The New Student's Reference Work/The Montessori Devices



NSRW Maria Montessori.jpg
© House of Childhood Inc.
Dr. Maria Montessori
Here is “the only example of an educational system inaugurated by the feminine mind.”

DR. MARIA MONTESSORI, founder of the Montessori system, began her career in the medical profession. The only daughter of middle class parents, brilliant and ambitious, she was the first woman to obtain a medical degree from the University of Rome. Making a specialty of children's diseases, she became director of an institution for the feeble minded. It was in connection with this work that she first developed her system and became interested in its possibilities as applied to normal children. She resigned from the institution and became a student of philosophy in the University of Rome, specializing in child psychology and visiting primary schools. In January, 1907, she opened in Rome the first Case dei Bambini, or “Children's House.” Her work almost immediately attracted wide attention.

In 1911 Switzerland established the Montessori system in its schools, and E. G. C. Holmes, the chief inspector of the elementary schools of England, as a result of personal investigation, said of Dr. Montessori:

She is great because she has discovered Froebel's master principle for herself, and in so doing has interpreted it anew . . . . In theory Froebel left much to the child's initiative; in practice, comparatively little.

The Montessori system is part of the course of instruction in many leading normal schools in Canada and its importance is widely recognized by educational leaders in the United States where its adoption is being promoted under the auspices of the Montessori Educational Association of Washington, of which Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell is President and Dr. Claxton, U. S. Commissioner of Education, Miss Margaret Woodrow Wilson, John A. Brashear, Chairman of the Educational Fund Commission of Pittsburg, and William E. Davidson, Superintendent of Education of Pittsburgh, members of the Board of Trustees.


Teaching by the Montessori system begins with devices most directly related to the child's daily life—as those for teaching the lacing of shoes and the buttoning of dresses. Thus the occupations of home and school constantly review, supplement and emphasize each other.

Teaching Through the Fingers: One of the first steps is to train the finger tips. For example, the child learns the “feel” of letters made of sand paper and pasted upon cards. In these exercises movements are always from left to right, because of the preparation thus afforded for writing. Stress is laid upon the training of the finger tips because up to the age of six, children see imperfectly and because, up to this age, the brain is best educated through the fingers; hence, in part, their eagerness to help vision by feeling—an instinct which is either a nuisance or an education, in proportion as it is, or is not, applied under the guidance of an adult.

© House of Childhood Inc.
Children Using Counting and Geometrical Devices
The child on the left is placing figure cards over the corresponding number of counting sticks; on the right is fitting geometric insets into corresponding holes. His eyes are closed and he decides which hole the cylinder will fit, solely by sense of touch.

Why the Children Are Often Blindfolded: How many of us think why, when we say “let me see,” we are apt to close our eyes? Our mind-image of the thing we are trying to think about is thus made more vivid by shutting away from it all competitive images; and there are other reasons. Accordingly a good many things in a Montessori school are done by the children while blindfolded.

© House of Childhood Inc.
Hook and Eye Frame
Other features of the child's daily business of dressing are taught by means of similar frames.

Dressing Frames: A set of eight wooden frames. On six of these are mounted pieces of cloth of varying qualities to be joined by means of large buttons and button holes, automatic fasteners, small buttons and button holes, hooks and eyes, colored ribbons for bow tying and lacing through eyelets. Similar frames with leather pieces, similarly stimulate interest in shoe lacing and shoe buttoning. The children thus eagerly learn the use of their hands and usually “discover” for themselves that they can apply this skill in dressing.


The apparatus for developing skill in noting differences in number, form and dimension, include:

Solid Geometrical Insets: Three series of wooden cylinders set in corresponding holes. In the first series, diameter is constant, height varies; in the second series, diameter is constant, height varies; in the third series the cylindrical form alone is constant, height and diameter vary.

With these insets the child, working independently, learns to discriminate objects according to thickness, height and size. (For example, if he places the next-to-the-largest cylinder in the largest hole, he will find himself in the end with the largest cylinder for the smallest hole, etc.). These cylinder sets prepare for the more difficult exercises that follow.

The Tower:” Consists of ten wooden cubes decreasing regularly in size from 10 centimeters to 1 centimeter. With them the child builds "the tower" and learns general dimension. (This also is self corrective; since a misplaced block breaks the line.)

The Broad Stair:” Ten rectangular wooden blocks decreasing in height and width, length only being constant. To teach dimension of thickness.

The Long Stair:” Ten wooden square rods varying only in length; the first one meter long, the last one decimeter long, intervening ones diminishing one decimeter. Being marked off in decimeters, they teach dimension of length, help form habits of accurate classification and are later used in teaching addition, subtraction, multiplication and decimals. (Control of errors is through regularity of decreasing lengths of stairs and alternation of colors.)

Counting Boxes: These are two boxes each with five partitions containing sand paper numbers (on cards) 0 to 9, standing upright in each partition. Under these cards are the corresponding number of counting sticks. These counting sticks succeed the “long stair” in teaching elementary mathematics, the child associating the symbol with the concrete objects.

Counting Case: A case containing cards from which number combinations from 1 to 100 may be made by sliding the numbers into frames arranged perpendicularly in series of five.

© House of Childhood Inc.
Learning 64 Shades of Color
This illustration shows one of the color boxes and the flat spools upon which the different colored threads are wound.


Color Boxes: To train the child to make fine color discriminations a set of two duplicate color boxes is used. Each box contains eight colors, in a series of eight shades. In their use colors are first presented in shades strongly contrasting. A variety of games are played with these colors, one of the most interesting and useful of which resembles “Authors,” each player calling for the necessary shades from others to complete his set.


Sand Paper Boards: For the first steps in training the sense of touch two small boards are provided. One has half its surface covered with sand paper, the other half smooth. The other board is covered with alternate strips of sand paper of varying degrees of roughness.

The Fabric Box:” A collection of squares of velvet, wool, silk, fine and coarse cotton and fine and coarse linen arranged in a cabinet with drawers. Used to train further the tactile sense and add knowledge regarding quality.


Plane Geometric Insets in Wood: A six drawer cabinet containing: (1) Four plain wooden squares, rhomboid and trapezoid; (2) six polygons; (3) six circles diminishing in size; (4) six quadrilaterals (one square and five rectangles); (5) triangles of varying shapes; (6) oval, elipse, flower forms, etc.

In use, these forms are mixed and the child learns (both by sight and touch) to put them in corresponding depressions in wooden trays. (Blindfolding makes the exercise more difficult and therefore more interesting.)

Plane Geometric Forms: These geometrical insets are also reproduced in three series of cards to enable the child to pass from the concrete to the abstract sense of form. In the first series, forms are mounted in solid blue on the card; in the second, forms are reproduced in thick outline; in the third, the outline is represented by a thin blue line. In the use of this device the child mixes up a series of cards and a series of wooden frames and then hides each card form by placing over it the corresponding wooden form.

So, through these exercises, the child passes—step by step, day by day—from solid objects, to the plane figures and finally to a mere drawing representing the figure; thus developing the ability to form and carry accurate images in his mind, which is the fundamental thing in writing, drawing, designing, etc.; and, indeed, any other kind of thinking and expression about the world of concrete things.

Plane Geometric Insets in Metal: Used in the first exercises in design. The child draws around the form, as he has previously “drawn around it” in feeling it with his finger. The outline is then filled in with colored crayon. The only new step is the handling of the crayon. These metal insets are used on two little tables with sloped tops (large enough to hold three of the metal insets), which are placed on the child's own table.


Alphabet Boxes: Two cases containing, in compartments like a printer's case, five complete alphabets. These letters are cut in script from stiff paper and mounted on cards. To help in memorizing and distinguishing vowels and consonants the consonants are printed in rose color, the vowels in blue.

The letters are also outlined in sand paper and mounted on cards. Being rough, these sand paper letters control the little tracing fingers and the movements so developed help a child to write a remarkably good hand in a remarkably short time.


The general secretary of the Montessori Association, gives the following information for The New Student's Reference Work in answer to the inquiries indicated:

“Is there any part of the work in which the children are all engaged in doing the same thing at the same time, or where each is doing a part of one piece of work, as in the Kindergarten?”

“No, even if the children voluntarily co-operate, as often occurs, as in building or color matching, this is not as if each were required to take part in some work.”

“Can you give examples illustrating the rapidity with which children learn reading, writing and number?”

“Children in Montessori classes in Rome have learned to read and write in six weeks; others in three months. One six year old boy in an American Children's House was able to compose and write seventy-seven words one month after admission to the school. Progress in number work is equally rapid, but varies with the individual.”

“Can the Montessori teacher handle successfully more or less children than the teacher under the Kindergarten method?”

“In earlier stages fewer, as each child requires individual attention. One teacher and an assistant are sufficient for 25 children. Later on as children become self disciplined, fewer teachers are required than in the Kindergarten work.”

“To what extent can the mother in the home, under the Montessori method, co-operate with the teacher, and how much can she accomplish where there is no teacher in her community?”

“She can co-operate with the teacher by putting the underlying principles of the method into practice in all her dealings with her children. What she can accomplish where there is no teacher depends entirely on the time she can devote to her children; if her whole time, and she has fully grasped the underlying principles, there is no reason why she should not accomplish just as much as the professional teacher.”