<< Various and Sundry
A MONTESSORI MOTHER
DOROTHY CANFIELD FISHER
Originally published in 1912 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Republished in 1965 under the title Montessori for Parents by Robert Bentley, Inc.
Some Introductory Remarks About Parents
A Day in a Casa dei Bambini
More About What Happens in a Casa dei Bambini
Something About the Apparatus and About the Theory Underlying It
Description of More of the Apparatus and the Method for Writing and Reading
Some General Remarks About the Montessori Apparatus in the American Home
The Possibility of American Adaptations of, or Additions to, the Montessori Apparatus
Some Remarks on the Philosophy of the System
Application of This Philosophy to American Home Life
Some Considerations on the Nature of “ Discipline ”
More About Discipline, with Special Regard to Obedience
Difficulties in the Way of a Universal Adoption of the Montessori Ideas
Is There Any Real Difference Between the Montessori System and the Kindergarten ?
Dr. Montessori’s Life and the Origin of the Casa dei Bambini
Some Last Remarks
On my return recently from a somewhat prolonged stay in Rome, I found myself set upon and required to give an account of what I had seen, not only by my family and friends, but by callers, by acquaintances in the streets, by friends of acquaintances, by letters from people I knew, and many from those whose names were unfamiliar.
The questions they all asked were of a striking similarity, and I grew weary in repeating the same answers, answers which, from the nature of the subject, could not be brief. How many evenings have I talked from the appearance of the coffee-cups till a very late bedtime, in answer to the demand, “ Now, you’ve been to Rome ; you’ve seen the Montessori schools. You saw a great deal of Dr. Montessori herself and were in close personal relations with her. Tell us all about it. Is it really so wonderful ? Or is it just a fad ? Is it true that the children are allowed to do exactly as they please ? I should think it would spoil them beyond endurance. Do they really learn to read and write so young ? And isn’t it very bad for them to stimulate them so unnaturally ? And . . .” this was a never-failing cry, “ what is there in it for our children, situated as we are ? ”
Staggered by the amount of explanation necessary to give the shortest answers that would be intelligible to these searching, but, on the whole, quite misdirected questions, I tried to put off my interrogators with the excellent magazine articles which have appeared on the subject, and with the translation of Dr. Montessori’s book. There were various objections to being relegated to these sources of information. Some of my inquisitors had been too doubtful of the value of the new ideas to take the trouble to read the book with the close and serious attention necessary to make anything out of its careful and scientific presentation of its theories. Others, in the breathless whirl of American business, professional and social life, were too busy to read such a long work. Some had read it and emerged from it rather dazed by the technical terms employed, with the dim idea that something remarkable was going on in Italy of which our education ought to take advantage, but without the smallest definite idea of a possible change in their treatment of their own youngsters.
I heard, moreover, in varying degree, the common note of skepticism about the results obtained. Everyone hung on my first-hand testimony as an impartial eye-witness. “ You are a parent like us. Will it really work ? ” they inquired with such persistent unanimity that the existence of a still unsatisfied craving for information seemed unquestionable. If so many people in my small personal circle, differing in no way from any ordinary group of educated Americans, were so actively, almost aggressively interested in hearing my personal account of the actual working of the new system, it seemed highly probable that other people would be interested. The inevitable result of this reasoning has been the composition of this small volume.
I have put into it, not only an introduction to the technic of the method, but in addition I have set down all the new ideas, hopes, and visions which have sprung up in my mind as a result of my close contact with the new system and with the genius who is its founder. For ideas, hopes, and visions are as important elements in a comprehension of this new system as an accurate knowledge of the use of the “ geometric insets.” Contact with the new ideas is not doing for us what it ought, if it does not act as a powerful stimulant to the whole body of our thought about life. It should make us think, and think hard, not only about how to teach our children the alphabet more easily, but about such fundamental matters as what we actually mean by moral life ; whether we really honestly wish the spiritually best for our children, or only the materially best.
The only way for us to improve our children’s lives by the application of these new ideas is by meditating on them until we have absorbed their essence and then by making what varying applications of them are necessary in the differing condition of our lives. I have set down my own meditations on Dr. Montessori’s text, simply because I chance to be one of the first American mothers to come into close contact with her and her work, and as such may be of value to my fellows. I have labeled and pigeon-holed these meditations on the general philosophy of the system, and set them in separate chapters so that it should not be difficult for the casual reader to select what he wishes to read.
Finally, in spite of all my reasons for the undertaking, I seem to myself, now that I am fairly embarked upon it, very presumptuous in speaking at all upon such high and grave maters, fit only for the sure and enlightened handling of the specialist. This volume, therefore, lays no claim to erudition. It is not written by a biologist for other biologists, by a philosopher for an audience of college professors, or by a professional pedagogue to enlighten school-superintendents. An ordinary American parent, desiring above all else the best possible chance for her children, addresses this message to the innumerable legion of her companions in that desire.
Grateful acknowledgement is made to Miss M. I. Batchelder and Miss Mary G. Gillmore for helpful suggestions
; to Miss Anne E. George, who also read the manuscript
; and to Dr. Maria Montessori’s book “
The Montessori Method.”