See what I did with the title here? A little alliteration to parallel yesterday’s post “Pikler’s Principles for Parents.” I don’t like excluding dads but poetic license is at work here.
I thought after linking to the article about Pikler’s Principles it might be helpful to write about Maria Montessori summarizing her theories and pedagogy. Pikler’s methods were written for children birth to two years old and Montessori did not write much about this age group so from that perspective they are mutually exclusive beliefs. However, Montessori did write about the role of children in the family, the importance of free movement and a respectful attitude from adults toward children (in a time when children were seen not heard) and also basic human tendencies which are evident at all ages.
Maria Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy just before the turn of the last century. She had to obtain special permission from the Pope to attend medical school and then had to view the cadavers separately (and alone) from the men. She was a true scientist with an incredibly mathematical mind. She used the scientific method to observe carefully for long periods before ever espousing a theory. After medical school, she was asked to work in an asylum, which in those days cast a wide net as far as people in residence, from mentally and physically incompetent to just blind or deaf. It was her great success in working with this population to make improvements that we see the beginning of her methods.
Principle 1: Human Tendencies are universal human characteristics, the manifestation of which depend upon culture and age but, in all cases, they urge the human being to fulfill their human potential.
Principle 2: From birth to age 6 the child has an Absorbent Mind and takes from his environment to construct himself and his personality. There are two phases of the absorbent mind which relate to the awareness a child has of what he knows. From birth to 3 is the unconscious absorbent mind where a child takes in an enormous amount of information and stores it. This is the age when vocabulary explodes – did you ever notice that each child finds a way of asking for vocabulary? “Dat?” he might say pointing to an object. “Tell me the word for that,” he seems to be asking. He is said to be in a sensitive period for language. Also, the child takes on all the cultural characteristics of his environment – the food, body movements, color, music, etc. We become like our parents. We take in our surroundings without effort, will or even knowledge we are doing so. And, by the way, the “taking in” is effortless. A child takes in what is in his environment, what he needs to acculturate to. Just as with a camera, taking a picture of 1 or 100 is of equal effort – the child can “absorb” 5 or 1 languages just as easily.
Principle 3: Montessori divided child development into four six-year periods from ages birth to 24 (the age at which she felt humans were mature) and called these periods Planes of Development which all need very different environments to explore their human tendencies.
Principle 4: A child comes into the world with one question “How do I fit in here?” From birth to age 6 he uses the process of adaptation to find his place in culture, community and world. A child incarnates the environment he finds around himself and builds his human capabilities there, making it part of himself.
Principle 5: Montessori borrowed the term Sensitive Periods from a Dutch biologist working with butterflies who discovered the leaves the young butterflies needed were those furthest away but a special sensitivity to light drew them to just what they needed. Montessori saw the psychic development of humans in the same way. Like the process of adaptation, children come in asking “how do I fit in?” and special sensitivities draw them to just what they need at specific developmental periods. There are times it will easier for a child to acquire a certain skill or learn a particular knowledge and they become sensitive to this specific learning and have an aptitude for it. To take advantage of a sensitive period, a child must be actively involved in making the acquisition of knowledge or skill. Passing the information on to the child verbally as in traditional schools does not engage the child in the same manner. Montessori teachers observe to see which sensitive periods are activated.
Principles 6: Children have both physical needs and spiritual needs (art, music, dance, spirituality…)
Principle 7: We don’t teach children but give them material to teach themselves. The acquisition of knowledge, real learning, takes place by the child.
Principle 8: Environments that take in mind the human tendencies are important at each age group. Directresses (not called teachers) observe behavior and remove obstacles to a child’s development. If a child is in an environment which does not suit him, his behavior will become deviated (doesn’t translate well from Italian but just think of “off course”). In multi age classrooms a child has the chance to be the youngest, middle child and leader. In these roles, he learns, internalizes, and gives (teaches younger children). Environments should:
- constantly offer opportunities for independence
- be orderly (especially under age 6)
- offer sensory exploration
- be full of language and communication
- allow manipulation with hands
- allow movement of whole body
- offer opportunities for children to make decisions and live with the consequences
Principles 9: A teacher must awaken something in children that is sleeping. Her primary duty is to help, not judge. Thus we don’t give grades as (bad marks are damaging) nor call on children who may not know an answer as this will not make that student more clever or intelligent.
Principle 10: We don’t fit children to established rules, we fit the environment to fit the child. Observe children; see their needs; find something to suit their needs.
Principle 11: Mental work does not exhaust but nourishes the spirit, but learning has to be the student’s own process. “You can’t eat a steak for someone who is hungry but tired.”
Principle 12: Invite, don’t force. Any group activity should be an invitation and we should always remember a child’s individuality. Children are pliable and will go along with the adult’s will but we want them to recognize their individuality and not to think like a group. Especially when children are pre-verbal, before they can tell you what their needs are, it’s up to the adult to honor the will of the child.