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THE MONTESSORI METHOD OF EDUCATION, Issue 15680, 19 December 1914
THE MONTESSORI METHOD OF EDUCATION
[By Dr Elizabeth 11. B. Macdoxald.] No. IL THE MONTESSORI APPARATUS. We hear much of the Montessori apparatus these days, and many of those who are apparently most interested in the Montessori principle or idea of education come to a standstill in their practical application of the principle because they are unable to procure the apparatus. One might imagine, Irom listening to them, that the apparatus contained within itself the magic power to transform an ordinary child into a. wonder child, and that it was only necessary to turn a child loose amongst the Montessori apparatus in order to witness anew the miracles of self-development seen in the Children's Home in Rome. This reliance on the apparatus reveals a fundamental lack of appreciation of the Montessori idea. It is the idea that is new and vital and life-giving, and the apparatus actually used by Dr Montessori is merely the practical expression of her great idea. This new idea in education is no mechanical cut-and-dried method ; it is new life, and the app.rrra.tus is its physical body, so to speak. VTithout tho animating idea the apparatus becomes a dead tiling, a hindrance rather than a help, a body without a spirit; and it is almost to he feared that the Montessori method of education will be thrown into disfavor more by an uninspired use of its apparatus than by any direct, antagonism to or criticism of its central principles. . Wo have seen that the fundamental principle is freedom for the child to prow, to develop unrestrainedly in as far as possible an ideal environment. Having once provided the environment up to the very limit of our wisdom and sympathy, we are to let the child alone. He is to be allowed to grow naturallv, to have the materials favorable to healthy growth put in his way. to have lir, natural energy directed into desirable channels, but to have no energy expended uselessly, no nerve force wasted from a futile clashing of the child's will with the adult's will, no stuntinnt of growth from foolish restrictions whereby the little budding activities are nipped, no repression of desirable natural instincts, no thwarting of the childish impulses, save where such imriulsos are unsocial and tindesira-Me. All these things arc oasv to nay, more <liflicult to interpret, and Ftill more difficult to translate into practice. I Every intellk'enfc oheiw-vor of children notices that youn? children are not, content to look nt nftrictiw* objects <- n lm!v or admiringly, bu* nlwnys are bv a mini* for touching and handling them. Tbiis is an iiivc-viHc rule with nr.vmal children. The child who docs not nnturallv and Instinctively orasp at- any object that attracts his attention is abnormal ; the child who Tins no d'-sirc whatever to rinndln th'ncrs i? nrobahlv feehie-T-iii'ded. Dr Montessori. liko every other child-ohfoiver. noticed this invariable tendency, and. unlike most others, she searched both for the reason of it and for the means of turning it to account in the child's development. The reason was r.ot fur to s?ek. Tt is well known that tho fvesishf. of the young child '"ft fa/ from perfect, and that it Terrains more or less defici»nt up to the asre of sir roars. The child d<-=s not see clearly, as tho adult does, and he mvfit learn the nr.tnre of the world he hr-n be*m thrust into by touching everything he conies across. Evidently, tli-n, this natural impulse to touch things is Nature's method of educating: unless this impulse were a valuable ono it would not he so invariable and so persistent. Therefore, says the vise educator, let tho child touch. More than, that, encourare the child to touch; and. further still, lead him to touch cavefully and geintly and s-snsitivelv. Lob him develop to its highest extent this valuable sense of touch. Let him develop his brain bv developing his sense of touch ; let, him educate the finer muscles of his hand*; and fingers and arms by touching and handling as many different kinds of obieete as possible. And as the child's natural instinct is to touch, such education will be a pleasure : ho will delieht in the-free exercise of his native impulse. Now, as it, is not practically desirable that the child should handle and touch even' delicate fabric and every piece of valuable china he mry happen to meet, and as it is clearly the. development of his senfio of touch that ho is blindly groping after, and not, as ths stupid grown-ups imagine, that he is actuated by a single perverse desire to finder ami dot troy; aa this often apparently mischievous propensity to get a hold of things is a ' valuable instinct it lightly directed, Dr Montessori devised sonve '"apparatus" for the express purpose of training the child's reuse; of touch. " Tac-tita apparatus" is a big and formal term to apply to the simple devices used in the Niontessori schools. They are simply these : (1) A rectangular wooden board, one half covered with' smooth paper, the other half cevcrad. wiih sandpaper : (2) a rectangular erooden board, with alternate strips of sandpaper and plain smooth surface, the sandpaper graded from fine to very rough; [3) a polished wooden cabinet of 6evon lrawers, containing pieces of different fabrid in duplicate—silk, muslin, calico, ir.cn, cloth, serge, velvet—by meana «f i ivhich the child learns by feeling the di.fcrence in texture and quality of tho vatt'>ur materials. He thus learns to feel, not o seo, coarse, fine, soft, rough, (smooth, ' hick, thin, etc., and, later on, to name < ihe materials from touch only. This ippaTatus is purely within the reach of ' wag;
Practically it is found that the children from two years of age upwards delight in these touching exercises, and especially delight in fingering smooth velvety surfaces, and that their interest and delight is doubled when they are taught to touch and identify materials with their eyes closed. Thev call this "seeing without eyes," and will play at the game for hours without a sign of nagging interest. From this it will be sufficiently obvious that Dr Moutessori would not 'approve of the familiar housohold words " Oh, but you mustn't touch!" and that these words must bo absolutely banished from the vocabulary of all who would strive to follow aft-er her in the education of their children. Lot us ask now: 'What is the result of this education of the sense of touch? Ono of the first results is that the children quickly discover that they cannot touch 60 well unless the hands are clean and warm, and the practical outcome of this 6imple truth is that they begin their touching exercises by washing their hands carefully in warm water and drying them carefully, learning incidentally the difference between cold water and warm water, and bo tween dirty hands and clean hands. Thoy take a real interest in the cleanliness and comfort of their own hands, even to an interest in the care of the finger nails, and this, not because they are laboriously and artificially taught that nice hands are desirable in well-brought-up children, but simply because they find practically that well-kept, clean, warm hands are more useful and more pleasurable in their own chosen gamo of touching. Surely this is the true, way to inculcate desirablo personal habits.
A second outcome of the touching habit is that these children develop an extraordinary sensitiveness of touch. They acquire the sensitive finger-tips that wo generally associate with a blind person. This sensitiveness is a source of keen pleasure to them, and of inexhaustible intereat, and it means at the same time a corresponding development of brain to interpret the meaning of the innumerable messages sent to the brain by the sensitive and active finger-tips. All the apparatus used in the Montessori schools has a simitar meaning behind its use. Thus, Dr Moutessori noted the keen interest of the child in the fastenings of his own garments. And, once more, as it is not practically desirable to have a young child spend an hour or more in a cold bedroom half undressed in the endeavor to fasten his own clothes, she devised some " apparatus" to give him the necessary practice in these everyday actions. She found that, a simplo frame, with a piece of calico stretched on either side, arranged with largo buttons on one edgi and buttonholes on the other, was an "apparatus" that would keep an ordinary child busy ajid happy for hours at a time. And note that this is not 1 merely a toy for keeping baby out of mischief. It is a real device for selfdevelopment, and has a very real and valuable practical bearing when the child has mastered all the intricate movements necessary for buttoning easily and accurately his own clothes. And note, further, that the child enjoys the exercise. He is much more interested in the real work of buttoning his own boots and clothes than in the most elaborate and expensive mechanical toy in the market. Further, he is developing his brain by this interested and useful exercise, and learning the valuablo lesson of self-de-pendence and self-help. The apparatus which grew out of this natural impulse to button and fasten things consists of a set of eight wooden frames, with which the children can practise : —(1) Buttoning linen, (2) lacing corsets, (3) tying ribbon bows, (4) buttoning corsets, (5) patent snap fastenings, (6) buttoning leggings, (7 j lacing leather, (8) hook and eye fastening. Surely, again, this apparatus is within the reach of every mother and every teacher of young children. It is impossible in the space of a short article to go similarly into the meaning behind the other and le6s obvious apparatus used in the Montessori schools. But all of it is devised to gratify some natural impulse on the part of the child, so that he is absorbed in it to the exclusion of every other interest; and nil of it. is devised to be educative in the sensa of training by its mere use the child's senses; and all of it is as far as possible self-corrective, so that interference with the child's spontaneous activity on the part of the teacher is reduced to a. minimum. Thus there are three sots of cylinders of varying heights and thicknesses, with a stand with apertures corresponding to the cylinders. The child fits the cylinders into the apertures, and unless he gauges correctly the aperture to fit the cylinder it simply will not go in, and he must find the correct aperture by further trial. He thus trains- his eye to estimate relative sizes, and acquires at the same time accuracy of touch, and correlation of eve and hand. The Geometrical Im-ets, of which we hear so much, are a similar device for older children. They consist of a number of wooden or metal figures fitted with handles, so that they can be inserted into the corresponding apertures. In the use oT these insets, the child's developed soiise of touch is made use of. H-? is taught to feel round the outlines of the insets, and to feel the corresponding aperture, and so to fit the one to the other by feeling as well as by sight. How this trained touch leads later on to writing, and tho wonderful outburst of the Montessori children into writing at a certain stace in (heir education, are subjects- of great further interest: but perhaps enough ha« been said to lead interested parents and teachers to feel the profound truth behind the Montessori apparatus. Next and final article will denl with ' The Montessori Teacher.'
THE MONTESSORI METHOD OF EDUCATION, Issue 15680, 19 December 1914
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