Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday's Woman: Follow the Child

Today’s Wednesday’s Woman dispels misconceptions. 

One sees the words Mommy Blog and makes assumptions.  It’s a fact.  Not a scientific one, nevertheless, the title Mommy Blog arouses a dramatic reaction—either for or against such internet spaces.   

Ado - The Momalog
Guest blogger, Ado - The Momalog, is a mommy blogger.  However, once you look over her body of work, you’ll see that she is much more.  For one, she’s a writer—a brilliant and talented writer.  She does fiction, fact, reflections on her daily life as a mom, and observations on culture.  At The Momalog you’ll find prose and poetry, photos and videos, and even recipes and crafts.  You’ll find candor and wit that rises from a deep love for humanity and life.  She brings it, and even if you can’t take it, you’ll stay and come back for more.

Ado also has a profound regard for child development, evident in her writings about parenting and education.  Today, for Wednesday’s Woman, she highlights a cutting-edge, innovative educator who, like mommy bloggers, has a reputation wrought with misconceptions.

Ado’s piece is an important one.  The educational system in America is in trouble.  It’s antiquated in its design and American students are falling behind the rest of the world.  However, we do not need to create an entirely new philosophy for educating the young.  We need to look no further than to Dr. Maria Montessori’s groundbreaking work beginning in the early 20th Century—a time when children were still living under society’s misconception that they were second-class citizens, only slightly above the status of animals.

Montessori understood children.  Ado understands children, too.  I am thrilled to bring to you information about both of these talented, strong, compassionate  women today for Wednesday’s Woman.

Wednesday's Woman: Dr. Maria Montessori

"What really makes a teacher is love for the human child."
 - Maria Montessori

"Speaking of controversial women

 on the cover of TIME magazine!"
Maria Montessori is at the top of my list of women I admire. She founded the Montessori method of education. My children have attended Montessori school since they were 3, and the "work" that children do hasn't changed much since her time. She was a forward-thinker, a genius, and a mother. But most of all, she understood that an educated, nurtured child is our only hope for peace in the future.

She lived from 1870 to 1952 so she saw a huge amount of change in her lifetime. She was born in Italy and attended medical school in Rome at a time when no women even considered becoming doctors. (The university had initially declined her admission because of her gender - and she took it in stride, saying, "I know I shall become a doctor.") Being the only woman in the school wasn't easy - she had to face all kinds of prejudices because of her gender. Despite this, she graduated and became the first woman to become a doctor in Italy. This was big news and probably would have made the front page of the HuffingtonPost today. She represented Italy at the International Congress for Women's Rights, where she gave a revolutionary speech arguing that women should be entitled to equal wages as men. When a reporter asked her how her patients felt about having a female doctor she said, "They know intuitively when someone really cares about them. It's only the upper classes that have a prejudice against women leading a useful existence."

As part of her work at the medical clinic she would visit Rome’s asylums for the insane, looking for patients. During one visit, the caretaker of a children’s asylum told her with disgust how the children grabbed crumbs off the floor after their meal. Montessori understood that these children were desperate for sensory stimulation and activities for their hands and minds, and that this deprivation was contributing to their condition. This may sound obvious to us now but in the late 1900s it was a revolutionary idea - and that is just what she started, a revolution through education. She opened a small school for the poor children of parents who had to work in the factories and who were gone all day.

Montessori work: Vintage Cylinder Blocks
The school became known as a "Casa dei Bambini" or Children's Houses. She spent thousands of hours crafting materials that would engage the children's hands, senses, and minds, and created an environment where the activities were designed to allow the children to know they had the power to educate themselves. People are sometimes in awe that she believed a child could do advanced algebra, geometry, learn Latin and Greek between ages 6 and 12, but she believed that the elementary school years are a sensitive period to introduce information for higher learning. The foundation for later abstract academic learning happens during this age span.

Montessori believed if you introduced advanced math, grammar, writing, reading, science, geography, languages and history to elementary school children, they would be able to survive the ups and downs of learning during puberty. The most difficult years, according to her, were what we know as the middle school years. She felt these kids should be nurtured like a small child. These children should not be stressed out with strenuous academics or over-scheduling.

Montessori uses Five Great Lessons as an introduction to all topics, a "Big Picture" that shows a child how the sciences, art, history, language, and geography are interrelated. Through the Five Great Lessons, children become aware that the universe evolved over billions of years, and that it is based on the law and order through which all the plants, animals, and the rest of creation is maintained.

The Five Great lessons are:

1. The Story of Creation of the Universe (she was a devout Catholic, and a scientist - and the first day of first grade my 6 year-old came home and said, "I have big news, Mommy. God had help creating the universe - there was this thing called the Big Bang.")
2. The Timeline of Life: shows a child the beginning of life on Earth from the simplest forms through the appearance of human beings.
3. The Coming of Humans.
4. The Story of Language
5. The Story of Numbers

I see these lessons today in my own children, who love school so much that they get upset at me if we have to miss a day. They are "turned on" - they're engaged. My 10-year-old is doing things I didn't even start until high school, like algebra and geometry. The first time I walked into a Montessori classroom for toddlers, I cried. It was literally a happy beehive of productive activity. I saw tots doing things I had no idea I could even expect them to do - like pouring water into large bowls and carrying it over to a table and going through all of the steps needed to wash it, and then methodically put all the materials away - without anyone standing over them telling them to do these things.

Maria Montessori saw the teacher as being a guide, as opposed to an authoritarian. In their classrooms, children can move around - they can choose to sit at a table, or do their work on a rug on the floor, or outside in nature.

By 1908 there were 5 Children's Houses in Italy and news had spread that Montessori children were making extraordinary progress, with 5-year-olds writing and reading. Word of the new approach to education spread, and the Montessori method caught on in other countries.

During the war, Maria and her husband traveled to India where they had to remain during the war, but she ended up spent some years there and meeting people like Ghandi and Nehru. Being in India guided her towards her thoughts about the nature of the relationships among all living things, a theme which became known as cosmic education. She and her husband went on to train thousands of teachers in the Montessori Method. She gave a speech to UNESCO, titled "Peace and Education."
She was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize - three times!

I admire Maria Montessori for the breadth of her wisdom and intelligence - the apparatus and "work" that my children use in their classrooms today were all invented by her. She has ignited in my children a profound love of learning - and for that I am so thankful.

Fun and informative video via Trevor Eissler, author of Montessori Madness:

Quotes by Maria Montessori:

"Free the child's potential, 
and you will transform him into the world."

"Above all it is to be noted that the child has a passionate love for order and work, and possesses intellectual qualities superior by far to what might have been expected."

"If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men." 

photo credit

photo credit: opensourceway via photo pin cc
photo credit: Jess and Colin via photo pin cc
photo credit: Queen of the Universe via photo pin cc


  1. Thank you thank you for featuring me and Maria. (-: Love you, love your blog.

    1. Love you, too. The Momalog is one of my inspirations. You keep me going and I'm grateful. <3

  2. Wow, this is great Ado! I've worked at a Montessori school for the past 9 years and incorporate much of the philosophy into my parenting and homeschooling, but Maria inspired me long before I had children.

    1. I can see you fitting perfectly into the Montessori environment! (-:

  3. LOVE! LOVE! One of the best posts ever. I'm also a huge Montessori advocate and see the impact it has on my children's lives as well. As a matter of fact, my post today is, in part, based on Montessori, where respect of the child is paramount. So many people don't see that - that children are human beings worthy of the same respect we give adults. Amazing post, Ado. Totally pinning this to my Montessori board.

  4. Lovely tribute, Ado, to the Montessori Method. My niece thrived in her years at a Montessori school. When they had to move out of the area she acclimated nicely to the traditional structure, her love of learning keenly intact. A few of my friends also sent their kids to Montessori and they, too, thrived. One friend, though, had to relocate her daughter from Montessori to a more structured school with minutely timed routines. I enjoyed your story of your daughter assuring you that God had help with something called The Big Bang. Cute. Terrific post. And, Sperk, hurray for you for your Wednesday Woman. An excellent theme!

  5. Because of you Ado, and your advocacy of the Montessori Method, I'm now looking at preschools in Malaysia that applies these principles. Yay!

  6. First of all, I am in love with this quote about Ado - "She brings it, and even if you can’t take it, you’ll stay and come back for more." This is so true, in the most fantastic way! My husband and I have been interested in Montessori for a while now and I'm even more about it now. This is such a great piece about a truly wonderful, inspirational woman. Perfect all the way around!


Comment moderation is on so you will not see your words here immediately. Sperk* loves feedback. She WILL see your words immediately, then post them in the comment section. . . unless you are spam. . . or someone named Sam. . . Anonymous is fine, just be respectful and kind. Thank you.