The following article was printed in McCLURE'S MAGAZINE

McClure's Magazine
January, 1912

THE MONTESSORI APPARATUS

A DESCRIPTION OF THE MATERIAL AND APPARATUS USED IN TEACHING BY THE MONTESSORI METHOD

Child working with the Montessori Movable Alphabet, 1912

MAKING A SENTENCE WITH THE CUT-OUT LETTERS. THE SENTENCE READS, “I WISH WELL TO THE LADY DIRECTRESS, TO MY TEACHER, SIGNORINA MASSA SILVIA, AND TO THE DOTTORESSA MARIA MONTESSORI”

Sections and Links:

The most conspicuous of Montessori's achievements has undoubtedly been her discovery of a process by which children spontaneously break forth into reading and writing — an “explosion into writing,” as Montessori herself graphically puts it. The fact that, under the Montessori method, children of four or five learn in six weeks to write words and compose sentences is, of course, the least part of this achievement. The significant fact is that these things are done spontaneously, from an impulse within the child himself, which leads him of his own accord to make use of a new medium of expression. Under the old-fashioned system children were taught to read and write through a long series of monotonous and, to them, meaningless tasks imposed upon them by a superior authority. Under the Montessori method there is no coercion, there is not even an attempt to persuade the child. When he feels the need of expressing himself, he simply finds himself able to do so. He has unconsciously mastered the means of expression through a series of toys and games devised with consummate skill to develop his bodily faculties in such a way that they respond quickly and accurately to the demands of his mind.

Montessori Pupils Bathe and Dress Themselves

Childre are sometimes in the Casa dei Bambini several years before any lessons are given them with the toys. They are allowed a part in the games, and in the collective lessons where the acts of practical life are taught, and they are allowed to find themselves, as it were, before any steps are taken to educate the senses. There is a regulation that a child shall come to school tidy in person and in dress; therefore, when the first greetings are over, an inspection follows.

Dr. Montessori in her book lays down the following rules:

“When the children come to the school there must be an inspection of their little persons with regard to cleanliness. This should be carried out (if possible) in the presence of the mothers; but no observations must be made to them. The child's teeth, nails, neck, ears, face, and hands must be examined, and heed should be given to the tidiness of the hair. If the clothes be soiled, ripped, torn, dusty, or with out fastenings, and if the shoes are not properly cleaned, the child's attention must be gently called to these facts. The children must be encouraged to observe the tidiness of one an other, but without deprecatory remarks, and by this means they acquire a habit of observing themselves.”

All children love to dabble in water, particularly when soap plays its part in the game; but here, under judicious guidance, washing the hands and face becomes, even with the youngest, a cleaning process, and it is amusing to see what a sense of importance is displayed during the performance of these ablutions.

When the inspection of the pinafores, which follows that of personal cleanliness, is over, the children help one another to button their aprons. Little Nunzia helps Giovanni, who in his turn aids a smaller child.

Montessori has designed light gymnastics to give the little ones command of their limbs and coordination of their muscles, but these are allowed to continue for only a few minutes at a time, not long enough to fatigue the children. Then the teacher strikes up a march on the piano, and at once many of the children respond. They are not required to keep step, and the usual manner of proceeding is to walk on a line, putting one foot in front of the other. The changing music, the introduction of simpie songs and circle games, are all very like the free rhythm work so beautifully developed in many of our American kindergartens.

Children of Four and Five Make Skilful
Waitresses and Dish Washers

In addition to these games, there are lessons, frankly given as such, in which the children learn, for instance, to greet one another politely, or, taking first an empty and then a filled tumbler on a plate, to walk with it a short distance and present it to a companion, who receives it graciously and carries it to a third. They are taught to sit properly and composedly for a few minutes in their chairs, and then to rise and reseat themselves. They learn to move about the room with security and ease. In the Montessori school-rooms the tables and chairs are not fastened down; all the furniture is so light that the children are able to move it from place to place; and Dr. has proved her theory that if there is an evident reason why they should move carefully among the furniture, children properly taught will readily learn to do this.

Children in a Montessori School in a circle singing, 1912.
MONTESSORI CHILDREN SINGING AN AVE MARIA

In the schools where Maria has been able to obtain the long hours she favors, luncheons are served. The setting of the tables, the serving of the meal, the washing of the dishes, and the other attendant duties are all performed with great delight by the children. Each morning the little ones gather about a tablet, such as we use for telephone addresses, on which the names of the waitresses, dish-washers, etc., are written. Those who can read call out the names. As soon as the youngest pupils have learned to manipulate their legs and arms skilfully, and to carry safely a glass on a plate, they are eligible for the position of waitress.

In the photograph below are Anna, aged four, and Gilda, five, drying dishes in the beautiful cloister garden of the school held by the French missionary nuns in the Via Guisti. They learn to wipe and polish all the corners and curves better than the average butler. The security and ease with which these chil dren hold the clumsy and slippery objects of tableware are an instance of what the sense training does for children.

Two girls drying washed dishes in a Montessori School, 1912
ANNA AND GILDA, AGED FOUR AND FIVE, DRYING DISHES IN THE GARDEN OF ONE OF THE MONTESSORI SCHOOLS. THE SECURITY AND EASE WITH WHICH THE CHILDREN HANDLE THE SLIPPERY PIECES OF TABLEWARE ARE AN INSTANCE OF WHAT THE MONTESSORI SENSE TRAINING DOES FOR CHILDREN

The same command of the muscles which makes the little waitresses skilful at their work also enables the children at the table to hold their knives, forks, and spoons properly, and gives dexterity to the little broom-handlers who sweep away the fallen crumbs.

Anthropological measurements are taken in all the Casa dei Bambini, and charts are kept, after the most modern manner, in which all the particulars directly relating to the pupils are noted. Once a month, on the date corresponding to the child's birthday, the stature, sitting and standing, is taken. Once a week, on the day of the week on which the child was born, the weight is taken. Once a year, on the child's birthday, all the more definite details — the measurements, the color of the hair, and other peculiarities, the condition of health, etc. — are written down by the visiting physician, and this experience so impresses age and birthday upon the children that they are not likely to forget their ages, a circumstance very common in Italy, where birthdays are ignored.

Amid such simple activities as have been described, the exercised with the "didactic material" easily and naturally find their place.

The "First Floor" in the Education of the Senses

Among the material that prepares for the Exercises of Practical Life are a number of light wooden embroidery-frames which have pieces of stuff fastened along their sides. These pieces are sometimes of leather, again of linen or dress material; they are to be hooked, laced, buttoned, or tied together in the center; and no toy ever invented could give greater pleasure.

The tiniest of the children sit like men and women in industrious company, as busy as bees and as intent as if their daily bread depended on their lacing imaginary corsets or buttoning imaginary boots.

Ugoccione di S--, who is the younger son of a marquis and lives in a nursery that would hold its own with our best toy shops, takes great pride in the way he has, through this toy, learned to tie his brown shoe-lacings in a secure double knot. He is barely five, but his bow, pulled out smooth and wide, would not disgrace a college man of twenty.

children working with the Montessori dressing frames, 1912
PEPINELLA AND ROSINA, THREE AND ONE HALF AND FOUR YEARS OLD, LEARNING TO BUTTON AND LACE TOGETHER STRIPS OF CLOTH FASTENED TO WOODEN EMBROIDERY FRAMES. THESE ARE AMONG THE FIRST EXRCISES OFFERED TO THE CHILDREN IN THE MONTESSORI SCHOOLS

Among the simpler exercises which are presented to the very young children, and which, with the exercises just described, form, to quote herself, "a first floor in the education of the senses," may be placed the cylinders, the graduated rectangular blocks called the "Big Stair," the series of rods called the "Long Stair," and the graduated cubes called the "Tower."

The cylinders are among the first objects to be put as play things into the hands of a new pupil. They are ten in number, and are fitted into a case such as a chemist has for holding his weights. There are three sets of these cylinders; indeed, in her book Maria has a fourth set pictured, but I have never seen these used.

In the first set the pieces are all of equal length, but graduated in diameter; in the second they are all of the same diameter, but graduated in length; in the third, both length and diameter vary, the cylindrical form alone remaining constant. Although the cylinders are of solid wood, each armed with a little brass button at the top for taking them out and putting them back into the holes of the case, the whole toy is light enough to be carried about by the youngest child in the school.

Montessori adapted this toy to the instinct children have for arranging small objects in rows. In playing with the cylinders, the child takes them all out, mixes them up on the table, and then puts them back, each into the hole it fits. As the big ones will not go into the little holes or the tall ones into the shallow holes, it will be seen that any normal child very soon learns the proper place for each. Strange to say, even after the child can easily and per fectly do this simple puzzle, he rarely becomes bored with it, but will continue to empty out his cylinders and put them back countless times. The finger muscles grow secure in handling them, they soon cease to slip and clatter on the desk; and I watched a mere baby exercising her sense of touch by imitating her companions and running her tiny finger first around the cylinder, then around the hole, before she slipped the piece in.

In making the Big Stair, the rectangular blocks used are large as compared to the cylinsders handled first, and are so by intention, since in this exercise there is no other control than that of the eye. With the cylinders the material itself made uncorrected errors impossible. The blocks of the Big Stair offer no control, and, watching a child as he plays with them, we may see what a degree of mastery he has at tained through the sense training afforded him by the preceding exercises.

To the younger children the Long Stair is presented simply as a series of blocks varying in length; but later on they form the basis for lessons in counting, and through them are taught the process of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

The design in the three exercises described is that the child may learn to distinguish differ ences of form and dimension through touch as well as by sight. The building of the Tower is the culmination of this series of exercises. In order to construct the Tower perfectly, the largest block must be selected for its foundation, and if the child does this without hesitation, it shows us that he has made decided progress in the matter of perception of difference.

How Pietro Learns to Make the "Long Stair"

When little Pietro came into the school he was very active and intelligent, but disordered in his manner of play. When he began to play with these various sets of blocks, he mixed them all up together and ran confusedly from one to another. He could not make the Stair in an orderly and well-graded fashion. His power of attention was too unstable, his mind too vola tile. A lesson was given him. The rec tangular blocks were placed without any order upon one of the little carpets upon which the children love to play these games, and he was asked to pick out the largest block. Having done this, he was told to place it upon a table at some distance from the square of carpet. He was then asked to select the largest of all those left, and was shown how to place it close against the block already on the table. So, little by little, he was brought to understand that the stair descended gradually, and that it had no connection with the blocks of the Tower or with the Long Stair. When, finally, by his own efforts the Stair was made, his delight was unbounded. He destroyed it at once and set about reconstructing it. So intense was his pleasure that he showed his joy by kissing each block as he put it in place. For nearly an hour after that he could not be enticed from his bewitching occupation.

Simultaneously with these simpler exercises, in dimension and form, may be given the first lesson in color, which was described in the December McCLURE's.

black and white photo of children eating dinner in a Montessori school
MONTESSORI CHILDREN EATING DINNER IN THE CLOISTERS OF THE SCHOOL HELD BY THE FRANCISCAN NUNS. PEPINELLA AND UMBERTINO, THREE AND ONE HALF AND FOUR YEARS OLD, ARE REMOVING THE SOUP-PLATES

Training the Finger-tips to See

When the pupil has perfected himself in these preliminary games, his inclination naturally stretches out toward more ambitious and difficult work. The Tower, the Broad Stair, and the Long Stair have taught him to discriminate easily and rapidly between things long and short, thick and thin, big and small. He has now become able to fix his attention for a considerable length of time on differences in form, dimension, and color, and is able to pass to the more difficult exercises by which the sense of touch is trained.

It was while working among her deficient children that Montessori became impressed by the keenness and delicacy of the sense of touch exhibited by children under the age of seven. After that time in a child's life this particular sense seems to become slightly dulled and less amenable to education. She begins the chapter on the education of the senses with the sugges tion that the first exercise should be that of washing the hands. As the sense of touch can be intelligently trained only by passing the finger-tips over the surfaces of objects, the hands should first of all be made scrupulously clean. The child is given a basin of warm water, that he may wash his hands with soap, and another basin with clear cold water in which to rinse them.

The first of these tactile exercises, and one which eventually leads to writing, is that which is carried on by means of rough and smooth paper. Although this exercise was mentioned in the first article (McCLURE's for May, 1911), the entire set of material by which it is taught was not described. This material consists of a set of tablets and cards on which are mounted strips of rough and smooth paper.

VERA AND LUCIA, IN THE SAN ANGELO SCHOOL IN ROME, ARRANGING CARDS OF SILK IN THEIR CHROMATIC ORDER. THERE ARE EIGHT COLORS, AND EIGHT SHADES OF EACH COLOR, MAKING SIXTY-FOUR GRADATIONS IN ALL.
(Matt Bronsil's Note: The standard is now 9 colors: blue, red, green, orange, yellow, pink, gray, brown, and purple. Each color has 7 colors, thus making 63 color tablets total).

The writer once saw, in the schools, a lesson being given to a little boy four years old. The teacher put down in front of him two square cards, one smooth and white, the other black and rough. She then took the first two fingers of the child's hand and drew them over the surface of the smooth card, saying distinctly, slowly, and quietly: “Smooth, smooth, smooth.” After his fingers were released, or, rather, he had released them himself by a slight jerk from the teacher's grasp, he continued with evident pleasure to rub his finger-tips up and down the shiny surface of the card.

The child was plainly of a sensitive nature, and when his fingers were brought into con tact with the sandpaper surface he promptly jerked them away, showing his displeasure.

At the teacher's request, “Give me the rough,” which was complied with instantly, the child showed, by frowning severely as he handed up the objectionable card, how unlikely he was to forget the sensation.

When asked to name the quality of each of these cards, he imitated the accent and voice of his teacher as he said the word "liscio — liscio — liscio" (smooth); but it was with a frown and a manner marvelously descriptive that he pouted out his lips to say: "Ruvido — ruvido — ruvido" (rough). The practice of isolating the sense of touch, when it is in training, by blindfolding or shutting the eyes, naturally makes this sense much more acute.

Children Learn to Distinguish Blindfold Between Silk, Foulard, Coffon and Linen

For the training of the sense of touch, one of the chief didactic devices consists of a box with little drawers in which are kept a large variety of squares of cloth. There are two squares of each stuff: two of velvet, two of the various kinds and qualities of silk, two of every sort of woolen goods, from the coarsest tweed to the finest flannel — and so on, through cotton and linen, until nearly every sort of clothing stuff in common use is represented. The exercise in teaching these materials begins with two strongly contrasting textures. A child is given, for instance, a square of velvet and a square of silk. He is taught to feel the difference between them, and is then asked to pick out from a mixed pile on the table in front of him the duplicate of each one of these two squares. He is at first not required to learn the name of the material, but only to recog nize its quality by the use of his fingers. He rapidly acquires a knowledge of all the differ ent kinds of material gathered together in the boxes. All the children enjoy playing with these bits of stuff, and one who has iso lated his sense of touch by being blindfolded, and is amusing himself by guessing the difference between silk and velvet and cotton, will often be the center of an admiring and interested group of companions. When a woman visitor enters a Casa dei Bambini, it is a rare thing if some little boy or girl does not quietly steal up and feel her gown or the mantle she is wearing. The children later learn the names of the different stuffs, and become very adept in discriminating between silk, foulard, cotton, and linen.

To be blindfolded amuses normal children immensely, and, unlike deficient children, they are not at all bewildered or distracted when their eyes are bandaged, but concentrate themselves much more easily on the work they are doing.

Children serving soup in the Montessori classroom
LITTLE PIETRO, FOUR YEARS OLD, SERVING SOUP TO THE OTHER MONTESSORI CHILDREN. THE SERVING AND WAITING ARE DONE SO DEFTLY AND CAREFULLY BY THE CHILDREN THAT NOT A DROP IS SPILLED OR A DISH BROKEN

An Exercise for Training the Sense of Weight

One of the favorite games of this sort con sists of a series of wooden tablets by which the children learn to discriminate between the weight of two different objects. The tablets are made of wood of four different qualities, and differ in weight by about one fifth of an ounce. The pupil first takes in each hand tablets differ ing noticeably in weight, and balances them on his palms until he becomes fully conscious of the difference between the heavier and the lighter. After he has learned to discriminate between the heavier and the lighter tablets, his eyes are bandaged, and he takes from the mixed heap before him two tablets at a time. He weighs them in his hands, deciding whether there is any difference in their weight, and places all the heavier ones in one pile and all the lighter ones in another. Often, of course, he gets two heavy tablets at once, or two light ones. The difference in weight is so slight that very few grown persons can sort a whole pile without making mistakes.

The exercises with the geometrical insets follow speedily upon the first exercises in touch. The geometrical forms, which were described in the May McCLURE'S, are made, as we know, to fit into square wooden tablets, each inset being easily removed from its frame by a brass button being affixed in the center. With the geometrical insets the child's already trained sense of touch learns to follow a great variety of contours — a very decided step toward the art of writing.

How the Pupils Master the Technique of Penmanship

Montessori discovered, when she was accomplishing her wonderful work with "i miei idioti" ("my idiots"), as she naively calls them, that the manipulation of the pen was one of the obstacles most difficult to overcome. After the pupils had learned to trace letters with their fingers and to know them by sight, they still had not the ability to copy them correctly, because their muscles were not sufficiently well trained to direct a pen or pencil. The deficient children overcame the difficulty of handling a pencil by first tracing, with little sticks, letters cut out in wood. This device was found unnecessarily clumsy for normal children, and Montessori substituted the filling in of geometrical forms with colored crayon. For this purpose there is a series of geometrical forms in metal, which the child places upon his paper, tracing on the paper the outline of each form with a colored pencil. These outlines he then fills with color.

The illustration on page 298 shows the progress that the children make during the course of their work in filling in figures. It will be seen in Fig. I that the child has scratched away with his crayon bravely but somewhat unsuccessfully; still he has at least been able to keep within bounds, although the lines are most un certain and irregular, proving that the little hand is far from secure. The second attempt is more ambitious; in Fig. 2 he has tried to fill in not only the form itself but the frame sur rounding it, and although the lines are by no means perfect, it will be seen that they all run in one direction and do not overstep the boun daries very perceptibly. In Fig. 3, which is more ambitious still, he has begun to have more command over his fingers, and in this one he has even put in a representation of the little brass knob by which the inset can be pulled out. In Fig. 4 the child has arrived finally at an absolute command over his fingers — in no case is a line passed, and the filling in is done regularly with rather a fine touch, and per fectly enough to reveal to any one who looks at it that his fingers hold the pencil quite securely enough to trace any letter that he may now attempt.

The pupil, quite without an idea of what he was really doing, has now mastered the tech nical and mechanical side of penmanship. He has acquired that coördination of muscles necessary to the following of contour with pre cision and firmness; he is master of his pencil and can control the direction and weight of his line. In the meantime, he has also been learn ing his alphabet by means of sandpaper letters.

A Lesson in the Sandpaper Letters

In teaching the letters, the teacher chooses, for example, "O'" and "I." The letters, in large, clear script, are cut out of coarse sandpaper and mounted on glazed cardboard. Taking the card upon which "O'" is mounted, she gives it to the child, and, pronouncing with great distinctness, says, "O, O." Then, taking his hand, she shows him how to follow with his two forefingers the contour of the letter, just as he would do if he were writing it. At the same time she has him pronounce distinctly the sound of the letter. In these first lessons the letter, child learns the sound of the letter and not its name. When "I" has been presented in the same way, the teacher says, putting the two cards on the table before the child: "Give me 'O'"; and, when he has done so, "Give me 'I.'" Then, pointing to the “O,” she asks, “What is this?" She shows him again how to trace each letter, giving its sound as he does so, and leaves him to play with them in this way by himself. The illustration on page 299 shows Montessori giving Alfredo, a Messina orphan, a lesson in the sandpaper letters.

By the time the child has learned the whole alphabet in this way, the sound of each letter is indelibly associated in his mind with the muscular movements necessary to reproduce it; and thus, when he hears clearly spoken a single letter, or a word of which all the letters are perfectly clear to him, his fingers instinctively make the motion that they have so often made in tracing the sandpaper letter; and if he has in his fingers a piece of chalk, this record becomes visible.

children working with the number rods and broad stairs in a Montessori classroom
MARIA AND TERESA MAKING THE "BROAD STAIR" AND THE "LONG STAIR." TERESA HAS BEGUN TO COUNT THE RED AND BLUE SPACES IN ROD NUMBER FIVE BEFORE PUTTING THE ROD IN PLACE. SHE IS LEARNING TO RECOGNIZE THE RELATIONS BETWEEN NUMBERS

The "Explosion into Writing"

This is the secret of what Montessori speaks of as an "explosion into writing." The sequence which leads to the door of writing is, roughly speaking, as follows:
1. The cards and dress stuffs, which have taught the finger-tips to touch objects understandingly.
2. The tables of different weights, which have awakened sensitiveness and a sort of comprehension in the palms of the hands.
3. The geometric insets, which have drawn the touch onward from the mere sensation of rough and smooth to the understanding of form. When the child draws his fingers around the edge of an octagon or triangle, the touch, which has been cultivated by the stuffs and the rough and smooth cards, goes forward a long step toward the real sensation of form.
4. The filling in of geometrical forms, which Dr. Montessori says is of infinitely more value as a direct preparation to writing than the filling of dozens of pages of the old-time copy-books.
5. The sandpaper alphabet, by means of which the child learns to associate the sound of the letter with its form.

four different metal inset drawings
FOUR FIGURES BY A MONTESSORI PUPIL, SHOWING HOW THE CHILD HAS GRADUALLY LEARNED TO CONTROL HIS PENCIL, AND HAS THUS MASTERED THE TECHNICAL SIDE OF PENMANSHIP.

In Italian, spelling is an art that requires no effort. When a word in that language is properly and distinctly spoken, it has really spelled itself. But English spelling is a much more erratic and distracting proposition. In Italian, the vowel sound never changes, nor, in fact, does that of the consonant. In English the capricious vowels upset every known rule of spelling or pronunciation. Nevertheless, English teachers who have used the Montessori method have found that, by presenting the letter sounds according to the system of phonet ics usually taught in our schools, the ability to read and write is quite as remarkable as when Italian is the language used.

Composing Words and Sentences with the Red and Blue Letters

When the child has learned the sandpaper letters he is ready to use what Montessori calls the “movable alphabet.” These letters are cut out of stiff paper, the vowels in pink, the consonants in blue, L- and there are several duplicates of each letter. They are kept in a set of boxes resembling a compositor's type case, every letter having its own compartment. At the bottom of the compartment is pasted a copy of the letter that belongs there, and this enables the child to putaway the alphabet, each letter in its own place, when he has finished with it.

Montessori in one of her lectures describes the work with the movable alphabet as follows:

"When the child has learned to trace and distinguish sandpaper letters, he undoubtedly knows the movable paper letters. When he can make the syllables with the sandpaper letters, he can do so with the movable letters; the one difference is that here he no longer touches, but recognizes the form instantly. So the making of words is not difficult. When the child comes to compose with the movable alphabet, he does the same thing he has done before. It is difficult to say whether in this act of composition he reads or writes; he does not trace the letters, yet he forms words, which is a complementary exercise necessary to writing. When he knows how to compose, he knows how to read, undoubtedly; but this exercise seems to me more closely affiliated with writing, since he is putting letters together to form words. We may say that this form of composition is akin to both reading and writing, and that there is still the fusion of the two."

Thus, with the help of the sanded letters and the free letters in red and blue, writing is so quickly learned that it appears spontaneous to the child as well as to the observer; in fact, it is hard to make the children in the Montessori schools realize that writing is not as natural an evolution as walking and talking. At three and a half some little ones are busy teaching themselves, learning much from watching and listening to the lessons given to their companions. Nearly all the pupils are ready to learn to write at four. One child learned to write all her letters in twenty days, but it is usually a month or six weeks before the average pupil shows the ability to burst forth into writing words upon the blackboard.

Although the act of composing words and sentences from letters prepares the child for reading, he can not be said really to read until he can grasp the word as a whole when it is presented to him.

Maria Montessori presenting the sandpaper letters
MONTESSORI GIVING ALFREDO, A MESSINA ORPHAN, A LESSON IN THE SANDPAPER LETTERS. ALFREDO IS TRACING THE CONTOUR OF EACH LETTER WITH HIS TWO FINGERS, PRONOUNCING ITS SOUND AS HE DOES SO.

How the Children Learn to Read

The first exercise with which the reading is begun in the Montessori schools is as follows: The names of familiar objects are written on the blackboard or on a card prepared especially for the purpose. The teacher shows the card and lets the child translate slowly the sounds of the word written on it. If he interprets these sounds correctly, she limits herself to saying "Faster!" The child then for a second time repeats the sounds more quickly, but often without understanding the word itself. The teacher then says, "Faster! Faster!" and the child is made to continue to repeat the sounds until finally the word itself dawns upon his intelligence.


ROSINA AND ANNA PLAYING WITH THE CYLINDERS AND THE GEOMETRICAL INSETS, BY WHICH THE SENSE OF TOUCH IS TRAINED IN ACCURACY AND DELICACY

Through this exercise the children gradually master the mechanism of the words until the word, instead of being a succession of sounds, becomes to them the instantaneous symbol of an idea. In order to develop this ability to grasp the meaning of written words, the Dottoressa, in her first experiments, tried stimulating the child's interest by using games that related the written word to some attractive toy. But she soon found that the children's eager, joyous curiosity and desire to learn made the incentive of games and rewards seem trivial and unnecessary. She found it enough to place in different parts of the room baskets full of written slips. These baskets were always surrounded by groups of children so intent on reading the slips that they would go clear to the bottom of one basket before they would run to another.

In order to teach the children to read print, the Dottoressa set about preparing a set of cards bearing both the written and the printed word; but the children showed her that this step was unnecessary. On the wall of the school room was a printed calendar. The children, in their eagerness to read, gathered about this and read the names with no difficulty. The ambitious teachers and patrons wished to proceed at once to the reading of books; but the Dottoressa, after several tests, became convinced that the children, although they read from these books with mechanical ease, did not understand the sense of what they read. So the books were put away, and she waited. And one day the revelation came.

It was during one of the conversation periods, in which the children talked freely of their vari ous interests. It was spring, and they had spent much time in the school garden. While they talked of this, four children rose and, going to the blackboard, wrote sentences on the order of the following: "How glad I am that our garden is beginning to bloom." "It was," says the Dottoressa, "a great surprise for us. The children had arrived spontaneously at the art of composition – as spontaneously, indeed, as they had written the first word. I saw that the time had come for the reading of phrases and, going to the blackboard, I wrote, 'Mi volete bene?' ['Do you wish me well?'] The children read slowly and mechanically aloud, were silent for a moment, as if thinking, and then cried delightedly: "Yes, yes!" I continued to write: 'Then let us make silence in the room.' And, almost before I had finished, a solemn silence began to establish itself, interrupted only by the moving of the chairs as the children took positions in which they could comfortably watch and listen. Thus began between me and these children communication by means of written language, and little by little they discovered the great quality of writtetn language; namely that it transmits thought."

Writing upon slips of paper various directions, the Dottoressa handed these slips to the eagerly waiting children, who read them, and with great intentness set about carrying out the action.

Montessori Does Not Encourage Imagination in Young Children

Madame Montessori says that to-day, after years of applying the method with a great number of normal children, she is almost convinced that it is not natural for children under six, unless they are over-stimulated, either to read or to write continuously. The discovery that it is possible to express a thought otherwise than by the spoken word is of engrossing interest to them at first, and they are absorbed with the practical experiment. Their attention wandered when a fairy tale was read aloud to them, and they showed a decided preference for writing or reading single words or simple phrases that sprang from some thought in their own minds. In other words, reading and writing interested them as a means of expressing their own practical interests and activities, rather than as a key to an imaginative world outside of their own.

Montessori does not enourage imagination, because she feels that the strength of imagination is so great that it will fulfil its own workand her business as an eductor is to eliminate the thousands of false impressions which children get from being insufficiently instructed concerning the objects that constitute their daily environment.

In Italy the daily marketing is carried on in the open street, and the children who come to the Case dei Bambini are familiar with the copper coins (solde) with which the purchasing is done. So Montessori's first lesson in numbers is usually given by means of these coins, or cardboard imitations of them. In this way the children learn to count as far as ten, and to know the coins and their value.

drawing of the Montessori Red and Blue Rods
DIAGRAM OF THE "LONG STAIR." IN PLAYING WITH THESE RODS THE MONTESSORI CHILDREN LEARN, ALMOST SPONTANEOUSLY, ALL THE ELEMENTS OF ARITHMETIC.

Gino's First Lesson in Number Work

For the actual initiation into the science of arithmetic the Dottoressa makes use of the set of long rods which the children already know as the Long Stair. These rods, as described in the May McCLURE's, are ten in number and are divided into red and blue sections. The longest rod has ten sections, the shortest has one section only. The directress, if she has watched her children at work with the various toys, will be able to choose a happy moment for this first lesson in number. Let us suppose that Gino, playing on one of the little carpets, has arranged the rods carefully according to length. If he has shown no hesitation in doing this, but has chosen securely and easily each rod as it was needed, the teacher may, with a word of approbation, show him how to count the red and blue spaces. Beginning with the shortest piece (see the illustration above), she will say, "One." Then, touching the second piece, "One — two"; then, "One — two — three," always going back to "one" in the counting of each rod. Then she may have him name each of the rods, from the shortest to the longest, according to the number of sections it contains The child dearly loves the process of making his finger walk down the stair as he counts. Then, to find the number of rods in the stair, he counts them on the side of the triangle lettered "A."

Counting in this way the three sides of the triangle formed by the rods, the children verify the things they have discovered in playing with these wonderful blocks, and they take great delight in the exercise, repeating it again and again with lively interest. The sensory know ledge of the rods in their varying lengths, which the children acquired through playing with the Long Scale before any attempt was made at counting, is now utilized. Mixing the rods on one of the carpets, the teacher says taking up, for example, Rod Number Three: "Give me the one next longest." She may continue this until she feels sure that the children are thoroughly familiar with the relative length of the rods. She may then give a name to each of the pieces, saying: "Give me Rod Number Two — Number Four." At this point, if the child knows how to write, the figures, cut in sandpaper and mounted, are presented. "Give me Number One," says the teacher, pointing to the heap of mixed rods on the carpet. When Gino has picked out Rod Number One, she shows him the card bearing the sandpaper figure and says: "This is One," showing him how to trace it. Two and Three are presented in the same way, the lesson proceeding according to the three periods of Seguin: "Give me One" – "Give me Two," etc. When all the figures have been taught in this way, the stair is constructed, and against each of the rods is propped its corresponding figure.

Ease with Which Children Master the Elements of Arithmetic

Anyone who has taught addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to little children will see at a glance what an excellent medium is furnished by these rods. One of the Dottoressa's lessons may suggest the line of procedure.

"Let us see how we can make the rods the same length," she says, and then has the child count the sections in piece Ten (at the base of the triangle), following this with the counting of Number Nine. By placing Rod Number One on top of Rod Number Nine any child can see what happens. To build up all the rods until they equal Number Ten is a great diversion. Number One is added to Number Nine, Number Two to Number Eight, Number Three to Number Seven, and Number Four to Number Six. Number Five alone is left; and then the teacher, by taking this rod, putting it beside Rod Number Ten, and turning it on its head, shows how two Fives equal Ten.

The child, with this introduction, slides from mere counting into elementary mathematics.

Montessori has shown great pleasure in the interest taken by American teachers in her work. She says:

"One practical advantage of our methods that has already been established is the ability to deal with many children in different stages of development. In our first Case dei Bambini we had, at the same time, children of two and one half years, who made use of only the simplest of the sense exercises, and children of five years or more, who, because of their intellectual development, were able to enter in a few months the third elementary grade of the public schools. Each one of these children perfected himself independently, and went forward according to the individual force that lay within him. Such a method would greatly simplify the problem of country schools and schools in little towns, where it is not possible to have a great number of classes and where one teacher takes charge of a whole school.

"In setting forth the account of my experiments and their first results, I have not hoped or pretended to do more than indicate the way. My book must be followed by many others. It is my hope that, starting from the individual study of children educated with our method, many people will carry on the work into the higher grades, and will give the public the benefit of their experiences. It is such pedagogical books as these that await us in the future."

Madame Montessori's book, “Pedagogia Scientifica,” translated into English by Miss Anne E. George, with an introduction by Professor Henry W. Holmes, of the Educational Department of Harvard Univer sity, will be brought out, probably not later than February, by the Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York City. The didactic apparatus will be put on the market about the first of January by the House of Childhood, 603 Flatiron Building, New York City, under the management of Carl R. Byoir. During the winter, lectures on the Montessori method will be given by Miss George at St. Michael's School, New York City, and Pratt Institute, Brooklyn.


Matt Bronsil is the author of these posts. He can be contacted at MattBronsilMontessori@gmail.com

<<< Back to the blog list <<<

<<< Back to the McClure article list <<<

Recommended McClure/Montessori Books

Maria Montessori Biography Book     Montessori Comes to America Book     Book Bringing Montessori to America

Montessori History Blogs