MONTESSORI SYSTEM. The Montessori method is a system of education originated by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor of the University of Rome. Her first book, The Montessori Method, was published in 1912. It described experi ments made with little children (ages 3 to 6) in the slum quarters of Rome, in so-called "Children's Houses" (Case dei Bambini) or rooms set apart in the courtyards of large tenement buildings as part of a reformed dwelling scheme inaugurated by E. Talamo. Dr. Montessori began her studies of educational problems with defective children. Working on lines first laid down by the French physician, Dr. Seguin, she achieved startling results; idiot children under her tutelage passing the State examination in reading and writing for normal children. She then turned her at tention to the education of normal children, since it seemed to her that if backward children by educational means could be led to overtake normal children, it should be possible to produce still more startling results with the normal child. A year in the Casa dei Bambini justified her hopes. These schools became world famous, and were visited from all parts.
Before starting work with normal children Dr. Montessori had examined the educational systems of Europe, and to her it seemed astonishing to find everywhere the children reduced to immobility in the class-rooms "like rows," as she said, "of butterflies trans fixed with a pin." Such children, she declared, were not "disci plined but annihilated." In her schools the contrary practice was established. Freedom of movement was the rule, provided it did not transgress the borders of good manners, social order and har mony. She proved that on these lines an astonishingly perfect discipline can be built up, even with quite tiny children. The children worked happily together moving independently to and fro, as in a well-ordered community of adults. Such "free dis cipline," as it is now called, is beginning to be everywhere adopted in schools.
But another, and, if anything, more profound aspect of her work lies in the "educational apparatus" or "didactic material" spe cially provided. Building on the work of Seguin, Dr. Montessori discovered that it is possible to devise objects of a very simple and yet exact type which provoked in the young child a profound reaction of interest and attention, such as she, in common with previous psychologists, had never believed possible. At first, she
tells us, she could hardly believe her eyes. Little children of be tween three and four would repeat an exercise with an air of con centration and indifference to surrounding distractions, that we have been hitherto accustomed to associate only with men of genius. Such a period of "work" might continue from a quarter of an hour to an hour, and then the child would seek other work, upon which he would concentrate in a similar way. Moreover, the child did not seem tired, as after an enforced effort, but rather refreshed and tranquillized. Indeed, disorderly children—those of a type likely at any moment to lapse into some form of in discipline—invariably acquired inward stability once they had entered upon this form of spontaneous work. The teacher in the second and subsequent years of the class's formation had very little to do in the direction of maintaining order.
This set her the more free for a delicate and exacting portion of her work, the teaching of the children by giving them little, mainly individual, lessons at appropriate moments, and in intro ducing them to new portions of the material as required. Wher ever movements are involved, the teacher shows in the first instance the precise and best way of performing the movement. This prevents the formation of an imperfect habit and has uni versal importance, as all teachers of music or games are aware. Thus children, at an early age, can scrub a table and consider it part of the fun not to spill a drop of water; they can wash-up after meals, wring out and iron their little dusters, etc. Little waiters carry round the dishes at meals, and it is no uncommon sight to see a child of three in sole charge of the soup tureen.
Children in the Casa dei Bambini learn to write, read, count and work simple sums before the age of six. Since the publication of her first book, Dr. Montessori has been at work on material for older children, and has now perfected means by which they can individually study grammar, geometry, arithmetical operations with large numbers, fractions and so on. Music and art work is also fully developed. An account of this is given in her book, The Advanced Montessori Method, dealing with the ages six to ten.
Dr. Montessori, who is a Roman Catholic, has also evolved methods of religious instruction for use in connection with her system. (See also NURSERY SCHOOLS, KINDERGARTEN.) (C. A. C.)