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Title: Montessori children
Author: Bailey, Carolyn Sherwin
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Patient waiting for the earth to bloom develops a little
child spiritually.]

                           MONTESSORI CHILDREN

                         CAROLYN SHERWIN BAILEY



                                NEW YORK
                         HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

                         COPYRIGHT, 1913, 1914,
                            THE BUTTERICK CO.

                            COPYRIGHT, 1915,
                         HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

                        Published February, 1915
                       THE QUINN & BODEN CO. PRESS
                              RAHWAY, N. J.


As a student of child psychology and always most deeply interested in the
welfare problems that confront us in connection with the upbringing of
little children, I went to Rome in 1913 to study, first-hand, the results
of the Montessori system of education. A great deal had been written
and said in connection with the technic of the system. Little had been
given the world in regard to individual children who were developing
their personalities through the auto-education of Montessori. I wished to
observe Montessori children.

Through the gracious courtesy of Dr. Montessori, I was given the
privilege of observing in the new Trionfale School where the method could
be watched from its inception, and in the Fua Famagosta and Franciscan
Convent Schools. I was also given the privilege of hearing Dr. Montessori
lecture, elucidating certain problems in her theory of education not
previously given publicity.

I found little ones of three, four, and five years, surrounded by the
many observers of the first international Montessori training class, yet
so marvelously poised and self-controlled that they went through the days
as if alone. I saw such proofs of the integrity of the system as the
instances of Otello, Bruno, and others.

The pages which follow constitute a series of pictures of real child
types showing Montessori results. As a record of results, I hope
they may contribute to the world’s greater faith in the discovery of
Montessori—the spirit of the child.

                                                  CAROLYN SHERWIN BAILEY.

NEW YORK, 1915.



  DR. MONTESSORI, THE WOMAN                                              3

  WITH MARGHERITA IN THE CHILDREN’S HOUSE                               13

    _Showing the Unconscious Influence of the True Montessori

  VALIA                                                                 26

    _The Physical Education of the System._

  THE FREEING OF OTELLO, THE TERRIBLE                                   39

    _Montessori Awakening of Conscience Through Directed Will._

  THE CHRIST IN BRUNO                                                   54

    _About the New Spiritual Sense._

  MARIO’S FINGER EYES                                                   67

    _Montessori Sense-Training._

  RAFFAELO’S HUNGER                                                     81

    _Color Teaching. Its Value._

  THE GOING AWAY OF ANTONIO                                             94

    _Directing the Child Will._

  ANDREA’S LILY                                                        108

    _The Nature-Training of the Method._

  THE MIRACLE OF OLGA                                                  119

    _Reading and Writing as Natural for Your Child as Speech._

  CLARA—LITTLE MOTHER                                                  135

    _The Social Development of the Montessori Child._

  PICCOLA—LITTLE HOME MAKER                                            148

    _The Helpfulness of the Montessori Child._

  MARIO’S PLAYS                                                        163

    _Montessori and the Child’s Imagination._

  THE GREAT SILENCE                                                    176

    _Montessori Development of Repose._


  Patient Waiting for the Earth to Bloom Develops a Little
    Child Spiritually                                        _Frontispiece_

                                                               FACING PAGE

  Back-yard Apparatus for the Physical Development of Children
    Is Valuable                                                         28

  An Important Physical Exercise of Montessori                          30

  Hand and Eye Work in Connection in Exercises of Practical Life        32

  Walking upon a Line Gives Poise and Muscular Control                  34

  The Kind of Toy Dr. Montessori Recommends for Physical Development    36

  Replacing the Solid Insets by the Sense of Touch Alone                70

  Building the Tower and the Broad Stair                                70

  A Fineness of Perception Is Developed by Discriminating Different
    Textiles Blindfolded                                                74

  Perfecting the Sense of Touch with the Geometric Insets               76

  To Match the Colors Two by Two Is the First Exercise                  84

  Grading Each Standard Color and Its Related Colors in Chromatic
    Order                                                               88

  All the Colors of Nature May be Found                                 88

  Every Child Should Have a Pet                                        110

  The Loving Care of a Dumb Animal Results in Child Sympathy           114

  To Feel that Something Is Dependent upon Him for Care and Food
    Helps a Child to Reverence Life                                    116

  Building Words with the Movable Alphabet                             122

  Learning the Form of Letters by the Sense of Touch                   126

  Filling in Outlines with Color to Gain the Muscular Control
    Necessary for Writing                                              126



A holiday in Rome, the Eternally Old, the Eternally Young. A long,
sun-dried street that flanks the Tiber is gay with fruit venders who
push along their carts of gold oranges, strings of dates, and amber
lemons. Italians of the wealthy class mingle in friendly fashion with
the native-costumed peasants. Someone starts a snatch of song; a dozen
passersby take up the strain. Where the chariots of the Cæsars rattled by
in yesterday’s centuries, there rises a stately row of stucco apartment
mansions with terraced gardens where pink roses and purple heliotrope run
riot over the hedges and silver-toned fountains sing, all day long, their
tinkling tunes.

Leaving the gay, bright street, you ring the electric bell at number 5
Principessa Clotilde.

“Is the Dottoressa at home, or is she keeping holiday, too?” you ask of
the porter. He laughs, motioning you to an almost human elevator that
lifts itself and will stop at whichever floor you ask it.

“Yes, La Dottoressa Montessori is in—in fact, she is nearly always in
because of the many people, mainly Americans, who come to see her. And
the children come daily to see her as well.” The porter shrugs his
shoulders, uncomprehendingly, as you enter the elevator and stop at the
fourth floor. The popularity of this tenant of his is a matter of wonder
to the porter.

As a low-voiced maid opens a great carved door and you find yourself in
Dr. Montessori’s apartment, you hold your breath at the modernism of it.
Plain white woodwork, fine old rugs covering the stone floors, the soft
tan walls covered with a few beautiful tapestries; French furniture and
electric lights. The reception room in which you wait might be that of
an American home, but a glance out of the open window unfolds to you the
heart of the tenant. While her home is in one of the most beautiful and
cultured centers of Rome, Dr. Montessori sees daily a tiny, narrow Roman
alleyway where the “people” live like bees in a hive and the doorsills
throng with little children and their voices rise to her every hour of
the day.

But you hear a step. You turn. You are face to face with Maria

At first you have no words. You have seen her picture in America, but
it gave you no conception of the fine, chiseled beauty of the woman who
stands before you dressed in severe black that accentuates the marble
of the classic features, the depth of the far-seeing, dark eyes. Poise,
grace, self-control, sympathy, love of humanity are written on the face.
It is as if all the Madonnas of the imagination of the old Italian
painters had come to life in La Dottoressa. Overpowering the first glance
of courteous welcome, though, that accompanied her outstretched hand is a
look of stern query.

Why have you come? Are you another of the curious visitors who have
besieged her from almost every nation the past year to try and grasp in
a day her method of teaching that she gained only through twenty years
of patient, tireless scientific study of the child mind, she seems to
ask. But your words come like a torrent now. You assure her that you
have made this pilgrimage to Rome, not as an individual, but as the
voice of thousands of mothers who have children to be educated. They ask
Dr. Montessori, through you, for her message to the American people.
As you linger over the words, _madre_, mother, and _bambino_, baby,
Dr. Montessori smiles. You have set her doubts at rest. She talks fast,
eloquently, in her musical Italian, and you listen, thrilled, fascinated.
Often you are interrupted, but always by children. Lovely, dark-eyed,
courteous little Roman boys and girls they are. They come from you know
not where, are admitted to Dr. Montessori’s apartment quite as if they
were adult visitors, and after they have greeted her in their graceful,
polite fashion, they quietly run about the room or sit in groups talking
together as if the apartment were the popular meeting place for all the
children of the neighborhood. You find their interruption and their
presence a help instead of a hindrance to your interview. They illustrate
by their loving friendship for La Dottoressa and each other, and by their
complete self-control, the message that Dr. Montessori gives you to carry
back to the American people.

_She would liberate the children._

_The American people are free, but American children are not._

We have lost sight of the Republic of Childhood, she says. Through
forcing our adult standards of conduct and teaching upon children, we
have closed the gateways of their souls. We must believe that every
child, well-born into the world, is going to be good and happy and
intelligent if we as parents and teachers give him a fair chance. We must
stop _commanding_ our children. Instead, we will _lead_ them.

Dr. Montessori tells us that we are undergoing a slow but certain change
in the social structure of society. Woman is being emancipated from her
domestic slavery of yesterday. We are creating a new and more healthful
environment for the laboring man. But the American child is still a slave
to the capricious commands of his parents, which claim his soul and
prevent his free, natural development to his best manhood. In school,
too, children are still bound.

The vertebral column, Dr. Montessori tells us, which is biologically the
most fundamental part of the human skeleton; which survived the desperate
struggles of primitive man against the beasts of the desert, helped him
to quarry out a shelter for himself from the solid rock and bend iron to
his uses, cannot resist the bondages of the present-day _school desk_.
Curvature of the spine is alarmingly prevalent among children and is
increasing. Instead of resorting to surgical methods, corsets, braces,
and orthopædic means for straightening child bodies, we should try to
bring about some more rational method of teaching that children shall no
longer be obliged to remain for the greater part of the day in such a
pathologically dangerous position.

Not only do we hurt child bodies by the confinement of the school desk,
but we wound their souls by ever offering rewards and punishments, by
insisting upon such long periods of absolute silence as are demanded in
our schools, and by imposing upon children a program of instruction that
is built, often by law, to be followed by large groups of children. The
normal child is he who finds it impossible to follow a program of school
work or to obey, unquestioningly, the arbitrary commands of his parents.
He must follow his own bent, providing he does not interfere with the
freedom of others, if he is to dig out his own life path. The abnormal
child is the one who _never resists_; he is the child who, without
dissent, obeys all adult commands.

So Dr. Montessori, who has discovered a method of free teaching by means
of which children from two and a half to five develop naturally and
happily along lines that culminate in a spontaneous “explosion” into
self-taught reading and writing at four and five years, speaks to the
American parent.

She begs us to give our children the freedom that is the American
nation’s boast. Not the freedom that would lead to disordered acts, but
that liberty which means the untrammeled exercise of all the moral and
intellectual powers that are born with the individual.

About twenty years ago Maria Montessori, a beautiful young society girl
of Rome, startled Italy by receiving with honors her degree as Doctor of
Medicine. The Italian girl of the cultured classes is essentially a home
girl. She studies at home, she embroiders, she plays with flowers, she
is introduced to society—then she marries. That Maria Montessori should
desert the quiet, rose-strewn paths of Roman débutantes and, after taking
her degree, act as assistant doctor in the Psychiatric Clinic of the
University of Rome, startled all Italy.

Her work at the clinic led her to visit the general insane asylums, and
she became deeply interested in the deficient children who were housed
there, with no attempts being made to educate them. As she studied these
helpless little ones, the idea came to her that it might be possible, by
putting them into better surroundings, and giving them opportunity for
free gymnastic activities and free use of the senses, to educate them.
She gave up medicine for teaching and again startled Italy—and the world.
Her deficient children learned to read and write, easily and naturally,
and took their places beside normal children in the municipal schools.

Then Dr. Montessori carried her method of physical and sense education
a lap farther. If this method stimulated to action the sleeping mind of
a deficient child, might it not save time and energy in the teaching
of normal children, she asked herself. At that time, the Good Building
Association of Rome was tearing down the squalid, disease-filled houses
of the poor of the San Lorenzo Quarter and putting up in their places
hygienic model tenements. Dr. Montessori arranged to have the children
of each tenement gathered in one room of the basement, where large,
free spaces, didactic apparatus, hot meals, and gardens would make it a
Children’s House. She applied her method in numerous of these Children’s
Houses and in the beautiful convent of the Franciscan nuns on the Via

Again the miracle happened. Children of four began to read and write,
having taught themselves. There were other wonders, too. These
Montessori-trained children were self-controlled, free, happy, good.
To-day there are Montessori mothers all over the world.

To furnish the right environment for the expanding of the child soul,
Dr. Montessori urges that every home be transformed into a House of
Childhood. It will not consist alone of walls, she tells us, although
these walls will be the bulwarks of the sacred intimacy of the family.
The home will be more than this. It will have a soul, and will embrace
its inmates with the consoling arms of love. The new mother will be
liberated, like the butterfly bursting its winter cocoon of imprisonment
and darkness, from those drudgeries that the home has demanded of her in
the past, leaving her better able to bear strong children, study those
children, teach them, and be a social force in the world.

The new father will cultivate his health, guard his virtue, that he
may better the species and make his children better, more perfect, and
stronger than any which have been created before.

The ideal home of to-morrow will be the home of those men and women who
wish to improve the human species and send the race on its triumphant way
into eternity.

So Dr. Montessori, physician, psychologist, teacher, lover of children,
and womanly woman, speaks to us.

As one says _addio_ and leaves her and goes down into the blue,
star-filled evening of the Eternal City, the night seems to be charged
with a new mystery. Rome, who holds in her beautiful hands such good
gifts for us—art, sculpture, history, painting—now offers to us another.
Stretching farther than the moss-grown stones that line the Appian Way,
she shows us a new road—the way that leads to the soul of a little child.


_Showing the Unconscious Influence of the True Montessori Environment_

It is so early in the sweet, perfume-laden Italian morning that the dew
is still hanging in diamond drops on the iris and roses in the garden of
the Casa dei Bambini of the Via Giusti, Rome. The great white room, with
its flooding sunlight and host of tiny, waiting chairs and tables, is
empty, quiet, calm.

Margherita stands a happy second in the wide-arched doorway that
makes room and garden melt into one fragrant, peaceful whole. A wee
four-year-old girlie is Margherita, big-eyed, radiant with smiles, and
tugging a huge wicker basket of lunch that is almost as large as she. She
is the first baby to arrive at the Children’s House. Ah, but that does
not ruffle her composure. She is already alone in her newly-found freedom
of spirit. She needs no teacher.

She places the lunch basket on a waiting bench, crosses to a wall space
where rows of diminutive pink and blue aprons hang at comfortable
reaching distances for little arms. She finds her own apron, wriggles
into it, _buttons_ it at the back. She is ready for the day.

What shall come first in Margherita’s day? So much is in store for her,
waiting for her eager finger tips, her electric-charged soul. As her
great brown eyes slowly trail the room and the colorful garden outside,
it is as if she were making a soul search for that “good thing” which
will be her first silent teacher. Her glance lingers on the terraced
rows of flowers, the tinkling fountain in the center. She has found
the object of her search. She runs—no, she _floats_, for such complete
physical control of her limbs has this four-year-old baby—to the garden,
and kneels there, looking up at a redolent, yellow rose that has opened
in the night. She does not touch it; she only looks and breathes and
wonders. She has watched for this unfolding daily, waiting with sweet
patience for the branch to burst into bud and the bud to unfold into
bloom. She has tugged a vase of water each morning to offer drink to the
roots. Now her patience and her service are rewarded. As she kneels
there looking up into the petals of the gold flower, her small hands
clasped over her breast with devotional ecstasy, _Nature opens her heart
to the heart of a little child_.

Many rapturous minutes the baby kneels. Then she flies back to the room
again and glances at it with the critical eye of a housekeeper. Here
she flicks away a speck of dust, there she picks up a scrap of paper
from the stone floor. She peeps into the wall cabinets that hold the
Montessori didactic materials to see if the gay buttoning, lacing, and
bow-tying frames, the fascinating pink blocks of the tower, the frames
of form insets are all in their places. In the meantime the Signorina
directress comes. Bruno, of five, arrives, bringing with him his
two-and-a-half-year-old brother. More toddlers trail in, two and a half,
three, four, four and a half years old, and button themselves into their
pink and blue aprons. Independent, polite, joyous little children of the
Cæsars they are, each with his or her own special happy task in mind in
coming to the Children’s House this blue day.

The wee-est toddlers drag out soft-colored rugs, orange, dull green,
deep crimson, and spread them on the wide white spaces of the sun-flecked
stone floor. Here they build and rebuild the enchanting intricacies of
the tower of blocks, the broad stair of blocks, and the red and white
rods of the long stair, chanting to themselves as they unconsciously
measure distances and make mental comparisons: “big, little; thick, thin;
long, short.”

Children of three and a half and four take from the cabinets boxes of
many-colored, silk-wound spools, which they sort and lay upon the little
tables in chromatic order until a rainbow-tinted mass lies before their
pigment-loving eyes. From the bright scarlet of poppies to the faint
blush of pale pink coral, from the royal purple of the tall, spiked Roman
iris to the amethyst tint of a wild orchid, they make no mistake in the
intermediate color gradations. Other children of four and over finger
with intelligent, trained skill the geometric forms; circles, triangles,
squares that they are learning to recognize through the “eyes in their
fingers,” and which will help them to see with the mind’s eye the form
that makes the beauty of our world. Small Joanina, in her corner, runs
her forefinger with the greatest delicacy of touch a dozen times around
a circle. Then she fits it in its place in the form board, takes it out
and fits it in again. Then she looks up, a new light in her eyes, darts
out into the garden and walks slowly about the fountain, running her
finger around its deep basin.

“Signorina, Signorina!” she calls. “The fountain is a circle. I can see a
pebble that is a circle, too. I see _many_ circles!”

So the children learn through the _exercise of the senses_.

But Margherita?

All this time she has flitted from one task to another. She found an
outlined picture of clover leaves and colored it with dainty pencil
strokes, making the leaves deep green and the background paler, and
handling her pencil with careful skill. Then she took a box of white
cards on which are mounted great black letters, cut from fine sandpaper.
Holding each card in her left hand, she traced the form of the letter
with her right forefinger, closed her eyes, traced its form again,
repeated the letter’s name to herself in a whisper, sat silently a second.

As the Signorina directress moves from child to child, smiling
encouragement, showing Bruno’s baby brother’s clumsy fingers how to slip
a button through a buttonhole, helping Joanina to find a new form, the
square, she watches Margherita.

“This may be a white day in the child’s mind growth,” she thinks, but she
does not suggest, or hurry the miracle. She only waits, hopes, watches.

_Silence_ is written on the blackboard. Three hours have passed in which
over thirty children, barely out of babyhood, have worked incessantly
at many different occupations, have moved gracefully and with complete
freedom about the room, have changed occupations as often as they wished,
have not once quarreled. But now, out of the ordered disorder, comes a
marvelous hush. No word is spoken, but one baby after another, glancing
the written sign, drops back with closed eyes into a hushed silence in
which the whir of bird wings in the garden, the fluttering of casement
hangings, the far-away sound of a bell are audible. Even Bruno’s baby
brother struggles not to make a clattering noise with his little chair.
No one has said to this two-year-old, “Be still.” Rather, has he been
inspired to _feel_ stillness.

Out of the restful calm of the room comes the whispered call of the
Signorina: “Bruno, Piccola, Maria, Joanina, Margherita!” Lightly,
noiselessly, joyously the children come and huddle in a hushed group
about the directress. She has called to the soul of each child, she has
commended them for their self-taught lesson in control.

As the work with the didactic materials is taken up again, Margherita
sits in a little chair for a space, quiet, reflective. Her lips move,
her fingers trace signs in the air and on the table before her. The Game
of Silence has helped this four-year-old with her spirit unfolding. Now,
with a sudden impulse, she darts to the blackboard, seizes a piece of
chalk, _writes_.

“Ma-ma! Ma-ma!”

Margherita writes it a dozen times in clear, flowing script with
breathless, eager strokes.

“Signorina, Signorina, I write—I write about my mother. I _write_!” she
joyously interpolates.

The other children look up with sympathetic interest, some leaving their
work to crowd about the victorious Margherita. All of them voice their

“Margherita writes,” they say. With the older ones who have already
reached this wonder lap in their education there is a note of

“We also write,” they seem to say. With the tiny ones there is a note of
hopeful promise.

“Some day we, too, will find that we can write,” they seem to say.

Margherita covers the blackboard with clear, big script. She erases it
all for the sheer joy of assuring herself that she is able to write it
all over again. When the luncheon hour comes, she looks back longingly
at the blackboard as she lays plates on the little tables with dainty
precision, places knife, fork, and spoon deftly, carries five tumblers at
a time on a tray without dropping one, and passes a tureen of hot soup
that is so large as to almost hide her small self. Even the happiness
of being one of such a happy “party,” of eating one’s lunch of peas and
sweet wheat bread and soup in the Children’s House, does not wholly
satisfy Margherita to-day. Her big brown eyes are raised continually to
her first written word.

Luncheon over, the children, with balls, hoops, and toys, romp out for an
hour’s play in the garden.

“Margherita,” Bruno calls. “Come, we will have The Little One for a
donkey, and I will harness him with you, who may be the horse!”

But the little girl, usually the first to start a game, does not hear.
She is seated under the rosebush as if she were telling _her_ rose the
wonder that has come to her to-day. She and the rose have unfolded
together. So it is with all Montessori children. They open their souls as
flowers do, naturally, freely, surely.

Margherita is your child as well as the precious _bambino_ of her Roman
mother. Children the world over, from sun to sun, from pole to pole,
are the same in these plastic first years of mind growth. They have the
same insatiable desire to _do_, to _touch_, to be _free in activity_.
Not always understanding the little child’s hereditary way of grasping
knowledge, we wound his spirit by crushing these natural instincts. We
say, “_don’t touch_,” “_be still_,” because the activities of our small
Margheritas and Brunos interfere with our adult standards of living.

Dr. Montessori has discovered that to say, “_don’t touch_,” “_be still_,”
to a child is a crime. Such commands are the keen-edged daggers that
kill the child soul.

It is possible that some time will elapse before Dr. Montessori’s
system of setting the clockwork of the little child’s mind running
automatically, of opening the floodgates of the child soul can be adopted
in their entirety in our American school. We are so used to thinking
of a school as a crowded place of many desks, where children must
remain, bound physically and mentally by the will of the teacher and
the relentless course of study, that a Montessori schoolroom where, as
Dr. Montessori herself expresses it, children may move about usefully,
intelligently, and freely, without committing a rough or rude act, seems
to us impossible. We even prescribe and teach imaginative _plays_ to
our children—as if it were possible for any outside force to mold that
wonderful mind force by means of which the mind creates the _new_ out of
its triumphant conquest of the world through the senses.

Ideal Montessori schools may be our hope of to-morrow, but to make of a
home a Children’s House is the fact of to-day.

To bring about Montessori development in the home is not alone a
matter of buying the didactic materials and then offering them to your
Margherita and looking for their future miracle working. This would mean
stimulating lawlessness instead of freedom. Many of our children already
play with squares and circles without seeing how squares and circles
make beauty in the architecture of our cities. Many of our children
grow up side by side with opening roses without unfolding with them. We
would most of us rather button on our babies’ aprons, tie their bibs,
feed them, than lead them into the physical independence that comes from
doing these things themselves. We wish children to be obedient, but
instead of establishing principles of good in their minds which they will
follow freely, if we only give them a chance, we _command_, and expect
unreasoning obedience to our injustice.

A Children’s House in every home will be a place where the mother is
imbued with the spirit of the investigator. She watches her children,
asking herself why they act along certain lines. She leads instead of
ruling. She will teach her children physical independence as soon as
they can toddle. To know how to dress and undress, to bathe, to look
quickly over a room to see if it is in order, to open and close doors
and move little chairs, tables, and toys quietly, to care for plants and
pets—these are simple physical exercises which help to keep children
free and good. She will provide her Children’s House with materials for
sense-training. She will lead her children by simple, logical steps into
preparation for early mastery of reading and writing.

The first step, however, in giving the American child a chance to develop
along the self-active, natural lines of Margherita is to fill our homes
with the spirit of Montessori. We will have unlimited patience with the
mistakes and idiosyncrasies of childhood, remembering that we do not
aim to develop little men and women but only as nearly perfect children
as we can. We will endeavor to surround ourselves with those influences
of love and charity and beauty and simplicity which it will be good for
our children to feel as well. We will offer the children the best food,
the greatest amount of air, the brightest sunshine, the least breakable
belongings, the most encouragement, the minimum of coercion.

Our attitude toward the child will be that of the physician to whom the
slightest variation of a symptom is a signal for a change of treatment,
to whom a fraction of progress measures a span. A careful home record
of the child’s mental, moral, and physical gain should be kept, and it
will be radiantly discovered that the removal of the burden of force and
coercion from the shoulders of the little child will give him an impetus,
not only to mind growth, but to the attaining of greater bodily strength.

Much misunderstanding of the system of Montessori has come about through
our too lavish interpretation of the word _freedom_ as lawlessness. It
should be interpreted, rather, as _self-direction_. The home in which the
children are provided with good living conditions, in which it is made
possible for them to grow naturally, where their longing to see and touch
and weigh and smell and taste is satisfied as far as can be arranged, and
where they are led to be as independent of adult help as possible, is
laying the foundation for the education of Montessori.


_The Physical Education of the System_

Valia was her mother’s little stranger. Although the mother had borne and
fondled and bathed and clothed and undressed the pink flesh that held the
baby soul, she did not know that flesh. And Valia grew to be three years
old, fat and good, but with little bent limbs and a tired-out spine and
clumsy, fumbling fingers.

“Sit in your chair, Valia. That is what chairs are made for,” Valia’s
mother admonished at home when the baby joyfully pranced across the floor
on “all fours” or lay prone at play with her toys.

“Walk in the garden path like a little lady,” she urged, when Valia,
taken out for a walk, climbed to the lowest railing of an adjacent
fence and walked along it, sideways, or hung from the top, her fat legs
swinging in the air.

“Do not jump; to jump is noisy and unbecoming in little girls,” the
mother commanded, as Valia, brought to the Trionfale Children’s House in
Rome, hopped gayly up and down the wide stone steps.

But the directress of the school had no word of reproof for baby Valia.
She looked at the bent legs that could hardly hold the weight of the
plump body, she glanced at the powerless baby hands that could not clutch
with any force the handles of a toy wheelbarrow which another child
offered Valia for her play.

“You have not noticed the baby’s limbs,” the directress suggested.

The mother’s eyes trailed the school yard where Valia struggled to keep
up with the other sturdy little men and women who trundled their toy
wheelbarrows up and down in long happy lines. She shrugged her shoulders.

“Perhaps they are crooked, but what can one do to the body of a _bambino_
but feed and cover it?” she asked in discouraged query.

“Ah, La Dottoressa tells us,” the directress replied simply.

“We can _know the body_ of the little child.”

The education of Valia’s muscles was begun that very day, that instant.

[Illustration: Back-yard apparatus for the physical development of
children is valuable.]

In the school garden the little maid found her way with the other
children to an immediately fascinating bit of gymnastic apparatus; a
section of a low fence it looked, its posts sunk deeply into the ground
so as to make it strong and durable. It was the right height for small
arms to reach the top rail, which was round, smooth, and easily grasped
by small hands. Here Valia hung, her limbs suspended and at rest, for
long periods. Sometimes she pulled her body up so that her waist was
level with the upper railing. It was a new game, one could climb a fence
without being chided for it. Valia did not know, but Dr. Montessori did,
that little children climb fences, pull back when we lead them, and try
to draw themselves up by clinging to furniture because they need this
form of physical exercise to bring about harmonious muscular development.
Valia’s body was developing at an enormously greater rate than her
limbs. The height of your baby’s torso at one year is about sixty-five
per cent. of its total stature, at two years is sixty-three per cent.,
at three years is sixty-two per cent. But the limbs of the baby, ah,
these develop much more slowly. To hang from the top railing of a fence
straightens the spine, rests the short limbs by removing the weight of
the torso, and helps the hands to prehensive grasping. So Dr. Montessori
invented and uses this bar apparatus with the children at Rome and
recommends its use in American nurseries and playrooms.

The next Montessori exercise for Valia was a simple, rhythmic one—walking
on a line to secure bodily poise and limb control.

It was just another game for a child, full of happy surprise, too, for
she never knew when the sweet notes of the piano in the big rooms of the
Children’s House would tinkle out their call to the march. But when the
pianist played a tune that was simple and repeated its melody over and
over again and was marked in its rhythm, Valia and Otello and Mario and
all the other babies put away their work and fluttered like wind-blown
butterflies over to the place where a big circle was outlined in white
paint on the floor. To march upon this line, now fast, now slowly,
sometimes with the lightness of a fairy and then with the joyously loud
tramp of a work horse, oh, how delightful! Sometimes the music changed
to the rhythm of running or a folk-dance step, and this gave further
delight to the little ones.

At first, Valia could not find the white circle of delight. Her fat feet
refused to obey the impulse of her eagerly musical soul. But with the
days she found poise and grace and erectness and the crooked limbs began
to straighten themselves.

She sat, for hours at a time, in a patch of sunlight on the floor, using
her incompetent little fingers in some of the practical exercises of
everyday living. The directress gave her a stout wooden frame, to which
were fastened two soft pieces of gay woolen stuff, one of which was
pierced with buttonholes and the other having large bone buttons. Valia
worked all one morning before she was able to fit each button in its
corresponding buttonhole, but when she did accomplish this, the triumph
was a bit of wonder-working in Valia’s control of herself. It started her
on the road to physical freedom.

[Illustration: An important physical exercise of Montessori.]

Happy in her new accomplishment, she mastered all the other dressing
frames; the soft linen with pearl buttons that was like her underlinen,
the leather through which one thrust shoe buttons with one’s own button
hook, or laced from one eyelet to another, the lacing on cloth like her
mother’s Sunday bodice of green velvet, the frames of linen with large
and small hooks and eyes, the frame upon which were broad strands of
bright-colored ribbon to be tied in a row of smart little bows.

Daily, simple physical exercises such as these; hand and eye
co-ordination, exercises in poise, stretching, rest for the limbs and
freedom for the spine and torso slowly transformed Valia from a lump of
disorganized, putty-like flesh to an erect, graceful, self-controlled
little woman.

“What have you done to my Valia?” asked the mother as she waited at the
school door for her little one a few months later. “She dresses the young
_bambino_ at home and buttons her own shoes. She no longer stumbles all
day long but stands well on her feet. She helps me to lay the evening
meal and carries a dish of soup, full, to the place of her father. I do
not understand it. Did you punish her for climbing and being clumsy?”

“No.” The directress of the Children’s House lays a kind hand on Valia’s
curly head as she explains. “We did not punish Valia. We gave her a
fence upon which to climb and we let her tumble about on the floor when
she was tired, and we helped her to find her feet and her fingers.”

Dr. Montessori tells us that there is a little Valia in every home.
The child from one to three and four years of age is in need of
definite physical exercises that will tend to the normal development
of physiological movements. We ordinarily give the little child’s body
slight thought. Then, in the schools, we gather older children into
large classes, and by a series of collective gymnastics in which the
commands of the teacher check all spontaneity, we try to secure poise and
self-control and grace for the child body.

[Illustration: Hand and eye work in connection in exercises of practical

Gymnastics for the home will accomplish this result, Dr. Montessori tells
us, and these include simple exercises such as one sees in the Children’s
Houses. They are planned taking into account the biology of the body
of the child from birth to six years of age—the child who has a torso
greatly developed in comparison with his lower limbs. They have for their
basis these goals:

    Helping the child to limb development and control.

    Helping the child to proper breathing and articulate speech.

    Helping the child to achieving the practical acts of life;
    dressing, carrying objects without dropping, and the resulting
    co-ordination of hand and eye.

To bring about this physical development, Dr. Montessori has planned
and put into the Children’s Houses in Rome certain very simple physical
exercises, so simple as to seem to us almost obvious, but the results in
child poise, control, and grace have drawn the attention of the entire
world. These exercises include:

    Swinging and “chinning” on a play fence, modeled after a real
    fence or gate.

    Climbing and jumping from broad steps, a flight of wooden steps
    being built for the purpose. Ascending and descending a short
    flight of circular steps, these steps built for the exercise
    at slight expense. Climbing up and down a very short ladder.
    Stepping through the rungs of the ladder as it is laid upon the
    ground or the floor.

    Rhythmic exercises carried out upon a line; walking slowly
    or fast, softly and heavily, on tiptoe, running, skipping,
    and dancing in time to music. These exercises may be done by
    utilizing the long, straight cracks in a hardwood floor, the
    seams in a carpet, by strewing grain or making a snow line out
    of doors.

    Exercises in practical life, the most important of these being
    brought about by the use of the dressing frames included in
    the Montessori didactic materials, and including: buttoning
    on scarlet flannel, linen, and leather, lacing on cloth and
    leather, fastening hooks and eyes and patent snaps, and tying
    bow-knots. Other materials used in these exercises are: brooms
    and fascinating little scrubbing brushes and white enamel
    basins with which the children help to make the schoolroom
    tidy in the morning. And the children are taught to open and
    close doors and gates softly and gracefully and to greet their
    friends politely and with courtesy.

    Physical training brought about through play with a few
    toys that stimulate healthful muscular exercises and deep
    breathing. These toys include rather heavy toy wheelbarrows,
    balls, hoops, bean bags, and kites.

    Breathing exercises. For these, Dr. Montessori recommends the
    march, in which the little ones sing in time to the rhythmic
    movement of their feet, an exercise in which deep breathing
    brings about lung strength. She recommends also the singing
    circle games of Froebel. She leads the children to practice
    such simple respiratory exercises as, hands on hips, tongue
    lying flat in the mouth and the mouth open, to draw the breath
    in deeply with a quick lowering of the shoulders, after which
    it is slowly expelled, the shoulders returning slowly to their
    normal position.

    Exercises for practice in enunciation, including careful phonic
    pronunciation of the sounds of the vowels and consonants
    and the first syllables of words. This practice in the
    co-ordination of lips, tongue, and teeth not only helps the
    child to clear speech but leads to a quicker grasp of reading.

[Illustration: Walking upon a line gives poise and muscular control.]

Each of these physical exercises has its basis in child interest. _Your_
toddler instinctively pulls and climbs, stretches, and scrambles about
on the floor, longs to dress his own fascinating, wee body, and play into
the activities of the home. He loves marked, rhythmic music and longs
to hear those jingles and nonsense ditties of childhood’s literature in
which syllabic sounds are emphasized and repeat themselves.

“Not commands, but freedom; not teaching, but observation,” Dr.
Montessori begs of mothers. So she has taken these instinctive activities
of the little child and, using them as a basis, she has built upon them
her system of physical training for the baby, a system that needs no
bidding, “Do this,” because all children love to climb fences and play
with buttons and stretch little limbs on the floor, and keep time to
rhythmic music.

[Illustration: The kind of toy Dr. Montessori recommends for physical

Every Thursday morning a crowd of thirty or forty eager tourists from
all over the world wait with impatience to be admitted to the Montessori
school on the Via Giusti, Rome. Silently, led by a white-robed sister,
they enter the schoolroom and seat themselves in quiet expectant rows to
watch the miracle of Montessori physical freedom. A hush, a tinkle of
child laughter, and the babies flock in from the garden. Noiselessly,
gracefully, with no rude jostling or crowding—and alone—they greet
each visitor with outstretched hands. Then, like a bevy of little men
and women, eager to work, eager to achieve, they hasten to the cabinets
that hold the didactic materials, to choose their material for the day.
Nothing drops, nothing is broken, no child hurts his neighbor in his
haste, and they find their places, some stretched out on the floor, some
seated at the white tables. When the hour for the midday meal comes,
the materials are as carefully put back in their places in the cabinet
and the little ones lay the tables for luncheon. To see a child balance
a tray that holds five filled tumblers, to see another child bring in
a huge bowl of warm soup and serve it with no mishaps, these interest
curious sightseers as much as the Roman Colosseum or the Roman baths.

But isn’t, after all, the child who has come, by natural steps, to this
control of his mind and body the normal child? Are not our children, whom
we feed and dress and lead and fasten into high chairs, the abnormal
ones? It is vastly easier to lace a child’s shoes, to hold his hand when
he goes up and down steps, to fetch and carry for him, than to teach
him this muscular co-ordination, but it is just this careful teaching of
the simple things of life that makes the Montessori child a sight for

“What makes these children so good?” I heard a visitor ask her neighbor
one morning as she watched the Via Giusti little ones.

A number of factors contribute to the goodness of the Montessori child,
but one of the most important of these is that he “knows himself.” He
knows his body, what it can do and what it must not do. This physical
freedom leads naturally and surely to freedom of the spirit.


_Montessori Awakening of Conscience Through Directed Will_

He was so wee a _bambino_ to have absorbed so much brutality in his
heart. Not quite three summers and winters old was Otello when his
mother pushed him across the threshold of the big, cool, white room of
the Trionfale Public School at Rome that houses a Montessori Children’s
House. There she left him after a volley of guttural speech that told
the little dark-eyed girl directress how uncontrolled and passionate was
this baby of Rome, a quaint little “man” in stuff dress and bare legs and
torn shoes who looked with stolid wonder into the happy eyes of the other

At first it seemed as if the mother were right. In an awed whisper to
Dr. Montessori the girl directress spoke of Otello as “the terrible.”
He met love with apparent hate, kindness with malevolence, sociability
with taciturn aloofness. Did little Mario with painstaking effort lay a
carpet of beautifully tinted color spools in careful order on his table;
then Otello swooped down from his watchful corner and with one sweep of
his fat hand wrought confusion in the beauty. Did a stone lie, harmless,
in the school garden; Otello found it and used it with dire results. Did
Valia, the toddler, with much toil fill her small wheelbarrow with a
precious load of sticks ready to trundle it across the playground; Otello
intervened, overturned the barrow, and gloated over Valia’s tears.

From his first day he showed an amazing inventiveness along lines of
disorder. To tear a finished picture that his little girl neighbor had
zealously colored, to swoop down upon the heights of the pink tower whose
perfect building some other baby had just achieved in a patch of sunlight
on the floor and overturn it—these seemed to be Otello’s most joyful
triumphs. And always, as he planned some act of disorder, he looked up,
expectantly, for the blow, the harsh command with which the misdirected
force of childhood is so often met by the brute force of the adult.

But these never came. Instead, he saw a group of sympathetic little
ones run softly across the wide spaces of the room to help Mario in
rearranging his color spools. There was no thought of him, Otello the
law breaker, but only the love of Mario in their hearts. In place of the
reproof that he almost longed for, that he might meet it with rebellion,
he felt the touch of warm lips on his forehead, and he heard the soft
voice of the directress:

“Ah, Otello, that was _wrong_.”

There was no other word of blame, no command, _you must not_, for him to
meet with his marvelous strength of will and, _I shall_. He might choose
the thing that was wrong—or——

It was one sweet spring morning in Italy that I saw the miracle happen
to Otello, a morning when the free breezes from the Roman hills brought
heavy odors of grape and orange blooms and the birds sang their freedom
outside the windows of the Trionfale Children’s House. Otello sat in
a little white chair in front of a little white table, suddenly quiet
and thinking. He saw, all about him, other little white chairs and low
white tables. If he wished he might choose another chair; no one would
insist that he stay in one seat. The brown linen curtains at the windows
rustled pleasantly with the perfume-laden wind. If Otello wished he
might go out in the playground for a breath of that wind. No one would
prevent him. In front of him he saw another large room with a piano and
low white cabinets filled with fascinating Montessori materials, and
colored rugs for spreading on the stone floor, and many babies, of his
own kind, sitting there busily at work. A child might dash over and spoil
the work of a dozen children at one attack. Or a child might do a little
experimenting himself with these materials that so engrossed the others.
Otello chose the latter course, and going to one of the cabinets, he
selected one of the solid insets, a long polished wood frame, into which
fit ten fascinatingly smooth cylinders of varying diameters. Holding
the cylinders by their shining brass knobs, he put them in their proper
places in the frame, took them out, put them in again a dozen, a score of
times. Unconsciously he was training his sense of touch, but more than
this, he was exercising his conscience in a new way. A small cylinder
refused to fit in a large hole in the frame; a large cylinder could
not be forced, no matter how strenuously he hammered it with his little
clenched fist, into a small hole. Before Otello put each cylinder in its
proper place, he tested it with a larger or smaller hole.

“Wrong!” he whispered to himself in the first instance; and,

“Right!” he ejaculated when the good, smooth little piece of wood dropped
out of sight in its own hole.

After almost three-quarters of an hour of this will training, for the
little child who persists in a piece of work and completes it is taking
the first steps toward properly directed _will_, Otello looked up from
his work. Mario, his neighbor, bent over the color spools again. From the
pocket of Mario’s apron protruded one of the crown jewels of childhood—a
big glass marble. Otello had no marble. With all the longing of his
heart he had wanted one. Mario bent lower over his color matching and
the shining glass sphere, as if it were alive, slipped from his pocket,
dropped to the floor, and rolled across to Otello.

With quick stealthiness Otello grasped it in his eager little fingers. It
was _his_ marble now; no one had seen him take it; in his little brown
palm it held and scintillated a hundred colors. How happy it made him to
own it; he would slip it into the hole in his shoe to keep it safe until
he reached home! But, even as he made a hurried movement to hide his
booty, his prisoned soul burst its cocoon. With one of the rare smiles
in his eyes that one sees in the undying children of Raphael, Otello ran
over to Mario and dropped the marble in his lap.

Otello had taught himself the right and he had made the right his happy

The old way of helping Otello, of helping _your_ child to right action
and self-education, was to command. Yesterday, we said:

“You must do this because I tell you to; this is right because I say that
it is.”

Dr. Montessori gives us a new, a better way of educating little children.
Before we present her didactic materials to a child, before—even—he
leaves his cradle and his mother’s arms, we will give the child his
birthright of freedom; physical freedom, mental freedom, moral freedom.
The place of the mother in education, Dr. Montessori tells us, is that
of the “watcher on the mountain top.” She observes every action of the
child, helps him to see the difference between right and wrong, but she
leaves him _free_, that he may train his own will, make his own choice,
educate himself.

How can we help our children to the goodness that little Otello has
found? What had he missed at home that was supplied to him in the
Children’s House?

The root that is denied space by its earth mother to stretch and pull and
reach does not grow into a tall, straight tree. The bud, shut off from
its birthright of sunshine and moisture, does not unfold into perfect
flowering. The child who is choked at home by an artificial environment
and chained by the commands of his parents will develop into a crooked,
blasted man. Dr. Montessori told me that her first word to American
mothers is this:—

“Free your children.”

Every child is born with an unlimited capacity for good. His impulse is
to do the good thing, but we so hedge him about with objects which he
must not touch and places which he must not explore and inaccuracies of
speech which confuse his understanding, that he rebels. With the force
of a giant, the baby uses his will to break _our_ will. This is right;
he was born as free as air, and we act as his jailers. Presently, his
thwarted will finds other outlets, and we are confronted with a little

We have thought that to “break” a child’s will was the first step toward
giving him self-control. We say to a child:

“Don’t be capricious!”

“Don’t tell lies!”

He is capricious because we have so often interfered with his normal
child activities, because they made him dirty, perhaps, or caused a
litter that we thought disorderly. He lies because we have not explained
his world to him, or because he fears us. Seldom is a child capricious or
untruthful unless we have made him so.

The Montessori directress at the Trionfale Children’s House, first of
all, patiently observed Otello. At the end of a week’s time she knew more
about him than his mother did, for she had recorded his height, weight,
chest, and cranial development and had discovered that he needed physical
exercise to help his mental development. We will watch _our_ children’s
bodily growth more carefully than we have in the past if we are to be
Montessori mothers.

She never commanded the little fellow whose ears were so deafened
with the many commands of his mother that he found it a psychological
impossibility to obey. Instead she had faith that his new environment,
her careful pointing out of right and wrong, and the ordered activities
brought about by the Montessori didactic materials would loose his
spirit, which had been like a butterfly stabbed by the pin of a scientist.

So we will be patient with our babies and watch them and wait expectantly
for the unfolding of their minds and souls which will surely come if we
supply the opportunity.

Dr. Montessori gives us a new word for the home and she blots out an old

“Why?” is our new word. We will observe the minutest activity of the
home child from its first month to the time when it leaves the home for
school, asking ourselves the reason for each activity.

“Don’t!” is our blotted-out word. No activity of a child should be
inhibited unless it is morally _wrong_.

From babyhood to the age of six years almost every free movement, every
free thought of the child has a meaning in relation to its bodily and
mental growth. If we suffocate children’s activities, we suffocate their
lives. The good child is not the quiet, inactive child. The perfect child
is not the child who is nearest like man.

The only way to keep a child still is to teach him orderly movement. The
only way to keep him from handling our things is to give him educational
things of his own to handle.

It is a more fascinating home occupation than any which you ever
attempted, this Montessori way of observing your child. He is your own
life flower, a bud, now, but with the power of sure, beautiful unfolding
into bloom. Your part is to watch the process of this unfolding, and to
surround the child plant with light and nourishment and _freedom_ for

You thoughtlessly say, “Don’t sit on the floor and play; you will soil
your clothes.”

“Walk faster and keep up with my footsteps or I will not take you out
with me to-morrow.”

Dr. Montessori tells us that the limbs of the little child are very
short in comparison with his torso and tire quickly from holding up his
body weight. If his legs are to grow straight and strong he must follow
his own inclination and sit and lie on the floor when he plays; he must
not be required to keep up with our longer stride in walking. We were
thoughtless when we commanded _don’t_. Dr. Montessori shows us the _why_.
These actions of the child were wrong only from our standpoint. We have
to cleanse soiled clothes; we think that we have no time to walk slowly.
But in the Children’s Houses no child is ever required to stay in his
small white chair or to keep his work on his low table. He is free to
work on the floor in any position which makes him physically comfortable
and soft rugs are provided for this purpose. No Montessori child is
commanded to stay in line and “keep up” when the piano gives the signal
for a march or one of the gay Italian dance steps. Otello and Mario and
Piccola, the babies, drop out for a few seconds, seating themselves for
a space of rest, and when their fat legs are ready for more muscular
exertion, they again join the other children.

But this freedom will make my child fickle, lacking in concentration, you

On the contrary, it leads to concentration. The Montessori-trained child
who has never been prevented from doing a thing unless it was wrong and
who has been allowed to carry on any activity which it chooses; free play
with outdoor toys, the Montessori physical exercises, sense-training,
drawing, suddenly arrives, at five or six years at a most unusual
amount of concentration. From a free choice of occupations that lead to
the exercise of the muscles and the senses, the minds of these little
children order themselves, and the children are able to concentrate on
one line of thought for long periods.

In the Children’s House of one of the Model Tenements in Rome, I saw a
little girl come quietly in at nine o’clock, button on her apron, and
seat herself with a book. She read, happily, for three-quarters of an
hour, hardly lifting her eyes from the pages, although twenty-five other
little ones were carrying on almost as many different occupations all
about her. At the end of this time, she closed her book, crossed to the
blackboard, looked out of the window a moment, and wrote in a clear hand
the following childish idyl to the day:

“The sun shines,” it began. “I smell the orange flowers and the sky is
blue and I hear birds singing. I am happy because it is a pleasant day.”

Do we find such concentration in our children whom we teach according
to rule and in masses? We have thought that to educate was to formulate
a great many rules and make our little ones follow them, but our new
Montessori ideal is a very different matter—that of leaving Life free to
develop and to unfold.

The American child has the strongest will, his gift from a vital
heredity, of any child in the world. His father and his mother have,
also, this splendidly forceful inherited will. Parent and child tilt
and bout in a daily fight, and if the parent comes out triumphant and
succeeds in breaking the child’s will there is a deadly wrong done. That
is why our reform schools and prisons are so full of strong wills, beyond

We must let our little ones blaze their own trails, provided, of course,
that they are trails which lead in the right direction. We must, also,
let them make their own decisions, and if occasionally they prove to
have been wrong, the experience will have helped them to decide wisely
the next time. We will, also, put into their hands the self-corrective
didactic apparatus of Montessori, which has a distinct ethical value in
the training of the human will.

Education to be vivid and permanent in the child’s life should be worked
out along lines of experience. To say to a child, “Don’t do that; it
isn’t right,” is to make a very inadequate appeal to one, only, of his
senses, that of hearing. To put into the child’s hands the blocks of the
Montessori tower so carefully graded in dimension that it takes exquisite
differentiation to pile them is to give him a chance to learn through
experience the difference between right and wrong by means of three
senses. He hears a possible direction as to their use, he touches them,
he sees the perfectly completed tower. In like manner the broad and long
stair, the solid and geometric insets, all contribute their quota to the
sum of the child’s perfectly directed will control.

The average home is full of mediums for helping a little child to
develop along lines of willed control. To concentrate upon a bit of
constructive play until it is finished, to learn orderliness in putting
away playthings, or to do some simple home duty that will be carried over
from day to day, all are important willed activities. To do whatever is
in hand, building or drawing or picking up toys, or bathing or caring for
a doll or a pet, or helping mother as well as possible, is, also, very
vital will-training.

Dr. Montessori helps us to a hopeful outlook on the subject of child
will. Our Otellos are not, after all, terrible. The child who is most
difficult to manage is, with Montessori training, the child who turns out
to be best able to manage himself.


_About the New Spiritual Sense_

When Bruno was a little fellow, his mother and father were killed in the
Messina earthquake.

Because he was one of so many left-behind babies, he was quite neglected,
and he grew up to four years as a weed grows. Sometimes one _madre_ of
the tenement mothered him, sometimes not. At times he was fed, at other
times he starved. Because of the great fear that came to him with the
blinding smoke and the twisting red river of molten lava and the death
cry of his girl mother that day of the earthquake, Bruno’s mind seemed
a bit dulled. He was often confused by the commands of people who tried
to take care of him and so could not obey. Then they would strike him.
And he heard very vile language spoken and he saw very evil things done
during his babyhood in the tenement.

When Bruno wandered across the threshold of the Via Giusti Children’s
House in Rome, he seemed like a little alien among the other happy
little ones who were so carefully watched over, so gently led. For days
he sat in silence, his great, frightened blue eyes watching to help him
dodge the blow that he expected but never felt; his lips ready to imitate
the vile speech that he had known before, but which he never heard here.
His timid fingers fumbled with the big pink and blue letters that the
other children used in making long sentences on the floor; they tried to
button, to lace, to match colors, but not very effectually. It was as if
the great fear of his babyhood had shadowed his whole mental life and
left him powerless.

One morning Bruno’s dulled blue eyes glimpsed an unusual stir among the
children. A new little one had come and, full of disorderly impulses, had
snatched at the varicolored carpet of carefully arranged color spools
Piccola had placed on her table, scattering them to the floor. Red,
green, orange, yellow, Piccola’s painstaking work of an hour lay in a
great, colored, mixed-up heap. Piccola’s eyes, still pools that reflected
all the hazel tints of fall woods, grew blurred with tears. She dropped
her curly head in her arms and sobbed, big, gulping sobs that wouldn’t
stop, that strangled her. Bruno, watching her, found his muscles. He ran
to her, putting one kind little arm around her waist, and with the other
drew her head down to the shoulder of his little ragged blue blouse and
smoothed her hair, talking sweet, liquid nonsense all the time that made
Piccola’s sobs grow less and less, and comforted her. When she smiled and
drew away to watch the group of children who had hurried to pick up her
colors for her, Bruno slipped back to his corner and the old, dull look
settled back in his face.

“The little man has the conscience sense. He shall have a chance to use
it,” thought the Montessori directress who had been watching the scene.

And because she wanted his soul to grow strong, even if his timid fingers
couldn’t, she often stopped by Bruno’s chair to hold his hand, kindly,
for a minute in hers, or just bent over him, smiling straight down into
his face.

“No one will hurt this little man of ours. He loves us and we love him,”
she assured Bruno over and over, until one day her patience reaped the
prize of Bruno’s answering smile and she felt his two hungry little arms
clasping her.

She strengthened his beginning friendship with Piccola, the
color-loving, reckless, daring little maid, whom all the children loved
to love and loved to fight. When Piccola brought an unusual treat in her
luncheon basket, a leaf-wrapped packet of dried grapes or two luscious
figs instead of one, the directress suggested that she share with Bruno,
who had no one to tuck a surprise in his basket. As the two child faces
drew close above the feast and the little hands fluttered together over
this friendly breaking of bread, Bruno’s eyes sparkled. He was reading
his first lines in the primer of love; he was finding his sight. And in
return Bruno helped Piccola to rake leaves in the garden, he unrolled
and carefully spread upon the floor the rug upon which Piccola wished to
curl herself and sort letters; he hastened to add his strength to hers
when the drawer that held the letters stuck; he fought Piccola’s street
battles for her.

Soon Bruno’s loving busy-ness so increased that he found things to do
almost every second of his happy days in the Children’s House. No longer
the little cowering, cringing, inactive child of a few weeks past, he was
an alert little man whom I instantly watched, because his activity was so
unusual. When the line of children, two by two and clasping hands, in
their pretty custom of welcoming visitors to the Via Giusti Children’s
House, tumbled in each morning, Bruno always headed the line. He held
by the hand the smallest, newest, or the most timid child, dragging it
in his eagerness to teach it to shake hands and say good-day. He would
“hold up” the line because he had so much to say in his welcome to the
strangers who had come to spend the morning with the little ones.

“See our Signorina; is she not _kind_?

“This is our room; do you like it?

“There is Margherita; she _writes_!

“This is Piccola, who reads!”

In breathless sentences, Bruno’s heart interest worded itself. Then,
as the others settled themselves for the day’s work, Bruno began his
day of service. He was the Loving One, the Helping One, the Comforting
One of the Via Giusti Children’s House. Was any child left without a
glass of water at the luncheon hour, Bruno fetched it. Did the little
girl waitress for the day forget to fill a soup plate from her tureen,
Bruno reminded her. If the three-year-old started home with his cloak
unbuttoned, Bruno, feeling in his tender little heart the chill wind of
the Roman hills, buttoned the cloak for the baby. If a toddler tumbled
down, Bruno picked it up and examined it for bumps, and started it safely
on its way again. He fetched and carried, watched for chances to help, to
champion the weak, to wipe away anybody’s tears with the hem of his apron.

The seat he most often chose was under a cast of the Madonna. Sometimes
he sat quiet for long spaces, looking at it. “Bruno calls the Madonna his
_madre_,” whispered Piccola one day.

“Who is that big, homely child?” asked a visitor, pointing to Bruno
putting fresh water in a bowl of roses that stood under the cast. “Isn’t
he older than the other children?”

“Older—yes, in spirit,” answered the far-seeing directress. “He is our
little Christ-child.”

So he is _our_ little Christ-child. Wherever there is a child in a
home, Dr. Montessori tells us, there Christ is. She discovers for us a
new sense, the “conscience sense,” only waiting for an opportunity to
exercise itself and, in the exercising, unfold and bloom and ripen into
the fruits of the spirit. If being an orphan and hungry and beaten
and knowing vile things couldn’t hurt the soul of Bruno, think of the
possibility of Christ in _your_ baby.

Children grow, mentally, through the right exercise of the senses. To
see and to be able to distinguish between beautiful colors and beautiful
forms; to discriminate between sounds that are discordant and sounds that
are harmonious; to know rough things and smooth things, round things and
square things, velvet things and linen things, by touching them with the
finger tips, this we know is a starting point on the road of the three
R’s of everyday education. Dr. Montessori guides us a lap farther in
the new education. She sees, born with every child, eyes of the spirit
and slender, groping fingers of the soul that look and reach for the
good. To help a child to use his spirit eyes and his soul fingers means
to give him a chance to exercise his conscience. It is a new sort of
sense-training that means his finding the three R’s of the life of the
spirit: faith, hope, and charity.

How shall we help a child to exercise and train his _conscience sense_?

Dr. Montessori tells us that if we but watch a little child’s free,
spontaneous use of his soul fingers, his daily loves and hopes and
faith, these will shine for us as a Bethlehem star-path leading us to
the manger-throne of a King-in-the-making. As we are turning a child’s
tendency to _handle_ into mind-training, we will turn his manifestations
of inner sensibility into morality.

It is quite ineffectual to say to a child:

“You must love your neighbor.”

Of course he will try to do the thing that we ask of him because he is a
very kind little person, ready to put up with the inconsistencies of his
elders and willing to try to obey; but it will be a makeshift sort of
love, not free and a flowering of the child’s own heart, but built upon
what we tell him about love. This makes of children little puppets.

Dr. Montessori says: “Watch _how_ children love and _what_ they love.”

You know _how_ your child loves—with the thoughtless abandon of pure
passion. That he interferes with your important occupation, crumples your
immaculateness, has a soiled face and sticky fingers when he kisses you,
do not enter into his thoughts. That anything should interfere with his
caresses would wound his heart. If you were disfigured or maimed, he
would still vision you as the beautiful mother whom baby eyes see only
with the eyes of adoration.

Is this a love that we can teach?

You know _what_ your child loves. There was the ugly yellow puppy with
muddy feet that stained your new rug; don’t you remember how the Little
Chap sobbed so long, and then woke up in the night crying, the day you
sent away the yellow puppy? He loved, too, the dirty rag doll that you
burned and the broken toy that you threw away, and that little street
gamin of a newsboy who stands at the corner in all kinds of weather. He
doesn’t love ceremony and money and the opinions of other people as we
do. The Little Chap goes out into the highways and byways for his stuff
of love. And he doesn’t care if the thing he loves is ugly, or old, or
halt, or lame, because he sees, with his soul eyes, behind the veil of
appearances to the _real of it_.

Your child is born with faith and hope, too. If you tell him that the
moon is made of green cheese and that a stork dropped him down the
chimney, he believes you, and when he grows up and catches you in the
lies, he has one less peg in his moral inner room to pin his faith in the
divine to. If you tell him that you will take him to the circus, and then
let your bridge party interfere with that promise, the Little Chap is
going to be less hopeful that God will keep His promises, for you stand
for the divine in the Little Chap’s beginnings of spirituality.

Dr. Montessori says that we often crush the child’s conscience sense
by not giving him an opportunity to exercise it as he is led to,
instinctively. We must let our children, in their baby days, love _as_
they wish and _what_ they wish. We must be quite careful to give them
true conceptions of the strange world in which they find themselves, and
we must make only good promises to children and use much vigilance in
keeping those promises.

Dr. Montessori sets another guidepost for us in the star-path by which
our children will travel across the desert of unbelief to the manger
where God, incarnate, lies. She tells us that, as the Ten Commandments
were a very simple set of laws for the Israelites, and John, in his
preaching of simplicity, paved the way for Christ, so the first
religious teaching of the little child should have this same quality of

_The child’s first religious training will consist in a discrimination
between good and evil._

“It was good of you to share your sweets with sister. When you ate your
chocolate, alone, yesterday, I was sorry, because it was selfish.”

“It was thoughtful of you to fetch grandfather’s cane for him. Some
little boys would not have been so kind.”

“You must not scream and kick when you are angry. It is wrong!”

We might say in contrast; we do, ordinarily, say:

“You must share because I wish you to.”

“You must be kind because the world likes gentlemen.”

“You mustn’t scream and kick, because you give me a headache and mar my

Such commands are quite ineffectual, because they call the child’s
attention to us and not to his own acts. But patiently and effectually
to see that the Little Chap knows the difference between good and evil
and practices good instead of evil—this gives him a chance to train and
strengthen his conscience sense and forms the beginnings of his moral

“But how shall I give my child an idea of God?” thousands of thinking
parents object.

It isn’t necessary to give the idea of God to your child. Dr. Montessori
tells us that _every child has it_.

We think that we must do so much teaching in order to educate the little
child’s mind, or his soul. In fact we need to do less teaching than
watching, less pruning than watering. After observing our little ones’
spontaneous manifestations of love and giving these a chance to increase,
and meeting them with encouragement after conscientiously pointing out
to them the good and the evil of life and insisting that they choose the
good and reject the evil—we discover a miracle. God comes to the little

Bruno, starved in his mind and starved in his heart, and never having
heard of things of the spirit except in terms of the vilest blasphemy,
found God as naturally as he would find the first gold blossom of the
broom braving winter’s frosts on the Appian Way.

Our own Helen Keller, deaf and dumb and blind, knew God before anything
that her teacher could tell her about Him had pierced the dark wall of
her sleeping senses.

Dr. Montessori asks us to prepare the way for this miracle in our homes.
She says that she would like to suggest to mothers a new beatitude,
“Blessed are those who _feel_;” and we add,

For they find God.


_Montessori Sense-Training_

Your little one, Mario, might have been, big eyes instantly glancing a
bit of color, something that moved, something that could be handled or
broken. All his four years he had been fighting his mother, his home,
the world—a one-sided fight, too, for everybody and everything always
triumphed over him in the end. He was so little and so ineffectual to do

And the times when he had been punished for breaking his mother’s
cherished plates with the pattern of raised roses—plump and red—for
clutching in loving, chubby, grimy hands the soft silk window curtains
or the bright velvet table-cover could not be counted. Yet Mario was
cheerful and uncowed and continued the struggle, the impulse for which
had been born with him, to use his fingers in learning about the world of

To check this impulse was the object of everyone who had anything to
do with little Mario. There was his grandmother in a wonderful silk
headdress and a yellow wool shawl, fringed; she would not let Mario
clutch the cap and then feel of the shawl, as his fingers itched to.
There was the old fruit man at the corner near Mario’s house; he shook a
stick at children who handled his round and square measures, his fruits,
and vegetables of so many different shapes. There was always his _madre_,
who pursued Mario from waking to sleeping time, interfering with his

“Mario, don’t run your fingers along the window ledge; don’t handle the
door latch. You will soil them. You must not play with copper bowls and
pots; they are for cooking, not for little boys.”

As the warfare continued, Mario grew bolder. To be stopped when one is
playing with a fruit measure or a door latch or a bright, red copper
bowl with no malicious designs upon these but only to satisfy a sense of
hunger for knowledge of form, hurt his spirit.

“I _will_,” he announced one day, when his grandmother tried to rescue
her cap from his deft fingering, and he pulled off one of the long,
silken streamers.

“I will _not_,” he further asserted when his mother wished the copper pot
to cook her beans, and when she tried to take it from him forcibly, Mario
stamped and shrieked and struck his _madre_.

The habit of saying “I will” or “I won’t” in situations that demand the
will to decide, “I won’t” or “I will” is an easy habit for a little child
to form and a most dangerous one, morally. It is seldom a self-formed but
a parent-stimulated habit. When his mother put Mario, for reformation and
“to get rid of him,” in The House of the Children at the Trionfale School
in Rome, it was with the assurance:

“He’s a bad little boy. He never does what he ought to; he’s always in

“What should be a little child’s ‘oughts’ the first years of life?
Isn’t what we call getting into mischief, perhaps, the big business of
childhood?” we asked ourselves as we watched Mario in his Montessori
development. So, at least, Mario’s teacher decided.

“Go as you please, do as you wish, play with whatever you like—only be
careful not to hurt the work or the body of any other little one,” were
the words that turned Mario’s struggles to educate himself into a joy
instead of a fight.

Sitting in the light of the Roman sunshine and the smiles of the other
children of the Children’s House, Mario began to do the thing he was born
for in babyhood—he began to _see with his fingers_.

[Illustration: Replacing the solid insets by the sense of touch alone.]

[Illustration: Building the tower and the broad stair.]

I watched him for days, such a blessedly good, chubby, curly-headed
little man that my arms ached to hold him, instead of leaving him free
to trot from one occupation to another, busy, concentrated, educating
himself. Mario’s mother, his wise old grandmother, the canny fruit
seller,—none of them had known how blurred the world looks to the eyes
of a little child. Many mothers are not able to see with the eyes of
a child. We grown-ups who comprehend a beautiful landscape, a lovely
fresco, a piece of miracle machinery, a fragile porcelain vase, a statue,
an immortal pile of architecture instantaneously, analyzing the form
that makes the beauty, never stop to think how we grasp it, mentally.
It is the color and curve of the landscape, the combination of lines
in the fresco, the “feel” and contour of the statue, the “fit” of the
machinery, the design of the vase, the combination of geometric figures
in the building, that make the beauty. The artist, the inventor, the
sculptor, the architect, saturated their finger tips, then their eyes,
and last their brains with a knowledge of line and form before they saw
Fame reaching out her hands to touch theirs. Every little child is born
with a longing to _feel_ line and form, not perhaps for Fame’s, but for
Knowledge’s sake, and we crush the longing when we say “don’t touch.”

Intent, engrossed Mario worked for days until he grew expert in piling,
one upon the other, the graded, rose-colored blocks of the Montessori
Tower. Soon he could erect the tower, blindfolded. Just a fascinating
play it looked, as interesting as is the play of our babies with their
nested picture blocks, but it was play with a purpose. It taught Mario to
_feel_ and then to discriminate, mentally, between objects that differ in
dimension, one from another.

Then came the fun of laying in order the graded blocks of the Montessori
Broad Stair. Building steps, it was, as all home children instinctively
struggle to build steps with their blocks, with dominoes, with pebbles
and rocks of different sizes.

Why do children like to build steps; is it not because they live in a
world of _high_ and _low_, and _higher_ and _lower_ things? We grown-ups
say, “It is a beautiful sky-line, the tall and low buildings rubbing
shoulders,” or “The clouds are banked in a red and gold mass.” How did
we learn the beauty of gradation of form in a city, in nature? Once when
we were as little as Mario we tried to build stairs, we jumped, happily,
from one step to another; we climbed, we learned height and depth by
_feeling_ them. So, Mario learned to see minute variations in the height
of objects through the broad stair.

He spent hours fitting the little wooden cylinders in their places in
their frames. How he had longed to play with the vases and jugs at home,
some tall and some short, some thick and some thin. And how many times
his mother had prevented his digging rows of little holes in the garden
in which to fit, first, a fat thumb, then a slim forefinger; last, a tiny
finger! With the Montessori geometric insets, he could enjoy this hole
play, and, at the same time, learn, through _feeling_, to recognize very
fine differences in height and breadth. One day Mario found a little set
of drawers in the big white material cupboard at the Montessori School.
It made him remember his grandmother’s great shelf of drawers with the
polished brass knobs. In these were hidden fascinating, musty-smelling
wool shawls, silk scarfs, soft embroideries, and stiff, bright ribbons.
Mario’s secret happiness had been to climb upon a stool, clutch a brass
knob, pull, and then delve pink fingers into the sense-feeding horde of
stuffs. He would close his eyes and enjoy the _feel_ of them, but there
was always the rude awakening.

“Naughty Mario—don’t touch.” But now he had these other drawers full of
stuffs to open, to empty, to sort the contents, to crumple the stuffs
in his hands, and then match velvet to velvet, silk to silk, wool to
wool, blindfolded. It hadn’t been shawls and scarfs and embroideries
and ribbons that the little man wanted, but a chance to use his fingers
in learning to recognize the qualities of objects; rough, soft, smooth,

Otello brought a great, crimson poppy to the Children’s House one day.
Poppies to the Roman baby are as dandelions to our children, so lavish a
gift of the nature mother as to be of little value after the first bloom
colors the grass. Otello’s impulse was to pull off the already dropping
petals of the flower, but Mario rescued it from the ruthless baby
fingers. Holding the fragile stem between forefinger and chubby thumb,
he ran the other forefinger lightly over the surface of the velvet-soft
petals of the poppy. Then he ran to baby Valia and touched her leaf-soft
cheek with the finger that taught him how like a flower petal in softness
is the flesh of a child.

It was so daily an application of newly-gained knowledge as to be
unnoticed save by a wondering onlooker. It was the mind enrichment
through sense-training denied Mario by his home and offered him by

[Illustration: A fineness of perception is developed by discriminating
different textiles blindfolded.]

The frames for geometric insets enthralled Mario next. To take out of its
place, fit in again, and refit a dozen, twenty times the different sizes
of flat wooden circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and other forms
kept the little fingers busy and the opening mind concentrated for long
spaces. The wooden insets are large, shining with polish, and easy to
handle because of the brass knob attached to each. As Mario lifted one
out of its place in the form board, he ran his fingers around the edge,
then around the empty place in the board. Soon he could do this with
closed eyes, fitting wooden figures of many different shapes and sizes
correctly in the form board. He matched these forms to corresponding
paper forms mounted on cards and then to outlined forms.

Here was a circle like the top of the red copper bowl, and a smaller
circle like the top of the yellow majolica mug that held his milk in
the morning. Here was a rectangle like the kitchen window at home and
a triangle like the glittering one the band man struck to make music.
Kitchen utensils and home furnishings and the street band are as vastly
interesting to all children as they were to little Mario, interesting
because they are things of color and texture and shape and sound.

One morning Mario showed his teacher one of the rectangular geometric
insets. “The window in the church,” he explained. Then he picked up a
rectangular inset. “This is like the flower-bed in the Gardens,” he

Your child struggles to educate himself through his senses as did Mario.
You, too, perhaps, not seeing the inspiration in the active little
fingers, say, “He gets into mischief all the time.” It is our privilege
to turn child mischief into education. Instead of taking away from
children the objects which they select for handling, we must study those
objects and substitute for them didactic materials for education of the
tactile sense, the sense of weight, the sense of form and contour.

A little girl whose spirit is so sensitively attuned that a breath,
almost, will snap the too-taut strings was allowed to be present at a
dinner her mother was giving. Through a wearisome round of courses, the
little one sat in her uncomfortable chair, quiet, good, and tracing with
one finger the design of her cut-glass tumbler. Sometimes the blue eyes
closed as she tried to retrace the design in the air or on the table
linen. At last her mother saw what she was doing.

“Leave the table immediately!” she commanded. “You are a very impolite

She thought that she was a good mother, but the tear-brimming eyes of the
little one, disgraced, hurt, should have mirrored her cruelty. We can’t
allow children to finger cut glass, but we ought to furnish them with a
substitute for sense-training that will remove the necessity.

[Illustration: Perfecting the sense of touch with the geometric insets.]

Our children are born into a world of which they know nothing. They are
discoverers, travelers touching an unknown shore, and the first business
of their new-found life is to adjust themselves to their environment.
Like valiant explorers they plunge into the wilderness in which they
find themselves. We furnish them with food and clothing for the journey,
but we have quite neglected to offer them at the beginning any chart or

Because of this, the way of a child of two and a half to four years
is a stumbling way in our homes. He is hedged in by a wilderness of
furnishings and bric-à-brac and household appliances and mechanical
devices and different kinds of materials and strange forms and varied
colors. It is the business of being a child to notice and handle and
smell and test and use these different objects, but we continually thwart
him in his attempts to make these social adjustments. In so doing we turn
the child into a militant instead of a discoverer. He must conquer his
wilderness. Prevented from learning through the medium of his senses, he
fights to learn, and we say that he is destructive and wilful and lacking
in thoughtfulness.

Dr. Montessori offers our children in the didactic material for
sense-training a valuable guide for adjusting himself to his environment.
The solid insets, the tower, the broad and long stair teach him through
his own experiment and discovery the qualities which all the objects
in his world possess; height, breadth, length, thickness in all their
combinations and gradations. The color spools give him a chance to
recognize and learn practically all the various tints and shades that
surround him in his colorful world. The geometric insets bring to
him, through his senses of touch and vision, the many and wonderful
combinations of line with line and with curves which constitute the form
of the world. By means of the Montessori textiles and other appliances
for exercising the sense of touch, he learns to detect and discriminate
the most minute gradations of softness and roughness, smoothness and
coarseness. The Montessori sense-training apparatus guides the child on
his spiritual trip through his environment.

It is the guide, however, for the very young child whose senses are
hungry. We are so used to waiting on our one, two, and three-year-old
babies; we are so busy taking out of their hands our own precious
belongings and substituting for them a toy, that the Montessori
idea of guiding children, mentally, from the cradle, is strange to
us. The average five or six-year-old child completes the Montessori
sense-training quickly. What next? we ask.

To be able to, blindfolded, fit a polished wood rectangle in a
corresponding rectangular frame is, to the minds of some of us, the
climax of a Montessori exercise. To Montessori herself it is only the
beginning of education in form; we must help the child to see, feel,
recognize form in various combinations; to draw, to love as pure form
in the world about him as he has learned with this geometric inset.
The Montessori sense-training appliances should be used as the genetic
psychologist uses his various instruments and mental tests. They are
to arouse and awake into activity habits of quick perception, keen
appreciation, and constructive invention.

The greatest thing we can do for a child is to so educate it that it
_knows its environment_ and can _adjust itself to social conditions_.
We do this when we teach our children to see, to hear, to touch
intelligently. The lure of the senses is a spiritual spell in childhood.
If we catch it, then, and turn it into channels of knowledge, we may
develop a Marconi, conqueror of space; a Rodin, conqueror of form; a
Burbank, conqueror of life—a Carrel, conqueror of death. At least we
will have developed an observer who knows how to use his senses in the
practical living of life.


_Color Teaching. Its Value_

Raffaelo’s grandfather had been a shepherd in the Roman hills, not so
much because he liked to tend the dull, white creatures, but on account
of the blue roof beneath which he sat all day and the carpet of green
splashed with poppy crimson and primrose gold and lupin blue that lay at
his feet, and the sunset that he waited for every night. It was never the
same, that sunset; like a beautiful Roman ribbon it spread itself before
his eyes, and he would rather see it than go home to eat.

Tucked under his long, wool cloak, he carried a pigment-daubed palette
and a patch of canvas. As the lambs and their mothers grazed, he watched,
hungrily, for picture stuff: a bright yellow cart taking its slow way
along the white dust of the Via Appia, the flower girl walking in to
Rome with her arms full of roses, the gold edges of a distant wheat
field—these fed his soul and satisfied his hunger.

Because the State was blind and thought that to fight is more vital than
to paint beautiful pictures, the grandfather of Raffaelo was forced into
the Italian army. The day that they substituted a gun for his crook and
threw away his palette, they killed his soul. The grandfather of Raffaelo
made a very poor soldier, indeed. The little boy that he left at home
on the Campagna grew up, and was a poor soldier, too; and when he had
finished military service he married and went to live in a tenement in
Rome, and in due time little Raffaelo was born.

It was all quite commonplace, and like the story of many other families.
But it had, too, its element of the unusual. With those long-ago,
shepherding days on the Roman Campagna, a gnawing hunger had begun. It
wasn’t a body hunger, but a hunger of the spirit. It killed the body
of the grandfather of Raffaelo—spirit hunger is more destructive than
a hunger for bread. Down through the years it took its gnawing way. It
killed the youth in the father of Raffaelo and it took possession of him
in the gray streets of the city and stifled his manhood.

Then the hunger pierced the spirit of little Raffaelo, and that was where
it stopped—a cruel, unsatiated thing. With the gathered strength of all
those years, it starved the baby.

He couldn’t have explained in words just what he was hungry for. In fact
he couldn’t explain anything very well, being not quite three years old.
Only, he was continually unsatisfied when he looked at the ugliness of
the dull walls of his home, and when his mother took him along the hard,
gray streets of the city he tugged and pulled at her hand whenever he
passed a corner flower stand, or a cart piled high with a mass of colored

Raffaelo was beauty hungry, as his father had been and his grandfather.
And no one knew it; and no one would have cared if they had known.

No one?

Little Raffaelo trudged across the court one morning to the Children’s
House in the Scuola Famagosta, near which he lived, and there found a
kind welcome and a happy, busy community of children like himself. Neat,
in his clean apron, and with big, questioning eyes, he sat apart from
the others in one corner of the room, watching. Certain of the children
were writing big, plain script on the blackboard; others sat quietly
reading to themselves from big picture books. Raffaelo’s glance shifted
from these to a child who stood near him, working at a low table. What
had he brought from the white shelves in that big wooden box? Raffaelo
wondered. Why was he turning the box over? But the table was suddenly
covered with a mass of color, such as only the Romans know how to dye.
From the box came reel upon reel of ravishingly colored silks, every
color that tints sky and field and garden—crimson, orange, lemon, the
deep green of the grass, and the gray green of the olive leaf; the blue
that makes wild iris and children’s eyes, the purple of grapes when the
sun shines on the vineyards. If Raffaelo could have counted, he would
have known that there were sixty-four of these flat, white wooden spools,
wound with eight colors and eight of each color, showing almost all the
grading of color that makes this old earth of ours so lovely.

[Illustration: To match the colors two by two is the first exercise.]

The colors trickled like a life-giving stream into Raffaelo’s starved
senses. He reached for the color spools, snatching a great fistful away
from the other child.

“_Mio; mio!_ Me; me!” he cried.

They _were_ his. Some of us steal bread when we are hungry. Some of us
steal love when we are famished for it. Children steal because we or the
world have starved them of something which they crave for their natural,
best development of body, mind, or soul. The habitual public school
teacher, the average mother of to-day, would have said:

“Give those colors back. It’s wicked to take something that is not yours!”

The directress of this Montessori school, in which teaching and mothering
are practiced in new ways, watched Raffaelo for a moment, asking herself:

“Why does this child steal? Is he blind to law because his need is so

Then she crossed to Raffaelo, bringing with her a handful of color
spools—two red, two blue, two yellow.

“These are yours,” she said. “Will you give your little neighbor’s colors
back to him, because it was not right to take them? When you have
carried to him every one of the spools, return to me and I will tell you
about _your_ colors.”

Happily, Raffaelo did as he was told, receiving his first lesson in
ethics before he had his first color lesson. Returning, he stood,
wide-eyed and fascinated, beside the directress as she held out to him
two of the color spools.

“This is _red_,” she explained, laying the red spool on the white table
in front of him, and waiting a moment or two, that he might make the
mental association between the name of the color and the color itself.
Then she showed him a blue wound spool.

“This is _blue_,” she said, laying his spool at the opposite side of
the table from the red one, and again waiting for Raffaelo to make the
association of name and color. Taking the next step in this Montessori
teaching, she pointed to the red wound spool, and asked:

“What is this, Raffaelo?”

“Red,” he laughed back.

“And this?” pointing to the other one.

“Blue!” Raffaelo almost shouted in his delight at acquiring knowledge.

Then came the last step in Raffaelo’s lesson. Holding out the remaining
tablets in the palm of her hand, the directress said:

“Show me red, Raffaelo. And show me blue.”

With no mistake, the little color lover selected the red, the blue, and
placed each on his table, matching them to the corresponding spools.

“These are yellow,” the directress explained to him, giving him the two
remaining spools. Then she left him, having given him the food for clear,
colorful thought for which two generations of thwarted painters had made
him long.

All the morning Raffaelo played with his six color spools, gathering them
together into a pile, handling them, holding them up to the light, that
he might watch the play of sunshine and shade upon their beauty, pairing
them upon his table, repeating to himself: “Red, blue, yellow!” Sometimes
he watched his small neighbor, who had grown very expert in color lore
and could name all the colors and lay the spools in chromatic order on
his table, eight rows headed, severally, by black, red, orange, yellow,
green, blue, violet, and brown, and each row containing eight gradations
of its color.

When this child completed his series of orderly color scales he went to
the window and looked out at the Roman hill rising back of the school.
To the child who had not received Montessori color teaching, the hill
would have been a shapeless, colorless bit of earth. To this child, who
could see color in its finest gradation, it was a landscape where one
could trace the gold outline of orange and lemon, the red tiling of a
vine-tender’s house near the top and back of it a sky that was violet—not
blue. He looked at the hill for a long time. Then he selected an outlined
picture of a tree, and looking intently at a box of colored pencils,
selected one that was just the color of a cedar and proceeded to fill in
the outline.

[Illustration: Grading each standard color and its related colors in
chromatic order.]

[Illustration: All the colors of nature may be found.]

To Raffaelo, the child was a spellworker. Watching this fascination, the
directress gave Raffaelo a box of color spools, emptying them out and
allowing him to try and differentiate the colors, putting each back in
its right compartment in the box. She did not burden his mind with names.
He was feeding his senses by just handling and feeling the colors, and
he was unspeakably happy. When the noon hour came, he did not want to go
home. When his bedtime came, that night, he escaped from his mother and
ran to the window, looking out. The night before, he had looked down at
the soiled, unbeautiful street; to-night he looked up. The sun was just
setting, a ruby ball in a sea of amber.

“See!” Raffaelo shouted, pointing to the sunset. “Red; yellow!”

As his mother picked him up and carried him away from the window, he
looked deep down into her eyes. “Blue,” he said, seeing them for the
first time in all their beauty. The hunger of Raffaelo was fed.

Every child is color hungry. Your child may be a painter in the making,
heir to a century-old talent that somebody had to bury, but which would
not die and rose and haunted. Or he may be an average child who will be
happier and better all his life if he can see each fine gradation of
color that tints the sunset and can feed his soul on a beautiful Titian
or a Fra Angelico.

We have thought that we were teaching our children color when we called
their attention to a colored object. A child is much more apt to
associate taste with the apple which we show him when we try to give him
a color lesson, and quite possibly we make a false statement when we
say that the apple is red. Very few apples are _red_; they are dark red,
light red, orange, or yellow in tint. Why not begin the other way round,
as Dr. Montessori does, and teach pure _color_, giving the child the joy
that comes from discovering for himself just what pigment nature used in
painting the apple.

In teaching children color, we will use, if possible, Dr. Montessori’s
own box of sixty-four color spools that include almost all the tints and
shades of the prismatic colors, black to gray, and the scale of browns.
If we are not so fortunate as to be able to use this apparatus, which
is a most careful and scientific analysis of color, we can try to study
color ourselves, and point it out to children as it is found in the home
in textiles, silk and worsted, papers, flowers, and colored crayons and

In teaching color at home we may all follow Dr. Montessori’s own simple
method. The Montessori directress might have tried to teach Raffaelo
color as we, in America, teach our children, saying:

“See the ball; it is red. The forget-me-not is blue. See the pretty
robin redbreast,” and in making these statements confusing in the child’s
mind the concepts of toy, flowers, birds, and colors when all he needs
is _color_. Every child wants to make his own application of knowledge.
Instead, the girl who had been trained under Dr. Montessori had followed
the only true method of teaching any fact, the method that lies at the
basis of Montessori education miracles. Dr. Montessori says that teaching
must be _simple_ and _objective_. There hasn’t been enough of “calling a
spade a _spade_” in our American schools and homes.

Show your child red, or the letter A, or a moral fact—it doesn’t matter
much which—and name it _red_, or _A_, or _right_.

Ask him to tell _you_ just what you told him about it.

Ask him to pick out red from other colors, or A from other letters, or a
moral act from immoral acts. This is Montessori teaching reduced to A B
C, but it is teaching that is successful.

Our homes may be made as full of color and beauty for little children as
are the Children’s Houses. The use of the prism, the Montessori color
spools, the color top, our beautifully graded colored crayons and water
colors for filling in outlined pictures, a study of the colored papers to
be had for paper dolls’ clothes, the daily watching of the color changes
in sunrise and sunset—all these open the spirit eyes of the child. Then
we will lead children to notice and appreciate harmonious blending
of tints and shades in our walls, our rugs, our gardens, our picture

Of what value is it that the child’s chromatic sense be trained by
learning to know and discriminate between red, blue, and yellow, and from
this to acquire a facility in knowing the scale of grays and browns? It
means more for the child than just the soul-satisfaction that comes from
learning how to use the eyes. It means _starting_ the brain machine and
then looking out for the switch.

The first morning that I met little Mario, one of my child Montessori
friends in Rome, he looked me over from head to foot, ran to a color box,
selected a color spool of the exact shade of gray blue of my suit and
showed it to me joyfully. In almost the same second that he made this
mental decision, he saw that the quick movements of little Valia were
threatening the safety of a glass vase that stood, holding flowers, on a
table at the opposite end of the room. Like a flash, Mario ran, held the
vase, and prevented the catastrophe.

To be able to think down the color scale from blue to a blue that is
mixed with gray; to be able to think in another kind of mental scale from
cause to effect—these are both _chromatic_ mind operations.

To know color means satisfying your child’s beauty hunger. It means,
also, starting him on the road to logical thinking.


_Directing the Child Will_

Antonio had a longing to _do_.

Since babyhood, he had watched the _madre_ _doing_ about the house, the
_padre_ who left each morning and returned each night after a day of
_doing_ somewhere.

All of Antonio’s most interesting world of little things revolved about
a circle of persistent activity. The earth in the garden moved with its
life of roots and bulbs, the very small ant creatures crept about from
sunrise to sunset with their sand burdens, the gray branches of the olive
opened to show their hidden treasures of leaves; the birds built; Luigi,
the old farmer beyond the garden, continually loaded and unloaded his
creaking yellow cart. Antonio absorbed this life energy with as much
hunger as he ate his soup and figs.

“I will, also, _do_ all day,” he decided, ready to try the adventure.

“I will make a little garden,” he chose one morning.

The spade was too huge for baby fingers, the frost-hardened ground
demanded force in digging. Some hyacinth stalks, just pushing their
odorous, purple way up through the mold, were broken by Antonio’s eager
effort. Still, the little boy persisted, endeavoring to accomplish the
task that his imagination pictured—a little round flower-bed of his own,
made by his hands, and in which flowers of all colors might raise their
heads overnight. Now he smelled them; now he could feel their velvet-soft

“Stop! Come here, naughty Antonio. You cannot make a garden; you are too
small. And you dirty your clean apron.”

Antonio dropped the spade as the words of his _madre_ shrilled through
the air. He sat down in a discouraged heap on the edge of the path.
Always, his _madre_ could persist in tasks, but he was continually
interfered with. Why?

But with the buoyancy of childhood, the little man suddenly jumped up. A
rattle of tin bells and a strident shriek of protesting, ungreased wheels
were the prelude to Luigi’s approach. In his cart of oranges and lemons,
with bunches of poppy and wheat stuck in the chinks, Luigi rode down the
lane. His smiling face was as russet and wrinkled as an old nut, bits of
miracle-hiding clod stuck to his blue smock. As he passed, he tossed an
orange to Antonio.

“I will be a farmer. How fine to earn money for my family, as Luigi
does,” little Antonio decided. He ran to the house and, pulling out his
little cart, loaded it with some of the vegetables that stood in baskets
in the kitchen. He trundled it up and down, calling his wares as he had
heard Luigi. At first his _madre_ laughed. Then, watching him, her smile
furrowed itself into a frown.

“Why play that you are Luigi, who is only a farmer?” she expostulated.
“Be a great general. Here are your toy soldiers.” She pulled his little
cart away from Antonio and pushed into his arms a box of gaudy tin

“Drill them; command them,” the _madre_ urged Antonio.

Antonio watched, sadly, the demolition of the little cart which stood for
playing into breadwinning. His soldiers were painted manikins, not very
steady on their legs and only slightly interesting. He tried to stand
them in rows and they all tumbled down. He changed them for his ball, and
his _madre_ suggested that a picture book would be a better plaything for
the house, taking the ball away from him. When he was absorbed in the
book, she tore him from it for a walk with her in the streets.

So it always happened with Antonio. No one allowed him to _persist_ in an
occupation, no one allowed him to _choose_ what he should do, and each
day’s activities were _decided for him_.

From a strong-willed baby whose impulses were all good, Antonio drifted
into weak-willed little boyhood. It was as if he were daily followed by a
spirit of indecision.

“Shall I concentrate on this play?” Antonio would ask himself, and in
reply the spirit which had risen from his babyhood influences whispered
in his ear, “No.”

Then came his manhood, and he asked himself the same question.

“Why persist? It is easier to shift, continually, from one occupation to
another, not doing anything long, or well.

“Why trouble to choose? My mother made decisions for me when I was a
little boy; the public school teachers chose my studies for me; now that
I am a man, let other men think for me. I have no power to control my

How simple a solution of the life question! The fingers of Antonio that
had itched in babyhood to make the earth bloom and to earn bread closed
quiescently about a dagger handed him by a man who said, “Come with me;
do as I decide for you.” The crime Antonio did was not his fault, nor the
fault of his accomplice. It was the fault of his _madre_.

Dr. Montessori tells the story of the child whose will is misdirected in
babyhood. He is the child whom his mother and the public school system
mold into a lump of putty by thinking for him.

The greatest problem of to-day in child-training is, how shall we help
our little ones to strength of will? Civilization is being sapped by our
weaklings. Home-training, the public schools do not develop character.
Dr. Montessori tells us that this is because parents and teachers do not
know what will, fundamentally, is.

Dr. Montessori says, “To will is to be _able_. The little child who
persistently struggles to pile block upon block until a miniature tower
or castle rises under his fingers, _persisting until he completes_ the
labor, is taking his first step toward will-training.

“Family life, trade life are built up on this persistency. Whether it
shows itself in loving, or giving or working, constancy makes the social
will. Every motor activity is an act of will, and constancy in _right_
activities makes character.”

Other great teachers have said the study of mathematics and the dead
languages, the military discipline of the army, mortification of the
flesh, make character. To train a child’s will we feel we must crucify it
upon the cross of our desires. A child must obey us, we say, follow our
caprices and chisel himself into a likeness to us, because we wish him to
be like us. Why should children be little men and women? Are we so sure
of our own perfection that we have a right to force our personality upon
that of our children?

Dr. Montessori gives us a new rule for developing character in children.
She says:

“_Seek the child’s first longings_ if you would train his will. Give him
the foundation of will by helping him to concentrate on something he
instinctively craves to be busy about and so lay the foundation stones of
his character.”

The little child’s first impulses to be active are good. He wants to be
about his father’s business by taking part in the activities of the home.
We make our children weak-willed by our own capriciousness in interfering
with their attempts to be active. We dress them, we feed them, we wait on
them, we drive them to play, we lead them; we put them in kindergartens
where they flit from one occupation to another without an opportunity to
concentrate on one; we put them in schools where their days are cut up
into little bundles of study, tied with the iron chains of Schedule that
make prisoners of children; we continually decide for our little ones and
kill their characters with the sword of misdirected kindness.

Some children are born with the color of painters in their souls, and
we punish them for soiling _our_ pictures and mussing _our_ tapestries
and trampling upon _our_ gardens. May we not look beyond their impotent
acts to the spirit-longing that prompted them and put into their hands
the best in the way of color: paints, crayons, books, flowers that will
satisfy their desires and give them an opportunity to concentrate on the
activity they instinctively crave. So they gain will power.

Other children are born with a vision of the builder in their eyes,
and we thwart them when they try to use the furnishings of the home in
a process of reconstruction. May we not equip our little architects
with materials for building, call their attention to the classic in
architecture and art, give them a chance to build their own characters?

Most children are born little cosmopolites—small world citizens who
explore with the greatest interest the strange, new environment in
which they find themselves. These are the children whom our present
system of coercion in home and school hurts most. We crush their wills
by not giving them an opportunity to follow their instinctive interests
in babyhood. The innate impulses of such children are good. They must
explore and produce around themselves. They must be helped to wise choice
and right decisions. So they grow to willed man and womanhood.

Is this following of personal impulse, as shown in Montessori-trained
children, productive of better concentration than we find in our public
schools to-day?

Part of the Montessori didactic material for teaching numbers consists
of a cardboard case into which cards bearing big black figures may be
slipped, giving the child an opportunity to work out number combinations.
A little lad of five discovered one morning, when I was observing at the
Via Giusti Montessori school in Rome, that he could slip into his case
cards in regular succession that would count to one hundred by fives.
He spread out his cards upon the sunny floor, provided himself with the
polished counting sticks for verifying each operation; then kneeling in
front of his counting frame, he went to work, alone, concentrated.

It was visiting day at the School. Tourists, teachers, students lined the
room to the number of forty or fifty, leaving the children scant space
to work, and as the little boy’s numerical adventure began, they crowded
closer to watch him. An American public school child would have grown
restive and self-conscious, but this little Montessori lad might have
been alone in the Sahara, so quiet, so unheeding of anything but his own
occupation was he. The number cards are large, and it took a good many to
reach one hundred. The little fellow spread them out in the center of the
floor, then carried the row under the chairs of the visitors, not seeming
to notice the presence of the grown-ups.

The morning grew gold with noon, and the other children, quietly putting
away their materials, spread the low tables for the midday meal. Little
white bowls, snowy napkins, carefully laid spoons—then the steaming
chicken broth. Still the little counter did not move. He had reached
seventy-five, after verifying every number he had registered in the case.
One of the wee waitresses for the day carried his red and green luncheon
basket and set it down on the floor in front of him; he did not heed it.

“Why doesn’t somebody stop that child’s counting and _make_ him eat
his lunch,” expostulated a nervous American school teacher, watching.
“Children should be made to do certain things at certain times,” she

Just then the boy slowly and with great pains fitted a figure one and two
ciphers into the counting case. Like a little conqueror he stood up,
folded his arms, and looked at the perfect result of two hours’ willed,
concentrated work. A smile broke the baby face into dimples, and running
out into the garden, he began to play like a little colt. He was not
tired. He was not hungry. He was only joyful at this conquest of his will.

Montessori will-training proves itself in results.

The practical life and gymnastic exercises of the method have a peculiar
value in relation to the strengthening of the child will. Once a
child has learned to inhibit his scattering muscular disorder in such
co-ordinations as are involved in dressing and undressing, feeding
himself, bathing, taking part in the everyday work of the home as far as
possible; in walking, running, marching, skipping, dancing to music, and
the other rhythmic and gymnastic exercises involved in the Montessori
system, he has fixed a permanent habit of muscular control which
establishes, also, mental control. To be able to place dishes and silver
in an orderly way on a table, to carry and balance a tray containing
several filled cups or glasses, to be responsible for a certain drawer
or cupboard shelf or case in which are contained play materials is to be
able to control mind as well as body.

The muscular education of Montessori that has a direct bearing upon the
direction and development of the child’s will is included in the primary
activities of everyday life, in walking, greeting, rising, and handling
objects gracefully; in the proper care of the person, in taking part
in the management of the household, in gardening, in such handwork as
clay modeling and drawing and in all properly co-ordinated gymnastic and
rhythmic movements. This new and direct will-training is possible in any

A more subtle but quite as important phase of control of the will through
_doing_ is seen in connection with the child’s use of the didactic
apparatus, especially the solid and geometric insets, the tower, and the
broad and long stair. In the use of each of these there lies for the
child a very important quality of self-correction. A broad cylinder will
not fit into a narrow hole; the plain rectangular inset cannot be made
to slip into the outline of the board intended for a square; a misplaced
block or rod spoils the sequence of form and number in the tower or the
stairs. After being shown the perfect way of carrying on each of these
exercises, the child experiments with them alone. He discovers that the
material admits of two possibilities: error and success. The success
possibility is the greater, however; it is easier to drop a solid inset
into an opening that fits than to endeavor to crush it into a hole that
is too small. So, by persistent and repeated experiment, the child
attains a habit of correcting his own mistakes. This habit he carries
over into the other willed activities of his life.

The Montessori method presents three steps in the home development of
the child’s will. First, we must give our children as wide and free an
opportunity as possible to be active, especially with their hands, along
those lines which will lead to muscular control. Second, we must not
interfere with a little child’s concentrated occupation through play.
Last, whatever task we set for him to do, we must outline a right way
in which it should be accomplished and encourage him to correct his own
errors in it.

A mother said to me recently, “I keep the children in bibs still,
although I suppose they have outgrown them. We can’t have our meals
delayed while we wait for three active youngsters to fold napkins.”

Dr. Montessori would have patiently and painstakingly instituted the
napkin habit, realizing that in even so simple and homely an operation
as folding a square of linen neatly lie undreamed possibilities of
strengthening a child’s will.


_The Nature-Training of the Method_

“If you put it to sleep in the good brown earth, Andrea, if you tend it
and wait with patience,” explained the Signorina, “you will see a wonder.”

Andrea turned the brown lump over and over in his hand. He rubbed it on
the sleeve of his apron. He held it up to the light. It had no appearance
of wonder; it was cold, it did not shine, it would not reflect the light.
Did the Signorina, after all, _know_, Andrea wondered, as his big,
wistful eyes looked out from the warm cheerfulness of the schoolroom to
the chill, wind-swept spaces of the Convent garden. Memories of great
banks of gold daisies, roses so heavy with crimson petals that they bent
as low as the little green winding paths, winds sweet with perfume of
the grape filled Andrea’s imagination. These had made the garden of the
Children’s House yesterday. But how different it was to-day! Could the
dead bulb which was his, now, to tend, to watch, to believe in, make for
itself life and bloom?

Andrea, the matter-of-fact little man of four, was skeptical.

“Of what use is it to plant?” he queried.

“Try it! I will help you dig a hole,” Bruno, the helpful, volunteered.

“We will not let any child take it out of its bed; we will protect it
for you, Andrea,” assured Piccola, flashing eyes full of the fire of
anticipated battle.

“Cover it carefully with earth, and only be patient,” reiterated the
Signorina. “Believe me. It will make for you a surprise.”

It was a momentous morning that marked Andrea’s planting. His fat
fingers, holding the trowel, trembled. Like a circle of small acolytes,
Bruno, Little Brother, Piccola, and the rest, white aprons fluttering
in the wind, watched the sacrifice. Covered out of vision in its winter
grave, the bulb disappeared and the children, now almost as skeptical
as Andrea of its possible germ of life, ran back to their work in the
schoolroom. All, save Andrea.

His baby hands, like two warm, brown leaves, fluttered over the earth
prison of his bulb. Kneeling down on the frosty path, he bent low,
listening, as if he hoped that he might perhaps hear the groping of new
roots. It was all very cold, and perfectly still about the place where he
had buried his little dead hope, but Andrea whispered to it:

“I will wait,” he promised.

The bleak Roman winter spent its chill days. Flurries of snow shrouded
the garden and the wide doors of the Convent, open so many days of the
year, were closed. Andrea did not forget his bulb, though. Every day he
ran out to the place where he had buried it, eagerly watching for the
slim green fingers he had been told would push their way through the
frosty earth. As the weeks drifted by, and while the garden was still
bare, a strange thing happened to the soul of little Andrea. The patience
that was necessary for keeping alive his hope in the brown bulb began to
show itself in other ways.

“Andrea no longer frowns when the little brother of Bruno takes away his
letters,” the Signorina exclaimed. “Instead, he goes to the cabinet and
fetches a buttoning frame, offering it to the little one instead of the
letters for which he is not ready.”

[Illustration: Every child should have a pet.]

In other ways Andrea proved his patience. A bit of drawing that he had
finished, hastily, a month before and with crooked lines, now held him
concentrated for an hour, and was completed with exquisite neatness and
exact contour of line. At the midday meal of the children Andrea did
not, as formerly, beg to be served first, nor did he open his little
green basket of luncheon before the other children. It was as if the
slow-growing bulb which was working its sure way up through the bare
ground to the sun had its counterpart in the unfolding root of patience
it had planted in the heart of a little child.

After a little, the winter melted into a spring of yellow lilies and long
sunny noons and laughter at all the gray street corners. Andrea came
earlier than the other little ones to the Children’s House each morning,
that he might spend a half hour with his little green watering pot in the
garden. He met Bruno and Piccola with an air of assurance that set him
apart from them. He held his head very high in those days because of
realized hope which he had made his own.

“Andrea is our little gardener,” the children said to each other,
watching his triumph.

Then came a visitor’s morning at the Children’s House of the Via Giusti
Convent. The children’s greatest happiness was to welcome these grown-up
friends who came to learn of the little ones the truths of life. Among
the throng of students, tourists, curiosity seekers, earnest thinkers, a
woman whom the children knew entered and slipped into a waiting chair.
She had been during the winter a frequent visitor, quiet, sympathetic,
with deep, smiling eyes. Then she had not come to the Children’s House
for many days.

But they remembered her still. As flowers turn to meet the sun, they
twined about her, feeling her soft, strong hands, touching with eager
finger tips the dull, clinging garment that draped her. Ah, they drew
back, consulting together in little questioning groups.

“She wears now a black dress.”

“Her eyes are full of sorrow,” they said.

“The Signorina tells us that, now, she has no _madre_.”

Andrea, apart from the others, listened, sympathetic, wondering. Sorrow
should be replaced by happiness, of this he was quite sure. Was not the
most unhappy child in the Children’s House the one most loved, most
helped by his Signorina? Had he anything to offer this friend that would
give her joy? He ran to her, grasped her hand in his; dragged her from
her chair, across the threshold, into a luring little green path dented
with many child footprints.

“See!” he exclaimed. “I waited.”

Where Andrea had laid away his hope, a tall, straight stalk of heavily
odorous lily bloom pointed skyward. The earth that it had scattered in
its bulb-bursting still surrounded the strong, green stalk. It was a
chalice of the spring, a symbol of life that is eternal.

“I planted it and I waited,” Andrea repeated. “All the children waited
with me.

“It blooms,” he finished, laughing up into the joyful eyes that smiled
back, comforted, into his.

Life is a phenomenon in which no force is wasted and out of whose
apparent death there continually confronts us the wonder of new life.
Some of us are blind to the lessons Nature teaches, but little children
may be led to _feel_ nature facts that spell for them faith and hope and
sympathy for all time.

Dr. Montessori tells us the place of nature in education. We will put
the planting and tending of little gardens, which are the child’s own,
above the place which such work has held, formerly, as a part of manual
education. We will make gardening a means of leading our little ones to
_observe_ the phenomena of life, to be _patient_ in waiting for that life
to manifest itself, and to be very sure in the hope that fruition will

Does _your_ little Andrea, your child who has come to you with such
a divine curiosity about life and so quick a sense to feel it, have
a chance to be, himself, a part of the miracle by helping something
to grow? To plant a seed, to surround it with all the best conditions
for growth, to tend it, to wait for its flowerings—this is Montessori
development possible for any child.

[Illustration: The loving care of a dumb animal results in child

Many of us feel that we are bringing our little ones into a nearness with
nature when we show them beautiful pictures of flowers, lead them to
exquisite gardens in which they must not pick the flowers, or take them
to walk in our parks. This is not making nature a force in the life of a
child as Dr. Montessori would have us. Children must _touch_ and _feel_
and _act_ to know. The flower that is too beautiful for little fingers to
gracefully pick and give to a friend as an offering of love should have
no place in our gardens. The grass that is too soft to bear the prints of
little feet is not the right kind of grass for an American park.

To plant a bean in a clay pot that stands on a city window sill; to tend
the plant that grows from the seed, saying with surety, “Some day there
will be beans on this plant,” means more to a child than to be told the
life story of an orchid. It is the difference between _thinking_ and

A rake, a shovel, a little basket, a cart, a watering pot—these are all
Montessori didactic materials that any child in any home may have. A
flower pot in a window, a window box, a tiny plot of earth in which to
plant, one of these is possible for each of our children, and the flowers
and fruits that result from the nurture of child hands mean, for the
child, flowers and fruits of the spirit.

The world of every day is full of gardens for our children to plant, and
helpless, dumb animals to be fed and cared for by child hands. It has
been so easy for us to do these things ourselves that we have not stopped
to think what it means in the life of a child to have _helped something
to live_.

There is the bare seed, without shape or body or hint of promise. There
is the green, groping plant that appears. Then comes the sure blooming
that rewards child patience. Some plants are more slow to sprout than
others; there is the fruit tree that did not sprout in the child’s life
but whose pink blooms he now sees. So it may be that the good hope
planted in his own heart while he is still a little fellow may not
fructify for a long time, but he will wait, with patience and faith.

Caring for plants and dumb animals has further life application for
children. We continually serve our little ones. Because we love them, we
do too much for children; we take from their eager hands all works of
service for others which would do much to develop the latent sympathy
that buds in every child’s heart, only waiting for the slightest stimulus
which will make it expand and develop.

[Illustration: To feel that something is dependent upon him for care and
food helps a child to reverence life.]

Your child needs one plant that is dependent for life upon his care.
He needs one pet that demands his daily forethought and vigilance to
safeguard its life. As he waters the plant, watching it and providing
for it the best conditions of light and freedom; as he feeds his pet,
your child feels and is able to image the watchfulness of his father and
mother who feed and care for him, who gave _him_ life. He will form a
habit of _feeling_ and _helping_, and will grow up loving, sympathetic,
and with a reverence for the phenomena of life.

There are also the rewards that nature gives children, coming as
marvelous surprises, unexplainable mysteries, beyond the work of hands.
The little ones at the Via Giusti Children’s House in Rome may be often
seen clustered about a blossom that has unfolded while they were at home
and waits to greet them in the morning—so different, so vastly more
beautiful than the tiny seed which they sowed. These children would not
care for a crude toy, given them as a reward for their labors. The toy
can be explained; it is made of wood, or iron; it has no connection with
the child’s work for which it is given as a prize.

But here is a lily, the reward of their work, but unexplainable; the
product of a force that is miracle working. Its petals are like wax.
With their sensitized little fingers the children touch them; no, they
are not wax. No one can tell of what texture these petals are made. The
flower has its own perfume, haunting, individual. Andrea did not plant
those petals, he did not smell that perfume when he buried his hope. It
found its own body.

So with the greatest simplicity, Dr. Montessori brings to children the
truths learned from the cultivation of _life_.


_Reading and Writing as Natural for Your Child as Speech_

“I have something strange in my pocket,” Olga exclaimed to the group of
little ones who clustered about her, twittering, poised in excitement
like a flock of baby birds.

It was just after the luncheon hour in the Children’s House, and the
babies filled the sunshiny paths of the garden or loitered in happy
groups in the cool stone cloister of the Convent.

“My mother told me the story of Pinocchio, the wooden marionette, who had
so many adventures with a cricket for his friend, and also a fairy with
blue hair. It is too wonderful a story to have been born in the mind of
my mother. She _found_ it. I have it now, with me!”

There was a breathless hush among the little ones. Pairs of blue and
hazel eyes fixed every motion of the little brown maid in the bright
pink apron. With slow dignity and an effect of great mystery Olga thrust
one chubby hand into the depths of her pocket. The fingers fumbled a bit,
then pulled out a crumpled, printed page torn from a book. Dropping,
cross-legged, to the stone floor of the cloister, Olga unfolded and
spread out the page in her lap. The others bent over her with all the
curiosity and reverence that would be stimulated by a conjurer.

“Here is the mystery,” Olga announced, indicating the printed words. “I
have discovered that _this_ is the hiding place of Pinocchio. I have torn
it out of the book that I may carry it, always, in my pocket.”

“Olga will carry Pinocchio in her pocket,” the others exclaimed in hushed
whispers, scattering to talk over the matter. “Is it possible that we,
too, could find Pinocchio, as Olga has, and carry him in _our_ pockets?”

So it happened that the mothers of the children of the Via Giusti School
began to miss pages from their newspapers, their magazines, their books.

“We have very bad, destructive children,” they decided, not stopping to
question the reason for their little ones’ sudden interest in written

So it happened, also, that the directress of the school, always alert to
watch the mind phenomena of her children, noticed that many children in
the school had torn bits of printed pages hidden in their apron pockets,
in the soles of their shoes, in their caps. In the midst of their most
fascinating work, they would stop, take out these scraps of print, smooth
them, and trace the letters with baby fingers.

“We have stories with us all the time; Pinocchio is ours,” they said.

“My little discoverers!” the far-seeing directress exclaimed. “They are
not wilfully destructive. They are ready, now, to create a new language
that will carry them farther than spoken words can. Their longings shall
be satisfied.”

One morning the directress gave Olga new materials with which to work.
There was a big, white wood box divided into twenty-six compartments, and
in each compartment there was a huge letter of the alphabet cut from pink
or blue cardboard. The blue letters were consonants; the pink letters
were vowels. Seated on a soft green rug on the floor, Olga spent hours
taking the letters out of their places, piling them in a colored heap of
many fascinating curves and angles, then sorting them and putting each
back in a compartment in the box.

Sometimes, as Olga worked, the slim girl directress dropped down on the
rug beside her. Picking up one of the cardboard letters, she would say:

“This is A, Olga.”

“This is A,” Olga would repeat.

“Can you show me another A?” the directress would then ask. And Olga
would, readily, pick out a similar letter.

“Where is A, Olga?” was the last question in this teaching as Olga
selected from the twenty-six letters another A. So the little maid of
four years soon knew all the letters by name and sound. And presently she
was combining them to make words and short sentences.

[Illustration: Building words with the movable alphabet.]

As she laid together the letters that made up each word, the words that
combined to make sentences, the directress analyzed each word for her,
phonetically. Soon, by hearing a word, distinctly pronounced, Olga could
select from her box of pink and blue symbols which represented sounds to
her now those letters which were necessary to spell the word.

The directress presented to her smooth white cards, on which were mounted
large black letters cut from coarse black emery cloth, as rough as
sandpaper. These letter cards Olga held in one hand, tracing the outline
of the letters with the fingers of her other hand and saturating her
senses with the _feeling_ of the letter shapes. Soon, she could name any
letter, her eyes closed, by the sense of touch.

At the same time that Olga was learning to _see_ and _feel_ letters,
she was being helped to the muscular control involved in writing. Upon
a sheet of white paper she laid one of the Montessori geometric insets,
a square, and selecting a brightly colored pencil, she drew the outline
of the square upon the paper. Then, with the slanting lines used in
writing, Olga filled in the outline of the square. At first, the lines
were crooked, extending beyond the boundary lines of the square; but as
she repeated the exercise, filling in with color other forms, outlined
triangles, rectangles, circles, leaves, flowers, trees, and figures of
children and animals, her muscles strengthened and she could control her
pencil with the utmost precision.

Two months after her first interest in a printed page had shown itself,
through no training save these sensory and muscle exercises, Olga made
the miracle of graphic art her own. She went to the blackboard and wrote
in clear, flowing script: “I read, I write.”

_Your_ baby tears picture books and magazines; he leaves great,
unbeautiful scrawls upon wall paper, woodwork, and sidewalk. He upsets
the ink and breaks the pens in his father’s study. He wishes to handle
all the books upon the library shelves. We punish him for these acts
because we think them wanton. Dr. Montessori tells us that these child
activities indicate an instinctive interest in the _symbols_ of that new
art, human speech, which he is making his own in the first years of his
life. They tell us that we have made a mistake in not giving children
an opportunity to teach themselves to read and write at the same time
that they are mastering spoken language. The two interests present
themselves simultaneously in our little ones. Children who tear books
and scribble upon walls and interfere with the immaculate order of our
home secretaries are not little mischief makers. Like Olga, and the other
babies in the Children’s House, they are trying to _make their own_ the
story that you read them. Even the tools of writing for little children
are gilded with the same air of mystery that touches the untranslatable
black print.

The wonder teaching of Montessori, by means of which, after two or three
months of preliminary exercises, little ones “explode” into reading and
writing, may begin at home. Any watchful mother may lay the foundations
for this educational marvel.

Have you watched the process by means of which the little Stranger who
came to you from the unknown masters the strange speech of the home in
which he found himself?

Are you helping or hindering him in his struggles to make language his

The beginnings of speech in the baby consist in repetition of syllabic
sounds which he hears in his home environment. His vocal cords and tongue
educate themselves through pronouncing articulate sounds. First come the
labials. Then the little one combines consonants and sounds, saying:
“Ma-Ma. Pa-Pa.” The mechanism by means of which the sense of hearing
combines with the vocal cords in helping the two-year-old to speak makes
it possible for a child to learn several foreign languages in the first
five years of his life.

The child is making his own dictionary in babyhood and at a phenomenal
rate of speed.

Dr. Montessori says that we may help a child to beautifully phonetic
speech and a large vocabulary if we will eliminate all baby talk from our
nurseries, and see that the little one hears only good models of speech.
Clear-cut, carefully pronounced words, well-planned and euphonious
sentences, rhythmic poems and classic stories read to our children,
these will train the sense of hearing and lead to a large vocabulary and
beautiful pronunciation. Suppose you were learning a foreign language,
wouldn’t it discourage you to have your interpreter mispronounce, _baby
talk_ French or German or Italian to you? Our babies find themselves in a
land more strange to them than any foreign country we have ever visited.
We are their interpreters; let us not put stumbling blocks in their road
to language.

[Illustration: Learning the form of letters by the sense of touch.]

[Illustration: Filling in outlines with color to gain the muscular
control necessary for writing.]

Then, sometimes at three years, four, or five comes the tearing and
scribbling stage. Every mother knows it, but Dr. Montessori helps us to
a new recognition of its meaning. It isn’t a development of the old Adam
in your child. It’s a guide signal for every mother. It tells you that
the intricate human mechanism that makes up the child spirit is ready to
learn written language naturally, without undue nerve strain, if only the
right stimulus be offered.

It is because we have waited until the instinctive interest in spoken
language grows dull and because we have depended upon only one sense, the
sense of vision, that teaching a child to read and write has not been the
natural, quick process nature means it to be.

If the nursery equipment includes the movable alphabet and the sandpaper
letters of the Montessori didactic materials, your little one, instead of
tearing letters, may _feel_ them, his sense of touch carrying to his mind
a telegraphic message of letter form that is registered permanently on
his brain. After handling these large, stiff, pink and blue letters for
a month or two, after tracing with his sensitized finger tips the rough
black letters mounted on the smooth white cards, they are so indelible a
part of his mental life that they _must_ burst forth into writing without
previous training. Don’t you remember how your baby by fingering his
raised letters on his alphabet-bordered bread-and-milk bowl, by feeling
of the raised letters on his alphabet blocks, by building words with the
cut-out wooden letters of his letter game, learned without effort on
your part how to print? So, by touching the beautiful script letters of
Montessori, a child teaches himself to write.

But there is another process involved in the Montessori method of helping
very little children to an early mastery of reading and writing. In the
public schools a pencil is put into the child’s untrained fingers and we
expect him to use it in writing with no preliminary help in handling it.
We couldn’t use a needle in fine embroidery if we had not learned, first,
how to thread it. We are not able to paint a picture of a landscape
until we learn how to use a brush in outlining perspective. So we make a
mistake when we expect that to hold a pencil means to be able to write.
We must help children to the muscular control of this tool of writing
first. Dr. Montessori tells us that drawing precedes writing.

The Montessori didactic materials for developing in children the muscular
control necessary for writing include small wooden tables; flat metal
forms cut in various shapes, squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles;
plenty of white drawing paper, and good colored pencils of the standard
colors and brown and black. Laying a form on a piece of paper, the
children draw its outline. Removing the form, they _fill in_ the outline,
using long, vertical, parallel lines of any color they like, keeping
within the contour of the outline. So the child educates his muscles for
writing without _actually writing_.

The little ones at Rome soon experiment with combining these forms to
make colored borders and flat designs, which they fill in with their
colored pencils in very harmonious color combinations. Later, they fill
in outlined pictures, using the same free, regular pencil strokes.

The Montessori method of starting reading and writing saves time in most
instances. Whether or not, however, it is at four years or five years or
five and one-half that the “explosion” into written expression of thought
occurs, the process by means of which it is brought about is sure to give
the child a firm perceptive basis for reading and writing.

Our ordinary method of teaching reading and writing is a utilization of
the sense of sight, alone. In some instances the children in the primary
grades of our schools begin writing by a system of tracing letters and
words offered them in large script. This is purely a muscular process
and rarely absolutely successful, because it involves fine muscular
co-ordination for which the child of five or even six years is not ready.

The Montessori sandpaper letters and movable alphabet offer the child a
chance to utilize his sense of touch in learning the symbols of thought.
Formerly we showed him a word or a letter as a means for gaining so
vivid a mental image of that letter that he would be able to recognize
it and write it. The method of Montessori sends a telegraphic message
by two wires to the child mind, a visual and a tactile impression. The
tactile message is peculiarly valuable in strengthening the mental image
of the word or letter because of the fact that the child is in a strong
sensory motor stage of his mental development. To _touch_ gives him
stronger mental images than to _see_. To _feel_ gives him, also, an
impulse to imitate and to express. This is why, after touching and naming
and differentiating and recognizing blindfold and building words and
sentences with letters, the Montessori child spontaneously writes.

Because we are so anxious for immediate educational results with our
little ones, the spontaneous reading and writing of the Montessori method
has seemed to parents one of its most important developments. If, in our
home Montessori experiments, children do not read and write very early,
we are disappointed. We wonder if the system has the value we attached to
it. We must change this state of mind.

There is the toddler of three who evinces an instinctive longing to read
and write. He experiments with pencil and paper; he shows an interest in
the home books, newspapers, and periodicals; he asks what the signs in
the street cars and on the billboards say. There is also the child, no
less promising, but more interested in objects than in symbols, who does
not show these manifestations until the age of five and five and a half

We must recognize these signs according to the child’s age and take
advantage of them. The part of the mother is to watch for the dawning of
the interest in reading and writing and to give the child an opportunity
to perfect the physical and mental mechanism for it.

Our homes and the educational helps to be bought for children now furnish
accessory material for the Montessori process of teaching the graphic art.

The first tracing of the sandpaper letters should be preceded by
exercises whose object will be the refining of the tactile sense; dipping
the fingers into cold, hot, cool, and lukewarm water; differentiating
blindfolded rough, smooth, hard, soft substances; recognizing with the
finger tips alone many different materials, paper, iron, wood, velvet,
cotton, silk, linen, satin, lace, needlework, and possible combinations
of these textiles. These exercises form a most fascinating game for
the child, and, through them, he brings to the exercise of tracing the
sandpaper letters an exquisitely sensitized touch which results in a
clear impression of their form.

As the child uses the movable alphabet upon his play table or builds
words and sentences upon a bright rug spread out on the nursery floor,
all the activities of the home in which he has a part and all his play
life may be used as the basis of his first reading. His favorite toys may
be placed about him as he constructs their names and little word stories
about them. Large colored pictures of simple design may be laid on the
floor as the child combines letters to spell the objects contained in
them. The mother may write in large script simple instructions which the
child may read and follow:

“Run to me.”

“Bring me your ball.”

“Close the door.”

Innumerable helps are to be procured for the drawing by means of which
Montessori establishes the muscular control preliminary to writing.
Our art stores and kindergarten supply shops offer beautifully colored
crayons and drawing paper at nominal cost. Blocks, the tin utensils of
the kitchen, and box covers offer geometric surfaces about which the
child may draw, if the drawing board and forms of Montessori are not
included in the home equipment. These outlines the child will delight
in filling with color, using the diagonal strokes that form a direct
preparation for the muscular control involved in writing. Following
this coloring of geometric forms is the filling in, similarly, of simple
outlined pictures. We find such outlined pictures in large variety in the
school and kindergarten supply shops. The toy dealers supply books of
really beautiful designs and pictures for coloring. It is also possible
to procure sets of cardboard figures, animals, paper dolls, and soldiers
which the home child may draw around and color.

One day, after having made his own, through the sense of touch, the form
of letters, and after having learned muscular control in _drawing form_,
your child will write. How can he help it? You will have established
artificial conditions, muscle and sense, similar to the conditions
through which he learns to talk.

The baby _hears_ speech, and because heredity perfected his vocal cords
for reacting upon mental stimulus of the sound—he _talks_. In the
Montessori method, he _feels_ letters, and through the perfecting of the
muscles involved in reproducing those letters which he has made his own
by feeling—he writes.


_The Social Development of the Montessori Child_

Clara always saw me before I caught the outline of her cherubic chubby
person. She had constituted herself the little four-year-old hostess of
the Trionfale Children’s House. Her limpid brown eyes shone with welcome
to a friend or stranger. Her lips were overflowing with sweetly liquid
words of greeting. Her fat arms reached out, her fat legs were winged
with her friendliness.

She was the motherly, hen type of child, never so full of joy as when
she was greeting someone or organizing a game or taking care of a child
younger than herself. An intensely feminine little person was Clara, who
would grow up into a kindly, gracious woman, forceful in her own tactful,
woman way if she were surrounded by the right influences in childhood or——

I very curiously watched the social development of the chubby little girl
in the bright pink frock.

Little Roman babies have the most fascinating play fancies, I believe,
of any in the world. Given a cart and a faded flower or so, and Otello
was transformed in a second’s space into a busy flower vender calling
his posies up and down the school yard, offering imaginary bunches and
twining imaginary wreaths. A pile of stones left by the architects in a
corner of the playground; Mario was suddenly fired with the building zeal
of his Roman ancestors. Gathering a group of boys to help him carry and
lift the stones, he would construct small models of the immortal walls of
the Cæsars and a possible arch of Titus.

Clara played, too, but not so much with _things_, as with _groups_. Her
play had the social quality so important in the all-round development of
the individual.

She would gather together a group of little ones for a festival
procession or a folk dance, apportioning strong partners for the weaker
ones and older ones for the babies. She played house daily, but in a
different, lavish kind of way. She had, always, eight or ten make-believe
children; found room in her house of sticks and stones for the fruit
seller, the cheese man, the porter, and a stray musician or two. Her
strongest instinct seemed to be a collective one. She wanted to brood.
She wanted to be, also, a leader.

The Montessori directress let Clara very much alone, smiling upon and
encouraging her play, but not trying to mold her instincts. If Clara
industriously swept out her domicile with a stick, the directress did
not run to her, offering her a toy broom. When Clara was a little slow
about going into the schoolroom when the out-of-door period was ended,
the directress did not fret at the little maid. She realized that Clara
had merged her own personality in the personalities of the group of
children with whom she had been playing. She had been so busy preparing
her imaginary family for going to school that she did not heed the call

How would the social instinct so prominent in Clara and in several
other of the children find vent inside the four walls of the Children’s
House, I wondered? Would the Montessori system, which has for its basic
principle auto-education, this system of perfecting the individual
through self-direction, give Clara and the others a chance to develop
group activities?

For some time the cool, white schoolroom was the scene of individual work
and personal endeavor. Otello worked alone with the solid insets; Mario’s
fascinated fingers sorted colors. Clara sat on the floor in the sunshine
and constructed the tower, but her keen eyes followed almost every
movement of the other children. Then, for the school was in its inception
and the children were new, came a transition period, when the peace was
broken by perfectly normal, healthy brawls. Someone overturned Otello’s
cylinders and Otello kicked the offender. Several children wanted
the same box of color spools at the same time. The directress kindly
interfered and gave the colors to Clara, who had been first upon the
scene. Clara motioned the crowd to follow her. Now had come her chance.
She organized her group. She selected a red spool and spread out upon a
white table its beautiful gradations from deepest crimson to palest rose
pink. Then she offered the blue spools to Mario, showing him how to grade
the varying shades. It was fascinating, Mario thought, to have Clara for
his little teacher. He motioned to several of the other children to join
them. Tables were drawn up; brown and golden heads bent close together
as the little ones dabbled in the colors, advising, helping, learning
from each other.

The directress hovered outside of the group, suggesting but not forcing
herself upon the children. They turned to her when they needed her, but
their greatest interest lay in the joy and power of working and learning

As one watched the phenomenon of this natural unfolding of the social
instinct in the method, there were daily examples of its spontaneity. The
children, from a collection of units, had been transformed into a small
community in which there were groups of workers, some large, some small,
but all co-operative. The children carried on the sense exercises and
took bold adventures into the fields of reading and writing together.
The Montessori directress was always their captain and guide, but the
grouping and working with some other child or children was the result of
childish initiative.

It developed in this way.

The children learned to _live_ together. They found that the integrity
of Clara’s group, of Mario’s, or Otello’s, was preserved only if the
individuals in it gave themselves up to the good of the whole. It was
pleasanter to move tables and chairs softly, to wait one’s turn, and
to avoid jostling one’s neighbor. So kindness and neighborliness and
gentleness were learned by the children through their own endeavor.

The children _learned_ together. There were groups of various grades of
age and mental ability. Here the children of three and four emptied out
an entire box of color spools and, each choosing a color, helped each
other grade. There, a trio of energetic babies slopped in their basins,
endeavoring to wash each other to a common cleanliness. In a quiet corner
an older child taught less advanced children to spell with the movable
alphabet or to work out arithmetic calculations with the rods. This group
learning was carefully watched and safeguarded by the directress, but she
never forced her personality upon the children. The children, left to
their own efforts, found a stimulus to a wholesome kind of competition.
They tried to outstrip each other in learning, and put forth more effort
than if they had been urged by the teacher.

And, best of all, the children were _good_ together.

If one child did anything that interfered with the rights of the others
he was kindly but effectually isolated. He was denied nothing save his
privilege of being an active, happy member of the child republic. To be
allowed to go back to it was his ultimate joy.

The Montessori House of the Children is a place of more unusual
development of group activities among little children than we have
realized. There is a larger opportunity for making children into little
citizens than in almost any other scheme of education.

We have thought that the present practice of the kindergarten, in which
group activities are organized and directed by the kindergartner, gives
little children the opportunity for the development of the social
instinct which they so much need. At a signal, they rise and carry
chairs, or march in step, or play a game, but the signal was given by the
teacher. She directs the game. We have wandered so far from the leading
of the gentle Froebel whose guiding star was the natural impulses of
individual children in his garden of little ones.

It is vastly more difficult to lead a number of children safely through
a first transition period, when all their self-activity turns into
channels of disorder, than to check that disorder by force of adult will.
This is the task Dr. Montessori sets for us, however, and she shows us,
as the result of our patient leading of the children into habits of
self-directed order, her peaceful, industrious Houses of the Children.
Like a hive of bees, the little ones swarm in the flowering of their
interests. They are intent upon community welfare.

The problem of helping a child to be a perfect social unit is as pressing
a problem for the home as for the school. We are following the letter and
not the spirit of Montessori when we offer a home child the intellectual
stimulus of her didactic apparatus and deny him companionship in the
use of it. It is eye-opening for a child to so learn form that he
can detect slight variation of outline and is able to perceive the
beautiful combination of lines which make a cathedral or an arch. It is
soul-opening for this same child to help another child to a perception of
this beauty.

The three periods of the spontaneous developing of the Montessori
children into collective activity, as I observed them, have an even
more direct bearing upon the home. Left alone, offered the scientific
apparatus for mental, moral, and physical growth, the Montessori children
make these important social adjustments.

They learn to _live_ together.

They _learn_ together.

They are _good_ together.

A great deal is involved in the development of each of these adjustments.
We must study the method of Montessori by means of which success in group
activity is made spontaneous.

To say to a child, “You must be polite. You mustn’t be rude. It is
ugly to be clumsy. It isn’t nice to be selfish,” was the part of the
older decalogue in child-training. To teach a child by careful physical
and rhythmic exercise and through simple acts of home helpfulness,
so that he is naturally graceful and courteous, is the Montessori
way. To provide him with play or educational materials which have
greater possibilities of interest if shared—blocks, games, handicraft
materials—accomplishes unselfishness. Such community play as is found in
imitating the activities of the childhood of the race—digging, cooking,
collecting, all kinds of building, trade, plays, weaving, gardening in
groups, and camping—is valuable because it helps children to merge their
personalities in the interests and life of a _group_. The center of these
child activities is child interest, not adult pressure.

Dr. Montessori makes it possible for little children to learn together,
not according to schedule, but in line with child interest.

A mother wrote me at great length and anxiously in regard to what seemed
to her a little son’s lack of adaptability to the home use of the
Montessori didactic apparatus. The boy had toys, books, colored pencils,
blocks; he was endowed with a vital interest in the world about him and
an alert mind, but he refused to play alone. He preferred playing in the
street with a group of other children, their only play material being
pebbles, sand, or bricks, to playing at home with his own beautiful

“How can I persuade Harold to work alone with the Montessori apparatus?”
his mother queried.

It was important for this child and for all children not to work alone.
Any child will make greater educational strides if the stimulus of other
child minds helps his intellectual growth.

To set a group of children of different heredity, different mental and
emotional development, and different interests the same task is not only
futile but dangerous. It is apt to mold their plastic minds to one line
of thinking, is bound to make them slaves of authority instead of free
personalities. But to offer a group of children the tools of knowledge
as exemplified in the Montessori didactic materials and give them the
opportunity to gather in selected, interested groups for competitive
research and for helping where help is needed is the most fruitful kind
of learning.

This may be brought about in any home where a few children from three
to four or five years of age meet regularly under the same conditions
for intellectual development that exist in the Children’s Houses. Older
children may be formed into a neighborhood home study club. Released
from the bondage of the iron curriculum, they may find in this club an
opportunity for original research along those intellectual lines which
interest them most; nature, the practical application of mathematics
in measuring and constructing toys, further study of history and
literature through story-telling, making and dressing dolls to illustrate
historical characters, and the writing and dramatizing of simple plays.

As a further development of the Montessori group activities we see, in
imagination, in every community a municipal Children’s House. Here,
children of all classes, ages, and degrees of intellectual growth might
meet, freely selecting from a large variety of materials for mental
and constructive development those which they most need. Also, we see
them selecting their own social plane, finding help and inspiration
in collective work with other children. In this municipal Children’s
House we would find groups of child artisans, fashioning boards and
molding bricks to make the buildings for a toy village. There would be
little sculptors and painters, and perhaps a child poet or dramatist.
We would see small _modistes_ and milliners learning, through designing
doll costumes, the finger deftness and artistic sense which come from
combining beautiful colors and textiles. Such a Children’s House would
have its own kitchen, where the children could study foodstuffs and
cook and serve simple meals. Music would be a development of the group
activities. This would constitute a laboratory for the most fruitful
kind of child study on the part of physicians, psychologists, teachers,
and parents, because child growth under these conditions would be quite
spontaneous and along natural interest lines.

The last phase of Montessori collective work is seen as a kind of
flowering. After children learn how to live together, after they have
worked out intellectual problems together, they are suddenly discovered
as being very kindly disposed toward each other. It is as if the ultimate
development of co-operation were the elimination of war.

It is not necessary to say to a group of Montessori children, “Be good.”
They could not be otherwise than good.


_The Helpfulness of the Montessori Child_

The visitor to a Montessori school in Rome is faced by an anomaly.

Piccola, the emotional, eager little Italian girl of five years, who is
more difficult to control at home than even the average American child,
is seen to be a self-controlled, useful member of a child republic.
Piccola’s first work of the morning is to find her own pink apron that
hangs on a peg on the wall, and button herself into it with patient
perseverance. If the younger children have difficulty putting on their
aprons, Piccola will patiently help them. Her next activity is, also,
along lines of helpfulness. She looks about the wide spaces of the
big room, where low white tables and chairs, growing ivy plants, and
plain gray wall make a beautiful color scheme, to determine if there is
anything she,—wee Piccola,—may do to help this beauty. Ah, Piccola sees
a speck of dust in one corner of the white stone floor. Darting to the
outer room, where the children remove and hang their wraps and wash their
hands before school, Piccola seizes a red broom that is just the right
length for her chubby arms to handle easily and a shining little tin
dustpan. Hastening back, she brushes up the dust. Then she waters the ivy
with a small green watering pot, fetches a white basin and a little white
scrubbing brush, and slops gayly in an energetic attempt to wash off the
tables. Last, she takes some of the soft green and gray rugs that the
children use for working on when they sit on the floor, and beats them in
the garden with much energy.

The other children have come, now, and having selected their materials
from the white cupboards that line the wall, are busily at work. Piccola,
too, is busy, piling pink blocks in orderly fashion, one upon the other.
Her active mind is busy, though, along another line as well; she watches
the other little ones furtively to see if there is anything which she can
do to help them. Bruno drops his color spools; Piccola runs to help him
gather them up in his apron. Little Brother tumbles down in a trip from
his table to the material cupboard; Piccola helps him to balance himself
again on his fat legs, and, winding two tender little brown arms about
him, she steers him in safety on his way.

The hour for the midday luncheon comes. Piccola daintily helps to spread
the white luncheon cloths, to lay the spoons in regular order at each
child’s place, to sort and place the bright baskets in which the children
have brought their sandwiches and fruit. Not until all the others are
served does Piccola slip into her own empty place and partake of her own

Piccola’s mother marvels at the change that has been wrought in Piccola
by a few months in the Montessori House of the Children. She reports her
observations to the Montessori directress who has Piccola’s education in

“Piccola dusts the home now, without my bidding.

“She picks up her dolls and her toys when she has finished playing with

“She helps me lay the table for the noon meal.

“How did you teach these things to my wayward little Piccola, Signorina?”

It is the query of the American mother who finds her little one who has
spent a day in a good Montessori school more helpful in the home than

She also asks herself:

“How may I teach helpfulness to my child?”

Dr. Montessori has discovered for us the marvel that to bring helpfulness
to a very little child is not so much a matter of teaching as of
fostering. She shows us the instinct to help which manifests itself in
the very little child which we must detect, watch, and foster until we
form a _habit_ of _usefulness_ in children. After all, to be useful to
oneself and to others is the greatest value of education for life. Dr.
Montessori puts this education for utility on a very high plane.

The mother who carefully observes and analyzes all the acts of the child
of two and a half or three years of age will discover that the baby has
a great desire to be busy, continually, and in imitation of his mother’s
busy-ness about the home. He handles with the greatest eagerness and
interest his shoes, his father’s neckties, his mother’s brush and comb,
the family silver, the kitchen utensils, the door latches and knobs,
the window fastenings. He is more interested in the tools of grown-up
housekeeping than he is in his toys. Why is this?

A baby of twenty months spent an entire morning collecting all the shoes
he could find in his mother’s room and carrying them about from one room
to another. He climbed up in a chair and pulled a button hook off a
dressing table. His mother substituted his dolls, his rubber toys, a ball
for these, but the baby refused them. Finally his mother snatched away
the huge boot of his father’s, which he was lovingly tugging about from
room to room and slapped his hands because he cried at giving it up. The
little man cried again, and struggled against the brutal force of his
mother, who held him tightly in her lap and changed his shoes for going
out in the afternoon. Again his hands were slapped.

The baby had not been in the least naughty. He wanted to learn how to
button his own shoes and his mother couldn’t understand this longing
which he had to express in action, having no words with which to explain

Nearly all the instincts of babyhood are _right_ instincts, leading to
good conduct. The child’s first longing is to be able to fit himself
to his environment, and this means that he must learn to handle those
objects and do those things which he sees his family doing. The average
American child grows up rather helpless and useless when it comes to
making social adjustments, because we continually interfere with his
first attempts to be useful. We do for him those acts of utility which he
should learn himself, very early, while he is still interested in them.

It is undoubtedly less time-taking to put on a small boy’s shoes, button
and lace them for him, button his under and outer clothes, to tie his
necktie, and put on his rubbers, than to slowly and patiently teach
him to dress himself. To bathe a child and brush and comb his hair is
simpler than to allow the baby to splash in water and revel in soapsuds,
as he must in learning the intricate movements necessary for keeping
himself tidy. We wish to preserve, also, the immaculate order of our neat

We like to open and close doors for the toddler; it is our privilege
of service, we feel. We prefer to lay the table ourselves, and keep
our spotless kitchens free of child finger marks. What about the baby,
though, who finds his attempts to make himself useful thwarted at every
turn until he forms the habit of being waited on? This is a wrecking
habit for childhood; it is, also, a habit that leads to our present
extravagantly high cost of adult living. The little child who expects
to be continually waited on is going to grow up into a man or woman who
will expect to be waited on through life. Service is what doubles the
grocer’s, the butcher’s, the landlord’s, the shopkeeper’s bills.

The useful helpfulness of the Montessori-trained child is easily

The Montessori schoolroom is so planned that there is nothing which a
child can hurt and a good deal that he can help by his first clumsy,
baby attempts to be useful to himself and to others with his hands.
The children are free to move about as much as they like, changing the
position of the light little chairs and tables, opening and closing the
doors that lead into the garden, unrolling and then rolling up again the
rugs, putting away the didactic materials in the cupboards after they are
through with them, washing the tables and blackboards, caring for plants
and animals, and carrying on countless other activities that bring about
hand and eye training.

The children learn, also, all the intricate activities involved in the
care of their bodies. They wash their faces and hands, brush their hair,
clean their finger nails, black their shoes, put on and take off their
aprons. The dressing frames that are included in the Montessori didactic
materials include all the different fastenings of a child’s clothing;
buttoning on red flannel, buttoning on leather, buttoning on drill with
tapes, lacing on cloth and on leather, fastening hooks and eyes and
snaps, and tying bow knots.

It is quite amazing to see the eagerness with which the Montessori
children attack these very universal activities of everyday life. The
skill they obtain in them proves the truth of Dr. Montessori’s words:

“We habitually _serve_ children. This is not only an act of servility
toward them, but it is dangerous because it tends to suffocate their
useful, spontaneous activity. We are inclined to believe that children
are like puppets, and we wash them and feed them as if they were dolls.
We do not stop to think that the child who does not do, does not know
how to do.

“Our duty toward children is, in every case, that of helping them to
make a conquest of such _useful_ acts as nature intended man to perform
for himself. The mother who feeds her child without making the slightest
effort to teach him to hold and use a spoon for himself is not a good
mother. She offends the fundamental, human dignity of her son,—she treats
him as if he were a doll. Instead, he is a _man_, confided for a time by
nature to her care.”

There are certain phases of the Montessori method which a mother
cannot apply in her home because she has not the preliminary training
and the necessary teaching skill. There is not a single activity of
the Montessori training for personal and community usefulness of the
individual as carried out in the Montessori school that may not be
practiced in any home. The Montessori schoolroom is a working duplicate
of the best conditions which should exist in every home where there is a
baby. It is significant that nations have been aroused by the education
miracles wrought in the Roman Children’s Houses. What, pray, is the
matter with the American children’s houses?

The home is a big workshop for turning out child cosmopolites, small
world citizens who will grow up into useful men and women. In the home
the child may learn how to care for his body, how to care for pets,
plants, and all the _things_ that combine to fill the tool box of
everyday living. Here the child may learn that consideration for others
which will help him to be kind, quiet, unselfish, and polite. Here, also,
he may take a small part in the care of the big human family in preparing
food, laying the table, learning household cleanliness and household
order. The child instinct to fetch and carry, which shows itself very
early in the life of the baby, may be turned into channels of usefulness
if the child is taught to happily wait on himself and others.

Much emphasis has been laid upon the didactic apparatus of Montessori
which has for its aim the development of the several intellectual
processes. Considering these appliances for direct stimulation and
perfection of mental activity only, the casual student of Montessori
says that the system is barren, that it takes into account none of the
emotional activities of the child, that it eliminates educational play
from the life of the little one.

As a matter of fact, the play instincts of the child are so carefully met
by Dr. Montessori that they blossom into usefulness. Dr. Montessori knows
more about the spontaneous play of the child from two and a half years
to six than we do. She sees that his play instincts are all, at first, a
struggling to be like his elders, to do the same utilitarian things that
he sees them do, to imitate on a child plane the work of his mother in
the home or his father in the industrial world. With this understanding
of the possibilities of child play for developing into future usefulness,
Dr. Montessori supplies children with those tools of play which turn
child play into exercises of helpfulness.

In the Trionfale School at Rome the free play of the children has been
especially safeguarded. The toddlers utilize their instinct to fetch and
carry objects by loading, trundling, and unloading the specially built,
stout little wheelbarrows provided for them. Very soon this play blossoms
into the desire to fetch and carry with some more useful object in view.
The children begin to show great skill in removing and replacing their
materials from the school cupboards and putting them back in an orderly
fashion. They attain perfect muscular control in laying the tables for
luncheon and serving the food daintily. In one corner of a sunlit room at
Trionfale there is a fascinating little _salon_. Soft rugs of small size,
diminutive green wicker easy-chairs, sofa, and round tea table, books
of colored pictures and large dolls’ dishes make it possible for the
children to “play house” under ideal conditions. They learn through their
play a sweet kind of hospitality, and the little school “drawing-room” of
Montessori stands for a necessary development of the social instinct in
children which is important.

Dr. Montessori suggests to us those playthings and play activities which
will lead our children into the art of being helpful and, which is much
more vital, will start in them habits of wanting to be helpful. Her
scheme of play is possible of adapting to almost any home, and it has for
its basis the instinctive longing of every child to be useful through his

A playroom should be a place, as Dr. Montessori expresses it, where the
children may amuse themselves with games, stories, possibly music, and
the furnishing should be done with as much taste as in the sitting-room
of the adult members of the family. Small tables, a sofa, and armchairs
of child size, one or two casts, copies of masterpieces of art, and vases
or bowls in which the children may arrange flowers should be included.
There should be many picture books, blocks, dolls, and, if possible, a
musical instrument of some kind in the nursery. Dr. Montessori suggests a
piano or harp of small dimensions. An important playroom accessory is a
low cupboard, with drawers in which the children may keep their completed
drawings, paper dolls, scrap pictures, and any precious collection of
outside material such as seeds, leaves, twigs, or pebbles which they
long to keep and use in their play. Half of this cupboard should consist
of shelves for bowls, plates, napkins, doilies, spoons, knives, forks,
a tray and tumblers for the children to use in preparing and serving
their luncheon or in entertaining their friends. Stout pottery of quaint
shapes and exquisite gay coloring may be obtained now. It is much more
attractive to the child of three and four years than inadequate, tiny
sets of dolls’ dishes. At least the necessary bowl, plate, pitcher, and
mug for serving the nursery supper should be supplied and the toddler
taught to serve and feed himself at a very early age.

The child should have a little broom and dustpan and scrubbing brush. He
should have a low, painted washstand with a basin, soap, and nail-brush.
He should be taught how to turn on and off a water tap, filling a small
pitcher, pail, or basin, and carrying it, full, without spilling. He
should have low hooks for hanging his clothing for outdoor wear. Both
small boys and girls should have bright little aprons, not so much for
purposes of cleanliness, although this is important, as to inspire them
to the feeling that work is dignified and needs to be set apart by a
uniform of service.

Dr. Montessori urges that those toys which we buy be selected having in
mind helping the child to be an actor in a little drama of home life. A
plaything, she feels, should be a work thing, capable of bringing a life
activity down to the primitive plane of the child’s thinking.

Our toy shops offer us now a very wide variety of such educational toys
from which to choose. We may find large dolls, modeled from life, and
wearing clothes similar to children and requiring the same muscular
co-ordination in fastening and unfastening. There is large furniture for
these dolls, built on good lines and teaching a little girl to make a bed
neatly and keep the doll’s bureau drawers in order. There are good-sized
washing sets, including tubs, basket, lines, clothespins, ironing board,
and sad irons; we find very complete dolls’ houses, sewing materials
with dolls’ patterns and small sewing machines, kitchens where the child
can pretend to cook, complete sets of cooking utensils, and lifelike toy

These toys Dr. Montessori urges us to use, realizing that the child’s
deepest play impulse is to dramatize in the theater of the home playroom
the everyday utilitarian occupations of the race.


_Montessori and the Child’s Imagination_

Mario played a great deal, and I noticed, as I watched him critically,
that his play was of a very strongly imaginative kind.

He was one of the youngest of the little ones at the Trionfale Children’s
House, and it had taken him a rather longer time than it had the other
children to gain control of his impulsive hands, his little truant feet,
his vagrant-tending mind. During this first period of his Montessori
schooling, when his attention was scattering and he found difficulty in
making muscular co-ordination and differentiating form and color clearly,
he seemed also to have difficulty in amusing himself. His play impulses
at this time seemed to be very primitive; he took pleasure in idling in
some sunny spot, kitten-like, or he arranged and rearranged the pieces of
wicker furniture which filled the _salon_ corner of the schoolroom, or
he found entertainment in interfering with the work of the other little
ones. There seemed to be no element of creativeness or originality in his

Presently, however, Mario began to show a steady intellectual development
in his work. Through the physical exercises of Montessori, through
the rhythmic exercises carried on with music and through exercises of
usefulness in keeping himself and the room neat and waiting upon others,
he learned an important lesson of muscular co-ordination.

He learned to make his body respond to the command of his brain.

Through the sense exercises in recognizing fine differentiations of
color and form and weight and sound and texture, Mario found a clear
mental vision. A month before, the hill back of the school had been a
blur to his mental vision. Now it was, for him, a clear percept made up
of various component parts. He saw it tall, broad, steep, colored in
varying tints of green and brown; its outlines were broken for him by the
sunshine, the gardens, the red and yellow tiled houses; he could almost
smell the sweet perfume from its orchards and vineyards.

The sense-training of the Montessori system had quickened and clarified
the little boy’s perceptive faculties.

Following side by side with Mario’s new mental development came as marked
a development in his play. His play impulses were no longer scattering
but had objectivity. He was, in fancy, a steam engine puffing along or
the little father of a group of other children.

As he swung himself over the parallel bars in the school yard he felt
that he was a famous acrobat entertaining an applauding audience. In a
second he slipped into another path of fancy; as he piled stones into
a pyramid, he was a great builder. More than this, Mario’s newly-found
play impulses carried him into a unique plane of idealism. Crouched in a
sunny corner of the playground, he was a sleeping seed; slowly and with
spontaneous grace the little body rose, arms upstretched, as Mario felt
in dreams the growth of root and branch and flower. No one had taught
four-year-old Mario the skill of making real these fantasies. How had he
taken his way alone into the fertile fields of the imagination?

It has been suggested that the Montessori system does not take into
account the stimulating of the child’s imagination. Daily instances of
very original, undirected imaginative play on the part of Montessori
children show a subtle force at work in the method which results in a
spontaneous unfolding of the imagination. The games and plays which we
teach our children in kindergarten and primary school are carried on by
the Montessori-trained children without adult supervision. Leaving their
work, they run to the garden or playground, imitating with great freedom
and beauty of imagination the activities of the gardener, the baker,
the artisan, the street vender, and the traveling musician. They even
impersonate in a more idealistic way, playing, as did little Mario, that
they are birds and flowers.

This natural expression of imagination in very young children is an
important development of the method, and a suggestive one.

We are all familiar with the timid, shrinking little child in the
center of a game circle who doesn’t want to be a chickadee, but who is
urged by the teacher in charge of the circle. The child persists in her
disinclination; she is overawed by so large a ring of spectators; it
is possible that she has never seen a chickadee. The teacher, also,
persists. She goes to the child and tries to teach her the motions of
bird flight, but the child sees only an adult running about and waving
her arms in an unusual way. She does not connect the spectacle in any
way with the free flight of a bird, and when she does take courage and
tries to follow the directions of her teacher, the little one is not
giving expression to her own mental image, but is endeavoring to imitate
a rather ungainly adult.

Is this play of the imaginative type?

It would seem as if we have lost sight of the real character of this
elusive, subtle, unexplainable fruition of the mental faculties, the
imagination. It is the unforeseen mind power which makes poets and
painters and sculptors and conquerors. It is a mind vision which sees
success beyond defeat, worth hidden in rags, and good blossoming out
of evil. It makes us hear the piping of Pan as the wind blows the
reeds beside the river; it promises us a pot of gold if we can build
ourselves a rainbow bridge across every cloud of despair; it shows us the
lineaments of God in the guise of sorrow and poverty.

Imagination in the child finds varied expressions. There are a great
many instances where a child who is lonely and longs for companionship
sees and holds daily intercourse with an invisible playmate whom he can
describe with great accuracy of detail. In the majority of cases this
invisible playmate in disposition, appearance, and tastes is unlike any
member of the family or any friend of the child’s. Where did the child
find this fancy?

A child has the power of a seer to develop the unknown potentialities in
apparently dead things. This dry brown leaf, frost-killed of the sap of
life, is, in the child’s fancy, a gnome, jumping along in the path in
front of him to warn the birds of the coming of winter. An acorn is a
golden goblet brimming with fairy nectar; a hollow tree is a magic place
in which to set up a domicile. No one schooled the child in these tricks
of thought. How did he find them?

Dr. Montessori explains the growth of child imagination.

The child is born with a certain defined mental equipment. He has
instincts, inherited memories they might be called, and he struggles
to feed these instincts. He has capacities for acquiring good or bad
habits very early. He has a race-old longing to gain knowledge by means
of his senses. Our part in the education of the child is to study his
instinctive activities, giving them opportunities for free expression
where they are important for the child’s best mental development. A child
likes to play in the dirt because his ancestors lived in caves and tilled
the soil; it is necessary for the child’s best development that he play
in sand and model in clay and plant little gardens. A child instinctively
fights because his ancestors survived only by warfare; this child
instinct we must inhibit.

We must establish good habits in a child early. We must help him, through
various sense exercises, to gain clear percepts of his environment. We
must try not to force our adult view-point upon the child, but endeavor
to establish in him a habit of independent self-active thought.

Then, after we have strengthened the general intellectual processes
of the child mind, Dr. Montessori points to us a miracle. Dovetailing
instinct and habit and perception, the child intellect begins to build.
Clear percepts become concepts; mental images become ideals, imagination
appears, building from the clay of everyday-mind stuff a golden castle of

Imagination cannot be taught. It can scarcely be defined. It can never
be prescribed and trained. It is that flowering of the mind processes by
means of which a bit of brown sod appears tinted with light and color to
the artist, full of potentialities of growth to the gardener, smells of
home to the wanderer. If the three types of minds, as children, had been
told that a similar piece of sod was a blanket for the sleeping seeds,
one questions if it would have been gilded for them in adult life with
this glow of individual fancy. On the contrary, the painter has been
trained to see color, the gardener has experienced the cultivation of
life in the earth, the home lover’s hungry senses grasped the memory of
former sense stimuli.

Dr. Montessori tells us that the imagination develops variously in
different individuals. There may be a child who will never be able to
pierce the veil of reality and find his way into the court of fantasy.
There will be also the child who develops a seerlike quality of idealism.
He moves in a world of blissful unrealities; he sees angels’ wings in the
clouds and angels’ eyes in the stars. Our part in the education of little
children is to build the tower for a possible poising of the child’s
wings of fancy. Then we will wait hopefully for the wonder flight.

The various parts of the didactic apparatus of Montessori presented to
a child in their proper relation to his stage of mental growth have a
definite place in strengthening the mental processes which lie at the
basis of imagination.

We are so unaccustomed to offering any sort of mind food to the child
of two and a half or three that we have allowed the little child to go
mind hungry. At this early stage of a child’s development the right
kind of mental training will lay a foundation for the constructive and
intellectual processes of imagination and reasoning.

The child of two and three years of age is at the sensory-motor stage of
mind development. He longs for experiences which he can turn into action;
his mind craves ideas which will express themselves in useful muscular
co-ordination and the ability to adjust himself to his environment. To
put into a child’s hands the materials for this sensory-motor education
early is not to overtax his mind; instead, it satisfies his very
important mind hunger.

The didactic materials of Montessori that supply this sensory-motor
need of the very young child and should be presented early include the
various dressing frames, the solid insets, the sound boxes, the blocks
of the tower, the broad stair and the long stair, the latter without
the use of the sandpaper numerals. As soon as the little one has made
his own the muscular co-ordination and ideas of form in relation to
size involved in this material and has begun to find the will power to
correct his own mistakes, other home activities involving these mental
faculties should be added to the use of the Montessori apparatus. The
child may dress, undress, bathe himself, dress and undress a doll, build
with large blocks, sort various objects of different shapes and sizes,
as seeds, nuts, spools, button molds; handle and learn the uses of the
furnishings and equipment of the home: toilet utensils, brush, broom,
duster, dustpan, kitchen appliances, and the like; he should receive
simple ear-training in discriminating different bell tones, high and low,
loud and soft notes played on the piano, and hear good models of speech,
both in diction and modulation.

At the age of three to four years, the sensory element in the child’s
mental life is even more prominent, but it is separated a little from
motor activities. If the child has had adequate training, he has obtained
a large degree of muscular control; he can handle objects without
breaking them, he can run without falling down, he can minister to his
own bodily needs. Now his mind is hungry for sense images. He wishes to
study his environment with the aim of securing a series of definite mind
pictures. Ideas are to be stored in the workshop of the child mind for
future use in building the power of constructive imagination.

The Montessori didactic apparatus suited to this ideo-sensory stage of
the child’s development includes the color spools, the geometric insets,
the baric sense tablets, the sandpaper boards, and the textiles. The
sense-training involved in the child’s use of these should be applied
in various ways: finding and matching home and outdoor colors, noting
the size, shape, and form of various everyday objects, block building
with an idea of form, cutting form to line with blunt-pointed scissors,
clay-modeling, and constructive sand-play.

The child from four years to five shows a dawning of the constructive
imagination. The spool with which he played like a kitten in baby days
has new potentialities in his eyes. Having learned that it is wooden,
round, and will roll, and having made a mental comparison of it with
the wheel of his toy cart, which is also wooden, round, and will roll,
he calls the spool a wheel. This is a very important break in the
child’s mental life. It demonstrates to us that the child now has ideas
in the abstract. Dr. Montessori meets this with those of her didactic
appliances, which will lead a child by natural, easy steps from objective
to abstract thinking. She strengthens the sensory life of the child and
guides him toward a grasp of the symbols of thought. Those parts of
the didactic apparatus which should be presented at this point to the
child are the long stair, with the sandpaper letters, and the various
arithmetic exercises to be had with the rods; the counting boxes and
frame, the sandpaper letters, the movable alphabet, and the drawing

Now, the child shows individualistic thinking. The direct mental training
of Montessori has built a solid foundation for the growth and unfolding
of the imagination. Our place is to watch for the special trend of his
mind development and help this as far as lies in our power.

Does the child show special interest in the symbols and combinations of
number? We should help him to play store, provide him with numerical
games, give him a chance to spend and account for a weekly allowance, do
home errands, use a tool box, construct cardboard toys, and learn any
other possible application of number in its relation to life. Does he
make a quick mastery of the symbols of language? We should transfer him
as quickly as possible into simple reading books, offering him a great
variety of these, that he may feed his imagination with good stories.

It has been said that the average American child exhausts the
possibilities of the Montessori apparatus at the age of five years. Of
course he does. Dr. Montessori planned it as a means of lighting the
flame, touching the torch, opening the switch.

With a marvelous completeness it does this. Our part lies in keeping
the flame burning, guiding the express train of the child mind into the
higher places of reason, imagination, and personal achievement.


_Montessori Development of Repose_

It was an amazing fact, but a significant one, that four-year-old Joanina
had never been allowed to _feel herself_.

As she lay in her carved-wood cradle, a bundle of cooing, pink delight,
she felt for her toes, that she might assure herself of her own identity
as represented in those wriggling lumps of flesh. But Joanina’s mother
bound the little limbs in swaddling bands and the _bambino_ lost her
toes temporarily. When she was a bit older, and was allowed to bask,
kitten-like, on a rug in the garden path, she was charmed to hold her
flower-like baby hands up to the light, watching the Roman sunshine
trickle through outstretched fingers as she tried to count them.
But, always, her emotional, kindly intentioned _madre_ would toss a
bright-colored ball into the reaching hands or, bending over the baby,
would play pat-a-cake with her, or she would suggest a romp up and
down the garden. Her self-imposed quiet was always interrupted by her
mother’s unrest.

As Joanina grew to a slim little girl of Italy, whose great, wistful
brown eyes reflected a large curiosity and awe at the surprises of the
world in which she found herself, she was daily surrounded by forces that
drew her away from herself. Her home was full of glaring colored pictures
hung on vividly dyed wall paper. Her mother and father talked together
in high-pitched, shrill voices, and through the wide casement windows
came the harsh sounds of traveling street musicians and brawling venders.
Always, as a treat on Sunday or a _festa_, Joanina was taken to see a
procession or to a band concert in one of the parks. The crowded, hot
stone streets, the noisy cracking of the cab-drivers’ whips, the struggle
to make her own short legs keep up with the longer steps of the _madre_,
wearied and excited the little maid.

But she grew accustomed to noise and boisterousness in her days; she grew
to expect them as well. Then she came to depend upon _outside_ forces
for keeping the motor of her baby spirit going. She begged for new toys,
exhausting quickly the pleasure to be found in old playthings. She asked
for new frocks, aping the vanity of her mother and the other women she
saw on the _Corso_ on feast days. She allowed her child playmates to
plan her games. She cried to be taken into the turbid streets. From a
placid, reposeful baby, Joanina developed into a restless, passionate,
distraction-seeking little girl. Germs of discontent, disquiet, hysteria
were planted in her child soul.

When Joanina found herself one morning in the Trionfale Children’s House,
she experienced an unconscious feeling of peace. The very wide spaces of
the two rooms where the little ones busily and happily worked; the cool
gray walls unbroken in their sweep save by a blue and white terra-cotta
bas-relief here and there; the plain brown linen curtains that softened
and toned the yellow sunlight and rippled with a flower-scented
breeze—these helped to make Joanina’s peace. Dropping into one of the
little white chairs, she looked about her with eyes that again melted
into the calm wonder of her babyhood. She could not have explained it,
but there was already at home in her life a new, quiet repose.

Surrounding her was a child republic that opened its heart to her. Some
of the children, in groups, were sorting and grading with quiet skill
scores of the silk-wound color spools. Others, alone, were testing their
knowledge of dimension and form with the solid and geometric insets. In a
corner, a determined baby was trying to button the apron of another baby.
All were entertained, yet no one was entertaining them. They were making
their own content.

Without warning, the directress turned from the child whom she had been
giving a lesson in numbers with the counting case, moved to the front
of the room, and wrote upon the blackboard one word, Silence. Then she
waited, herself silent and facing the little ones. Joanina, too, waited.
She did not understand; she was curious.

The children, recognizing the written word, one by one laid down their
work, dropped into positions of quiet repose, their eyes closed. Some
laid their heads upon their folded arms. The room became so hushed
that such faint sounds as the low ticking of the clock, the hum of a
buzzing fly, the gentle rise and fall of breathing, became vibrant. The
children’s faces were full of calm joy, their bodies were completely
motionless. They had gone away from their small republic of work and
play for a space. Who could tell where they were? Each child was feeling
himself; for the time being he was listening to the call of his own

Joanina, interested in the game of silence, closed her eyes. She folded
her restless fingers. She waited, rapt, immobile as a little chiseled
cherub. It was perhaps the first time in her four years’ apprenticeship
to Life that she had been given an opportunity to listen to her own
heart throbs, feel the grip of her own personality. The experience was
satisfying to her. She heard and felt a great many inner voices and
mental forces that she had never listened to or obeyed before. She heard
the voices of happiness in her new, peaceful environment and love for the
other children and joy at the complete freedom that surrounded her. She
felt the impulse to _do_ and _learn_ as she had seen the other children
doing and learning.

For several minutes, the silence held the children in its spell. Then,
out of the stillness the whispered voice of the directress floated. As a
singing wind of a far-away forest, a mountain echo, or the low voice of
a mother as it first makes itself audible to a new-born babe, came the
voice: “Joanina.”

The little girl opened her eyes, meeting the smiling ones of the
directress, who made a gesture indicating that Joanina should go to her
quietly. Poised on tiptoe, Joanina crossed the room noiselessly, threw
herself into the outstretched arms of the directress.

“Mario, Otello,” softly the other children were called until all had, as
silently as Joanina, left their places and surrounded the directress.
Their eyes shone, their faces glowed as if they had been refreshed by an
elixir bath. Yet the Montessori silence game which had brought about this
inspiration and refreshing in the life of soul-starved little Joanina
might have been a part of her home life.

Your child needs it; _you_ need it.

There is, perhaps, no more significant phase of the Montessori system
of education than the calm, quiet habit of self-contemplation aroused
by the game of silence. The self-control, the poise, the power of long
concentration that one sees in the Montessori children at Rome amazes the
world. They are completely lacking in self-consciousness; they ask for
help in their work only when it is absolutely necessary; they are _sure_
of themselves.

In writing about the game of silence, it has been suggested that the game
has an hypnotic quality; that the calm, beautifully poised directress
imposes her own personality upon the children, controls them as the
hypnotist controls his subject. This is not true. As the didactic
materials furnish the right means for the child’s mental development, so
the opportunity given by the game of silence makes possible the child’s
moral and spiritual development. It gives him a chance to listen to the
“still, small voice” that is a speaking voice in childhood but which is
drowned by the babel of world tongues that we allow to make our song of
life in adult years.

The story of Joanina, the little Roman girl, is retold in almost every
American home. As we, ourselves, depend upon public opinion, outside
amusements, entertaining friends, the judgment of the press, the
fashions of the day for filling our lives, so we make our children,
also, dependent upon similar forces for forming their characters. We
surround children with gossip, we teach them to depend upon excitement
for their pleasure; we build their ideals of conduct upon what the world
will think instead of what their conscience dictates. We make of our
little ones modern Babes in the Woods who lose themselves in a forest of
bewildering, overgrown paths. We give them no chance to blaze their own

What is the application to the American home of the Montessori game of

It begins with the American mother who must cultivate a habit of quiet
self-contemplation. She must be able to shut out the world as did the
stoics, listening to the good voice of her own soul. It means, also, that
she will be less dependent upon her environment for her daily thinking
and happiness and more adept at creating her own joys. We are very
restless, to-day, discontented unless we are surrounded by friends or
obsessed by passion of some sort, or we must go somewhere. We will try
to slip back into the simple living of our great-grandmothers, who had
resources in themselves and could be radiantly happy, pottering over the
lavender in their gardens or reading their Bibles in the candlelight of
some long-ago evening—alone.

The mother who cultivates in herself a habit of repose will have
reposeful children.

The game of silence, as it may be put into practice in the training of
children, begins with ear-training. Shut out harsh sounds from the home
where there are little children. To command a child in a loud voice
often results in disobedience; it makes him mentally deaf for the time
being. He does not hear what is said to him; it dulls his senses. We all
know how the memory of some gentle voice that either sang or spoke to
us in childhood comes back to us, now, as a forceful memory. It was the
softness of that voice that made the lasting record in our minds.

Often a mother may whisper a sentence to a child, or call softly from
different parts of the house, asking the little one to locate her by the
sense of hearing. This will quicken and cultivate the child’s power to
listen and concentrate upon the use of one sense. And we should eliminate
all unnecessary noises from our homes; the slamming of doors, the
crashing of dishes, harsh popular music, and crude songs.

As the children’s sense of hearing is refined, we will lead them to
listen to the very small sounds in the world about them, the soft
breathing of the sleeping baby, the far-away ticking of a clock, the hum
of insects, distant footsteps, the patter of rain, the song of the wind.

Then when this fine power of listening has been cultivated, we may
introduce the game of silence itself. The mother may show the child that
she is able to sit quietly, immobile, relaxed for a short period of
time—only thinking. Then the little ones may be encouraged to attempt the
game, waiting in perfect silence, with closed eyes, until mother calls
them in a soft whisper to “come back” to the world again. To darken the
room a little during the game adds to its power. Gradually the periods of
the silence may be lengthened, and results will show in the child’s life
in greater control, quiet, and life balance. In this repose and silence,
Dr. Montessori tells us, both adults and children gather strength and
newness of life.

A little maid of three had been having her first birthday party. Light
and music and romping games and many gifts had filled the afternoon with
unexperienced delights for the child. She was trembling with delight, on
tiptoe with excitement when the children marched out to the dining-room
and were seated about the beautifully laid, rose-strewn table. At a
signal the curtains were drawn and the children were told to be silent
and close their eyes for a space. There was a vibrant hush, a space of
time passed, then one child after another raised her head and opened
her eyes. The room was still darkened, but in the center of the table
had been placed the huge, white birthday cake surrounded by a wreath of
flowers; the only light was the starry shining of three white candles on
the top. The little birthday child looked in wonder. Then she drew a long
breath and said in a whisper, “Nearer, my God, to Thee.”

No one quite understood the little one. It seemed to have been a vagary,
a precocity on her part. It _was_ an unusual manifestation, but quite
explainable as we grew to realize the inspirational possibilities of the
Montessori silence.

When it is not possible, because we are dealing with an isolated child,
to put into practice the game of silence as it is used in the Children’s
Houses, we can still lead the child to know and feel silence. A quiet
hour in the twilight after the work and play of the daytime are over, a
trip to some still, lovely spot in the woods, a few moments spent in the
hushed interior of a church, will remain as reposeful memories in the
life of the child. More than repose, even, they may be inspirational, as,
shut away from the noise and activity of the world, the child is able to
hear the call of his own spirit.

We all know and love Bastien-Lepage’s painting of the maid, Jeanne d’Arc,
listening to the voices in her garden. The grass dotted with flowers, the
bending apple tree, the other homely surroundings of the humble home that
were all Jeanne had known, fade away as the voice of the prophetic soul
speaks to her; as she sees the vision of herself, the saviour of France.

Jeanne d’Arc was only thirteen when she began to hear the voice of her

Millet, as a boy, saw nature with his spirit eyes. He showed his father
colors playing over the rough sod of his home fields which no one else
could see. Rousseau, in boyhood, declared that he was able to converse
with his beloved trees and they told him the secrets of their beauty.
Samuel was only a very little boy when he heard and interpreted his
Master’s voice. The boy Christ heard a message that he was able to carry
to the doctors.

May we not give our little ones an opportunity to step across the
threshold of the present into that great silence which begins life and
also ends it, and which is melodious for those who are trained to listen?



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