Archive | three to six years

Wasted Riches. Part 2. Arguments in favour of Day-care, Preschool Education and Parent Education.

Montessori preschool in India by Nagarjun Kandukuru, CC BY 2.0

The following article has been presented by Muriel I. Dwyer, director of Maria Montessori Training Organization in London, to Unesco-Unicef Cooperative Programme in 1981.

All we have said shows that the education of parents is even more important than the provision of nursery education because by the age of three the child has already become a man of his time, place and group – in other words, has already laid the foundations on which the rest of his life will be built.

Parent education

This education of parents need not be as difficult as it sounds. In many developing countries there are now maternal and child welfare units doing fantastic work even in the most remote up-country areas. If this foundation was broadened to include the psychic as well as thy physical needs of the child, no new organization would be necessary. In more developed areas the media, particularly the radio and television, could and should be used in this important work.

Neither is expensive equipment necessary. The adults themselves, if well instructed and convinced, the natural environment, particularly the home, however simple, is all that is required.

It is attitudes and understanding that have to change and be broadened. The most expensive equipment in the world will not help if the attitude of the adults is unenlightened.

In this period 0-3 years it has to be stressed to parents that good nutrition is not only important for the physical well-being of their children, but also for their intellectual development. They must also have explained to them the importance of allowing the baby to be active, to explore, to do for himself whatever he is capable of, such as washing, feeding, and doing the kind of activities that he sees around the house. It is important to anwer his questions and allow him to speak, tell him stories, introduce him to different kinds of flowers, shapes, colours, music, etc., indeed, help him become acquainted with everything in his home and immediate environment.

During the period of 3-6 years the child has the potential to widen, deepen and consolidate what he has gained in the first three years. So what he requires is help to do just that.

At the time or in places where Man was only expected to adapt to the simple environment and society, the child was able to gain all he needed by running freely in the village, watching and participating in the life and work of the people who surrounded him.

However, for most people in the world this isolated experience no longer pertains. With modern means of communication it is now necessary for the village child also to adapt to the larger world – no one can tell where a child born in a remote village will, in fact, lead out his life.

So the children need to adapt not only to the here and now, the simple life, but also to the complicated life of the world in all its aspects. To do this he must be able to explore, get to know and build into himself the knowledge and abilities necessary for a full life in a wider context. For this he needs extra help, and thus we come to the day-care centres or pre-schools.

Day-care and pre-school education

These little ones have the potential to achieve great things, but this is only possible if their fundamental needs can find fulfilment.

If these little ones are crowded into huts or buildings, denied the possiblity to explore, be active, communicate, are immobilized and tyrannized by adults using sticks and other weapons, their health and development can only be damaged and retarded, and we must remember that this damage will be permanent.

We all know that this is happening – even being funded by governments and international organizations. In the name of women’s rights and economic progress, many children are being forced to spend long hours with insufficiently trained people, in deplorable conditions, and we should protest loudly no economic or other reason can be used to justify destroying even partially the potential of the next generation.

If the provision of good day-care facilities, which really means properly-trained adults with an efficient supervisory service to back them up, is impossible, then in the villages it would be far more beneficial to leave the children to run free, to go to the fields with their parents and if possible, just call them together for half an hour for milk or other food, if it is available. At least their spirits would not be damaged and they could continue to explore and be active in their natural environment.

If we are going to have day-care or pre-schools, the prerequisite must be that we have adults

  • who love and respect children,
  • who know the basic physical and psychological needs of children,
  • who know how to provide purposeful means of activity from locally available materials,
  • who have themselves explored the environment with all its shapes, sounds, textures, customs, etc., and
  • who know how to give the children the key for their own exploration.

It is possible. I have seen it done in the poorest areas, in both city and countryside.

Expensive buildings, furniture, toys, are not necessary, but properly trained assistants and supervisors are. When this is done, where the children are provided with the means to fulfil their needs, then their progress is fantastic and our problem is to try to upgrade the adults so that they are not the means of retarding the children.

It is necessary here to say a few words about reading, writing and arithmetic. These now form part of life and they are necessary, even fundamental, for a full exploration of the environment which also includes the man-made environment and his achievements. The 3-6-year-olds are not only capable of acquiring these skills, but also love doing them.

Here, however, we must add a stern note of warning. Children of this age are not ready for formal education, formal teaching, and if it is imposed on them with its immobility etc. it is harmful to their total development. However, there is a world of difference between formal teaching and the knowledge and abilities that can be acquired through purposeful activities and exploration in a specially prepared environment.

Children of this age can and should be allowed, in freedom, to explore these and other achievements of Man.

Six-year-olds have already shown us that they are capable of achieving the following:

  • Be almost completely physically independent (toilet, feeding, dressing, washing, bathing, nose, etc.).
  • Be capable of carrying out daily routines.
  • Be able to plan their own activities for a day within their capabilities and limits, safety and fitting in with the family or school routine being taken into consideration.
  • Be able to conduct themselves with dignity in society and to be able to take initiative.
  • Be able to obey a reasonable request with reasonable alacrity.
  • Have a well-developed sense of responsibility.
  • Be able to make a reasonable attempt at dealing with a personal problem and situation.
  • Be able to express themselves clearly in speech. They also should have minds that are alive, interested and full of curiosity and they should have developed the necessary abilities to expand their fields of exploration.

In other words, they are capable of having enough self-confidence and the necessary abilities to go out and explore the wider world, and are able to:

  • Read with understanding and with fair fluency.
  • Know a fount of stories and poems.
  • Have acquired a sound understanding of the four rules of arithmetic even into millions, and of other basic mathematical concepts.
  • Be able to write a story with resonable spelling.
  • Write a good hand.
  • Have a basic knowledge of the natural life around them.
  • Have a basic knowledge of science, music, art, and be able to use a simple library and suitable reference books.

May I once again underline that these are achievements made in freeedom  through activity and exploration, not through formal teaching.

If this first period of post-natal life were used to its full; if the potentialities of the children were allowed to find a greater degree of fruition, not only would we have more balanced and harmonious adults but also the literacy problem could be solved with more ease.

If the children were permitted to become literate before six, when nature has given them a special sensitivity to language, then primary education could move on to fulfil the true needs of the 6-12-year-olds which include learning, how to find knowledge and the keys for exploration of the unseen.

One could even dream that in the cities at least, schools as we know them could disappear and be replaced by information centres, libraries, technical centres and exploratoriums. A revolution in education is essential if we are to prepare for the 21st century, and I feel that the Third World could well lead the way.


To close, permit me to quote from Dr. Maria Montessori:

A new figure has arisen to greet our eyes. Man, whose true nature is shown in his capacity for free development, whose greatness becomes visible directly mental oppresion ceases to bear upon him, to limit his inner work and weigh down his spirit.

Therefore I hold that any reform of education must be based on the personality of man. Man himself must be the centre of education and we must never forget that man does not develop only at the university, but begins his mental growth at birth and pursues it with the greatest intensity during the first three to six years of his life. To this period, more than any other, it is imperative to give active care. If we follow these rules, the child – instead of being a burden – shows himself to us as the greatest and most consoling of nature’s wonders. We find ourselves confronted by a  being no longer to be thought of as helpless, like a receptive void waiting to be filled with our wisdom; but one whose dignity increases in the measure to which we see in him the builder of our own minds, one guided by his own inward teacher, who labours indefatigably in joy and happiness, following a precise time-table, at the work of constructing the greatest marvel of the universe, the human being. We adults can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master. We then become witnesses to the development of the human soul; the emergence of the New  Man, who will no longer be the victim of events but, thanks to his clarity of vision, will become able to direct and mould the future of mankind.

The original article is available from Unesco. The copyrights to the materials above belong to their respective owners.

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Where to begin?

(050114-RREI-8195) Washington DC Jan. 14, 2005 LAYC LAMB Public Charter Montessori School which is pre K and K, but will add a grade a year through 6th grade. They are currently operating at Our Redeemer Church on Michigan Ave. NE. Instruction is bilingual - spanish in the morning and english in the afternoon. (c) Rick Reinhard / Impact Digitals 2005

A child in a Montessori preschool, USA by Rick Reinhard / Bread for the World CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I have just learned about Montessori and I absolutely love it. Where do I start?

Prioritize your education

I advise getting the best Montessori training, according to your needs and means, vs getting the best Montessori apparatus, or “toys”. Options include full diploma courses, one-time seminars, and individual consultations. If your child attends a school operating on Montessori principles, you will not need to take teacher training, but parent education is very helpful. If you intend to teach, a diploma from a reputable training centre for the level you are teaching is a must. In any instance, reading is strongly encouraged.

With a little bit of education and a lot of apparatus you won’t be able to help a child as much as with a solid Montessori background and acquiring little bits of apparatus over time. An enlightened adult is a crucial point of a prepared environment.

Trust the child

The same way you trust their genetic code to give the child’s iris a certain color or to form new cells to heal a scraped knee, have faith in the psychic development plan present in every human. Education in the Montessori sense is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It can only happen when children do things themselves in freedom.

If you say: “our children are not ready to take so much responsibility”, it will inevitably lead you to create workarounds to prevent actual Montessori experience from happening.

Trust yourself

When learning about Montessori, people are often dazzled by Dr. Maria Montessori‘s genius, but we must not forget she was a scientist, observing the genius of nature. Observation coupled with patience and accurate interpretation is the cornerstone of Montessori practice.

Please come and see how children interact with a prepared environment. This will allow you to observe what they are capable of when obstacles to their spontaneous activity have been removed. You are welcome to come when a local Montessori school hosts an open house. You can also enquire about the possibility of hospitation – most schools are happy to let you observe for an hour or two.

The observation outcomes will guide your own practice in removing the obstacles posed for children in their environment and inspire you to ask the right questions. Seeing what is possible, even being amazed by it, will allow you to trust that the best approach is to treat children with respect and kindness at all times.

Start from real tasks

It is important for a real task to be accomplished each day. Make a point of allowing children to be productive each day. Baking bread together or raking leaves in the garden brings a true sense of accomplishment.

You can have the complete Montessori apparatus on the shelves but if children do not experience it for themselves in freedom, it will not fulfill the purpose it was designed for. The only activity that is educational is the one freely chosen by the child.

Time and time again, a child starts from practical life. Preparing a snack, watering plants, washing a window or scrubbing a table – anything that they are able to bring from a beginning to an end. Make all the supplies ready and invite the child to use them whenever they wish.

Even the smallest of practical life activities achieves great things in the mind, brings calm amidst all life’s crises and builds self-confidence without which there will be no progress, academic or otherwise. Practical life is of no less importance for the older children than for the youngest ones.

Let them own what is theirs

Do not replace children in tasks they are capable of doing and choices they are capable of taking. If not yet capable, help them to do it themselves.

Exercising the power to act and to choose brings a sense of ownership. Let them own and care for their personal belongings, their classroom, their educational process. Lack of ownership will cause psychic hunger that will disrupt other areas of life.

Laying the table is a toddler’s job (and all levels above). Planning a school trip is an elementary student’s job (and all levels above). It starts with making an attempt to take part.

Model behaviour

This is actually the counter-intuitive part. It is easy to expect a certain behaviour from a child and when they fail, be disappointed and correct them. Montessori teaches us to anticipate what might happen, model the right behaviour beforehand and instead of expecting certain results, simply observe. The advantages of this approach for the adult are two-fold.

Firstly, modeling behaviour is faster than correcting in making the child internalize the behaviour. It happens because human beings are so constructed that they can receive positive stimulus for development from the outside world only through the channel of love. It is the only true way of communication capable of penetration. In other words, it is much harder for a child to remember the content of your negative correction than your positive presentation.

Secondly, observation provides us with invaluable knowledge on the child’s development and what needs to be presented in the future.

Of course, when safety is jeopardized, we need to intervene briefly and efficiently. It is definitely not the time to lecture the child at length, though.

The advantages of this approach for the child are growing in the atmosphere of respect and acceptation, and being provided with strategies to deal with situations they will face.

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Wasted Riches. Part 1. The learning abilities of the young child.

A mother and a baby in Zambia via Bread for the World, CC BY-ND 2.0

The following article has been presented by Muriel I. Dwyer, director of Maria Montessori Training Organization in London, to Unesco-Unicef Cooperative Programme in 1981.

The heading of this paper is “The Learning Abilities of the Young Child”. I should like to rename it “Wasted Riches”, as only now are most people beginning to recognize the immense potentialities of infancy and early childhood.

It has been widely shown by research over the past forty years that young children are gifted with a psychic nature peculiar to them, and this, inevitably, points a new path for the educator, whoever he may be. It is something out of the ordinary; something not hitherto recognized, yet something which vitally concerns mankind.

Just as men in the past have trodden the earth and tilled its surface without thought for the immense wealth hidden in its depth, so man of our day makes progress, in civilized life, hardly noticing the treasures that lie in the psychic world of infancy.

Dr. Alexis Carrel, in his famous book “L’Homme cet Inconnu”, wrote in 1935:

The period of infancy is undoubtedly the richest. It should be utilised by education in every possible and conceivable way. The waste of this period can never be compensated. Instead of ignoring the early days, it is our duty to cultivate them with the utmost care.

The greatness of human personality begins at the hour of birth or before, and therefore it becomes plain that education must begin at birth, as by the age of three the child has already laid down the foundations of his personality as a human being. So great are the conquest he has made that one may well say: the child of three is already a little man.

Psychologists have affirmed that if our own ability be compared with the child’s we should need many years of hard work to do what he does in his first three.

Dr. Silvana Montanaro writes:

young children are tireless and joyful workers, their pleasures and sense of achievement arise only from continouous exercising of their capacities and the amount of information they can store in thirty-six months has been compared to three high-grade university courses.

Today we can calculate the exact number of nerve cells in the human brain but we also know the most cultured and intelligent person uses only a tiny fraction of these cells. Unfortunately, we appear to be millionaires who lead paupers’ lives and it is obvious that this sad situation stems from lack of opportunity for children during their first years of life; because scientifically there is practically no limit to a child’s capacity for learning.

It is necessary to remember our subject is «the learning abilities of the young child» – not what most people find it convenient to think are the learning abilities of the young child – nor what it is possible to implement in the most difficult places. Please allow children to show us what they are capable of, what their abilities are. If you do, you will probably be very pleasantly surprised.

I know difficulties many of you are experiencing, but do not be afraid if because of conditions you can only take the first step. It is still very necessary for you to have a vision of the vastness of what is before us, and this very vastness is something that should give us great encouragement. It is of the utmost importance to remember that it is only the babies who have the power to build the men of the future. It is too late for us, even for the youngest of you here present.

But it is essential that we open our minds to this vastness of the potential of man. It should be a pointer of man. It should be a pointer of hope for all of us in our work. Keeping in mind that the most fortunate are only using the fraction of their potential, let us look at the attainments of average three-year-olds, in those parts of the world where they have reasonable chances for fuller development.

At birth, the baby has hardly any co-ordinated movement, no language, customs, tastes, religion. He is totally helpless and will surely suffer and possibly die unless given every help, but by the age of three we can expect to find that the child has the following abilities. He should at least:

  • be capable of speaking clearly and being able to express his needs and re-tell experiences in at least one language;
  • be capable of walking and also running, climbing with assurance, carrying things safely;
  • be able to feed and toilet alone, and make a good attempt at dressing and undressing.
  • have clear ideas of the behaviour that is acceptable at home and the immediate environment;
  • have a knowledge of the customs, music, simple poems and stories of his society, and have explored his immediate surroundings.

If one ponders or meditates on the state of helplessness of this life at birth and the achievements in three years one cannot help but be impressed, indeed totally overawed, when one realizes that at very best this is only a fraction of the potential of man. This ability to make fantastic progress continues until 6 years of age unless it is hindered, but here we come up against adult prejudice.

It is, however, time to be practical; how can we help? what is required? In order to answer, we must first clear a few points.

Man has a double embryonic life. Let us turn to Dr. Maria Montessori for an explanation of this:

At birth, man is relatively immature compared with other primates. This is a statement of fact. Consequently, part of the process of growth and development that these animals complete in the embryonic stage, man accomplishes in the post-natal state, when he is exposed to influences from the outside world. This is what Montessori means when she refers to the double embryonic process and it is related to the outer environment. It is, therefore, of a psychological order. The post-natal stage is a formative period of intense activity during which the child must create in himself the basic structure of his personality.

 The human genetic code provides that the vast potential of the human being is present at birth, but from then on what the environment (including the adults who form part of the environment) provides seems to be increasingly important. Thus, the study of the development of the brain of man is all-important.

Professor W. Ritchie Russel and Dr. Montanaro tell us that

the healthy human infant at birth is already provided with his full allocation of nerve cells. At birth the brain weighs approximately 335 gr. or about 25% of the weight of the adult brain; yet by nine months it is already 750 gr. or more than half the weight of the adult’s brain.

It is also interesting to see the rate of the increase: 0-3 months, 180 gr.; 3-6 months, 145 gr.; 6-9 months, 90 gr. By five years it is 90% of the adult’s brain weight.

This astonishing process is not due to any increase in the number of brain cells, but it is due to the growth of patterns and interconnections on which all possibilities of the future depend.

The anatomy and physiology of the nervous system clearly points out that education (in the sense we shall outline) realises an instrument whose precision is directly proportioned to early progressive training. Thus intelligence, this individual and free gift, will have available, to manifest itself, a device for which the developmental environment is all-responsible. Whilst most adults tend to think that new-born and unweaned babies only need hygiene and good food, the new human being, psychically hungry, is wasting its most valuable time. Only appropriate stimulation can increase the volume and weight of the cerebral cortex and adapt each individual cell to its proper function.

“Education” in the sense we mean, is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is acquired by virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment.

The adult’s task is to so prepare the environment, be it home or school, so as to provide the child with series of motives of activity relative to different areas of life, including culture, that he needs to explore and incarnate if he is to achieve full development and adaptation to his time, place and group.

It has been said that individual activity is the one factor that stimulates and produces development and that this is not more true of the little ones of pre-school age than it is for the primary, middle and upper school children.

Learning follows its own development and rules. Every step is conditioned by what happened (or did not) beforehand. Therefore education can only be efficient when the specific rhythm of this evolutionary plan is respected. Thus an adequate development during the first years of life is linked to the adult’s knowledge of and attitude to the child’s needs.

Techniques alone, although they are an essential help, are not sufficient because human beings are so constructed that they can receive positive stimulus for development from the outside world only through the channel of love.

It is the only true way of communication capable of penetration; under various forms, it accompanies us from conception to death. I say from conception because already in the mother’s womb the child, when loved, is in a different biological environment. Very recent researches have shown that women happy with their pregnancies produce a special molecule, endorphin, capable amongst other things of contributing to the development of the nervous system. Mother’s milk, moreover, is the only one containing special protein, cystine, which is enormous help in developing the brain. So the importance of breast-feeding, not only from the nutritional and hygienic point of view but also from the developmental standpoint and as an outward sign of love, is once again underlined. It is important for children that mothers be happy with and during pregnancies.

Also, the moment of birth and the handling of the child at birth and immediately afterwards is vital, and I would ask you all to look at the work of Dr. Le Boyer.

In the early years of life, man has a special type of mind that allows the impressions he receives not merely to enter his mind but to form it – they become part of him. This allows the child to form himself on the society and environment which he finds himself. This type of mind has been called «the absorbent mind». This special mind allows the child to build into himself the customs, languages and ways of life of the people who surround him.

Man throughout his life has certain “needs” in order to continue to live and develop, but let us take a very brief look at a few of the needs of the child from birth to six years. We have already spoken of love, and with it comes security, sufficient and correct food, and necessary clothing and shelter; but there are others, just as important. We must confine ourselves to a few words on a limited number of the most obvious, such as movement, independence, communication, exploration, curiosity, order and exactness.


Movement is the conclusion and purpose of the nervous system; without it can be no individual. It is fundamental that the actions of man should be connected at the centre – the brain, mind and movement being two parts of a single cycle.

It is essential for education that mental development be connected with movement, and dependent on it, because movement has great importance in mental development itself, provided that the action which occurs is connected with the mental activity going on. Observations made on children over the world confirm that the child uses his movements to extend his understanding, for movement helps the development of the mind and this finds renewed expression in further movement and activity.

Independence or Self-reliance

If we observe the natural development of life with sufficient care we see that it can be defined as the gaining of successive levels of independence, and each such gain is a step forward on the road to independence. For example:

  • at 2 months the child can control his head movements and follow something of interest, observing it attentively and at length;
  • at 6 months the child can sit up and observe the world in a psychologically very important position of “confrontation”;
  • at 12 months the child walks and can use this ability for furthering his discoveries of the world, etc.

Then we have the coming of the ability to digest solid food, and the mastery of language, and so it continues. What is important for us to keep in mind is that as soon as an organ or ability has evolved, it must immediately begin to act in its proper sphere. If such experience is not obtained, the organ fails to develop normally, for at first it is incomplete.

It follows, then, that the child can only develop fully by means of experience on his environment, by being allowed and encouraged to exercise his new-found abilities until he has perfected them and used them to further his development, as well as building his self-confidence. If he is denied these possibilities his development is hampered and, in severe cases, arrested.


There are many forms of communication, all of which are important, but one unique to man is articulate speech which makes possible abstract concepts, the passing of ideas, etc. It is significant that the riches of a language are directly connected to the width and range of experience of the people who speak it. The young child has a special sensitivity to language and with his special type of mind is capable not only of absorbing one but several languages if the correct opportunity occurs within his environment.

If we wish to help this side of his development, we must see that not only is he provided with a wide range of experiences at a very early age but he must also be given opportunities to acquire the necessary vocabulary with which to express these experiences.

Exploration and curiosity

All human beings are naturally endowed with a high degree of curiosity, because when they are born they are indeed strangers in the world. In order to become adapted and orientated, they must explore all areas of the environment and society.

So again, it is all-important that the child’s natural curiosity be encouraged, his questions answered, and that, from birth, he be given every possible opportunity to explore in all his fields, being limited only by safety and his own abilities.


Order is necessary for a harmonious life; indeed, without it there would be chaos and eventually life would be impossible. Another point worth noting is that the human being requires a special degree of order in any area of his life, environment or learning, to which he is new and thus still at the stage of exploring.

If one translates this to the young baby or child who is new to everything and everywhere, and has all to explore and learn, it is not surprising to find that order, even exactness, are of utmost importance to him and his development. If he is forced to live in a disorderly environment his exploration is hampered and thus his development can be retarded.

The original article is available from Unesco. The copyrights to the materials above belong to their respective owners.

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Music, rhythmic exercises and children’s concerts

Concert at Sto Pociech

Children make music at Summer New Town Festival in Warsaw, Poland © Agnieszka Rekucka

Every child is musical. Although not every Montessori teacher plays the piano nowadays, they can lead an integrated Montessori music program in the prepared environment through education of auditory sense, introduction to music theory, rhythmic exercises and children’s concerts.

We may tend to regard music as the domain of a gifted minority. However, professional musicians and music cognition scientists alike claim musicality to be a universal human trait. In the Montessori approach, music is considered in a way similar to language, in which a child grows from their first expressions to accomplished mastery of its beauty and nuances if exposed to a rich environment. It becomes clear why it is not enough to enroll a child in a weekly class: daily life experiences are indispensable in musical education.

A child starts hearing sounds in the second trimester of pregnancy. Ever since they acquire the culture of their particular time and place also with their ears. Dr. Maria Montessori regarded lullabies, folk songs and dances, as well as music accompanying religious celebrations as valuable sources of diverse auditory experiences. It is worth noting that a complex beat, characteristic of many folk music traditions, manages to stimulate the brain development in a way no popular song with w simple 4/4 beat ever would.

A great part of the enjoyment in listening to music comes when the child first anticipates what comes next and then their expectations are met, with the anticipated phrase arriving as a welcome old friend. Therefore, listening to music plays an important psychological role, helping build the sense of trust to environment, assurance of its order and continuity.

For those wondering where to start and what pieces are the most suitable for young children to begin to appreciate classical music, you can get inspired with the following list.

Dr. Maria Montessori in Montessori Elementary Materials recommends exposing children first to Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and a broad selection of opera classics. Isenarda da Napoli in her booklet Music and the Montessori Method adds the following pieces to the curriculum in the Casa dei Bambini:

  • S. Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf, symphonic fairy tale
  • B. Britten, Variations and Fugue on a theme by Purcell
  • C. Saint-Saëns, The Carnival of the Animals
  • F. Poulenc, The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant
  • L. Mozart, The Toy’s Symphony
  • W. A. Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
  • R. Schumann, Kinderszenen
  • C. Debussy, Children’s Corner
  • P. I. Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty, Suite from Ballet
  • P. I. Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker, Suite from Ballet
  • G. Rossini, Cinderella
  • A. Vivaldi, The Four Seasons
  • F. Mendelssohn, Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • H. Villa-Lobos, Bachiana Brasileiras
  • P. Dukas, The Wizard Apprentice
  • M. Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition
  • I. Stravinsky, Petrouschka

As you can see, some of these works were actually created with children in mind, while other resonate well with the young audience due to a clear structure with enough complexity to be interesting, but not so much to be confusing. As it is true with all Montessori materials, music recordings and equipment should be carefully chosen for their quality, to make sure music auditions are pleasant and do justice to both the composer and the performer.

In a Montessori environment, they are not so much meant as a background music, as for mindful listening, a sort of a children’s concert. The next step is talking with children, posing increasingly complex questions, beginning with which instruments were being played, where the selected piece would be heard (church, theatre, concert hall), and arriving at the different sound features (pitch, intensity, length), dynamics, structure and style of the piece.

Tonal awareness followed by musical vocabulary is introduced in an engaging way by a series of exercises first with the sensorial and then with the musical material designed by Maria Montessori and her lifelong collaborator and musician, Anna Maria Maccheroni. The materials are available every day in the classroom and a child can work with them as long as they need, at their own pace. This way, children are also growing in their ability to describe the music they hear.

A few words should be said here on the subject of rhythmic exercises. Maria Montessori was certain it would be educationally backward to give specific verbal commands to children who interpret music with their bodies. The language to decode during rhythmic exercises is, therefore, the language of music, which dictates suitable movement with its beat, tempo, volume, etc. In a gradual process, continuing with daily experiences in the prepared environment, children learn to hear these features and interpret them with rhythmic exercises. However, it is vital to accept that sometimes a child might prefer to use their hands to “conduct” or simply lay still for mindful listening.

Of course, music playback can be only a supplement to live music given by the teacher, guest musicians, attended on a going out, and played by the children themselves. Making music combines mathematics, movement and senses all at once, with real-time fine-tuning. That is why it brings brain development to new levels. And it is simply a special way to enjoy music, full of inherent emotions. If the desire to make music is to become contagious for children, live music should be the primary way to experience it.

Montessori music education incorporates elements borrowed from Orff, Jacques-Dalcroze, Kodaly and Suzuki. That is why it seamlessly prepares for learning to play an instrument, particularly following the Orff or the Suzuki method if the family wishes to pursue it. The Montessori environment will provide a strong foundation, allowing children to mature in their musicality and get acquainted with music theory, and most importantly cultivate a lifelong enjoyment of music as an experience that gets better when shared. 


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A method in the madness, or what is Montessori?

Maria Montessori in Casa dei Bambini

Maria Montessori with a child at work with sensory material via

When I am asked what I do, I often hear: ‘I know, Montessori! It’s this innovation at preschools. But what is it about?’ A question fit for an exam and we are just having a cup of coffee. Let me here prepare myself for the following inevitable coffee exam.

You can easily find online that Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870 (true), she became a doctor (also true) and it all began with intellectually disabled children (right). But that was only the point of departure. To sum up Maria Montessori’s lifetime of work with: ‘a psychiatrist treated the sane as the ill’ seems to me like calling Leonardo da Vinci a pencil drawer and a maker of sketches. Of course, it is true, but it misses the point of the person’s phenomenon in its entirety.

Maria Montessori conducted a science experiment which lets us see what the children really mean. People were coming to her school and were amazed, asking: ‘How do you make those children so calm and content? Why do they walk carefully and unroll their rugs fondly, and then pick up pieces of a puzzle one by one? We also have children of our own, we have nurseries, kindergartens and schools of our own and we know full well that this cannot be normal!’

That is why she told the story of how it happened in her first book in 1909, which was translated into English as The Montessori Method (you can click on the link to download the free ebook from It was already known that her experiment in Casa dei Bambini was absolutely replicable and the same outcome was happening in other countries.

To ‘this cannot be normal’ argument she replied: ‘On the contrary, this is in fact normal. The children by themselves, out of their own initiative take from the shelf what interests them. They repeat the same action not out of obsession, but out of scientific curiosity. Each repetition leads to greater precision of movement and increases the sense of ‘I can do it’. For children, it is the most normal thing in the world. Nobody made them do it. It was not because of outside pressure, but because of the internal process of normalization.’

However, the outcry of ‘this cannot be normal’ contains a grain of truth. The person who says it is a keen observer, ready to accept a reality check. This person already knows there are no pleas, threats and social engineering practices capable of making a child pick pieces of a puzzle one by one if he or she does not enjoy it.

It would be great if Montessori parents and educators always were so observing and open-minded. Sometimes we see that it does not work, but we still repeat all the ineffective pedagogical methods: we correct, we tell off, we chastise. It works temporarily at best and then we plea to the conscience, we promise rewards, we threaten with punishments, we emotionally blackmail. And then we are surprised there are no calm, content children in sight.

The effective method is the Montessori method. By the way, it is not a method of helping adults mold ‘perfect children’, but a method of helping children develop their potential. That is why it is called by some wise people ‘the Montessori anthropology’ (from the Greek word for human: anthropos), because it says more about what happens with the human being than about how to raise children. Or it is called ‘the Montessori system’, because those who are certain that the Earth is in the centre (or the pedagogue knows best) are in for a Copernican Revolution.

Normalization is one of the indicators that the Montessori method works – an effect, not a cause. About the real cause, an absolute foundation, Maria Montessori wrote more in 1916 in her book Spontaneous Activity in Education.

Since the very beginning, spontaneous activity has been a key condition in the Casa dei Bambini experiment. How does it happen that between all the rugs, puzzles, dressing frames, sandpaper letters and golden beads we forget about a child’s freedom?

Spontaneity is no different to a child’s initiative: ‘I wish’, ‘I am interested’, ‘it speaks to me and brings me joy’. I meet many parents with wisdom and sensitivity to carefully observe their child, wishing to give space to this spontaneity. I meet many welcoming teachers, who say with a smile: ‘Good morning! How was your weekend? What are you going to work with today?’

There is fundamental optimism in the Montessori method; there is trust that it is really possible to be together with children in such a way. Maria Montessori asked for a maximum amount of freedom and the conditions allowing each child to benefit from it. It requires deeply ingrained optimism to ask a child, almost three years old, ‘What are you going to work on today?’ and then respect his or her choice. But what seems even harder is to ask the same question to a ten-year-old, when there are state requirements, all sorts of tests and exams in the picture.

If questions come up, like: ‘Is this really free choice? Spontaneous? What if…’  – then great. I encourage you to treat your own questions seriously. I encourage you to come and see a Montessori school. Talk to the teachers. Read Maria Montessori’s works. Learn from others at workshops, courses and conferences.

That is what professional Montessorians do. We come across problems and search for solutions, continue educating ourselves and meet to share our experiences. We invite our colleagues, asking them to observe our practice and tell us where we could act differently.

There are two basic questions then. The first one, for the child: ‘What are you going to work with today?’. The second one, for the adults: ‘How to work in order to respect a child’s spontaneous activity?’ For the second question, the Montessori method is the answer. 

  An earlier version of this article has been published before on Metoda Montessori.

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