Monthly Archives: May 2013

Montessori Documents From 1911: A Scientist and an Experimenter

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 5-24 • 6.27 13PMThe Montessori Society of Canada has a great page up about Alexander Graham and Mabel Hubbard Bell’s Montessori lab school at Beinn Bhreagh in Nova Scotia in 1912, and the early days of Montessori in North America. It tells the story of the Bell family’s early interest in Montessori education and their support of the movement as it came to America.  It’s well worth the read for anyone interested in Montessori history.

What’s really interesting about the article, though, are the links to historical documents from the period. (I’ve started a new page on this site to collect links to these and others that come along.) Bell kept careful notes of the experiments at Beinn Bhreagh, including the Montessori classroom, and the Montessori Society of Canada has posted scans on the site.  A sample: 

Next, business actually began.  Each little experimenter carried his or her chair to a table, picked out an object which struck his fancy as worthy of investigation, and then began. Alex and Barbara and Georgie chose cylinders and studied different sizes and their relations to different sized holes.  Robert and Sadie investigated the properties of various solids.  Others tried experiments with tower building.

Also linked are the hugely influential McClure’s magazine Montessori articles from 1911-1914. The Bells likely learned about Montessori from S. S. McClure, a frequent visitor to intellectual gatherings at Beinn Bhreagh. An early description of Montessori’s scientific approach:

 Maria Montessori is an example of genius in education – a field where genius is not often found. Her work is creative and can not be defined in any number of formulae. She is always experimenting, revising, modifying. … This magazine believes that her experiments are of the highest importance, and that her system of teaching is based upon observations and experiments that have never been made before, or, having been made, were never so correlated.

 Contemporary articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post are linked as well. Montessori Historical Documents on this site collects and gives context for these documents and others that I may come across. As always, submissions and information are more than welcome.

Thanks to the Michael Olaf Company for bringing this page to light.

AMI: The I is for International(e)

Their are many Montessori organizations in the U.S. and around the world doing great work—an overview from this website can be found here. But whatever your politics, you have to recognize that AMI has been doing international Montessori since the very beginning.

Apparently they’ve been keeping track. They posted this map this week on facebook and Twitter, marking their 100th international endeavor:

AMI map

(click the map for a larger image, or follow the link)

In other news, TMO will be offline this week as its editor goes with Montessori 7th years to the Appalachians.  More news, information, video, and links to come!

Montessori Mention at Psychology Today

ImageA throwaway Montessori mention today: Montessori Had it Right: We Learn by Doing, by Dr. Sian Beilock, a professor at the University of Chicago, in Pscyhology Today.  (She has a new book out: Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.)

The article describes new research that shows that, in fact, writing development precedes and improves reading development in the brain.   Toddlers who practiced letter shapes had better letter recognition than those who practiced naming words, and brain imaging showed faster development of the fusiform gyrus, which is involved in letter recognition.

Who knew? Beilock casually mentions Montessori in the headline, but it’s not just “learning by doing.” As many Montessorians know, writing comes before reading in the Children’s House classroom because that’s what Dr. Montessori observed working with children.  Nice to see the brain research catching up.

Interestingly, Beilock and Montessori turned up together in a 2008 piece on, Don’t Just Stand There, Think, talking about “embodied cognition.”  This is the idea that “we think not just with our brains, but with our bodies.”  At the time, this was a “young field” in the world of psychology, although:

Some educators see in it a new paradigm for teaching children, one that privileges movement and simulation over reading, writing, and reciting.


The article cites a study by Beilock, and at the end he brings in who else but Dr. Angeline Lillard!

While embodied cognition remains a young field, some specialists believe that it suggests a rethinking of how we approach education.

Angeline Lillard, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, says that one possibility is to take another look at the educational approach that Italian educator Maria Montessori laid out nearly 100 years ago, theories that for decades were ignored by mainstream educators.

A key to the Montessori method is the idea that children learn best in a dynamic environment full of motion and the manipulation of physical objects. In Montessori schools, children learn the alphabet by tracing sandpaper letters, they learn math using blocks and cubes, they learn grammar by acting out sentences read to them.

As it turns out, Lillard cites Beilock in the American Journal of Play article I featured on this site last week, and they’re all over together in psychological bibliographies.

So this is what it looks like to be in the conversation.  More and more brain-based stuff for us to point to.

Hat tip: Montessori Madman Daniel Petter-Lippstein.

Ten Thousand

ten thousand barSometime last night The Montessori Observer had its ten thousandth view! The site has 263 “likes” on Facebook and 36 followers (click “Follow” up on the left for email updates).

If you like what you see and read here, and you think other people would like it too, if they only knew about it, please like, share, follow, post to your email groups, put a link in your school newsletter or on your website, and pass it on.  And as always, if you see something that should be added or corrected, please let me know.

Thanks to all my readers!  Let’s take it to 100,000 or more!

Update at 8:15 pm, 12 hours later:  In 12 hours, we went from 10,000 hits to 10,373 , picked up 15 likes for 278, and 2 followers, making 38.   To the 195 “unique visitors” today, thanks for the boost.   This Montessori thing could really catch on!

The Best of Montessori Video

If you’ve ever gone looking for Montessori videos on the internet, you know there’s a lot out there.  Go to Google or YouTube and you’ll get literally millions of hits.  Who has time to wade through all of that to find out what’s worth watching and sharing?

The Montessori Observer, that’s who!  A new page on the site, Montessori Videos, breaks it down  for you and serves up the best of the best in five categories: “Peek Inside” the Classroom, School Videos, “About Montessori”, Children’s House Activities, and Montessori Concepts.  Videos from Baan Dek Montessori and the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector.

Browse, view, marvel, and share! 

Cycles In Nature: A Montessori Adolescent Event


The Montessori Institute for the Science of Peace, Educateurs Sans Frontières, and the 2013 International Montessori Congress have put together an exciting event to “bring Montessori adolescents into the big picture and celebrate their role in the Montessori world and beyond.”

Montessori schools with adolescent programs are invited to organize participation in an international “Cycles in Nature” event. Students will spend May 30 on their bicycles, reflecting on and documenting the natural world, and  submit writing, images, sound, etc., for a youth statement on the environment to be presented at the 2013 International Congress in Portland, Oregon this summer.

In addition, schools are invited to sponsor adolescents to attend the Congress and take part in keynotes and special events planned for them, including a youth training for Educateurs Sans Frontières, AMI’s global children’s outreach program.

This an exciting opportunity to get our Montessori youth represented at the Congress, and involved in the growing Montessori peace movement.  Get involved and pass it on!

More information:

News Flash: Diapers Make Walking More Difficult for Babies

New on Slate’s generally excellent How Babies Work blog by writer and dad Nicholas DayDiapers make walking more difficult for babies.  He pretty much nails the idea of adult-fostered obstacles to independence.  Here’s the lede:

So let’s say you’re a baby. You really want to walk, but walking turns out to be hard—stunningly hard. And then it hits you: This would be a lot easier if your parents hadn’t stuffed this big heavy bag of warm pee between your legs. Is this some sort of practical joke?

Not sure I’m ready to go all the way with diaper-free babies as detailed in the New York Times here and skewered on Slate here, but around the house on the hardwood floors, with a clean-up cloth at hand?  On the grass in the back yard? Why make life harder for babies?

It’s not clear whether Day has heard of Montessori and A to I in particular, but you can easily let him know at his contact link here.