Montessori Principle Basics:
Maria Montessori, a Catholic doctor, philosopher, and education reformer. A year ago, I wasn’t interested in anything with the label Montessori. I thought her methods was about letting kids do whatever they want. And forcing kids to be studious early, and eliminating creativity. I was initially very resistant to her method and message. That is, until I encountered her as a Catholic educator.
In the last 11 months, my study of Montessori and her works expanded. Now for 12 principles (+1 bonus) found in the Maria Montessori method of educating children!
Montessori Principle One: Teaching Through Activity
One thing I enjoy about reading Montessori is her bluntness. Thinking of that, this principle could be summarized as “without movement, there is no learning.”. The Montessori method intrinsically connects learning to movement. This occurs through engaging the hands, the senses, and learning manipulates. For example, a child holds a small apple, ant-figurine, and acorn while working out the sound of the letter a. The child also uses sandpaper letters, and a “moveable alphabet” consisting of wood letters.
“[M]ental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it.” – Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
To apply this principle, there are three key factors to consider. The first is that we want the child to be able to see the reasoning involved in the task. The second factor is that we want the child to feel this same purpose. Finally, we want the child to be able to manually work out or encounter the fact we are engaging the child to learn. Concrete materials should always come before moving to abstract thought.
So we want the child to see that 1+1=2, perhaps in the form of having two single beads. They can also feel out this fact by touching these beads. Finally, the child is able to manually encounter this fact by moving these beads to match up with the equation.
Principle Two: Liberty of the Child of God
This Montessori Principle gave me the hardest time before I finally understood it. However, this freedom that we give children is not meant to be laissez-faire. Instead, it is a freedom within reason, and a freedom within limits. And, indeed, this freedom is presupposed by the adult doing the long and thoughtful work of preparing a space where in the child has room to move about and grow.
The purpose of freedom is recognizing that God is at work in the child in ways we cannot see or observe. Unless we give ourselves the chance to.
Limits are still strictly imposed on any behavior that goes against societal norms (eg. yelling indoors). As well as against acts of violence, and acts against common courtesy. Other limits are imposed by the environment, such as by what materials are available to the child.
Montessori Principle Three: The Prepared Environment
It is perhaps difficult to understand the Montessori Principle of giving the child liberty, without the basis of the prepared environment. The environment is a space constructed under the careful care of the adult. This adult considers the needs of the child and the adult when preparing this space.
The prepared environment entails creating an ordered, uncluttered space, with materials and furniture suited to not only the adult, but also the child. (Having child sized chairs, tables, cups, etc.).
Child sized and child friendly materials are a ‘Hallmark’ of the Montessori method.
Principle Four: A Classical Model of Virtue
Though observing children, Maria Montessori realized that neither praises, prizes, or external punishments brought about long lasting changes in child behavior. (Though she did make use of time-away from other children in extreme cases of misbehavior). Instead, she observed that children are intrinsically motivated when given the chance to observe the good, true, and beautiful. Children absorb how these qualities attract them, and strive to behave “correctly” as much as they are able.
And when they do well, they are pleased with their own achievement, and do not need our “you did it!” in order to continue modeling good behavior.
Montessori Principle Five: Learning in Context
This principle is all about putting Christ and the Eucharist at the centre. For Christ and greater knowledge of Him is the purpose, aim, goal, and fruition of all subjects. And all subjects are ordered to better understanding or appreciation of the beauty of God’s plan.
Furthermore, all learning should happen by including the child in real life. Maria Montessori often complained about how the education system claims to prepare people for partaking in real life by excluding them from it.
Children are ordered towards family life. Thus, as Montessori observed, they benefit from having children of various ages around them. Montessori classrooms also included mixed age groups, such as ages 3-6, 7-9, and 10-12. There are many benefits derived from having mixed ages in a room together. First of all, children benefit from the model of others. Another major benefit to mixed age groups is that it is more indicative of real life. I challenge you to find me some workplaces where everyone working there was born in the same year. Just for fun. The only answer I can find to this puzzle is if a person is working by themselves. Then they are “everyone.” But still. Mixed age groups allow for a more natural learning environment. As well as the older children are able to help the younger children at the younger’s request.
Montessori Principle Seven: Observation and its Application
If you are familiar with the Montessori method, you have probably heard the slogans “Observe” and “Follow the Child.”. The observe is what comes first. As a scientist, Maria Montessori used the scientific method. Part of this method involves observation. So Montessori was great at that! She recognized that by observing the child, she was able to gain valuable information about the child’s development.
Observing has an effect on our ability to carry out our parental duties. One thing about taking the time to observe your child, is that it stops you from interfering. When we see our child struggling to put a shoe on, or frustrated with a particular puzzle piece, our instinct is to immediately help. Sometimes, what we fail to realize, is that we are helping ourselves and not the child. We are sending the message that our children cannot do things for themselves, and that struggling is bad. The other thing about observing, is that it enables us to follow our child’s developmental needs.
That fact is really key for me. The purpose of following the child is not to do whatever the child wants. But rather, it is about recognizing the developmental stage of the child. And about spotting which skills and abilities the child is in a sensitive period for working on.
Principle Eight: Avoid Interrupting
In the above Montessori Principle, we discussed some of the negative effects of interfering in the case of our child. Good news! (Or not). There are more! Interrupting the child while the child’s focusing, prevents the development of concentration. Except in the case of danger or destructive behavior, Montessori made it a rule to never interfere or interrupt a child at work.
By not interrupting, we are also better able to observe the child. Montessori identified several sensitive periods that children go through, such as the sensitive period for movement. Another one is the sensitive period for small objects. It is only through observation of the child that we have a chance of recognizing these sensitive periods. And it is only by recognizing them that we have a chance to follow them.
Montessori Principle Nine: Respect for the Child
We are all aware that children process God-given dignity. However, the logistics on how to respect the child is a bit more murky. For example, it seems like serving the child is a way to respect them. Yet, as we covered in observing the child and avoiding interruptions, interfering with the child’s efforts does a disservice to the child instead. Maria Montessori proved that children are capable of more than we give them credit for.
Principle Ten: Correct with Kindness
Children learn more from our tone than from our words. This is especially true of young children, who may not catch our words at all. Correcting with kindness is a principle reminder to isolate our tone (to calm or unemotional – whichever we can manage). This will free up the child’s attention to absorbing our words.
If our tone is overemotional, the child reacts to our tone rather than are words. This makes this Montessori principle an important one on our most difficult parenting days.
Montessori Principle Eleven: Young Children Have Absorbent Minds
In the above Montessori Principle, we mention how children can absorb our tone if we are emotional while correcting their behaviour. This principle expands on that ability to absorb.
Maria Montessori taught that children under six have absorbent rather than rational minds. Babies and toddlers witness to the power of the absorbent mind. These children pick up language without direct teaching on how words go together to form sentences. They learn to crawl and then walk without anyone explaining to them the steps of their motor development. This quality about the way children learn means it is very important to be aware of their environment and our own behaviour. Our children mirror the way we talk and interact with them in their interactions with is. This principle is also a reminder of why it is important to surround our young children with what is good, true, and beautiful.
Principle Twelve: The Prepared Adult
Living out the first eleven principles can be quite difficult. This is why Maria Montessori refers to the preparation of the adult. We have to grow in virtue, particularly in patience and humility. Our ability to guide the children in their development depends on us preparing ourselves first.
Of course, Theotokos aside, there is no perfect parent. What does matter is that we bring to God the best we have of ourselves. And God can turn our small effort into enough bread and fish to feed 5000 people.
Bonus Principle: Reality Comes First
One thing Maria Montessori promotes is that from 0 to 6, children have a desire to learn about, and be a part of real life. When she brought traditional toys into the classroom, the kids ignored these. Instead, the children favoured the materials Montessori designed for learning and practical life skills. After finding these toys repeatedly ignored, she practiced her “follow the child” principle and removed these from the environment. Some propose that this early focus on reality prepares for creativity. For as any author should admit, learning about reality aids in the development of the imagination. This is because reality is the foundation upon which creativity builds.
Today’s Montessori enthusiasts would suggest that from 0 to 6, children should only have toys, books, and picture books that mimic real life. That cuts out talking and clothed animals, smiling planets, and really a lot of the picture book classics. Another argument for this, is that under 6, children do not have rational brains. They are unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
However, in our household, many of our favourite books include talking animals. I admit that our few books that contain real life pictures really attract our 1 and 3 year old. Particularly the ones with real life children.
The Byzantine Life
Don’t forget to follow us on social media. On our Pinterest we have boards full of baby and toddler activities! New posts are always shared to Facebook, and my husband runs our Twitter (@theByzLife) and Instagram accounts (username: thebyzantinelife)! And if you want to support our work at TheByzantineLife.com, consider joining us on Patreon. For as little as $5 a month you can get exclusive access to special posts, photos, and updates from our family! https://www.patreon.com/thebyzantinelife