Teaching to the Spirit of the Child: Thank You Maria Montessori by Jill Dianne Bittinger

Consider Dr. Maria Montessori.

Over one hundred years ago Dr. Maria Montessori instituted the Montessori Method, a  teaching method based on the developmental capacities and sensitivities of a child, a  prepared environment, and the spirit within.  This method is as relevant now as it ever was. The philosophy is one that can offer benefit in public schools if only given the time to be understood. It is a method that focuses on the whole child, allowing freedom to develop his or her physical, emotional, intellectual and  spiritual sides. The Montessori approach provides high quality hands-on materials, individual and  small group lessons, freedom of movement, and freedom to develop at one’s own pace.  Further, rich curriculum includes the wide range of scaffolding for support in the form of  sensorial material crafted to challenge children within their range of proximal  development. The wealth of language and math curriculum is balanced with lessons in Practical Life, Grace and Courtesy, Peace, Environmental and Cultural studies, and a term she coined Cosmic Education— designed to  spark wonder in the world. The stimulating and age-appropriate prepared  environment is well-ordered, clean and harmonious. Teachers cultivate peace within in order to live what they teach.  Care for the environment and one another creates a feeling of well being for all. The multi age grouping allows older children to develop their leadership through modeling and  assisting the younger children. 

The Montessori method honors the fact that children learn in different ways and at different  paces. In recognition of the uniqueness of each child, education best serves as aid in  unfolding an inner calling, providing the means to attune to the Spirit within.  Fundamental to this process is the respect for the child. Maria Montessori held the view that her legacy of education should be as an “aid to the spirit of life as it finds  expression in the human species.”

Maria Montessori trusted in the innate spiritual wisdom of children. She believed that  they had human rights for freedom that needed to be asserted and protected. She found  fault with rigid methods of instruction, assessment and testing, seeing such schools as  tools of industry, a place to force compliance, enslave a child’s soul and train workers  for the future. She was a revolutionary force that called us to reflect deeply upon the  purpose of schooling, the role of educators, and the rights of children. 

In her book, The Discovery of the Child, Maria Montessori discusses how the use of  rewards and punishments and the model of desks set up in rows to educate large  numbers of children simultaneously, rigid schedules and testing was an artificial act  aimed towards control and having children become accustomed to this control. The  outdated teacher-centered model of schooling, set up by industrialists, is unquestioned  in many schools still to this day. While it can create great rule-followers, it can stifle the  inner calling of one’s spirit. Montessori  and Transformed schools are modeled on a belief in crafting freedom to express an  innate creativity, wisdom and intelligence. A belief that if young people are given a safe,  ordered, harmonious environment, they will unfold in a self-disciplined and organized  fashion on their own. Montessori states: Too often a teacher commands because he  is strong and expects a child to obey because he is weak. Instead of acting in this  way, an adult should show himself to a child as a loving and enlightened guide. 

Montessori’s philosophy recognizes that movement is essential to healthy children. In  addition to sports opportunities, welcome in dance and the arts. Transformed education  honors children to have choice in their work, which the teacher acknowledges as  important as adult’s work is to them. They are encouraged to take pride in their works  and in their projects, from start to finish, being given featured time to share completed  works with their classmates. 

The questions Maria Montessori asked, the remedies she proposed and her strong  critique of the authoritarian structures of factory model schooling are still highly relevant  today. What is the purpose of education? What are the deeper goals, understandings  and values in mind? We now have decades of research in fields such as  developmental, cognitive and motivational psychology that lend support to her model of  child- centered education and her core hypotheses about children’s natural ways of self direction and learning. We need not be life-time Montessorians to benefit from this  understanding.

Let us thank the wisdom of this pioneer that has provided us a trail to grow from as we  now cultivate a path beyond it —one that can fully include the level of technology of our  present day society. We allow her words to speak for themselves in this excerpt from an  English translation of a French radio interview, in which Montessori speaks of the rights  of children and the need to protect the “health of the spirit” in each child. She  encouraged every nation to make these rights into laws, and to design educational  systems accordingly. 

“Education is a help for the formation of man. I believe that this critical time urgently  requires individuals whose personalities will be morally strong and well-balanced. 

I consider it very important nowadays that the rights of the child are recognized by  society. The child should be considered by laws as a human being, a citizen who has  more rights than the adult. 

Education should really start with the adult. It is necessary to awaken the public  conscience. The entire world should rise in defense of the child because he will be  responsible for the good or bad in tomorrow’s society. 


Chase, Christopher. Let a Child’s spirit be free to unfold.

Giesenberg, Anna. Spiritual development and young children. Pages 23-37 | Published  online: 15 Jun 2007. 10.1080/13502930085208551 

Miller, Debi. Developing the spirit of a child in a Montessori Way.
https:// spirit-of-a-child-in-a montessori-way

Dr. Maria Montessori and Mindfulness

The importance of being Fully Present, without domination, is the art form of a true educator. – Jill Dianne Bittinger

Being fully present is the expectation of the Montessori Guide. You can find her, or him, in the environment where children work from their own volition. The teacher becomes the guide on the side rather than the sage on stage.

As a Montessorian, I am devoted to this wisdom of a steady, calm, Presence that invites children into self-directed learning.  Concurrently, I realize that its benefit can surpass the boundaries of the Montessori classrooms alone.. At the heart of this education is a training in mindfulness.  Choose work, take it carefully, enjoy exploring it, place it back carefully—All with a quiet intentionality.

In considering the bridging of Montessori concepts into public school settings, we must begin with the recognition that the training and materials of all educators to become fully certified Montessori classrooms is unrealistically expensive in terms of  both time and money.  However, there is some middle ground and useful tools that can easily build bridges of appreciation and understanding. A good entry point is Mindfulness.

Being Present means being fully aware.  Paying attention. Being engaged and engaging, emotions are in union with the intellect and language.  They have been managed so as not to be distracting.  Instead, they are empowering:  Intrigue, curiosity, wander. Teachers that understand the significance of emotions also recognize they need to be dealt with authentically..  If the emotions can be valued and validated like the  intellect, then learning deepens and becomes more personally significant.   A profound gift that Maria Montessori gave us was the value in understanding the need for occasional silence in this journey to unify the emotions and mind.  By practicing “Making Silence” routinely, a calm pervades the room, and children routinely learn self-management.  Listening to a beautiful tonal bell at the end of the meditation leaves a lasting peace.

Preparing for
I cross my legs
I place my hands on my knees
I make my back very straight
I tell my body to be still
I tell my mouth to be quiet
I take a deep breath
I close my eyes
I make Silence
And feel my love.