containing the seat the height of the child seated is measured, on the other side the child's full stature. The practical value of this instrument lies in the possibility of measuring two children at the same time, and in the fact that the children themselves co-operate in taking the measurements. In fact, they learn to take off their shoes and to place themselves in the correct position on the pædometer. They find no difficulty in raising and lowering the metal indicators, which are held so firmly in place by means of the metal casing that they cannot deviate from their horizontal position even when used by inexpert hands. Moreover, they run extremely easily, so that very little strength is required to move them. The little indiarubber balls prevent the children from hurting themselves should they inadvertently knock their heads against the metal indicator.
Excerpted from DR. MONTESSORI'S OWN HANDBOOK by MARIA MONTESSORI. Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.