A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter IV." by Maria Montessori (1870-1952), translated by Anne Everett George (1882-)
From: The Montessori Method (1912) by Maria Montessori, translated by Anne Everett George. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1912. pp. 72-85.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 72] 



AS soon as I knew that I had at my disposal a class of little children, it was my wish to make of this school a field for scientific experimental pedagogy and child psychology. I started with a view in which Wundt concurs; namely, that child psychology does not exist. Indeed, experimental researches in regard to childhood, as, for example, those of Preyer and Baldwin, have been made upon not more than two or three subjects, children of the investigators. Moreover, the instruments of psychometry must be greatly modified and simplified before they can be used with children, who do not lend themselves passively as subjects for experimentation. Child psychology can be established only through the method of external observation. We must renounce all idea of making any record of internal states, which can be revealed only by the introspection of the subject himself. The instruments of psychometric research, as applied to pedagogy, have up to the present time been limited to the esthesiometric phase of the study.

My intention was to keep in touch with the researches of others, but to make myself independent of them, proceeding to my work without preconceptions of any kind. I retained as the only essential, the affirmation, or, rather, the definition of Wundt, that "all methods of experimental [Page 73]  psychology may be reduced to one, namely, carefully recorded observation of the subject".

Treating of children, another factor must necessarily intervene: the study of development. Here too, I retained the same general criterion, but without clinging to any dogma about the activity of the child according to age.


In regard to physical development, my first thought was given to the regulating of anthropometric observations, and to the selection of the most important observations to be made.

I designed an anthropometer provided with the metric scale, varying between .50 metre and 1.50 metres. A small stool, 30 centimetres high, could be placed upon the floor of the anthropometer for measurements taken in a sitting position. I now advise making the anthropometer with a platform on either side of the pole bearing the scale, so that on one side the total stature can be measured, and on the other the height of the body when seated. In the second case, the zero is indicated at 30 centimetres; that is, it corresponds to the seat of the stool, which is fixed. The indicators on the vertical post are independent one of the other and this makes it possible to measure two children at the same time. In this way the inconvenience and waste of time caused by having to move the seat about, is obviated, and also the trouble of having to calculate the difference in the metric scale.

Having thus facilitated the technique of the researches, I decided to take the measurements of the children's stature, seated and standing, every month, and in order to have these regulated as exactly as possible in their re- [Page 74]  lation to development, and also to give greater regularity to the research work of the teacher, I made a rule that the measurements should be taken on the day on which the child completed each month of his age. For this purpose I designed a register arranged on the following plan:–

The spaces opposite each number are used to register the name of the child born on that day of the month. Thus the teacher knows which scholars she must measure on the days which are marked on the calendar, and she fills in his measurements to correspond with the month in which he was born. In this way a most exact registration can be arrived at without having the teacher feel that she is overburdened, or fatigued.

With regard to the weight of the child, I have arranged that it shall be taken every week on a pair of scales which I have placed in the dressing-room where the children are given their bath. According to the day on which the child is born, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc., we have him weighed when he is ready to take a bath. Thus the children's baths (no small matter when we consider [Page 75]  a class of fifty) are sub-divided into seven days, and from three to five children go to the bath every day. Certainly, theoretically, a daily bath would be desirable, but in order to manage this a large bath or a number of small ones would be necessary, so that a good many children could be bathed at once. Even a weekly bath entails many difficulties, and sometimes has to be given up. In any case, I have distributed the taking of the weight in the order stated with the intention of thus arranging for and making sure of periodical baths. *

The form here given shows the register which we use in recording the weight of the children. Every page of the register corresponds to a month.

It seems to me that anthropological measurements, the taking and recording of which I have just described, should be the only ones with which the schoolmistress need occupy herself; and, therefore, the only ones which should be taken actually within the school. It is my plan that other measurements should be taken by a physician, who either is, or is preparing to be, a specialist in infant anthropology. In the meantime, I take these special measurements myself. [Page 76] 

The examination made by the physician must necessarily be complex, and to facilitate and regulate the taking of these measurements I have designed and had printed biological charts, of which I here give an example. [Page 77] 

* For the Index of Stature Dr. Montessori combines the seated and standing statures.

† The Ponderal Index is found by combining the height and weight.

[Page 78] 

As will be seen, these charts are very simple. I made them so because I wished the doctor and the schoolmistress to be able to use them freely and independently.

By this method the anthropometrical records are arranged in an orderly way, while the simplicity of the mechanism, and the clearness of the charts, guarantee the making of such observations as I have considered fundamental. Referring to the physician's biographical chart, I advise that once a year the following measurements be taken: Circumference of the head; the two greater diameters of the head; the circumference of the chest; and the cephalic, ponderal, and stature indices. Further information concerning the selection of these measurements may be found in my treatise, "Antropologia Pedagogica". The physician is asked to take these measurements during the week, or at least within the month, in which the child completes a year of his age, and, if it is possible, on the birthday itself. In this way the task of the physician will also be made easier, because of its regularity. We have, at the most, fifty children in each of our schools, and the birthdays of these scattered over the 365 days of the year make it possible for the physician to take his measurements from time to time, so that the burden of his work is not heavy. It is the duty of the teacher to inform the doctor of the birthdays of the children.

The taking of these anthropological measurements has also an educational side to it, for the pupils, when they leave the "Children's House", know how to answer with clearness and certainty the following questions:–

On what day of the week were you born?

On what day of the month?

When does your birthday come? [Page 79] 

And with all this they will have acquired habits of order, and, above all, they will have formed the habit of observing themselves. Indeed, I may say here, that the children take a great pleasure in being measured; at the first glance of the teacher and at the word stature, the child begins instantly to take off his shoes, laughing and running to place himself upon the platform of the anthropometer; placing himself of his own accord in the normal position so perfectly that the teacher needs only to arrange the indicator and read the result.

Aside from the measurements which the physician takes with the ordinary instruments (calipers and metal yard measure), he makes observations upon the children's colouring, condition of their muscles, state of their lymphatic glands, the condition of the blood, etc. He notices any malformations; describes any pathological conditions with care (any tendency of rickets, infant paralysis, defective sight, etc.). This objective study of the child will guide the doctor when he finds it advisable to talk with the parents concerning its condition. Following this, when the doctor has found it desirable, he makes a thorough, sanitary inspection of the home of the child, prescribing necessary treatment and eventually doing away with such troubles as eczema, inflammation of the ear, feverish conditions, intestinal disturbances, etc. This careful following of the case in hand is greatly assisted by the existence of the dispensary within the house, which makes feasible direct treatment and continual observation.

I have found that the usual questions asked patients who present themselves at the clinics, are not adapted for use in our schools, as the members of the families living in these tenements are for the greater part perfectly normal.

I therefore encourage the directress of the school to [Page 80]  gather from her conversation with the mothers information of a more practical sort. She informs herself as to the education of the parents, their habits, the wages earned, the money spent for household purposes, etc., and from all this she outlines a history of each family, much on the order of those used by Le-Play. This method is, of course, practical only where the directress lives among the families of her scholars.

In every case, however, the physician's advice to the mothers concerning the hygienic care of each particular child, as well as his directions concerning hygiene in general, will prove most helpful. The directress should act as the go-between in these matters, since she is in the confidence of the mothers, and since from her, such advice comes naturally.


The method of observation must undoubtedly include the methodical observation of the morphological growth of the pupils. But let me repeat that, while this element necessarily enters, it is not upon this particular kind of observation that the method is established.

The method of observation is established upon one fundamental base–the liberty of the pupils in their spontaneous manifestations.

With this in view, I first turned my attention to the question of environment, and this, of course, included the furnishing of the schoolroom. In considering an ample playground with space for a garden as an important part of this school environment, I am not suggesting anything new.

The novelty lies, perhaps, in my idea for the use of this open-air space, which is to be in direct communication [Page 81]  with the schoolroom, so that the children may be free to go and come as they like, throughout the entire day. I shall speak of this more fully later on.

The principal modification in the matter of school furnishings is the abolition of desks, and benches or stationary chairs. I have had tables made with wide, solid, octagonal legs, spreading in such a way that the tables are at the same time solidly firm and very light, so light, indeed, that two four-year-old children can easily carry them about. These tables are rectangular and sufficiently large to accommodate two children along the long side, there being room for three if they sit rather close together. There are smaller tables at which one child can work alone.

I also designed and had manufactured little chairs. My first plan for these was to have them cane seated, but experience has shown the wear on these to be so great, that I now have chairs made entirely of wood. These are very light and of an attractive shape. In addition to these, I have in each schoolroom a number of comfortable little armchairs, some of wood and some of wicker.

Another piece of our school furniture consists of a little washstand, so low that it can be used by even a three-year-old child. This is painted with a waterproof enamel and, besides the broad, upper and lower shelves which hold the little white enameled basins and pitchers, there are small side shelves for the soap-dishes, nail-brushes, towels, etc. There is also a receptacle into which the basins may be emptied. Wherever possible, a small cupboard provides each child with a space where he may keep his own soap, nail-brush, tooth-brush, etc.

In each of our schoolrooms we have provided a series of long low cupboards, especially designed for the reception [Page 82]  of the didactic materials. The doors of these cupboards open easily, and the care of the materials is confided to the children. The tops of these cases furnish room for potted plants, small aquariums, or for the various toys with which the children are allowed to play freely. We have ample blackboard space, and these boards are so hung as to be easily used by the smallest child. Each blackboard is provided with a small case in which are kept the chalk, and the white cloths which we use instead of the ordinary erasers.

Above the blackboards are hung attractive pictures, chosen carefully, representing simple scenes in which children would naturally be interested. Among the pictures in our "Children's House" in Rome we have hung a copy of Raphael's "Madonna della Seggiola", and this picture we have chosen as the emblem of the "Children's Houses". For indeed, these "Children's Houses" represent not only social progress, but universal human progress, and are closely related to the elevation of the idea of motherhood, to the progress of woman and to the protection of her offspring. In this beautiful conception, Raphael has not only shown us the Madonna as a Divine Mother holding in her arms the babe who is greater than she, but by the side of this symbol of all motherhood, he has placed the figure of St. John, who represents humanity. So in Raphael's picture we see humanity rendering homage to maternity,–maternity, the sublime fact in the definite triumph of humanity. In addition to this beautiful symbolism, the picture has a great value as being one of the greatest works of art of Italy's greatest artist. And if the day shall come when the "Children's Houses" shall be established throughout the world, it is our wish that this picture of Raphael's shall have its place in each of the schools, [Page 83]  speaking eloquently of the country in which they originated.

The children, of course, cannot comprehend the symbolic significance of the "Madonna of the Chair", but they will see something more beautiful than that which they feel in more ordinary pictures, in which they see mother, father, and children. And the constant companionship with this picture will awaken in their heart a religious impression.

This, then, is the environment which I have selected for the children we wish to educate.

I know the first objection which will present itself to the minds of persons accustomed to the old-time methods of discipline;–the children in these schools, moving about, will overturn the little tables and chairs, producing noise and disorder; but this is a prejudice which has long existed in the minds of those dealing with little children, and for which there is no real foundation.

Swaddling clothes have for many centuries been considered necessary to the new-born babe, walking-chairs to the child who is learning to walk. So in the school, we still believe it necessary to have heavy desks and chairs fastened to the floor. All these things are based upon the idea that the child should grow in immobility, and upon the strange prejudice that, in order to execute any educational movement, we must maintain a special position of the body;–as we believe that we must assume a special position when we are about to pray.

Our little tables and our various types of chairs are all light and easily transported, and we permit the child to select the position which he finds most comfortable. He can make himself comfortable as well as seat himself [Page 84]  in his own place. And this freedom is not only an external sign of liberty, but a means of education. If by an awkward movement a child upsets a chair, which falls noisily to the floor, he will have an evident proof of his own incapacity; the same movement had it taken place amid stationary benches would have passed unnoticed by him. Thus the child has some means by which he can correct himself, and having done so he will have before him the actual proof of the power he has gained: the little tables and chairs remain firm and silent each in its own place. It is plainly seen that the child has learned to command his movements.

In the old method, the proof of discipline attained lay in a fact entirely contrary to this; that is, in the immobility and silence of the child himself. Immobility and silence which hindered the child from learning to move with grace and with discernment, and left him so untrained, that, when he found himself in an environment where the benches and chairs where not nailed to the floor, he was not able to move about without overturning the lighter pieces of furniture. In the "Children's Houses" the child will not only learn to move gracefully and properly, but will come to understand the reason for such deportment. The ability to move which he acquires here will be of use to him all his life. While he is still a child, he becomes capable of conducting himself correctly, and yet, with perfect freedom.

The Directress of the Casa dei Bambini at Milan constructed under one of the windows a long, narrow shelf upon which she placed the little tables containing the metal geometric forms used in the first lessons in design. But the shelf was too narrow, and it often happened that the children in selecting the pieces which they wished to [Page 85]  use would allow one of the little tables to fall to the floor, thus upsetting with great noise all the metal pieces which it held. The directress intended to have the shelf changed, but the carpenter was slow in coming, and while waiting for him she discovered that the children had learned to handle these materials so carefully that in spite of the narrow and sloping shelf, the little tables no longer fell to the floor.

The children, by carefully directing their movements, had overcome the defect in this piece of furniture. The simplicity or imperfection of external objects often serves to develop the activity and the dexterity of the pupils. This has been one of the surprises of our method as applied in the "Children's Houses".

It all seems very logical, and now that it has been actually tried and put into words, it will no doubt seem to everyone as simple as the egg of Christopher Columbus.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


[Page 75]

* Incidentally, I may say, that I have invented a means of bathing children contemporaneously, without having a large bath. In order to manage this, I thought of having a long trough with supports at the bottom, on which small, separate tubs could rest, with rather large holes in the bottom. The little tubs are filled from the large trough, into which the water runs and then goes into all the little tubs together, by the law of the levelling of liquids, going through the holes in the bottom. When the water is settled, it does not pass from tub to tub, and the children will each have their own bath. The emptying of the trough brings with it the simultaneous emptying of the little tubs, which being of light metal, will be easily moved from the bottom of the big tub, in order to clean it. It is not difficult to imagine arranging a cork for the hole at the bottom. These are only projects for the future!

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom