Making Montessori Your Own: An Introduction {Part 1}

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hello! A while back a friend asked me if I would write a blog post explaining the Montessori method and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd a little bit... But even though I was Montessori-educated for MANY years (and my grandparents founded the Montessori school I attended - it's in my blood!) I didn't feel qualified! I knew somebody who was, though - Sarah! I think she and I "met" through the What I Wore Sunday linkup a couple of years ago, but we ended up realizing we lived right near each other and had friends in common.  Small Catholic world!

Sarah will tell you a little bit about herself below, and will be guest posting here weekly for the next four weeks as she explains the Montessori method, why Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is such an awesome thing, and how to incorporate the Montessori method into your home. I hope you enjoy this series!

Hello, beautiful readers!  I am so excited to share some of my favorite things with you in these next few posts.  Rosie, thank you for inviting me and hosting this little series!  My name is Sarah Therese; I'm a cradle Catholic and, after graduating from a lifetime of homeschool, I stumbled upon the Montessori Method at college while working toward a Degree in Early Childhood Education.  One could say that it was love at first sight because as soon as I realized that Montessori was a person who was a devout Catholic, I was captivated.  Of course, at college there was no mention of any religious education component with the method -- merely a glimpse into her discovery of human development and a little bit about her philosophy of education -- I knew, however, that if she was really a devout Catholic then, considering her remarkable discoveries of human development, there simply had to be a religious education component to the method.

During my Sophomore year at school, I had the opportunity to write an English paper on the topic of my choice.  I chose Montessori.  As part of my research in the writing of the paper, I visited a Montessori school to take pictures of the children's work and the layout of the classroom to include in my paper.  This visit turned into a job interview which turned into a job which turned into two years of employment.  But this school was non-denominational with no mention of religion whatsoever.  While I was gaining Montessori experience, I was still searching for the Truth.

In the Fall of my Senior year, my older sister got married.  At her reception, the photographer and I sat down with each other and started talking about the Montessori Method.  She worked at a local Catholic Montessori school -- Siena Academy -- and said to me, "I'm 12 weeks pregnant and will be leaving at the end of the school year -- would you be interested in potentially taking my job?"

I said yes.

Thus followed a conversation in which I learned about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd  and how I might be able to become a certified Catechist.  My sister and her husband just celebrated their second wedding anniversary and I'm presently in my second year of teaching at Siena Academy.  I completed my level 1 certification in CGS this Summer and am continually amazed by the graces the Lord showers on us through Maria Montessori's Method.

Our Lady of the Chair, Montessori's favorite Marian title.
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was born of a conservative father and a liberal mother.  She favored her mother's mindset, thereby being the frequent disappointment of her father who did not believe that women needed to pursue a higher level of education.  His daughter, however, became the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome's School of Medicine.  Due to her being a woman, Montessori was not permitted to dissect corpses in the presence of the men.  She was made to come after hours to finish the assigned work in solitary.  This meant that the only lighting came from candles and she had to work with corpses that had been out all day long.  It was so revolting -- and the pressures of her overall circumstances were so great -- that one day she determined to leave it all and find another career to pursue where she might find fewer obstacles.

As she walked home that evening, she passed by a shabbily clad woman accompanied by a child of about 2 years.  The woman promptly began her role as beggar as Montessori approached, but Montessori was observing the child.  The child, quite unconcerned, was playing with a scrap of paper.  "There was something in the child's expression -- so serenely happy in the possession of that worthless scrap of colored paper, observing it with the full absorption of its little soul -- that, suddenly, to the student [Montessori] watching, it brought an inner experience best described in the words of Matthew Arnold's Buried Life.  It was though a bolt was shot back somewhere in the breast and a lost pulse of feeling stirred again.  Moved by emotions she could not explain, Montessori turned around and went straight back to the dissecting room."

Upon graduation, Dr. Montessori became assistant doctor at the Psychiatric Clinic at the University of Rome.  Part of her assignment was to visit Rome's insane asylums; there she encountered "idiot" children.  During one visit, Montessori noticed that the woman who looked after the children did not attempt to conceal her disgust of them.  The woman said it was because as soon as the children were finished eating, they threw themselves on the floor to search for the crumbs.  Montessori observed and noticed that there were no toys or material of any kind -- the room was, in fact, bare!  There was literally nothing in the room for the children to hold and manipulate; their behavior was a craving for a very different and higher kind than for mere food.  Dr. Montessori realized that there was only one way towards intelligence for these children, and that was found through their hands.  The little ones were simply following their nature in search for this answer.  This was essentially the beginning of what we now call the Montessori Method.  Dr. Montessori saw a need -- the education of young children -- and discovered it by following the child.  To those who follow the method, she says to not follow her, but the child.

Dr Montessori traveled a lot during her lifetime, made many remarkable discoveries about the child and human development, and discovered a method of education not before realized or acknowledged by anyone.  After she discovered what we now know as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Pope Benedict XV expressed his desire that the universal Catholic school system follow this approach because in itself it is truly Catholic; it puts the individual human person at the center, not the curriculum.

This is the first of a four part series that I have written on the Montessori Method.  In part 2, I'll share about what Dr. Montessori called her greatest discovery.  Further reading and the source used for the writing of this post: Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work (E.M. Standing).

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