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 development capacities and sensitivities of a child, a prepared environment, and the spirit within. 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 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 materials and curriculum crafted to challenge children within their range of proximal development. This is fused with lessons in Practical Life, Grace and Courtesy, a four petaled Peace Curriculum, and a term she coined Cosmic Education— designed to spark wonder in the world around us. The stimulating and age-appropriate prepared environment is well-ordered, clean and harmonious. Teachers cultivate these qualities in themselves and the children as we care for the environment and one another. The multi age grouping allows older children to develop their leadership through modeling and assisting the younger children.
The Montessori method honors 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.”
In visiting the Classrooms that hold this Montessori spirit, one can see the unique layout that breaks beyond the traditional models. We break free from the model where children are confined to their desks in straight rows, focused on the teacher with worksheets and copying from the board. In its place, children are invited to move about, make individualized educational choices, work collectively and individually and use a range of hands-on materials that anchor mental concepts.
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, as can also be said about standardized testing. 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.
In progressives schools, we realize that it is the creativity and drive of the inner spirit that hold answers to the intensifying societal issues of today and age. In a time of increasing presence of Artificial Intelligence, these answers must be inextricably linked to technology and it’s innovative use by the powerful human spirit. In these ways we can address pressing issues of environmental clean-up and sustainability? Fortifying our town and city infrastructure, rooting out corruption, paving pathways of peace, and correct relationship to AI. While understanding that they are yet children, we can also recognize that it is the character of their beings that is in formation. Therefore, let us hold a high vision.
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.
Honoring the Whole Child
Jill Dianne Bittinger has been a Multicultural Arts Educator for 10 years and Montessori Lead for 15 years. Deeply committed towards a vision of education as a multifold process that must touch hearts as well as minds honoring emotions in the process, she is currently working on a book. Transformed Education: The Role of Soul.