A work in progress edited by
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
Secret of Childhood is a passionate account of Maria Montessori’s
extensive research and many years of observation of child behaviour.
Montessori considers the child in its entirety, including body, mind and
the soul. A child is a mystery,
argues Montessori, and the role of an adult is to facilitate the unfolding of
child’s true self. By
understanding children’s inner mysteries, notes Montessori, adults will be
better equipped to facilitate a child’s psychic development.
her book, Montessori proposes a new way of approaching child education which
aims at liberating the child’s hidden characteristics through observation of
the child’s sensitive periods, preparing an obstacle-free environment, and
designing proper teacher training programs.
refers to a child as a spiritual embryo – a hidden living being, who must be
liberated. Montessori believes that
psychic development does not come about haphazardly and it does not originate as
the result of stimuli from the outside world, but is guided by transient
sensibilities and temporary instincts connected with the acquisition of certain
characteristics. Therefore, the
first task of this new education is liberation through knowledge and discovery
of the unknown in a child through observing the child’s sensibilities or
sensitive periods. These
sensibilities enable a child to orient itself in his environment and to move.
If the child has not been able to work in harmony with his sensitive
period, “it has lost its chance of a natural conquest, and has lost it for
ever” (Montessori, 1978, p. 40).
their ignorance, adults fail to see the miracle of a child’s growth – “the
miracle of creation from almost nothing” (Montessori, 1978, p. 14), and
because of it they cannot help a baby. This,
Montessori argues, calls for a new way of caring for children where adults must
consider not only what exists (the physical body) but what is still to come
(psychic potential) by observing early developments and encouraging the
positive. For Montessori, “the
human personality forms itself by itself, like the embryo” (p. 32), and then
the child then becomes creator and parent.
to Montessori’s theory of education is the environment. A child - the ‘spiritual embryo’ – is like the physical
embryo, which needs a living environment in which to develop. It is necessary, Montessori believes, to establish an
obstacle-free environment for the child and right environment to stimulate the
liberation of a child’s hidden characteristics. This is achieved by establishing a proper environment in
which a child can flourish. In such
environment, adults must take second place, doing everything possible to learn
about the children, supporting and helping in the development of their lives.
physical environment, Montessori recommends, should be pleasant.
It should be in proportion to the size of a child, including low little
windows, small furniture, little tables, and armchairs, and low cupboards that
are within the child’s reach.
instructors are somewhat ‘passive teachers’ who hold back their activities
in order to allow the children to act for themselves.
Like other progressive educators, Montessori argued that children should
be at the centre of all activities, learning by themselves, free to select any
activity they want. The teachers are initiated to their “inner preparation”
and is asked to correct any inner dispositions which are thought to be damaging
to the child. Teacher must prepare themselves inwardly by seeking out their own
faults, such as anger and pride, which may become obstacles in the education of
the children. These obstacles
need to be corrected by embracing humility, charity and respect for the child.
The Secret of Childhood, Montessori showed a genuine care for the well-being
and proper development of a child. She
firmly believed that key to a new epoch in children’s education was the
observation of children’s inner sensibilities and their environment, the
passive role of a teacher, and most of all a respect for the child’s
individual personality. She goes as far as to say that a mind denied of proper
development is a ‘darkened mind’, undeveloped and incapable of true
expression. Should the child loose
the opportunity to develop according to his or her own nature, he or she can be
compared to a person who has landed from a balloon in a desert, and who all at
once sees the balloon carried away by the wind and is not be able to do anything
to guide it (p. 95). In retrospect, The Secret of Childhood was a valuable
contribution to the progressive education movement, and provided a good summary
of Montessori’s philosophical and pedagogical approaches.
Montessori, Maria (1978:1936). The Secret of Childhood. India: Orient Longman Ltd.
Prepared by Magdalena Rydzy (OISE/University of Toronto), 2002
Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~daniel_schugurensky/assignment1/ (date accessed).
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