Saturday, 27 March 2010

Montessori Wisdom and the light bulbs that clicked

Yesterday, I was working on adding some links that I readily need and use throughout this time of preparation of becoming a homeschooling mom using the Montessori method.

As I was browsing to get all the links I needed, I stumbled on a post that answer a question that I threw out there in the blogging world no longer then last week: How much is too much?, is it possible to have too much in the Montessori method, or does the fact that "freedom of choice for the child" , which is an important part of the Montessori method makes us have to overlook this question, and just provide them with the most at one given time? I searched and ponder over this question for quite some time. I asked questions to people who have influenced me into the Montessorian world, but I had not yet found the answer that made it click for me.

And THIS did it. I can totally relate to this post. entirely. My answer is now clear. Too much IS possible and a dangerous (and possible) downside to it if one isn't being careful, and isn't educated enough on the method itself.

I have a dual experience right now trying to dive into the homeschooling Montessori world : because I am a bilingual speaking person...

In english, the ressources are indeed overflowing and it is easy to become overwhelmed. This was what triggered this question that I had: how much is too much?

I am a firm believer that clutter, and materialism is poisoning our everyday life. And after reading this book:

it just confirmed what I always felt about the topic. Granted, this book is fuelled more by the Waldorfian method and philosophy, but I think that many things said in this book does have an importance in childrearing, wheter method you choose to follow.

My reaserches on the Montessorian philosophy and method has help me find TONS of material, some good, and some not as good once you clearly understand the true purpose of the Montessori method. Montessori has been used largely as a caracteristic of any educational activity, whether it IS indeed related to the Montessori method or not. And it becomes quite easy to get overwhelmed (mind and enviromenet) with all of it, which is exactly what I DO NOT want.

Maria Montessori really stresses about the importance of the environement, and one of the caracteristic were that the said environement needs to be clean and inviting. For me, there is nothing less inviting then clutter.

But part of my question still remain. How to decide what is good and what is not? How much is too much? Even if you use only the basic and most true Montessori material there is, there is still a LOT of it.

I have started to read this book a few weeks ago:

It is, I think, the french version of "the Montessori Method". It covers the topics of how things worked in the Casa Dei Bambini. And yesterday, I had a little time to really make my way through it a bit more. And this also constituted the remaining part of the answer to my question.

In the first chapters, Dr Montessori says this: "Nous nous sommes tous trompé en croyant que l'enfant riche en jouet, riche en aide devait être plus développé. La multitude désordonné d'objet aggrave, au contraire, l'état de son âme en semant un nouveau chaos. Elle l'opprime en le décourageant." pp.89-90

My free translation of this is: We all made a mistake thinking that the child that is rich in toys and help would be more developped. The abundance of material worsen his soul by creating a new chaos. It dishearten them.

There, she said it itself. ;)

And yesterday night, while going through the chapters about practical life, senseorial and part of language, I noticed something. What she talks about it the bare minimum. And I think, from her recollections of the event she presents in her book, that this is what the children indeed HAD.

PRactical life were not shelves full of trays containing activities waiting to be chosen and used. It was the way of life. It was being done all the time, incorporated in every action of the children. They were cleaning themselves up before entering the school (clothes and body...) and then taking care of the environement before starting the activities: cleaning the table that needed washing, removing the dust that was covering a shelf, cleaning a plate that was forgetten, watering the plants, using technics that were taught to them beforehand, with material that was made according to their sizes. The practice of these activity was to truly make it, everyday, all the time, when needed... So the material needed for this was what you need to run an household.

Sensorial material was rather basic, and a big part of the school, at least for a while. Educating the senses was the biggest achievment that they were working on.

Sensorial material consisted of this:

-Knob cylinders

-All the blocks (red rods, brown stairs, and pink tower)

-The 3 sets of colored tablets

-The touch tablets

-The baric tablets

-The thermic bottles

-Forms to be discovered by touch (mystery bags that can be used with geometric forms, but also anything that is small enough...)

-Taste bottle

-something that is the equivalent to the smell bottles

-sound boxes

and the Geometric cabinet with the 3 sets of cards

that was it. The kids worked with that, finding extensions by themselves, and making the best out of this material.

I am supposing that at this point she didn't have more because of a comment she made in her language chapter. She was basically saying that the parents started asking her to teach the children to read and write. She finally decided to go on with this, but waited at the beginning of the next school year to start at the same time as the children that were being educated in the common schools. She ended up not being able to make it by her deadline of october, as her material was not ready. So clearly, this was not available to the kids right away, and the Casa was not equipped with language material until later.

When she did start to have material to learn to read and write she had this made:

-Sandpaper letters

-Movable alphabet as we know it

-The digraph sandpaper letters

-The metal insets

-Some paper with phonetic words written on it.

-Various objects to write their names with the movable alphabets (which were initially made with paper!) which is basically nomenclature.

reading per se came a little later.

and again, that is it.

The children had enough to work on that for a while, and become better at what they did then their commonly educated pears.

THis is what those kids worked with, and they obvioulsy didn't need more then that. This kinda sets a limit for me, or at least shows me that really is important as far as material, and letting the child develop their imagination in using the material differently, but for a logical and educational purpose, one that we might even never have tought about.

I think this sets the tone for what I need to have an how to work with them. There are tons of wonderful material out there, and marvelous ideas. But I will start small, and add as we go, clutter, and overwhelming being my guide as where to go with the material. I think that instinctly, I have already been working this way, the material I own and currently am making is all in these lists (I have yet to read the math part...) and I will not rush to print out and lamintate anything until these basics things are on my shelves. Then, we will see. I will follow the child...After all this is what she always said was important...

And now, about my french speaking experience...It is totally different than the previous I just described. ENTIRELY!

The author says that in her time, material was harder to come by, and you needed to really be creative and think what you did through: this I totally get. As much as the information is overflowing in english, and you can find the complete pink blue and green set at many places,it is not the case for french speaking people. No albums that I currently know of are available, and the material is definitly not as easily findable as it is in the english speaking world, whether you pay or not for it, and what you find is really basic. It got me a little frustrated at first to really have such a hard time finding french material all ready to work with at the end of a click, whereas it was so easy with english stuff, but this has led me to a lenghty discussion with myself and the realization that more is not better, even in the Montessori pedagogy. This is indeed asking me a little more creativity and I realize that I do have to think my strategy beforehand. Whereas when the material is readily available, you can just download, laminate, and cut,and voila, it is ready to be presented to the child. However, when the material is harder to come by, you have to create it, whether you were inspired by somebody else, and it takes a lot more time to put it all together so forget about having a lot...what you have needs to be used at it's entire potential, and this requires a little more planning, and long term strategy.

So my conclusion to all of this: Well thoughts activities that are presented in a logical way, and at a perfect timing will bring us a longer way then having all the material in the world at arm's reach.

I am still reading to find out more about the method and the logical sequence behind it all. But the more I read, and the more I find that things are settling into their places. I cannot say that I think Dr. Montessori was a great writer, sometimes her book are really heavy to read, but they are still the place where I find the best answers to my questions...along with some great post from more experienced Montessorians...


  1. Nice post :) I starred this one.

    I frequently get private e-mails asking me for advice. I find myself saying again and again..."If you only do the activities in the Gettman, your child will get an excellent Montessori education [for that age level]" In my world "Gettman" stands for a very basic, no frills Montessori sequence. All the clever ideas I see online and all of the hundreds of additional activities in my albums are EXTRA. I do not feel like I have to do extra, but I sometimes want to.

    Along the lines of "less is more," I highly recommend using the Muriel Dwyer activities rather than the pink, blue, and green series. It is better for homeschoolers on many levels. You make far, far less materials and you make many of them "on the spot." It would help a lot with your French "problem." Her booklet is available from NAMC for a small fee. I am working on a big post on this, but I think you would like the book.

    As you probably already know, Most of Maria Montessori's writings aren't really her "writings." They are transcriptions and compilations of various speeches she gave. What can make a good speech doesn't always make for excellent writing.

  2. Oh I totally agree with your last comment!!! Although the one I am currently reading was really a entire book she wrote. It does make it a little more easy to understand, but still, it is not bedside reading...well, at least not my type. I am glad to be able to read it though. It really makes things clearer in my head as how to proceed.

    Thanks for that info about the Murielo Dwyer information. I will be on the lookout for that post for sure. (And I will go and take a look in the meantime :) )

    I totally agree with the extras. There are time where I feel like not doing the "standard" things with my kids, and at that point, the extras are nice, and make an interesting change for them and me. I have a few of those activity printed out and ready to be used, but not on display. So it is basically like having some extra card up my sleeve at times where I need that ;)

    But when it is time to really start out, I think it is these extras that can be overwhelming when they take the place of the basic things. And for somebody starting out, focusing on that (just the basic) is really enough to really dip yourself in the Montessori bath.

  3. [...] less is more Since my last post about the lightbulb that clicked after reading a fantastic post about Montessori wisdom, I have [...]

  4. You might see from my previous comment that I completely identify with these thoughts. Less is much more important - the vital less, indeed, but less.

    I think you might be interesting in watching Margaret Homfray's lectures. They are amazing, and they helped me much more than anything else (besides Maria Montessori's books of course) She was Maria Montessori's student and collegue. She worked with her for over 20 years. She was one of the first authorized tutors to teach in Montessori teacher training centers, when Maria Montessori stopped teaching by herself, receiving her authorization from Maria Montessori herself.

    You can see the lectures here -

    Margaret Homfray has also founded the Montessori World Educational Institute - you can see the albums on line here

    Also, you might want to join There are some great discussions there. Ive been learning a lot from this resource.

  5. Thanks for those links! I have found out about margaret homphray not so long ago, and I am really appreciating what I am seeing of her. I need to check out that link you gave me for sure!

    I just recently joined this forum. And indeed, it is one of the best Montessori forum I have found so far. I am lacking the time to read it as I would want, but I am happy that I have joined!!!
    Thanks again :)