What is a Montessori House of Children? It is not a pre-school, because the “teacher” does not “teach” children under six, but instead the “directress” “directs” the children on how to use the scientifically prepared apparatus. The trained adult and equipment form the environment, prepared to meet the God-given needs of the child, to develop and form a man or woman. The trained adult only helps the child to reach his or her destiny.
Unlike some adults, the children love this environment, where they are free to work. In some other countries, the Montessori Method of Education, which is now available in Sri Lanka only for children between the ages of 2 ½ and 6, is carried right through, to the University. I hope someday, (I am 70 now!!) to learn and implement the Maria Montessori method, for children from 0 to 3 and 6 to 12 as well. Education begins at birth. In fact, what a mother is thinking, speaking and listening to, can affect the baby in the womb. I remember my first baby, moving vigorously in my womb, as I listened to some classical music records. She sings and teachers singing now.
I strongly believe, that the Montessori Method of Education is the best education, for the human being to be an integrated whole in body, soul and mind. It is futile to impart only knowledge, as we all know of the destruction that knowledgeable people have wrought. Education is not just the imparting of knowledge, to the mind. Montessori Education draws out of the children their inherent powers and helps them make the most of it. It is a help to life. I believe that the children in the villages should also benefit from good Montessori Houses of Children. I am very busy spending my money, time and effort to make that a reality. Why? Because I have greatly benefited personally, from the AMI Method of Education and desire to let other less fortunate children benefit from it too. I want to raise up a new generation of leaders, that have a strong will to do right and live right, in a world of crumbling values.A child’s will should not be broken, (as some think it should)but be allowed to develop, in order to help him obey his parents. It’s the good Montessori Education I had, which helped to develop my will.
I’ve been in the field of Education, most of my life. I was the first lady to lecture in Maths in the Colombo Campus. While I was lecturing there, I did the two-year AMI diploma at St. Bridget’s. Being an educationist from school days, (I started giving Maths tuition from the age of 15), I knew that I owed my ability to learn, understand and teach Maths, with little effort on my side, to both my Montessori foundation and my Saviour and Lord. I am not brilliant. Ordinary people like me can succeed, given the same opportunity. It can’t be a coincidence that three of us in my Physical Science University batch, were also from the same Montessori class.My AMI Montessori Principal Lena Wickramaratne, went to India and studied directly under Dr. Montessori herself. Miss Joyce Goonesekera also went to India for the same purpose.
Ordinary people like me can succeed, given the same opportunity. It can’t be a coincidence that three of us in my Physical Science University batch, were also from the same Montessori class.
In 1944 when Dr. Montessori together with her Son Mario Montessori visited Sri Lanka at the invitation of the Colombo Teachers’ Association conducted the First Montessori Training Course at Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena, Colombo 13 with more than 350 participants. Ms. Joyce Goonesekera assisted in giving the demonstrations of activities. Before returning to India Dr. Montessori handed over the legacy of Continuing the Montessori Training, to the Provincial Superior of the Good Shepherd Sisters. Joyce Goonesekera lovingly known as Aunty Joyce continued to work with great fidelity and commitment with the Sisters at the Good Shepherd Montessori Training Centre until her demise in November 2003. Since then the Training Centre, now situated at St. Bridget’s Convent, Colombo 7 has had the privilege of Celebrating 25 Years, 50 Years, 60 Years, 70 years and now is getting ready to Celebrate 75 Years of Service to parents, little children and to those willing to dedicate their lives in the Service of Children.
I entered Methodist College, at the age of six, into the right class for my age, the Upper Kindergarten. I already knew my 12 times multiplication tables and could read any book in English or Sinhala. In the first few days itself, much against my mother’s wishes, I was given a double promotion to Standard 2. I watched, my classmates standing up and reciting the multiplication tables. I never learned my tables in such a boring way, in the Montessori. My children and I, were able to enjoy our childhood and growing up years in playing, and taking part in extracurricular activities, without spending all our time and money on tuition.
I later taught at the Sri Jayawardanapura University, (formerly Vidyodaya) for 32 years. In 1973, I taught Maths to the entire Arts faculty of 700 students, in one lecture. It was a formidable task, but I was able to do it, thanks to the Montessori Principles, which I had learned. Actually it was easier to lay down the basics in Maths and then build, with these students who had never done any Maths in school. In later years, I found it more difficult; to undo the wrong ways of learning Maths, without understanding any of the concepts, but by meaningless rules. Thousands of University students have passed through my hands, but have no jobs, as they are unable to learn English. Language should be taught, at the age when the child absorbs all the languages spoken in his environment, which is till the age of six. Hence, it is my desire to bless the villages and the under privileged with English-speaking Montessoris.
My granddaughter loved it, when I played the zero game with her. Having understood the concept of the zero from it, (though she is supposed to be a slow learner), to my amazement, she correctly answered all the sums on the zero her parents quizzed her. It was her parents answers, which were wrong. My granddaughters of 14 and 10, exclaimed delightedly, when they spied my grading of colours, box 3, and wanted to play with it. I heard the older one say, “I hate school. I enjoyed my days in the Montessori”.
Dr. Maria Montessori was the first lady doctor in Italy and in many parts of the world. She was a psychiatrist and hence knew Psychology. So her method of education is based on Psychology. Montessori Psychology is different from general Psychology. Adults tend to draw up a syllabus, and teach it to the child. The child taught Dr. Montessori. Her education was based on “observation” of the child. It was Dr. Montessori’s compassion and desire to meet the needs of the mentally defective children in the Asylum where she was the psychiatrist. She believed that education and not medicine would help these children. This led her to use apparatus made by educationists such as Seguin. When a test was set for both defective and normal children, the defective children only took a longer time to learn and some did even better in the test than normal children. This made her wonder why the normal child did not do better, so when she had the opportunity, she tried this equipment on normal children. She later, modified the equipment for them and developed it, by observing the children. The little child led her to her method. She “discovered” the child, as her books on “Discovery of the Child”, and the “Secret of Childhood” unfolds.
These early formative years are the most vital years of a human being when the formation of a person takes place. These are the years from 2 ½ to 6, when the right education in the right environment prepared specially for it, is so necessary. We must never undervalue these precious years. The home too must be a prepared environment so that the child from 0 to 2 ½ years, which is the unconsciously absorbent period, should not absorb bad things, but all the good things which are of value. The child at this age is unable to filter out the bad from the good and absorbs unconsciously, everything around him.The environment should provide good, such as the unity of the parents, as disunity brings unresolved trauma and confusion to the little minds. If that has not happened, then the correct Montessori environment from 2 ½ to 6 can help to some extent correct it. One of the earliest Houses of Children was for hungry, orphan children, who were running about, traumatized by the greatest earthquake of that age, in Messina. They were silent, absent minded, and would not eat or drink. In the night people heard them screaming. Within six months people saw the change. They called it the “conversion of the orphans of Messina” They were healed not only physically but psychologically. Shouldn’t this happen in Sri Lanka?
When a test was set for both defective and normal children, the defective children only took a longer time to learn and some did even better in the test than normal children
The “Freedom of choice” to work with any material the child knows to work with, is one of the basic principles of the prepared environment. So each child enjoys working with what he has chosen, which is what he needs to develop, at his own pace. The only punishment needed, is to stop the child from working with the materials. What Dr. Montessori discovered,was that the child learned through the repetition of his chosen activities, and thereby learned to concentrate. Adults often fail to understand the need of the child for this prepared environment and the child’s desire to learn and develop according to the Laws of nature. We only shout “don’t touch “, , “don’t meddle” “you cant”, “ don’t carry that, you will break it”, etc. The little ones must be shown how to, by breaking up the movement into separate steps, so that the child can learn to be “independent and able to help himself” dress himself, wash hands, wash and polish things, cut up vegetables, etc. All children love to learn these things.Every activity in the prepared environment has a direct aim and also an indirect
aim which is just as important to the child.
Movement of the hand and limb also increases the intelligence. Babies must be free to crawl, for then that part of the brain is prepared for reading later on. The children in the Montessori constantly uses their hands in coordinated movements, as they work on the materials.
My hope is to make this valuable education available to everyone, especially the underprivileged.
I want to do my part, in making Sri Lanka a far better place for everyone to live in unity and love.