Monday, July 29, 2013

Montessori Workshop: Part 1

I have good news. :) Remember a million years ago (back before I moved to Chicago and got married—so basically a lifetime ago—in March) when my friend Ruth planned the most amazing all-day Montessori workshop? You probably don't remember, because between moving and getting married, I dropped the ball on typing up my notes to share here. Then I misplaced my notebook during the move, so I thought the Montessori notes were gone for good.

But then, this week I found the notebook in a pile of Frank's bar-exam stuff. (Up next: the bar exam is taking over my life. It's literally eating my stuff.) So I typed up the notes, and this week I'll be sharing them in 3 parts. (If Montessori doesn't interest you at all—sorry! Just wait out this week; it'll be over soon.)

A few things to note:

These are the exact notes I took during the lectures, so they were scribbled down quickly and may be rough and hard to understand. Let me know if you need me to clarify anything. Also, there are a lot of books and resources referenced—don't worry about keeping track of them. I'm compiling them into a list and I'll publish the "Further reading" and recommended resources at the end of the series.

Here is the audio version of this first talk: Talk 1: Four planes of development

Finally, remember that nothing expressed here is my own opinion. I didn't write any of this material, just copied it down, and I don't necessarily agree with everything. Discussion is welcome, either over email or in the comments.

Here are links to Part 2 and Part 3. Part 3 contains the recommended reading.

And now for the first talk!

Talk 1: Four Planes of Human Development

-The purpose of human life is to know, to love, and to serve God. The purpose of an educator is to know, to love, and to serve the child in her care—seeing God through the child.

-St. Thomas Aquinas said we can only truly love what we know.

Further reading: The Child in the Church

·      What our church teaches us about man (Catechism)

-The human person is unique, image of God, composed of both spirit and matter.

-Man is a developmental being and is incomplete.

-Mankind’s spiritual faculties (intellect and will) can only be formed by the person himself, and he forms himself through meaningful interaction with the world.

-The intellect naturally seeks truth and is only satisfied with truth. Similarly the will naturally seeks good and is only satisfied with good.

-Despite original sin, we naturally seek good. The child is good; we don’t have to make him good.

-Grace builds on nature, perfecting but not altering it.

·      Montessori Principles

Dr. Maria Montessori, via
 -Using the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, Maria Montessori built a timeline of human psychological development and learned what adults can best do to help children.
            *All her work has been proven by recent technology.

-Two poles of humanity: child forms adult as much as adult forms child. “Apostolate of the child.”
*When either pole frustrates the other, we have disharmony in the family. (Poles are adult and child—not successive stages but different sides.)

·    Four Planes of Human Development:

The first three planes of development, via

-Age 0–6 is most important plane. Each plane has its own goal. This plane’s goal is “self-construction.”

-Montessori said, “Give me the child at six and I’ll show you the man.” She paraphrased St. Thomas Aquinas, who said, “Give me a child for his first six years and I’ll give you a saint.”

-First three years are the most important: 90% of brain development happens in first 3 years, and the remaining 10% by age 8.      

-0–3 years: unconscious absorbent mind

-3–6 years: conscious absorbent mind

-Ages 6/7 onward: reasoning/imaginative mind (adult mind)

-We are failing children in the first 3 years of life because we are not putting them in rich enough environments: they love the world from birth, and they sleep so much because they are processing all they absorb.
            *Montessori said, “Education is an aid to life.”

-“If I could tell parents one thing: at the age of reason, they have a new child.” This psychological fact is manifested physically in the children losing their baby teeth, losing baby fat, etc.

-Ages 6–12: the goal is the development of the social self.
            *Justice is their theme and their anthem is “that’s not fair.”
            *This is the time for saints and hero-worship; before 6, they just need Jesus.

Further reading: “Catechesi Tradendae” encyclical

-Age 12 is the child’s birth into being a teenager, which is “only slightly less traumatic than the original birth.” We fail children by not having rites of passage at this time.
*At this age they become very introspective.
*“If you have a one-year-old and a thirteen-year-old, you basically have the same child.”

-By age 13, children need approval from the adult community and no longer depend on their parents.
            *Meditate on Christ at 12 in the temple: the Bible says of Mary and Joseph, “They             understood not a word he said to them.”
            *This is a good age for a “shadow job” or internship.
            *Sitting at a desk is hard for this age. It is the lowest point of academic work in life. By 16–18, they are ready for strong academics again.
            *Family Life and Vocation is their theme. They must be in touch with 0–3-year-olds.
            *No “buddies”: ages 13–15 needs strong adult figure(s).

-Ages 6–12 and 18–24 are periods of steady growth.

-18–24: We need mentors and guides to adulthood. Goal of this phase: Vocation.

-It’s not that something is wrong with the child; it’s that something is wrong with our educational system.
*Our education system is a “factory method” out of Protestant Germany and is bad for teaching the faith.

Further reading: Evolution’s End by Joseph Chilton Pearce

-Don’t treat young adolescent as you treat 9–10-year-old

-Ages 12–13 is also a rebirth for the parents

-13 is a good age to be a mother’s helper: the child’s best comes out around other adults (can include extended family, or they can go away for the summer)

-Baptism and Confirmation: two moments of birth, Sacraments of indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You see here the wisdom of the Church.

·      The Brain

-Synapses connect neurons via dendrites

-We want lots of synapses: this growth happens through relationships. Baby must be face to face with mom at birth!

Further reading: The Secret Life of the Unborn Child

-At moment of birth, baby must be face to face with mom.

-Synapses grow by repetition of relationships (mom, over and over).

-Chilton Pearce studied inmates on death row for 30 years: every single one was separated from mom in first year of life (see Unabomber’s story).
*Adopted children are more likely to suffer from learning disabilities for the same reason.

-First 9 months after birth: crucial bonding with mother—“second pregnancy.” In-utero development matches this development psychologically.

-8 weeks old: development of first psychological leg: Trust in the world.
*It’s about action and attitude, not words.
*Mother and child should never be separated during this time: 8 weeks of quiet, peace, and learning each other, while Dad takes off work and acts as barrier to the outside world. Baby needs to be in mother’s arms.

“Every time a new baby is born and enters the family, the family is born again.”

-8 weeks to age 2: development of second psychological leg: Trust in self.
            *Man is by nature a worker: Montessori called man “homo laborem.”
            *Child has “vital instinct for work” and “work builds his life.”
            *Montessori said work is “any activity that benefits man.”
            *Work, for the child, is self-development: hand-eye coordination, the goal is internal. For adults, the goal of work is external: building the world.

-Pregnant women should listen to choirs of male and female voices: good for child. (See work of Dr. Michel Odent.)

-Reading an infant poetry stimulates a different part of the brain than having a conversation with him.
            *Language is crucial to development.
            *Use proper names for the sake of baby’s dignity; no “binky,” etc. Crucial for baby to learn proper terms.

-The amount a child moves in first 3 years of life is directly connected to IQ and brain development. Use no apparatus. Carry baby in arms and do tummy time (after 8 weeks).
            *Do not use exersaucer or any device they can’t get into by themselves.
            *Consider, how are brain scientists raising their kids? (See resources list at end of series.)

 -Tummy time strengthens myelin sheathing and helps brain develop. They become uncoordinated without it. Let them cry out as they lift self: they can do it. Don’t go pick them up at that moment.

-The hand perceives texture, temperature, and weight. Babies must be introduced to many different textures (tile floor vs. wood floor, different blankets, etc.)

-When baby is able to sit up well, they begin eating, trying juices. First weaning meal should take place at nine months old. This is the end of the ex-utero pregnancy.

-They need to learn object permanence: respect them if they don’t want to go to another adult; they need to know mom will be there.

Further reading: Lise Eliot, neurobiologist in Chicago. Read What's Going on in There? and other works


  1. I'm so glad you posted this! I will have to go back and read it further later. I've been reading The Absorbent Mind and it is SO fascinating.

  2. I don't know, I definitely don't agree with a few things right off the bat. For instance, "First weaning meal should take place at nine months old. This is the end of the ex-utero pregnancy." That seems like an arbitrary age for no especial reason.

    Many people actually say you should wean later than that. Have you heard of a baby's "virgin gut"? You may want to read up on that.

  3. Hi, I'm a fellow Chicagoan and mom of two with one on the way. (And also did ACE at ND, Go Irish!) My son attends Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center in Lincoln Park, which is a Montessori school. We've been very happy there, you may wish to bookmark for the future :) They offer infant/parent classes as well to help you get acclimated with Montessori, but sounds like you know quite a bit! God Bless.

    1. Laura, thank you for your helpful suggestion! I'd never heard of the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center, but it sounds awesome. Also, so so cool that you did ACE—many of my friends did it and I have so much love and respect for that program! So glad you stopped by. :)

  4. This was very interesting, although at a first glance I do not agree with everything.
    But I have never dealt with Montessori before, so I doubt I can judge it based on your first part of notes :)
    I'm looking forward to the next ones!