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THE MONTESSORI METHOD OF EDUCATION

[By Euz. H. B. Macdonald, M.A., M.D.] I.—THE MONTESSORI IDEA. To-day the accurate finger of science is laid on every detail of our lives. Our educational systems have not escaped. Our schools, our colleges, our universities are becoming year by year more complete in their equipment, more scientific in their methods, more uniform in their results. Our teachers ,ard more highly trained, more specialised in each department of knowledge ; and our children pass easily from school to college, and from college to university. At the same time, it is said that we are becoming a “ nervous” race. Every-day we hear parents complaining of the nervousness, or ignorantly boasting-of the extreme “sensitiveness,” of their children. Every day we hear of teachers breaking down under the terrible strain of modern teaching methods. Yet we. see no way of escape. We must have our children educated, and well educated, and teacher and pupil must stand the strain if they are not to be left hopelessly behind in these keen days. And if some of us have occasional passing doubts as to the alleged perfection of our great educational systems, these are rapidly dismissed from our minds, so accustomed are we to believe that what exists and is accredited on all hands must of necessity be the best possible. It takes more than observation, more than courage, to see and/ to say that right here in the centre of our civilisation, is a mistake, to see and to say that wo have been educating all these years on something less than fundamental truths. It takes more than observation and iHeight and courage to see that—it takes genius. That genius has arisen in Rome in the person of Dr Maria Moutc-s----sori. p~ Montcssori has rediscovered the old and fundamental truth that each child must do his own growing in the mental and spiritual spheres just as certainly as in the physical. There is nothing new in the discovery. Plato stated this truth. All great educators have, restated it. Rousseau wrote of it; Froebol emphasised it. But Dr Montcssori has gone further; she has acted on it. It is just seven years since the first Montcssori school or Children’s Homo, as it is called in Rome, was opened under the direction of this quicksighted woman doctor, and already her results have staggered the thinking world. To-day keen teachers and eager parents everywhere are asking anxiously : “ What is tins Montessori system ? Can we get it for our children ?" The eyes of the whole educational world are turned towards Rome, and the very modern schools there are as interesting to the enlightened tourist as are tho great antiquities of that wonderful city. It is interesting to know 1 how Dr Montcssori came by her great idea After practising for a number of years, doing a large amount of hospital and research work, she took charge of an institute for feeble-minded children, whose problem had for years interested her keenly. She set to work patiently, quietly, .scientifically, to devise some means of stimuliting tho slow or dormant intelligences of these poor, handicapped children. She worked as a scientist does who loves the work for its own sake. Each day she .studied the children. watched them, helped them, stimulated th n m in various ways, and each night she noted down results, arranged, compared, and pondered. After come years of this careful work, one day the miracle happened. One of her feebleminded children passed the examination for normal children, and passed it well. Dr Montcssori drew a deep breath and went. on. The

miracle happened attain and again. When it became evident that it nearly always happened. Dr Montcssori began to think of the normal children. Of whaf wonderful development mi chi they not he capable since this happened with the feeble-minded? So absorbed did she become in her Vi-ion of the wonderful possibilities in that direction that ! she resigned her position and devoted herself for five years to the study of educational problems and to developing arid perfecting for imimnl chddren the system and apparatus that had riven such astonishing results with' (he feeble-minded. In 1907, through the philanthropy of an Italian oirtzen. a home was opened in Rome, where the young children of working mothers might be cared for, and Dr Montcssori, sor'ug her opportunity, accepted the position of directress to tin's homo. She hud children of all aces from two and a-half lo sixy ‘Mrs, drawn from the poorest homes in Rome, and she at once sot about ihe task of letting these clrldren grow in perfect freedom, and of providing them at the same time with the moans necessary for self-development. In a few years’ time, as I have indicated, her results astonished the world. One of tho things that set Dr Montcssnri thinking was tho sight of school children of all ages pinned, as it were, to their desks, rigid, motionless. Science had been at work here, she observed, and had done away with tho long form, where the children could turn and twist and ait sidewavs and ed p" ways, and communicate with their neighbors; and the scientific school desk hart beer, sul rtitulcd—a de-k carefully planned to suit the requirements as regards postures, height, etc., of children of varying ages, and so to lessen the tendency, unfortunately prevalent, to spinal curvature in school children. Some scientific person had gone so far as to invent, also, a “brace” to keep the little shoulders back, mid so complete the -good work of the scientific desk. And, thought this keen-eyod doctor, if in spits of desk and brace «pjnal deformities and weaknesses still manifest themselves, what will the next scientific device he? Then, w 'au n sudden rebound (n: tural enough, it seems to us now), she went right back to central truths, to fundamental principles. Why should tlie spine, the strong young back bone of a healthy, growing creature, beccme limp and flaccid .and distorted? Surely, if enforced immobility for long hours daily in a fixed posture products this tendency, Nature never intended the child to sit thus. To provide scientific desk and brace for weakened spines is much like first cri piing a man and then giving hipi crutches. Tlie obviously right thing, and the only right thing, is not f<> cripple him. Therefore, the children in the Mon lessor! schools have no set disks. 'I hey remain at their self-appointed tasks just so long as they plea e, so long as the native interest of the fascinating things holds them, until Nature horrelf says that a change of posture is desirable, and they may then roll on the floor kicking their heels, sit. walk, eland, or jump just as they feel indited to. The only redaction is that necre.eray in any community—a chivalrous re. aril for the enjoyment and well-being of other members of the community. I hear a chorus of horrified teachers exclaim : “What! No discipline in a school, no order, no routine! It simply would tot do!” No, it would not do m our schools, where the children are already repressed and unacquainted with real ber-Run Remove ihe teacher’s eye for a single moment- from the commanding position in lire ovlitre of the room, and immediate chaos rest its. But, strange to say, with these mites brought up in ■ an atmosphere of freedom, freedom ia not disorder, but simply the natural quiet liberty that a. child with a wise mother ha® in Ills own home. Thera is no tendency to noisy disorder until there had first been induced a condition of unnatural immobility. One of Dr Moutessori'fi greatest difficulties was the training of her assistants in the almost incredibly difficult art of letting the children alone, the wise and rare art of remaining in the background ready to give help and encouragement and direction when needed, hut never retarding the child’s self-development by giving one fraction of imnecessaiy help. We have all seen a child fumbling with the complicated hit tunings of her garments, Lying with infinite "patience and -moxhamthle imereit to "discover the secret of them. Which mother has never said; “ That is too ; hard for a little girl. Mother can do that so much better. Let mother do it?” Of course, wo all say that, and help the little awkward baby fingers that all too soon will be doing tho hard work of the world

away from our care. Certainly we will help our babies while they ore dependent on us! Did it never occur to you that what the_ Iwvby fingers and the baby brain were striving after was ealf-d-evelopment, the ability to do these things by therarelvos, and that they were not at all interested in the mere external fact (to you paramount) of having the goxment buttoned? What the child wants to do, what the great stupid adult giant can never understand, is with awkward fingers and slow clumsy put the button into the button-hole and then pull it out again, for the sheer pleasure of awkwardly and with infinite care and inexhaustible patience putting it in again, aivd so on through a long «urd happy hour of true eclf-education. Slowly, but very surely, mother's mistaken inndness destroys the child's early efforts towards selfdependence, and produces the familiar helplossly-dependcnt child of our well-to-do families. To do for the child, with giown-up deftness and accuracy, what he is trying awkwardly but cheerfully to do for himself, is to deprive him now of the acutost. pleasure that, life at any age holds, the pleasure of conscious self-development, and to lay up for him in the future a store of toil when he must learn painfully and unwillingly the very lessons that our kindness (say, rather our blindness) prevented him learning joyfully when Nature said he was ripe for the lesson. For just when a child is ready to learn certain movements of muscles and certain accuracies of nerve is a time that mo parent or teacher can tell so well as the child himself; the true time is just when the child has an inward impulse to master, these movements ; .and possibly at no other time is the lesson learned so thoroughly; certainly it is never at any other time learned so joyfully. Again, I hear a chorus of careful and anxious mothers: “ But w« could never wait while our children do these simple things for themselves! We must have order in the home. Wo have no time to waste!’’ The quiet answer that comes to us across the world is that in the Montossori Homos for Children in Rome there is “no meed for haste.” Nature is never in a hurry. In all the realms of growth there is no need for haste. “No need for haste. It was like,” says Mrs Fisher in her book, ‘A Montessdri. Mother,’ “being transported into the timeless ease of eternity.” Why is there always such need for haste in our modern homes? What are we harrying to accomplish? If our rush and hurry is to be at the cost of our children’s happiness and lasting good, it is time to revise our methods. One of the creates t surprises that the Montcssori schools hold for the average teacher or parent is tho fact that they nm-i’r have a naughty child there. It is discovered that when children arc allowed to crow in (his enlightened and wiso way, and encouraged in their self-education by the provision of apparatus that educates while it fasednates, thev are much too busy growing, much too absorbed in tho fascinating business of discovering their own marvellous faculties, to bare time or inclination for naughtiness. The children arc busy and happy, and Dr Monteseori’s loving insiVht has been so keen that she has devised means of converting the naughtiest and most self-willed of spoiled children into the husv and happy Montessori child. Dr Montcssori (ells us in an amusing way in her hook how the constant inquiries from parents and teachers aa to what r-ho did with “naughty children” compelled her in tlie end to think out some method of dealing with those unnatural monsters of iniquity. When she told the simple truth—that she never found any such unmanageable children, that they simply ceased to exist ar such when given a chance to live naturally and happily amd usefully—she was met by w.teh blankly j incredulous stales and such obvious dis- 1 belief that she was compelled to cease | telling the simple truth and describe an j in aginary method of treating such children as physically or morally “sick” chil- j dren. In the light of our modern imtalue, peevish, hitrhly-alrnng, nervous child these facts will hear come thinking over. In my next article 1 shall deal with ‘ The Montcssori Apparatus.’

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19141212.2.11

Bibliographic details

THE MONTESSORI METHOD OF EDUCATION, Issue 15674, 12 December 1914

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2,129

THE MONTESSORI METHOD OF EDUCATION Issue 15674, 12 December 1914

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