Theories of Childhood – Maria Montessori

Mooney, C.G. (2013) Theories of Childhood – An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky (Second Edition) Redleaf Press U.S.A

Chapter 2 – Maria Montessori

Beauty and Order

Reading about the work of Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952), as documented by Mooney (2013), I was intrigued to read about her attention to the importance of beauty and order when preparing working spaces for children.

“According to Montessori, knowing how to arrange an interesting, beautiful environment for children is as much a part of teaching as knowing how to select fine children’s books for the library.” (Mooney, 2013, p.40)

The importance of a well thought out space and thoughtfully chosen materials and resources that serve a purpose in stimulating and educating the senses is something that I feel resonates closely with what I want to offer people in my own creative and teaching practice. The Orff Schulwerk approach places great emphasis on high quality wooden instruments and, over the years, I have uncovered many beautiful resources, collected and hand crafted by Orff Schulwerk pedagogues that have been carefully gathered for the purpose of adding meaning to activity; of sparking interest and inspiration.

Montessori advocated for the provision of real, functioning tools for children. She had custom made child-size tools and resources made for the children that she taught.

“Montessori believed that children could learn to use tools safely, and that giving them tools that didn’t really work undermined their competence.” (Mooney, 2013, p.39)

The idea that things should be child-size also extended to the classroom furniture that was adapted from adult-size to child-size. Today, it is common practice to see child-size furniture in nursery and primary school settings but in Montessori’s time this was something rather new. Montessori believed in materials and equipment, needed for learning, being easily accessible for children to reach. She believed in children being allowed to take responsibility for their learning, having the opportunity to gather what they needed, when they needed it. Montessori also believed that “teachers should provide large blocks of time for free work and play and allow children to structure their own time.”(Mooney, 2013, p.42)

Montessori was dedicated to children developing competence and a sense of responsibility and autonomy for their own learning. She respected that children would often be engrossed in a task within their own time frame and was reluctant to interrupt each individual child’s natural learning flow. Montessori’s theories were informed by the careful and diligent observations that she made of the children that she worked with. Montessori “believed every child could learn. She was convinced that if children are not learning, adults are not listening carefully enough or watching closely enough.” (Mooney, 2013, p. 46)

Turning my attention to higher arts education, this chapter led me to reflect more carefully on the higher arts teacher’s role as observer. Do we allow sufficient time and space to observe the varying needs of students? Do we create environments conducive for learning? Do we provide students with the necessary tools for their work? Do we allow for free student directed work? Do we ensure thoughtfully chosen materials and resources? Are materials and resources, needed for learning, close to hand?