THE MONTESSORI METHOD: CHAPTER
SEQUENCE OF EXERCISES
IN the practical application of the method it is helpful to know the sequence, or the various series, of exercises which must be presented to the child successively.
In the first edition of my book there was clearly indicated a progression for each exercise; but in the "Children's Houses" we began contemporaneously with the most varied exercises; and it develops that there exist grades in the presentation of the material in its entirety. These grades have, since the first publication of the book, become clearly defined through experience in the "Children's Houses."
As soon as the child comes to the school he may be given the following exercises:
Moving the seats, in silence (practical life).
Lacing, buttoning, hooking, etc.
The cylinders (sense exercises).
Among these the most useful exercise is that of the cylinders (solid insets). The child here begins to fix his attention. He makes his first comparison, his first selection, in which he exercises judgment. Therefore he exercises his intelligence. [Page 339]
Among these exercises with the solid insets, there exists the following progression from easy to difficult:
(a) The cylinders in which the pieces are of the same height and of decreasing diameter.
(b) The cylinders decreasing in all dimensions.
(c) Those decreasing only in height.
Exercises of Practical Life. To rise and be seated in silence. To walk on the line.
Sense Exercises. Material dealing with dimensions. The Long Stair. The prisms, or Big Stair. The cubes. Here the child makes exercises in the recognition of dimensions as he did in the cylinders but under a very different aspect. The objects are much larger. The differences much more evident than they were in the preceding exercises, but here, only the eye of the child recognises the differences and controls the errors. In the preceding exercises, the errors were mechanically revealed to the child by the didactic material itself. The impossibility of placing the objects in order in the block in any other than their respective spaces gives this control. Finally, while in the preceding exercises the child makes much more simple movements (being seated he places little objects in order with his hands), in these new exercises he accomplishes movements which are decidedly more complex and difficult and makes small muscular efforts. He does this by moving from the table to the carpet, rises, kneels, carries heavy objects.
We notice that the child continues to be confused between the two last pieces in the growing scale, being for a long time unconscious of such an error after he has learned to put the other pieces in correct order. Indeed [Page 340] the difference between these pieces being throughout the varying dimensions the same for all, the relative difference diminishes with the increasing size of the pieces themselves. For example, the little cube which has a base of 2 centimetres is double the size, as to base, of the smallest cube which has a base of 1 centimetre, while the largest cube having a base of 10 centimetres, differs by barely 1/10 from the base of the cube next it in the series (the one of 9 centimetres base).
Thus it would seem that, theoretically, in such exercises we should begin with the smallest piece. We can, indeed, do this with the material through which size and length are taught. But we cannot do so with the cubes, which must be arranged as a little "tower." This column of blocks must always have as its base the largest cube.
The children attracted above all by the tower, begin very early to play with it. Thus we often see very little children playing with the tower, happy in believing that they have constructed it, when they have inadvertently used the next to the largest cube as the base. But when the child, repeating the exercise, corrects himself of his own accord, in a permanent fashion, we may be certain that his eye has become trained to perceive even the slightest differences between the pieces.
In the three systems of blocks through which dimensions are taught that of length has pieces differing from each other by 10 centimetres, while in the other two sets, the pieces differ only 1 centimetre. Theoretically it would seem that the long rods should be the first to attract the attention and to exclude errors. This, however, is not the case. The children are attracted by this set of blocks, but they commit the greatest number of errors in using it, [Page 341] and only after they have for a long time eliminated every error in constructing the other two sets, do they succeed in arranging the Long Stair perfectly. This may then be considered as the most difficult among the series through which dimensions are taught.
Arrived at this point in his education, the child is capable of fixing his attention, with interest, upon the thermic and tactile stimuli.
The progression in the sense development is not, therefore, in actual practice identical with the theoretical progression which psychometry indicates in the study of its subjects. Nor does it follow the progression which physiology and anatomy indicate in the description of the relations of the sense organs.
In fact, the tactile sense is the primitive sense; the organ of touch is the most simple and the most widely diffused. But it is easy to explain how the most simple sensations, the least complex organs, are not the first through which to attract the attention in a didactic presentation of sense stimuli.
Therefore, when the education of the attention has been begun, we may present to the child the rough and smooth surfaces (following certain thermic exercises described elsewhere in the book).
These exercises, if presented at the proper time, interest the children immensely. It is to be remembered that these games are of the greatest importance in the method, because upon them, in union with the exercises for the movement of the hand, which we introduce later, we base the acquisition of writing.
Together with the two series of sense exercises described above, we may begin what we call the "pairing [Page 342] of the colours," that is, the recognition of the identity of two colours. This is the first exercise of the chromatic sense.
Here, also, it is only the eye of the child that intervenes in the judgment, as it was with the exercises in dimension. This first colour exercise is easy, but the child must already have acquired a certain grade of education of the attention through preceding exercises, if he is to repeat this one with interest.
Meanwhile, the child has heard music; has walked on the line, while the directress played a rhythmic march. Little by little he has learned to accompany the music spontaneously with certain movements. This of course necessitates the repetition of the same music. (To acquire the sense of rhythm the repetition of the same exercise is necessary, as in all forms of education dealing with spontaneous activity.)
The exercises in silence are also repeated.
Exercises of Practical Life. The children wash themselves, dress and undress themselves, dust the tables, learn to handle various objects, etc.
Sense Exercises. We now introduce the child to the recognition of gradations of stimuli (tactile gradations, chromatic, etc.), allowing him to exercise himself freely.
We begin to present the stimuli for the sense of hearing (sounds, noises), and also the baric stimuli (the little tablets differing in weight).
Contemporaneously with the gradations we may present the plane geometric insets. Here begins the education of the movement of the hand in following the contours of the insets, an exercise which, together with the other and con- [Page 343] temporaneous one of the recognition of tactile stimuli in gradation, prepares for writing.
The series of cards bearing the geometric forms, we give after the child recognises perfectly the same forms in the wooden insets. These cards serve to prepare for the abstract signs of which writing consists. The child learns to recognise a delineated form, and after all the preceding exercises have formed within him an ordered and intelligent personality, they may be considered the bridge by which he passes from the sense exercises to writing, from the preparation, to the actual entrance into instruction.
Exercises of Practical Life. The children set and clear the table for luncheon. They learn to put a room in order. They are now taught the most minute care of their persons in the making of the toilet. (How to brush their teeth, to clean their nails, etc.)
They have learned, through the rhythmic exercises on the line, to walk with perfect freedom and balance.
They know how to control and direct their own movements (how to make the silence,how to move various objects without dropping or breaking them and without making a noise).
Sense Exercises. In this stage we repeat all the sense exercises. In addition we introduce the recognition of musical notes by the help of the series of duplicate bells.
Exercises Related to Writing. Design. The child passes to the plane geometric insets in metal. He has already co-ordinated the movements necessary to follow the contours. Here he no longer follows them with his finger, but with a pencil, leaving the double sign upon a sheet of [Page 344] paper. Then he fills in the figures with coloured pencils, holding the pencil as he will later hold the pen in writing.
Contemporaneously the child is taught to recognise and touch some of the letters of the alphabet made in sandpaper.
Exercises in Arithmetic. At this point, repeating the sense exercises, we present the Long Stair with a different aim from that with which it has been used up to the present time. We have the child count the different pieces, according to the blue and red sections, beginning with the rod consisting of one section and continuing through that composed of ten sections. We continue such exercises and give other more complicated ones.
In Design we pass from the outlines of the geometric insets to such outlined figures as the practice of four years has established and which will be published as models in design.
These have an educational importance, and represent in their content and in their gradations one of the most carefully studied details of the method.
They serve as a means for the continuation of the sense education and help the child to observe his surroundings. They thus add to his intellectual refinement, and, as regards writing, they prepare for the high and low strokes. After such practice it will be easy for the child to make high or low letters, and this will do away with the ruled note-books such as are used in Italy in the various elementary classes.
In the acquiring of the use of written language we go as far as the knowledge of the letters of the alphabet, and of composition with the movable alphabet.
The children now take the exercise with the wooden pegs.
Also the games which consist in placing under the figures, on the table, a corresponding number of coloured counters. These are arranged in columns of twos, thus making the question of odd and even numbers clear. (This arrangement is taken from Séguin.)
We continue the preceding exercises. We begin more complicated rhythmic exercises.
In design we begin:
(a ) The use of water colours.
(b ) Free drawing from nature (flowers, etc.).
Composition of words and phrases with the movable alphabet.
(a ) Spontaneous writing of words and phrases.
(b ) Reading from slips prepared by the directress.
We continue the arithmetical operations which we began with the Long Stair.
The children at this stage present most interesting differences of development. They fairly run toward instruction, and order their intellectual growth in a way that is remarkable.
This joyous growth is what we so rejoice in, as we watch in these children, humanity, growing in the spirit according to its own deep laws. And only he who experiments can say how great may be the harvest from the sowing of such seed.