I'm a big fan of Maria Montessori and her methods of education. The Secret of Childhood is a beautiful book written by a woman with a sharp mind and a gentle approach. This book, more than Montessori: The Method (which I find dry, dull and overly scientific) inspires me each summer when I read it again. Maria Montessori has a contagious respect for children and her insight into their development is invaluable.
I was first smitten with the Montessori approach through Simeon's experiences with the method in a Montessori preschool he attended. I read all the books I could get my hands on about the method and the more I read the more involved I wanted to become. I wasn't happy to be the mother of a child in a Montessori school-- I wanted to be his Montessori instructor, but I didn't want to be anyone else's, just my own son's. It became obvious to me that I wanted to educate him at home and so I took him out of preschool the following year and joined a Montessori Homeschooling group.
When our meetings took place I wanted to talk about Maria Montessori's ideas about education, but the other mothers wanted to share ideas about making your own Montessori materials at home. I was a bit on the fence with all the materials. I saw some good in them and had quite a collection myself at the time, but I was having a hard time seeing how these materials were the be all and end all of Montessori education. Pink towers, brown broad stairs, red rods and cylinders--certainly these items served a purpose in Maria Montessori's schools all those years ago, but were they essential to the practice of Maria's methods and principles? I had my doubts.
I did keep a Montessori style classroom with the manipulatives accessible at all times for years in my home with all the trappings I could get second hand or make myself. But it wasn't long before the cylinders started to go missing. I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time each day sorting, pouring and classifying the Montessori Soup that room would quickly become.
Why was I doing the work of a child? Who was this for anyway? And where was the child's natural desire for order Montessori had talked about? Yeesh. Well, when cylinders became hand grenades and red rods became guns-- and when one of those guns broke a pane of glass in the sun room door, I saw a light.
Montessori materials are made for classroom use. They aren't supposed to be accessible to children around the clock or used as toys. Many are, furthermore, designed to mimic home life and the home environment. A zipper on one's pants is better than a zipper on a dressing frame. Same for buttons. And the work of a child can be accomplished, the principles of Montessori education can be followed to good result without a pink tower, without a red rod, and without many many, of the materials that the The American Academy of Montessori will insist are essential to the methods.
I beg to differ. Maria Montessori herself begs to differ,
What method was used to obtain these results? There was no method to be seen, what was seen was a child. A child's soul freed from impediments was seen acting according to its own nature. The characteristics of childhood which we isolated belong quite simply to the life of a child, just as colors belong to birds and fragrances to flowers. They are not at all the product of an "educational method."
The first thing to be done, therefore, is to discover the true nature of the child and then assist him in his normal development.
From The Secret of Childhood, pg 136.
That's the perennial Montessori method. While the Academies of Montessori education have a "product" they must guarantee, we have no such burdens to carry or reputation to uphold in our home education and we are free to pursue Maria Montessori's inspiring principles within a natural home environment as we see fit for the good of the child and for the whole family.
Some of these principles include...
- The freedom of the child
- The absorbent mind and its functioning
- The importance of work: How a child's work differs from that of an adult
- The sensitive periods of development: Child led learning
- The prepared environment
- Spiritual preparation of the teacher
- Poverty of spirit
- The need to protect and shield the child
- The importance of joy in work