Educating the ‘whole child’

Howard Gardner’s research about the Multiple Intelligences of how children learn has been utilised extensively in education. He argued that intelligence is an extensive array of skills and knowledge rather than a unitary IQ (Vardin, 2003). Maria Montessori and Gardner both challenged the general views of their respective eras about intelligence and potential, coming to similar conclusions but with different foci (Vardin, 2003). Theorists such as they influenced the educational frameworks that are used today, as seen in the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF).

How Montessori principles of educating the ‘whole child’ relate to theories of ‘Multiple Intelligences’ and the EYLF 

Gardner believed that humans process the information gathered in cultural settings to make valuable contributions to that setting (Vardin, 2003). He understood intelligences to be ‘potentials’ that are used or activated as needed in accordance with the standards of the surrounding culture, the opportunities available, and the decisions to be made therein (Vardin, 2003). Gardner used regular observations of people to gather his research, just as Montessori did (Kramer, 1988; O’Donnell, 2007; Röhrs, 2000; Standing, 1957; Vardin, 2003). They both observed people with special needs and those considered ‘normal’, allowing them to gain better understandings of the variety of human capabilities and to challenge the limited views of the time about these abilities (Kramer, 1988; O’Donnell, 2007; Röhrs, 2000; Standing, 1957; Vardin, 2003). Montessori and Gardner recognised that each child is an individual, with unique personality traits becoming evident in the early years of life (Montessori, 1912, 1966; Vardin, 2003). Gardner argued that each person has their own combination of intelligences, and as such, each person should be appreciated for their unique personality and what they can contribute to society (Vardin, 2003). Recognising and valuing these differences is central to his theory of the Multiple Intelligences.

Montessori and Gardner alike recognised that children have a natural inclination to learn. They believed that the child’s innate interest and ability to learn comes from a genetic base, but that continuing development is the result of a continuous and vibrant relationship between the child’s genetics and the influence of the surrounding environment (Haines, Baker, & Kahn, 2000; Vardin, 2003). It was Montessori’s understanding that the child absorbs information from the surrounding environment, which can be seen in her theories about the absorbent mind (Montessori, 1912, 2012; Vardin, 2003). Both theorists recognised the significance of the environment in its influence over the child’s development, whether that be its positive or negative effects (Haines et al., 2000; Vardin, 2003). Gardner argued that even those considered gifted will not flourish if their environment did not provide the resources, interventions, and materials to encourage their intelligence to develop (Vardin, 2003).

While Montessori and Gardner share some viewpoints of education and development, their work foci differ (Vardin, 2003). Montessori’s main focus from the start of her educational career was that of the welfare and education of children with special interests in the poor or the overlooked (such as those with special needs) (Kramer, 1988; Montessori, 1912; Standing, 1957; Vardin, 2003). This focus is evident in her approach to education, her didactic materials, teacher and parent training, and her method of teaching. Her work influenced her philosophy and methodology, both of which then influenced her educational practice. Gardner’s work, on the other hand, was theoretical. His theories were derived from his observations and research, not from practice (Vardin, 2003). He did not have an educational approach that he created based on his theories, instead believing that educators should use his research to inform their practice for the betterment of the children (Gardner, 1995; Vardin, 2003).


Gardner’s research focused on the areas of human potential that he defined as intelligences. He took moral and spiritual characteristics into consideration but did not consider them to be part of his Multiple Intelligences as they did not meet his criterion (Vardin, 2003). Conversely, Montessori’s theories encompass all aspects of the child’s nature. This includes the moral and spiritual characteristics, as she viewed the human tendencies and potentials as parts of the ‘whole child’ (Haines et al., 2000; Vardin, 2003). She recognised the importance of each aspect of the child, and designed her materials and environments to support the development of all of these human potentials and tendencies (Haines et al., 2000; Vardin, 2003). Consequently, her materials also correlate with the core operations of Gardner’s intelligences. Vardin (2003) gives the example of a lesson with Montessori’s geometric solids where the child:

… uses a bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence in feeling the forms, visual/ spatial in observing and internalizing images of the forms, logical-mathematical intelligence in establishing relations between them, naturalistic intelligence in observing and classifying them, and linguistic in labelling them. If the child did this activity with other children, he or she could also exchange ideas about the forms and share them, thus utilizing interpersonal intelligence. (Vardin, 2003, p. 43)

Vardin (2003) went on to explain in detail how Montessori’s curriculum areas connect to Gardner’s eight intelligences and their core operations. She acknowledged how Montessori explored the social and emotional characteristics of the child as well, including the value of self-regulation and self-knowledge (Vardin, 2003). Vardin (2003) stated that Gardner and Montessori were innovative individuals of their times, paving the way for greater understandings of how people learn and the potential they have within.


The research done by theorists like Montessori and Gardner influenced our current understandings of how children learn and develop. Montessori’s concept of educating the ‘whole child’ is evident in Australia’s Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), 2009). The document recognises the significance of each facet of the child in their development, with the concepts of belonging, being, and becoming central to its holistic philosophy (DEEWR, 2009). Its vision for children’s learning is that “[a]ll children experience learning that is engaging and builds success for life” (DEEWR, 2009, p. 7). It takes into account all aspects of a child’s learning journey, not simply focusing on academics. It recognises that all children bring unique experiences and knowledge to their learning, and that all areas of their learning are intrinsically linked (DEEWR, 2009). Like Montessori, the EYLF acknowledges that children are active participants in their own learning, and that understanding and utilising this participation will allow educators to transcend limited preconceived ideas about how children learn (DEEWR, 2009).

Evidence shows that educating the whole child through recognising the interconnectedness of education and care is the most beneficial path for the child (Browning et al., 2002; DEEWR, 2009; Edwards, 2002; KidsMatter Early Childhood, 2011; Montessori, 1912; Rushton, 2011). When understanding the child as a whole, taking into account body, mind, and spirit, the educator facilitates learning experiences for all aspects of the child’s present and future life (DEEWR, 2009; KMEC, 2011; Montessori, 1912; Rushton, 2011). From a neuroscience perspective, Rushton (2011) argued that “… any developmentally appropriate program focuses on the ‘whole child’” to benefit the child’s “… mental, emotional, social, and physical life …” (p. 92). Once again, this proves that Montessori was ahead of the times in recognising the significance of holistic development. DEEWR (2010) stated that the Practices and Principles of the EYLF are based on the conviction that “learning is dynamic, complex and holistic” (p. 14), as can be seen in the works of Montessori (Montessori, 1912, 1966). Furthermore, both Montessori and the EYLF identify the significant role of the learning environment in a child’s development. The EYLF describes constructive learning environments as those that are welcoming, vibrant, flexible, and responsive to the child’s needs (DEEWR, 2009). This view of the learning environment mirrors that of Montessori’s, where it is understood to be the second teacher, a living environment that is adapted to the needs of the children (Montessori, 1912; Röhrs, 2000). Due to the similarities, Australian Montessori educators have the opportunity of blending these two brilliant tools for educating young children with best practice—the EYLF and the Montessori method.

Reference List

Browning, K., Mugyeong, Eunseol, K., Ock, R., Nary, S., Moon, … Weikart, D. P. (2002). Curriculum in Early Childhood Education and Care. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 3(2), 81–87.

Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations. (2009). Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early years Learning Framework for Australia (Vol. 1). Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations. (2010). Educators ’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Edwards, C. P. (2002). Three approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 4(1).

Gardner, H. (1995). Reflections on Multiple Intelligences: Myths and Messages. Phi Delta Kappan, 77(3), 200–209.

Haines, A., Baker, K., & Kahn, D. (2000). Optimal Developmental Outcomes: The social, moral, cognitive, and emotional dimensions of a Montessori education.

KidsMatter Early Childhood. (2011). KidsMatter Early Childhood Connecting with the Early Childhood Education and Care National Quality Framework.

Kramer, R. (1988). Maria Montessori: A Biography. Chicago: Da Capo Press.

Montessori, M. (1912). The Montessori Method. English (Second). New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company.

Montessori, M. (1966). The Secret of Childhood. (M. J. Costelloe, Ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.

Montessori, M. (2012). The Absorbent Mind. California: BN Publishing.

O’Donnell, M. (2007). Maria Montessori. (R. Bailey, Ed.). London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Röhrs, H. (2000). Maria montessori (1870-1952), XXIV(1), 1–12.

Rushton, S. (2011). Neuroscience, Early Childhood Education and Play: We are Doing it Right! Early Childhood Education Journal, 39(2), 89–94.

Vardin, P. A. (2003). Montessori and Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Montessori Life, 40–43.

The Sensitive Periods

In a recent post I explained the term Absorbent Mind. In this week’s post we will explore another common phrase that is heard in relation to Montessori education: the sensitive periods

Hugo de Vries (Dutch botanist and geneticist) detected the sensitive periods through his research with animals, but Montessori declared that she and her fellow educators discovered it to be true of children as well, utilising it for improving teaching (M. Montessori, 1966).  The sensitive periods in a child’s development establish and control each developmental plane, and are inextricably linked to all other aspects of the child’s development, including internal and external growth (Grazzini, 1979; M. Montessori, 1966; The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008; Zener, 2003). Furthermore, the importance of early learning experiences is recognised in brain research due to the neural connections made during the sensitive periods (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). Montessori (1966) described the concept thus:

A sensitive period refers to a special sensibility which a creature acquires in its infantile state, while it is still in a process of evolution. It is a transient disposition and limited to the acquisition of a particular trait. Once this trait, or characteristic, has been acquired, the special sensibility disappears. Every specific characteristic of a living creature is thus attained through the help of a passing impulse or potency. (M. Montessori, 1966, p. 38)

Thus, in connection to the development of a child, they have an innate impulse that drives them to carry out certain acts at certain developmental times (M. Montessori, 1966; The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008; Zener, 2003). However, Montessori (1966) noted that if a child is unable to act on the impulses of that sensitive period the chance for a “natural conquest” (p.39) will be gone forever. Obstacles to learning or stressful experiences during these times can create a strong negative reaction, as can sometimes be seen in tantrums in the very young child (M. Montessori, 1966; The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008).

Source: My own image.

The learning experiences during these sensitive periods play a vital role in a person’s neural development (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). During the sensitive periods, the child is able to accomplish and absorb great learning feats with an ease and passion that are unavailable later in life (M. Montessori, 1966; The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). As one conquest is completed, the child moves onto the next one, creating a constant pattern of learning and enjoyment (M. Montessori, 1966; Zener, 2003). The child’s sensitivities result in strong interests for some things and a great indifference to others (Zener, 2003): “When a particular sensitiveness is aroused in a child, it is like a light that shines on some objects but not on others, making of them his whole world” (M. Montessori, 1966, p. 42). Joy and excitement in learning become manifest during these times, fuelled by the child’s surroundings and the adults that encourage and assist in this learning. These sensitive periods prepare the child’s mind to absorb and process the world surrounding them, complementing the ‘absorbent mind’ (Zener, 2003).

Strong correlations have been drawn between Montessori’s sensitive periods and Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. In both approaches, the teacher observes the child to provide learning experiences that meet the needs and learning requirements of the child at that point in time (Mooney, 2013; Vettiveloo, 2008). However, Vygotsky believed that this support to a child’s learning does not just come from a teacher, but also from peers (Mooney, 2013). Such learning can be seen in Montessori classrooms with the combined age groups (and now in mainstream early education centres as well).

If you have any questions or comments about any of my blog posts, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Reference List

Grazzini, C. (1979). Characteristics of the child in the elementary school. AMI Communications, 29–40.

Montessori, M. (1966). The Secret of Childhood. (M. J. Costelloe, Ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.

Mooney, C. G. (2013). Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky (2nd ed.). Minnesota: Redleaf Press.

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2008). The timing and quality of early experiences combine to shape brain architecture.

Vettiveloo, R. (2008). A critical enquiry into the implementation of the Montessori Teaching Method as a first step towards inclusive practice in early childhood settings specifically in developing countries. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 9(2), 178–181.

Zener, R. S. (2003). How sensitively timed are sensitive periods? The NAMTA Journal, 28(1), 20–40.

Theories of developmental stages

Several educational theorists believe that there are different stages of development over the course of a human’s life. Some of these theorists include Maria Montessori, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Rudolf Steiner. In this section, Montessori’s theory about the developmental stages will be compared to those of the other three theorists mentioned above.

Erik Erikson

Erikson’s theory focuses on the psychosocial development of humanity (Mooney, 2013). He believed that there are eight ‘ages’ of humanity that cover the whole life span (Mooney, 2013). The age brackets seen in Erikson’s theory (refer to Table 1) are similar to those seen in Montessori’s planes and sub-planes, with some comparable terminology as well. Just as with Montessori’s planes of development, as the person passes through each of Erikson’s ages they adopt certain characteristics before passing on to the next age (Mooney, 2013). For each age of Erikson’s theory, Mooney (2013) specified a developmental stage and strength, similar to Montessori’s sensitive periods. However, Erikson also identified ‘weaknesses’ of each stage (Mooney, 2013).

Erikson believed that patterns were developed in the earliest years of life from the strengths and weaknesses acquired during that time (Mooney, 2013). These patterns would “… regulate, or at least influence, a person’s actions and interactions for the rest of his or her life” (Mooney, 2013, p. 55). This is comparable to the significance of Montessori’s ‘sensitive periods’ for a human’s development in the early years. Similarly, Erikson and Montessori both understood the importance of the early years for children’s development. However, Erikson thought that it was possible for a person to go back and ‘renegotiate’ any difficulties encountered in the first three stages.

Erik Erikson (
Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development
AgeStageStrength Developed
Birth to 12 monthsTrust vs. MistrustHope
1-3 yearsAutonomy vs. Shame and DoubtWillpower
3-6 yearsInitiative vs. GuiltPurpose
6-11 yearsIndustry vs. InferiorityCompetence
AdolescenceIdentity vs. Role ConfusionFidelity
Young adulthoodIntimacy vs. IsolationLove
Middle ageGenerativity vs. Self-AbsorptionCare
Old ageIntegrity vs. DespairWisdom

Source: Mooney, C. G. (2013). Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky (2nd ed.). Minnesota: Redleaf Press.

Jean Piaget

Piaget followed Montessori’s work, using it as the foundation for his own educational theories (Mooney, 2013). He too believed that children need to do meaningful work for themselves and identified stages of cognitive development linked to age brackets (Mooney, 2013) (see Table 2). Contrary to Erikson’s ‘psychosocial’ stages, Piaget described his developmental theory as ‘stages of cognitive development’ (Mooney, 2013). He focused more on behaviours learned through these times, rather than ‘strengths’ or the broader characteristics identified by Montessori in her planes of development.

Piaget’s sensorimotor stage has strong correlations with Montessori’s first plane of development. They both believed that children first learn through absorbing information with unconscious thought, dubbed reflexive by Piaget (M. Montessori, 2012; Mooney, 2013). Both Montessori and Piaget understood that children process their environment through their senses in the first plane and the sensorimotor stage, and that this is where intelligence formed and cognitive development is started (M. Montessori, 2012; Mooney, 2013). Montessori and Piaget had differing views on the ages of the next developmental stage, with Piaget’s preoperational stage two to seven years of age, whilst Montessori considered this part of the sub-plane of the first plane, and considered the age bracket to be three to six years of age (M. Montessori, 2012; Mooney, 2013). They both viewed learning during these times as forming ideas from life experiences. Furthermore, Piaget recognised the importance of large blocks of time for ‘free play,’ based on Montessori’s theories about the uninterrupted work cycle (Mooney, 2013). Real life experiences were also considered vital by both theorists in children’s learning, providing opportunities for deeper construction of knowledge (Mooney, 2013).

Jean Piaget (
 For the final two stages of Piaget’s developmental theory, similarities are evident with Montessori’s works in that the child moves from concrete thought to abstract thought. Mooney (2013) describes a flexibility of thought, where the child moves towards logical and hypothetical thought, where richer questions can be considered, and several qualities can be held in the brain at one time (Grazzini, 1979; Haines et al., 2000). While Montessori described young adulthood age brackets in detail as part of her developmental planes, Piaget’s stages of development are much broader and end with “11 or 12 years of age and older” (Mooney, 2013, p. 81). 
Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development
Birth to 2 yearsSensorimotorLearn through the senses; learn through reflexes; manipulate materials.
2-7 yearsPreoperationalForm ideas based on their perceptions; can only focus on one variable at a time; overgeneralize based on limited experience.
7-11 or 12 yearsConcrete OperationalForm ideas based on reasoning; limit thinking to objects and familiar events.
11 or 12 yearsFormal OperationalThink conceptually; think hypothetically. 

Source: Mooney, C. G. (2013). Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky (2nd ed.). Minnesota: Redleaf Press.

Rudolf Steiner

Steiner believed in three stages of learning, with unique requirements for learning in each (Edwards, 2002). Steiner, like Montessori, viewed the first stage of learning as a time where learning is done through ‘doing’ with hands-on experiences. However, while they both cited this stage as a time for physical, intellectual, and emotional growth, Steiner put a much greater emphasis on the term ‘imaginary play’ (Edwards, 2002).

While this terminology is not seen as frequently in Montessori’s works (and her views on it created controversy), the descriptions of activities and characteristics are similar to the work and qualities of children in Montessori programs. For example, children will “… become deeply and engaged and develop powers of concentration and motivation” (Edwards, 2002, p. 5) through “bodily exploration, constructive and creative play, and oral … language” (Edwards, 2002, p. 4) in both Steiner and Montessori education. Both theorists recognised the importance of an uninterrupted work cycle and a regular schedule (Edwards, 2002). Furthermore, they both emphasised the significant impacts science, literature, music, and education through nature have on children’s learning.

Rudolf Steiner (

However, a noteworthy difference between the two approaches was Steiner’s focus on learning through oral language rather than the concrete to abstract approach that Montessori employed (Edwards, 2002).

Steiner’s Cycles of Child Development
Birth to 7 yearsImitationLearn through imitation and doing; imaginary play the most important ‘work’; educational focus on bodily exploration, constructive and creative play, and oral language.
7-14 yearsImaginationExplore the world through conscious imagination; integrated, multisensorial approach to learning and expression.
High schoolIntellectRational, abstract power of intellect emerges; focus on ethics, social responsibility, and mastery of complex and rigorous subject matter.

Source: Edwards, C. P. (2002). Three approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. Early Childhood Research and Practice4(1)


Montessori’s planes of development have clearly delineated age brackets and characteristics, each of which plays its own significant role in the development of the human. A variety of educational theorists believed in these stages, with connections between Montessori’s theories and those of some other theorists evident. There were, however, some differences in their understandings of where the age brackets started and stopped, and differences in terminology or developmental characteristics.

The sensitive periods of development are evident in brain research as well as educational theory. Educational experiences that are tailored to meet the needs of children in these periods will provide rich learning that will be carried throughout life. Furthermore, these sensitive periods are intrinsically linked to Montessori’s concept of the absorbent mind. The absorbent mind processes and utilises what is learnt during each plane of development so the information can be used appropriately by the person.

The concepts discussed in this paper are evident in early childhood education today. The way children are observed, curriculum planned, and our understandings of child development owe a lot to the theories and research mentioned here. The work of theorists such as Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, and Steiner paved the way for quality, tailored education in modern society.

Reference List

Edwards, C. P. (2002). Three approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 4(1).

Grazzini, C. (1979). Characteristics of the child in the elementary school. AMI Communications, 29–40.

Haines, A., Baker, K., & Kahn, D. (2000). Optimal Developmental Outcomes: The social, moral, cognitive, and emotional dimensions of a Montessori education.

Montessori, M. (1966). The Secret of Childhood. (M. J. Costelloe, Ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.

Montessori, M. (2012). The Absorbent Mind. California: BN Publishing.

Mooney, C. G. (2013). Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky (2nd ed.). Minnesota: Redleaf Press.

The Absorbent Mind

The term absorbent mind is one that is often mentioned in relation to Maria Montessori. This post gives you a quick idea of the context to the term.

My own image of my Parts of the Fish Three Part Card packs.

Stephenson (1991) declared that each child has the capacity to think, act and live as a human being, with the absorbent mind utilising the characteristics of humanity and the relevant plane of development (Montessori’s planes of development will be explained further in next week’s post) to mould that potential into reality through action. This is first done without consciousness, where the child needs assistance in interpreting the environment and creating knowledge (M. Montessori, 2012; Stephenson, 1991). In the next sub-plane, conscious intelligence in the absorbent mind begins as choices are made, still directed by the psychological features of the first plane of development (M. Montessori, 2012; Stephenson, 1991).  The unconscious absorbent mind categorises and differentiates everything within its environment, focusing on what is relevant in the development of its individual personality (Stephenson, 1991). The conscious absorbent mind builds on the experiences of the first sub-plane, applying the “actualised potentials” of that time (Stephenson, 1991, p. 17).

Montessori (2012) described the discovery of the absorbent mind as a ‘revolution’ in education. She said that understanding this phenomenon enabled educators to understand why the first plane of development is the most important: “the creation of human character takes place within this span” (M. Montessori, 2012, p. 24). It created a new path for education in how to assist the developing mind in its progression.

Reference List

Montessori, M. (2012). The Absorbent Mind. California: BN Publishing.

Stephenson, M. E. (1991). The first plane of development. AMI Communications, 14–22.

Planes of Development

Montessori’s planes of development came from her medical observations where she identified four clear stages of human development from conception to maturity (Grazzini, 1979; Haines, Baker, & Kahn, 2000; M. Montessori, 2012; Stephenson, 1991). Each plane spans six years with developmental similarities identifiable between the first and third planes, and the second and fourth planes (Grazzini, 1979; Haines et al., 2000; M. Montessori, 2012; Stephenson, 1991). The four planes were then subdivided into sub-planes of three-year periods (M. Montessori, 2012). She described the first and second planes as the childhood stage (‘infancy’ then ‘childhood’), and the third and fourth planes as the adulthood stage (‘adolescence’ then ‘maturity’) (Grazzini, 1979; Haines et al., 2000; Stephenson, 1991). Grazzini (1979) noted that although each plane and its characteristics are unique, each plane also prepares for the following one, creating an “arc of human development” (p. 30). Montessori wanted these planes of development to be viewed not as a teaching curriculum but as supports to life, as something that assists the child “… to help it help itself become itself” (Stephenson, 1991, p. 15). Montessori explored the characteristics used by humans to cultivate themselves, identifying significant tendencies from the various planes.

The first plane (infancy) – zero to six years of age

The human in this plane is constructing its individual self, requiring assistance from others (usually adults) to create itself (M. Montessori, 2012; Stephenson, 1991). Montessori used the phrase absorbent mind to describe the intellect of a small child, where the mind moves from unconscious ‘absorbency’ in the first sub-plane (0-3 years of age) to conscious in the second (3-6 years of age)  (M. Montessori, 2012; Stephenson, 1991). Section 4 discusses the absorbent mind further. The first plane is where the child absorbs and processes its environment, then explores and orders it—where intelligence is formed (Haines et al., 2000; M. Montessori, 2012). It is where the foundations for the child’s personality are laid and constructed for the following years of life and learning through experiences and social relationships (Haines et al., 2000; M. Montessori, 2012; Stephenson, 1991).


The first steps toward social development are taken during this time, with the first ‘social environment’ encountered being the maternal care of the mother (Haines et al., 2000). This encounter is vital both for the physical and social development of the child (Haines et al., 2000). The young child becomes like a sponge, absorbing behaviours, culture, and language through interactions with the parents and the family (Haines et al., 2000). Once the child reaches the age of 3 years, wider social interactions are required for further learning—that of their peers (Haines et al., 2000). Through these interactions with peers and the formal education environment, the child develops vital intellectual, social, moral, and physical skills (Haines et al., 2000). Montessori recognised the importance of having mixed ages in her classes because it “… fosters self-discipline, independence, and responsibility …” (Haines et al., 2000, p. 4) where the younger children learn from the older children, and the older children develop greater levels of responsibility and leadership.

The second plane (childhood) – six to twelve years of age

Grazzini (1979) described four facets of the psychological development of a child in this plane: 1) intellectual; 2) moral; 3) social; and 4) emotional. These areas were also explored by Haines, Baker, and Kahn (2000). These facets work together in the development of the whole child (Haines et al., 2000) but Grazzini (1979) noted that it can be useful to discuss them separately to comprehend them better.


During the second plane, Montessori recognised two sensitive periods with regard to intellectual characteristics: imagination and culture (Grazzini, 1979). Furthermore, the child has a fascination in and propensity for the abstract, interested in the how and the why of the world, and developing an understanding of cause and effect (Grazzini, 1979; Haines et al., 2000). Grazzini (1979) refers to ‘creative imagination’ where the child’s mind creates new connections from reality, resulting in new patterns and ideas. They wish to understand things for themselves instead of accepting facts at face value (Haines et al., 2000). This creative imagination manifests in a child’s curiosity about the world and in the tiny details to be found within it (Grazzini, 1979). Montessori stated that imaginative vision has no limits so it is therefore vastly dissimilar to the perception of something concrete (Grazzini, 1979). Whilst a ‘concrete approach’ was utilised in the first plane, in the second plane the child uses a concrete approach to abstract concepts (Haines et al., 2000).

The second intellectual sensitive period of this plane was that of culture. Montessori (2012) described imagination and culture as being intrinsically linked, because “… culture is not made up of the knowledge of things seen” (p.155). We need our imagination to fully understand and appreciate culture. She gave the example of Geography, where the person must imagine snow if they have never been to a place that has it (Montessori, 2012). It is during the second plane that enthusiasm and interest in science and culture blossoms (Grazzini, 1979; M. Montessori, 2012). The child in the second plane has moved on from absorbing the immediate environment, and is now wanting to understand the wider world and how it affects life, building on the knowledge developed in the first plane (Grazzini, 1979; Haines et al., 2000; M. Montessori, 2012). The child begins to understand the interconnectedness of living things, “… the ‘cosmic task’ of each element and of each force in the cosmos, including our human society” (Grazzini, 1979, p. 35).

Montessori believed that culture cannot be obtained from another, but from individual work and improved understanding of the self (Haines et al., 2000; M. Montessori, 2012). It is here that Montessori’s cosmic education comes into play. Mario Montessori (1976) believed that she developed cosmic education through her use of her imaginative vision to connect the past and present. Montessori’s concept of cosmic education explores humanity’s relationship to the universe (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976). Montessori had a profound admiration for creation and believed that humanity’s collective task was to understand the infinite possibilities of creation and to make them apparent in innovative ways (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976). This philosophy influenced her cultural curriculum, where her love and fascination with the sciences and her endless respect for and curiosity about creation is evident.


Montessori observed that children in the second plane are captivated by ethical life questions (Grazzini, 1979; Haines et al., 2000). It is during this time that the child questions and evaluates actions, with this sensitivity for morality informing their development of social relationships (Grazzini, 1979; Haines et al., 2000). Furthermore, Montessori identified that the child’s understanding of justice and the connection between a person’s acts and the needs of others are developed here (Grazzini, 1979; Haines et al., 2000). The child of six to twelve years cultivates their inner moral compass, which, when fixed, clearly displays their moral characteristics (Grazzini, 1979; Haines et al., 2000). Grazzini (1979) compares these moral characteristics to humanity’s virtues of justice, fortitude, and charity.


Mario Montessori (1976) observed that children in the second plane have an increasing fascination in their peers’ behaviours, and have a greater desire to join others in groups. They view adults differently, idealizing ‘heroes’ and role models, with a new outlook of the world beginning (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976). The children of this age often mimic their peers, and cultivate a system of sharing and taking turns not seen in the first plane (Grazzini, 1979). This fascination with peers results in the child forming strong relationships with other children, and preferring their company over that of family (Grazzini, 1979). This strong connection with peers gives rise to a willingness to abide by strong social rules within the group but a resistance to wider rules and disciplines as used in school (Grazzini, 1979).


Haines, Baker, and Kahn (2000) identify social development as part of the creation of personality in how people interact. During the second plane they question culture, society, and relationships, and start to understand their part in the world. The child must live in a social context and therefore adapts to the surrounding human culture (Haines et al., 2000). It is during this plane that the child becomes interested in things other than themselves, and consequently develops more of an affection for and understanding of humanity through knowledge of history (Haines et al., 2000). Through these aspects of knowledge acquisition, the child learns how the actions of an individual affects others (Haines et al., 2000). As such, Montessori advocated self-discipline and character development alongside educational development in this stage (Haines et al., 2000).


Grazzini (1979) stated that the emotional aspect of the child aged six to twelve years is interconnected with the previously mentioned characteristics of the plane. The child of this plane often loses some of the ‘sweetness’ or ‘affection’ seen in the previous plane, leaning more towards a strong sense of independence and a thirst for knowledge which can sometimes manifest itself in ‘rudeness’ (Grazzini, 1979). Having said that, the child of this age is also more sensitive to the opinions or negative comments of others. During this time the child is developing their own sense of worth, with a longing for praise and acknowledgement from adults and peers alike (Grazzini, 1979). Grazzini (1979) quoted Mario Montessori in noting that once the child has gained his own self-respect and is sure of himself he becomes calmer and self-possessed, and is less likely to rebel against parental authority. This self-possession and calm are evident in Maria Montessori’s descriptions of the child of this plane as having mental and physical stability (Grazzini, 1979).

The third plane (adolescence) – twelve to eighteen years of age

Like the first plane, the third is recognised as a plane of creation (Grazzini, 2004). The child in the first plane is creating a human being, while the individual in the third is creating an ‘adult’ with the abilities to continue the species (Grazzini, 2004). It is at this point that the child enters adulthood, moving through puberty in the physical sense, and transitioning from living in a family to living in society in the psychological sense (Grazzini, 2004). The individual’s sense of justice and personal dignity is developed during this plane, although the physical changes the individual endures can result in emotional, physical and intellectual difficulties of a temporary nature (Grazzini, 2004). Montessori created a proposal for secondary education to support the individual of the third plane to be economically independent, bolster self-confidence, provide assistance during the difficult physical transformations, and encouragement for the entrance into wider society (Grazzini, 2004).


The fourth plane (maturity) – eighteen to twenty-four years of age

The final plane of Montessori’s theory is that of the university-aged individual. This individual has been ‘formed’ over the previous three planes, with a “… spiritual strength and independence for a personal mission in life” (Grazzini, 2004, p. 37). The individual of this plane should have achieved a high level of morality and conscientiousness, being willing to work whilst studying to gain economic independence and ethical stability (Grazzini, 2004).

Reference List

Grazzini, C. (1979). Characteristics of the child in the elementary school. AMI Communications, 29–40.

Grazzini, C. (2004). The Four Planes of Development. The NAMTA Journal, 29(1), 27–61.

Haines, A., Baker, K., & Kahn, D. (2000). Optimal Developmental Outcomes: The social, moral, cognitive, and emotional dimensions of a Montessori education.

Montessori, M. M. J. (1976). Education for Human Development: Understanding Montessori. New York.

Stephenson, M. E. (1991). The first plane of development. AMI Communications, 14–22.

Montessori and Imagination

I’ve had many discussions with people over the years regarding Montessori’s views on imagination. These views (and various interpretations or misinterpretations of her views) have been controversial for some years. Grazzini (1979) declared that to understand her position, first one must ascertain the age of the child. Consequently, the developmental needs and sensitive periods of the child at different ages will alter how imagination is used:

The young child or infant of the first stage of development must build reproductive imagination, as part of his creation of the self, through the experience of his immediate environment; whilst the older child of the second stage of development uses a creative imagination, which is based on reality, in order to psychologically conquer the world. (Grazzini, 1979, p. 33)

Source: My own photo.

In the past, Montessori criticised some uses of imagination because they drew people further and further from reality in a way that caused negative effects on the person’s life. Montessori was critical of the reliance on imagination in the sense of fantasy, where the person becomes completely lost in the fantasy and disconnected from reality (Grazzini, 1979). She was concerned that society was becoming too dependent on imagination as a way of escaping from reality. That because of this, children would limit their creative imagination from all its possible uses, to the detriment of learning and knowledge (Grazzini, 1979). It could be said that her concerns are evident in our current society’s reliance on computer games and escapist fantasies. However, as long as the child is able to differentiate fantasy from reality, there are no limits to what their creative imagination can accomplish. Furthermore, this is the understanding of imagination that is linked to Montessori most frequently, as a blanket view without considering her other statements or discussions on the topic. 

 Below is an excerpt from Montessori’s book The Absorbent Mind:

The mind of the child between 3 and 6 years fixes not only the functions of the intelligence in relation with objects, but also those of imagination and intuition. This means that the intelligence must not have a great and vivid power at this age beyond that of merely absorbing through the senses. It has a higher, power, that of imagination, which enables the individual to ‘see’ things he cannot see. This may seem an exaggeration in relation to children of this age, but if we think about it, we realise it is not such an exaggeration, since psychology has always said that this is a period of imagination. Even the most ignorant people tell their children fairy tales, and they love them immensely, as if they were anxious to use this great power of imagination. They call a table a house, a chair a horse, etc. Everyone realises that the child likes to imagine, but he is given toys as the only help. If the child can realise a fairy and visualise fairyland, it is not difficult for him to visualise America, etc. Instead of only hearing vaguely about America, a globe with the general shape of America is a concrete help to his imagination. Imagination is endeavouring to find the truth of things, a fact which is often forgotten. If in the child’s environment the word ‘America’ or ‘World’ had never been mentioned by anyone, then it might be difficult for him to show interest in it, but since he hears the word so often, it enters his mind and he clothes it with imagination. The mind is not the passive entity one imagines, the mind of man is a flame, an all-devouring flame, it is never still, but always active.

Source: My own photo.
Source: My own photo.

So, with this in mind, let us consider that one of the ways that children learn is through imitation. You may have seen a quote floating around the internet from Montessori about it:

Imitation is the first instinct of the awakening mind. 

As children grow and develop, role playing or dramatic play is often based around children imitating the adults they have seen around them. This helps them to process and interpret interactions and actions that they have seen. For example, in my class at the moment, everyone is fascinated with doctor and nurse role playing, as last term we were learning a lot about the human body. They are now transferring that knowledge about the body to their role play. You will see the children that are the medical professionals asking questions and checking those that are the patients, describing symptoms and cures of certain body parts, and standing on either side of a ‘counter’ to make the payments. From these questions and actions we can clearly see that the children are imitating what they have seen done at the doctor’s surgery. Therefore, these children are using their imaginations and creativity in their role playing to utilise their knowledge and extend their learning in constructive ways. If I ask them if they are actually a doctor in real life they are able to tell me that ‘no, we’re just pretending!’ Clearly, these children are not relying on their imaginations or convincing themselves that these imaginary lives are better than their real ones. They are using their imaginations as a learning tool. By visualising the symptoms and parts of the body in connection with their stethoscopes, prescription pads, and so on, my students are deepening their learning, and understandings of these roles in society. 

So, what do you think? I hope this quick discussion has given you some food for thought. I would love to hear back from you your thoughts on imagination in play, and how it is utilised at home or in the classroom, whether you follow the Montessori method or not. 

Montessori 101

I thought I’d use a different approach for this blog post and write something a bit more laid-back by giving you a quick summary of the main points of Montessori education.

Source: My own photo.

Basic facts of the Montessori approach

  • Maria Montessori – The Montessori approach is an educational method originally designed by Maria Montessori, the first female surgeon in Italy. You can read more about Maria Montessori and the beginnings of her educational method in my earlier blog posts (Maria MontessoriInfluences on Montessori 1Influences on Montessori 2);
  • Child-centred & individuality – Montessori education is centred around the child’s interests and individual development, and the child’s natural developmental progression. Children are able to learn at their own pace and are recognised as individuals that learn differently to their peers;
  • Specialist materials & children’s development – It is based on the developmental stages all children go through, and the didactic materials are designed to meet the needs of the children as they progress through each stage. The materials also have in-built controls of error that allow the child to self-correct and learn to look critically at their own work. This encourages self-assessment and how to learn from their errors;
  • Coordination, concentration, & order – The design of the materials, daily routines, classroom order, and classroom preparation/ setup support the child’s developing ‘self-regulation’;
  • Prepared environment – The Montessori environment is designed and prepared to meet the needs of the children academically, socially, and emotionally. Children have a natural passion for learning that the prepared environment provides for and encourages by meeting the children’s needs and providing opportunities for spontaneous engagement;
  • Independence & freedom – It has a focus on encouraging children’s independence through the concept of freedom within limits. That is, that the children are provided with opportunities to choose for herself/ himself through a prepared environment and the didactic materials;
  • Community – Montessori classrooms are generally multi-age (typically spanning 3 years) which imitates a family structure. This encourages the older students to be role models and mentors to the younger children, and younger children have greater support with the combined wisdom of the directress and their peers;
  • Preparation for life – Montessori education aims to prepare the child for life, and for becoming a contributing member of society. They are not only prepared academically but socially and with the skills for everyday living that are part of the practical life curriculum. 

The role of the teacher in the Montessori classroom

Montessori viewed the teacher as a directress or facilitator of learning. The Montessori teacher provides an environment that is prepared to meet the needs and interests of the children. They observe the children regularly to assess their progression, development, and interests, and use these observations to inform how to guide the children through their next learning steps. 

The relationship between educator, classroom, and the materials

There are really two ‘teachers’ in a Montessori classroom – the directress and the prepared environment. These two teachers work together with the didactic materials to guide and teach the child through their educational journey. Each one is connected to the other, and supports each other. 
Fun fact: This concept was one of the inspirations for the logo of The Montessorian. The three points of the triangle represent the three teachers in the Montessori classroom. The short bead stair was also an inspiration for The Montessorian logo. 

If you want to read about Maria Montessori and her educational methods, please read my previous blog posts! Or if you want to ask something directly, email me at

The Concrete Materials Part 2: The ‘pink tower’ and current research on brain development

Experiences in the early years have significant impacts on brain architecture (Rushton, 2011; The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008; Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 2008). Consequently, quality learning experiences during these years are vital for optimal brain development (Rushton, 2011; The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008; Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 2008). The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2008) described three influential factors for brain development: genetics, environment, and experience. A person’s genetics provide a foundational blueprint with rudimentary characteristics of nerve cells, and elementary systems for connections (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). The environment has a significant influence on the brain’s architecture, with a healthy environment from the prenatal period onwards resulting in the manifestation of its greatest potential (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). Montessori believed that environmental order assisted the child’s brain to maintain its equilibrium, which in turn resulted in beneficial interactions with the environment (Haines et al., 2000). The interactions of the person with their environment is their experience, which starts in the womb. A person’s experiences modify the aforementioned genetic plan based on their needs and the unique environment(s) they come into contact with (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008).

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), 2009) and the National Quality Standard (NQS) (Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), 2017) recognise that the experiences of each child will be diversely different based on a variety of influential factors, inclusive of family, culture, and the ever-changing learning environments children are exposed to. Consequently, curriculum should recognise the unique experiences each child has as the foundation for learning and include opportunities for learning that encompass these (ACECQA, 2017). The Montessori method can be customised to the needs of the child, merging well with the requirements and expectations of the NQS and the EYLF. The EYLF describes children’s learning as “… dynamic, complex and holistic. Physical, social, emotional, personal, spiritual, creative, cognitive and linguistic aspects of learning are all intricately interwoven and interrelated” (DEEWR, 2009, p. 9). This holistic concept of education is also evident in Montessori’s works. She viewed growth and development in a way that encompassed emotional, moral and physical aspects, as well as cognitive development (Haines et al., 2000). Consequently, the early influences of environment (including the people the child comes into contact with) and the quality of early experiences will affect all aspects of the child’s personality, especially during the periods of development when they are most sensitive (DEEWR, 2009; Haines et al., 2000).

The brain experiences stages of “… exceptional sensitivity to the effects of environment and experience …”, which are termed sensitive periods (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008, p. 2). This concept can be seen in much of Montessori’s works, with her understanding of it being a natural drive that stimulates the child to perform particular actions and obtain particular experiences as each stage is reached (Haines et al., 2000; M. Montessori, 1912, 2012). Quality and relevant experiences during these sensitive periods are vital for healthy brain development because it is incredibly challenging to change neural circuits after their sensitive periods have finished (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). These sensitive periods can include language, vision, responding to social cues, and hearing, among others (Haines et al., 2000; The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). Furthermore, diverse mental capabilities progress and mature at different points in a child’s developmental timeline. Consequently, each child will have different emotional and cognitive experiences in an environment, dependent on his or her age, and individual development (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). A child’s ability to observe and understand their surroundings and experiences alters over time as their neural connections are developed, moving from simpler to more complex assessments (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). Moreover, quality and motivating early experiences lay the foundations for learning later in life, with brain plasticity continuing throughout one’s life (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). Quality educational experiences in early life followed by more complex experiences in later years is essential for the brain to reach its full potential (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). The experiences of the early years provide the foundation that is built upon and extended later in life, just as the Montessori materials build upon and extend one another.

The Pink Tower. Source: My own photo

The materials in Montessori education assist the child to restructure and understand their knowledge, building on what they have learnt previously (Haines et al., 2000; M. M. J. Montessori, 1976). As the child moves through each plane of development and sensitive period, the materials provided meet the development needs that are experienced. The iconic ‘pink tower’, for example, is aesthetically pleasing to entice the young child, but actually has significant developmental purpose. It develops the child’s visual and muscular perception, which later leads to an abstract comprehension of size in three dimensions (Montessori World Education Institute (MWEI) (Australia) Inc., 2012). Furthermore, it assists in the development of the child’s fine motor coordination, and prepares the mind for mathematics (MWEI (Australia) Inc., 2012). For the child of three to six years of age, they have “… natural tendencies to explore, orient, and order [that] assist them in sequencing, classifying, and organizing …” (Haines et al., 2000, p. 11). As the child works with the pink tower, they must use their developing perceptive skills to compare and analyse each block, and orient it in relation to the rest of the blocks. They must organise them in the correct size order, judging them within the concept of the whole group, or the tower will look wrong or topple over (MWEI (Australia) Inc., 2012). With the pink tower, as with the other sensorial materials, the child must concentrate, observe, and classify (Haines et al., 2000). It utilises the child’s developing skills of this period (such as visual and observational abilities) to extend the child’s knowledge in a simple way, to be expanded upon later with increasing complexity.

Summary of Parts 1 and 2

The Montessori materials meet the developmental needs of the child at each developmental plane. They teach abstract concepts in concrete ways, utilising the young child’s sensory interests and skills. They extend the brain in each sensitive period of its development, using simple characteristics to assist the child to access their own knowledge. The experiences of the child with the manipulative materials in the Montessori environment provide quality early learning that build on the child’s existing genetic foundation. Furthermore, they form an integral part of an education system that recognises and values each child’s unique qualities, capabilities, and experiences.

Reference List

Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2017). Guide to the National Quality Standard.

Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations. (2009). Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early years Learning Framework for Australia (Vol. 1). Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Haines, A., Baker, K., & Kahn, D. (2000). Optimal Developmental Outcomes: The social, moral, cognitive, and emotional dimensions of a Montessori education.

Montessori, M. (1912). The Montessori MethodEnglish (Second). New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company.

Montessori, M. (2012). The Absorbent Mind. California: BN Publishing.

Montessori, M. M. J. (1976). Education for Human Development: Understanding Montessori. New York.

Montessori World Education Institute (Australia) Inc. (2012). Sensorial Education. Ellenbrook.

Rushton, S. (2011). Neuroscience, Early Childhood Education and Play: We are Doing it Right! Early Childhood Education Journal39(2), 89–94.

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2008). The timing and quality of early experiences combine to shape brain architecture.

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. (2008). Analysis of Curriculum/Learning Frameworks for the Early Years (Birth to Age 8).

The Concrete Materials Part 1: Important attributes of the manipulative materials

Maria Montessori designed her manipulative materials to meet specific developmental needs of children as they progress through the sensitive periods of development. These sensitive periods are also recognised in current research on brain development. Furthermore, Montessori’s holistic and child-focused perception of education and learning corresponds with the expectations and requirements of the National Quality Standard (NQS) and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). As such, Montessori’s method is still applicable and relevant to the education of children today.

Important attributes of Montessori manipulative materials

All of Montessori’s manipulative materials are designed to teach or introduce an abstract concept in a concrete way. This visual, sensory, and hands-on approach to learning enables the child to explore the materials in a way that is appropriate for their developmental stage (Chisnall & Maher, 2007; Kramer, 1988; M. Montessori, 1912). Each material has a relationship with later materials in some way, building on what was learnt with one activity with another later on (Chisnall & Maher, 2007; M. Montessori, 1912). The Sensorial curriculum covers all the senses—tactile, gustatory, auditory, thermal, baric, chromatic, olfactory—providing the child with a rich array of learning experiences to teach a love of learning and develop all aspects of the brain’s capabilities (Chisnall & Maher, 2007; M. Montessori, 1912).

To develop the brain’s potential, Montessori’s manipulative materials have several specific features. These features allow the child to work with the materials without much input from an adult, enabling them to explore and learn at their own pace with control over their own learning (Chisnall & Maher, 2007; M. Montessori, 1912). The materials have an in-built control of error so that the child can see if the activity is completed incorrectly (M. Montessori, 1912; Morrison, 2007). For example, if the brown stairs are not graded correctly, the stair appearance will not be achieved. Isolating a single quality aids the child to focus on that quality and not be distracted by other features (M. Montessori, 1912; Morrison, 2007). The colour of the brown stairs, pink tower, or knobless cylinders remains the same whilst the size changes, as size differentiation is the lesson being taught. The Montessori materials require active involvement rather than passive observation (M. Montessori, 1912; Morrison, 2007). Movement, spatial awareness, problem solving, and gross or fine motor skills combine to assist in learning. Finally, the materials are attractive to the child, with mathematical proportions that are aesthetically pleasing, uniformity of beautiful colours, and colour coding that also assists with organisation (M. Montessori, 1912; Morrison, 2007).

The Geometric Solids

The Montessori manipulatives prepare the child’s mind for academic thought and processing through teaching the child’s senses to isolate a characteristic and hone their observation skills (M. Montessori, 1912; Morrison, 2007). They improve thinking, problem solving, and visual discrimination skills through distinguishing, organising, sorting, classifying, and matching (M. Montessori, 1912; Morrison, 2007). All of these activities are preliminaries for reading, writing, and mathematics, preparing the mind for the sensitive periods of these learning opportunities (M. Montessori, 1912; Morrison, 2007). The materials provide “feedback” to the child, with the patterns and solutions stored in memory to be utilised by the child’s imagination in the form of new ideas and answers (Chisnall & Maher, 2007). Montessori designed these materials to be a link between concrete experience and abstract thought and reasoning, better to absorb learning (Chisnall & Maher, 2007; Kramer, 1988; M. Montessori, 1912). Furthermore, she designed her materials to assist the child in the development of their personalities into “… mature and independent adulthood” (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976, p. 31).

Mario Montessori believed that this last aspect of the Montessori materials is usually disregarded when considering their attributes (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976). He explained that some believe the Montessori materials are considered too rigid to assist in the unconstrained development of the child’s personality, while others view them as limited and deficient in meticulous systemisation (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976). However, Mario recognised that the Montessori materials play a significant role in children’s learning through. He identified two main purposes of the materials—to extend the child’s internal development and to assist the child to obtain new understandings of the world through exploration (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976). They sharpen the child’s powers of observation and how to use this gathered information, and he believed that each material also “… challenges the intelligence of the child, who is first intrigued and later fully absorbed by the principles involved” (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976, p. 36). Once the principle has been internalised and mastered by the child, they then apply this knowledge to the use of other objects (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976). Mario Montessori goes on to identify the “guiding instincts” or “inner directives” that drive humans to learn and progress, linking them to the sequences (or developmental planes) of development and maturation (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976, p. 33). Moreover, he highlights Montessori’s theory of “the absorbent mind” as a developmental tool that children are equipped with but adults are not (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976, p. 33). He highlighted that the materials do not teach the “factual knowledge” but rather enable the child to recognise their own knowledge, which in turn expands the child’s faculty for additional learning (M. M. J. Montessori, 1976, p. 36). Consequently, Maria Montessori named this process “materialized abstractions” (Haines, Baker, & Kahn, 2000; M. Montessori, 1912; M. M. J. Montessori, 1976, p. 36; Röhrs, 2000).

Blackfriars Public School Montessori Methods, 1910

Reference List

Chisnall, N., & Maher, M. (2007). Montessori mathematics in early childhood education. Curriculum Matters3(23), 6.

Haines, A., Baker, K., & Kahn, D. (2000). Optimal Developmental Outcomes: The social, moral, cognitive, and emotional dimensions of a Montessori education.

Kramer, R. (1988). Maria Montessori: A Biography. Chicago: Da Capo Press.

Montessori, M. (1912). The Montessori MethodEnglish (Second). New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company.

Montessori, M. M. J. (1976). Education for Human Development: Understanding Montessori. New York.

Morrison, G. S. (2007). Early Childhood Education TodayEarly childhood education today (Tenth). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Röhrs, H. (2000). Maria montessori (1870-1952), XXIV(1), 1–12.

History of Montessori’s influence in Australia Part 2: How Montessori’s educational ideas have impacted the wider educational context

At Montessori’s first international training course in 1913, she described the restricting social conditions for children at the time (Feez, 2013). She presented the attendees with the notion of freedom with limits, describing the materials and conditions of her methods, as well as the way a Montessori directress should interact with individual children and their needs (Feez, 2013; Kramer, 1988; Montessori, 1912; Simons & Simons, 1984). Twenty-first century Montessori student teachers still follow a very similar course of topics to that of the first lectures, and her material presentations are just as appealing to modern day children across the globe (Feez, 2013). Feez (2013, p. 108) declared that Montessori training has the same effect now as it did back then in that it “… has a lasting influence on the way people interact with children, and prepare learning environments for them, no matter the context and prevailing wisdom.”

Blackfriars Montessori school, 1913

Although Montessori’s influence was starting to decline in educational leadership circles in the late 1930s, there were some diligent believers who quietly continued their work, such as Norma Selfe (Feez, 2013). There were also still Australians travelling to Rome to learn from and participate in Montessori’s training courses (Feez, 2013). Aside from kindergarten and state infant school teachers, some of the teachers who worked alongside Lillian de Lissa and Martha Simpson were known to have continued their work in the Montessori education field (Feez, 2013). Furthermore, some Montessorians opened private schools across Australia, or were involved in the areas of child health or religious orders (Feez, 2013). Some of these known or significant contributors are described further by Feez (2013). Moreover, Feez (2013) declared the work of these dedicated Australian Montessorians made an impact internationally from the beginning.

Feez (2013, p. 14) marvelled that “… for over a century, and across the world, the Montessori approach has resisted obsolescence, making it an oddity among the educational choices available to parents and teachers today.” In the Montessori schools of the past and present, children are taught how to be independent contributors to society, where this independence is the foundation of their freedom (Feez & Sims, 2014; Kramer, 1988; Montessori, 1912; Simons & Simons, 1984) and where children are “… free to follow their true nature and to learn through their own effort.” (Feez, 2013, p. 15). Children are considered active learners, understood to be developing in a series of stages, through use of a specially designed environment to assist their progression (Feez, 2013; Kramer, 1988; Montessori, 1912; Simons & Simons, 1984). Furthermore, that exploring a concept first in its concrete form is vital for foundational learning (Kramer, 1988; Montessori, 1912; Simons & Simons, 1984). These ideas can still be seen in a variety of early childhood settings today, whether Montessorian or not (Simons & Simons, 1984). Children are being given more choice in their basic educational needs, and their development through learning stages recorded in detail. This idea of observing a child’s development stems from Montessori’s scientific observations she employed during her time as a medical student (Feez, 2013; Kramer, 1988; Simons & Simons, 1984).

It was Montessori’s belief that these observations were the basis of a Montessori teacher’s work (Feez, 2013; Montessori, 1912). Montessori thought that observing children in the strict, traditional settings of the past could not uncover the truth of each child (Feez, 2013; Montessori, 1912). However, some of the more detailed methods for observing children’s development from the original 1913 training course are no longer used (Feez, 2013). These incredibly precise analyses arose from Montessori’s medical experience at the University of Rome’s Psychiatric hospital (Feez, 2013; Kramer, 1988). They were, however, ground-breaking at the time in that they focussed the educator’s attention on children’s developmental and social needs, presaging the way twenty-first century educators plan individualised learning programs across a diverse range of educational fields and age ranges (Feez, 2013; Simons & Simons, 1984).

Blackfriars Public School, c.1913

Possible reasons why the Montessori approach is not more widespread in Australia

Social conditions during the depression worsened, resulting in increases of infant and maternal mortality, poor health and sanitation, unemployment, homelessness, and overcrowding (Feez, 2013). Free kindergartens and infant schools became safe places where children received care as well as an education (Feez, 2013). Feez (2013) noted that the disparity between infant schools and kindergartens became hard to differentiate between at this time as well, so phrases such as early childhood education and preschool became more evident. However, Feez (2013) also acknowledged that there was still a distinct separation between education and childcare. Due to the severity of social and financial conditions, these centres had to reduce staff and resources, which Feez (2013) posited could be a reason for the decline in the Montessori vs. Froebel debate, and the popularity of both.

When the 1937 international New Education Fellowship Conference was held in Australia, the most popular papers and presentations were by “… the new leaders of the progressive education movement, the educational psychologists and psychoanalysts promoting play as the basis of children’s intellectual and social development” (Feez, 2013, p. 107). Although the start of the New Education Fellowship in 1921 was originally inspired by Maria Montessori, and 1937 was the Froebel centenary, there was not much interest shown in either of these educational fields at the conference (Feez, 2013).

Feez (2013) also identified a shortage of trained Montessori teachers as a significant limiting aspect for Montessori education’s reach. She links this to “… the tyranny of distance …”, made worse by teachers leaving the unstable working conditions of small schools for greater security in their careers (Feez, 2013, p. 134). Moreover, Simons and Simons (1984) posited that Montessori teacher training is not up to modern standards of teacher education. This limitation could possibly deter people from undertaking the training. Additionally, Murray (2008) declared that access to Montessori teacher training is limited.

While access to pure Montessori education is still somewhat limited for families in twenty-first century Australia, there seems to be a resurgence in some of its principles, which Lillian de Lissa already remarked upon in 1955 (Feez, 2013). On reflection of the educational ideas of the past, she observed that rather than being outdated, they could have been understood as radical and enlightened thought if worded in more modern phraseology (Feez, 2013). However, it can still be difficult for parents to identify the degree to which a centre is Montessorian, adding to the confusion about what Montessori education actually is (Murray, 2008).

Lastly, limited or misinterpreted understanding of the true nature of Montessori education is another possible limitation (Murray, 2008). Analyses of Montessori education by Simons and Simons (1984) outlined many misunderstandings that are often stated in regard to the field. For example, they argued that the “… classroom environment is frequently impoverished, rigid, and rule-bound” and that “music, dance, drama, literature, and poetry are neglected” (Simons & Simons, 1984, p. 44). This narrow idea that Montessori education is too suffocating of children’s creative potential seems to be a common view in modern society.

Summary of Parts 1 and 2

Montessori’s ideas had a significant impact on Australian education in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The concepts of liberty, freedom and independence appealed strongly to the post-invasion, democratic Commonwealth ideals of Australia’s past. The advocacy of a few sparked a tidal wave of educational reform that gradually diminished with the rise of progressive New Education after the war. However, her philosophies continue to influence early childhood education today, whether in Montessori classrooms or otherwise. While there is still limited access to pure Montessori primary and secondary schools, there appears to be increasing interest in Montessori early childhood education. Whether there is a resurgence or not, Dr Maria Montessori left a legacy that changed Australia’s educational history for good.

Reference List

  • Feez, S. (2013). Montessori: The Australian Story. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing.
  • Feez, S., & Sims, M. (2014). The Maybanke Lecture 2014 (pp. 1–58). Sydney: Sydney Community Foundation.
  • Kramer, R. (1988). Maria Montessori: A Biography. Chicago: Da Capo Press.
  • Montessori, M. (1912). The Montessori MethodEnglish (American E.). Radford: Wilder Publications.
  • Simons, J. A., & Simons, F. A. (1984). Montessori and Regular Preschools: A Comparison. Urbana.