The Force of Dr. Montessori’s Thought

28 Jul

During the past few weeks, I’ve received a couple of invitations to check out an online store that creates Montessori-based applications for the iPad.  On their blog, the product makers (two AMI-trained individuals who obviously skipped all the theory lectures) claim to wholeheartedly support Montessori education.  They paint themselves as champions of children, on a mission to “expose a new generation to the force of [Dr. Montessori’s] thought”.

Their only mission, as far as I can tell, is to make money by using the Montessori name, all the while tricking parents into thinking their children are obtaining a quality educational experience, and robbing children of the opportunity to fulfill their potential through real-world encounters.  Making money?  Perfectly fine.  Conning parents and denying children the opportunity to interact with the real world?  NOT FINE.

Join me as I dissect and respond to the very blog post that claims their intentions are pure (sections in green are taken from their blog):

“We are trying to introduce new families to the Montessori approach to early childhood education. We hope to highlight the importance of Montessori by exposing a new generation to the force of her thought.”

Unless the applications you’re selling come with a full download of The Absorbent Mind and an opportunity to observe in a Montessori classroom, I highly doubt that the families that purchase the products will be ‘exposed to the force of Dr. Montessori’s thought‘ (although I give you points for poetic prowess).  They will only be exposed to the force of mass marketing and the convenience of appliances-as-babysitters, and will once again be falsely reassured by money-grubbing sell-0uts that a video game is a great substitute for actual, physical learning experiences.

“We have carefully and thoughtfully translated the Montessori materials into iPhone and iPad applications. They are adherent to the Montessori philosophy of education. These applications are kinesthetic and proprioceptive, and incite the audio, visual, and tactile senses of the child. They also address the vestibular sense of balance. Additionally, positive feedback systems are delicately put into place, and control of error offers the child an authentic Montessori experience.”

The only way a material can adhere to the Montessori philosophy of education is if it is a REAL material that can be touched, carried, weighed, dropped, stacked, taken off a shelf, explored, and carefully put away.  And who are you trying to fool with your big words, anyway?  These applications are anything BUT kinesthetic and proprioceptive!  They don’t require the child to lift a red rod and gauge its length, or walk between tables and around rugs without bumping into anything.

Perhaps most tragic, in my view, is your claim to ‘incite the audio, visual, and tactile senses of the child’ (it’s auditory, not audio, by the way).  How can you rob children of their RIGHT to have real physical experiences, which are so crucial for the appropriate development of the brain?

Let me quote Dr. Joseph Chilton Pierce, whose theories are based on Montessori’s discoveries: “The more extensive and complete the child’s interaction with the content of the world out there, the more extensive the resulting structure of knowledge within…  In our anxieties, we fail to allow the child a continual interaction with the phenomena of this earth on a full-dimensional level (which means with all five of his/her body senses); and at the same time, we rush the child into contact with phenomena not appropriate to his/her stage of biological development.”  Can this statement more clearly describe the cognitive devastation your products are supporting?!

Now, let’s talk about your so-called ‘control of error’ (which is how the child is able to check his own work with the real Montessori materials and learn from his mistakes).  In the Red Rods (a Montessori material and one of the apps that you sell), the control of error is in the child’s ability to discriminate the differences in length.  But did you know that in order for the child to truly develop this ability and apply his new knowledge in more abstract ways, he has to actually carry the rods and feel their difference in length?

Dr. Montessori, in The Advanced Montessori Method, explained that the value of the control of error is in its ability to allow the child to compare and judge his work.  However, the simple posing of the problem (in this case, putting the Red Rods in order of length) is not what drives the child.  What brings the child back to the material is the sensation of “acquiring a new power of perception” thanks to the control of error, but perception between the ages of zero to six can ONLY be gained through hands-on exploration of materials that are concrete and physical representations of abstract concepts. This makes the control of error in your apps useless as a true tool of cognitive development.

“If Maria Montessori were alive today, we think that she would be at the Apple store, playing with an iPad, thinking hard about these complicated issues… In our opinion, Maria Montessori would be trying to open up and discover new ways to think about how we learn.”

First of all, nothing ticks me off more than misguided Montessorians who justify their schemes by saying, “If Maria Montessori were alive, she’d agree with me”.  Let’s get this straight: If Maria Montessori were alive today, she might very well be at the Apple store, playing with an iPad; but she would NOT be making iPad applications because she understood how children really learn and develop!  Don’t believe me, read her books!  The materials and the method she created were not designed simply to show the children how to read, write, or sort color tablets… She was helping develop “the human spirit” and change the world by following the needs, interests, and drives of children!

“Education must be reconstructed and based on the law of nature and not on the preconceived notions and prejudices of adult society,” she reminded us tirelessly.   The law of nature has not changed in 100 years, although our willingness to accept and adhere to it has.  We adults think we know what’s best for the children, and we fill their lives with our “anxiety-conditioned view of the world,” as Chilton Pearce says.  We think abstractly, and thus force our children to follow suit.  Any person who claims to believe in and support Montessori must put aside their ego and their delusions of grandeur, take a seat, observe the children, and take their cue from them.  THAT is what Maria Montessori would do.

“Existing Montessori students will return to the classroom with a renewed sense of joy and wonder.”

NO.  THEY.  WON’T.  You people are obviously not experienced guides, or you would know that any Montessori student who has been forced, bribed, praised, or coerced into working with Montessori materials at home after school will hardly ever want to touch the materials in the classroom, because the thrill of free choice, uninterrupted exploration, and intrinsic reward is gone.  Even worse, by exposing Montessori children to the apps, you will have robbed them of the experience of  interacting physically with the actual material.  I can hear the children now: “No, I don’t want to work with the Red Rods.  I already played that game on my computer at home.”  Sadly, our children’s loss is EVERYONE’S loss, including yours.

“A parent summed it up best, ‘I look forward to this app since children 3 or 4 are VERY adept at using their PARENTS’ iPads and iPhones – especially during long car trips and long waits at busy restaurants, doctor’s clinics, and in airports and on airplanes…all of which we have experienced in the past weeks. Our iPad has been engaging, educational, and fun.’ “

Uh, whatever happened to keeping your children entertained the old-fashioned way: by interacting with them???  For long car trips, sing songs and play I Spy.  Waiting at a restaurant?  Tell a good story or bring a couple of books.  At a doctor’s clinic?  Bust out a shoelace and play Cat’s Cradle.  For airplanes, nothing beats a coloring book or paper dolls!  Good grief, parents… You complain you don’t get enough time with your children, and when you have the opportunity to interact with them, you plug them into a computer!

“As many of you can imagine, comments have ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other.”

Gee, I wonder what true Montessorians – men and women who have selflessly dedicated their LIVES to fighting for the developmental rights of children – think about all this?  Spend one day – heck, even one hour – in a Montessori classroom, and you’ll understand why we’re fighting so arduously against the computerization of Montessori.

“In our estimations, the relevance of Montessori no longer rests with Montessori. It rests with us.”

No, it doesn’t.  It rests with the children.  Respect their rights, observe their needs, and go make your money at the expense of a less vulnerable social group.  If you truly want to be relevant in the lives of children, then maybe YOU should spend a little more time being ‘exposed to the force of Dr. Montessori’s thought’.

**********************

“To stimulate life,–leaving it then free to develop, to unfold,–herein lies the first task of the educator. In such a delicate task, a great art must suggest the moment, and limit the intervention, in order that we shall arouse no perturbation, cause no deviation, but rather that we shall help the soul which is coming into the fullness of life, and which shall live from its own forces.”

— Maria Montessori

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20 Responses to “The Force of Dr. Montessori’s Thought”

  1. EV July 28, 2010 at 12:31 am #

    Thank you! I’ve been fending off excited parent chatter over the past few weeks. I’ve gotten to the point of just saying, “Please, let your children live in the real world.”

  2. psmontessori July 28, 2010 at 1:39 am #

    I couldn’t agree more. It is so obviously wrong, there is nothing more to say.

  3. Marcy July 28, 2010 at 1:39 am #

    YES!!! I remember looking at those and for a second thinking, “oh this could be cool…” then realizing they’d made an app for the sandpaper letters. You know, SANDPAPER letters, the ones where one of the key aspects is to feel the difference between the smooth wood and the rough sandpaper. Can’t do that with a computer screen!

    I think there can definitely be room for involving technology in the classroom… when kids are older (elementary, perhaps?). But these activities that are specifically designed for use and experience with the REAL world? No, no, no. It goes against the whole EVERYTHING of it.

    (can you imagine a water pouring app for practical life? HA)

  4. Brandi (Real Life Montessori) July 28, 2010 at 3:48 am #

    Good show! I was thinking about tackling this on my blog but could have never done so with such enthusiasm! lol

    “Uh, whatever happened to keeping your children entertained the old-fashioned way: by interacting with them???”
    The problem with kids is that no matter what you bring/do to entertain them in these situations, it is infinitely inferior to whatever the most inappropriate thing they could be doing in the situation so it’s usually deemed “not fun” in about 3 seconds. This includes iPods/Pads. Ryann has one (it’s actually hers, not mine)and after about 6 months I’m the primary user because like most kids given a true choice in activities, she chooses to go outside and catch fireflies with me in the evenings rather than virtually catch them on a screen.

    And Re: Sandpaper letters, I saw that app the other day and my head about exploded!

  5. Linda Cameron July 28, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    TOTALLY agree!! I first started to cringe when DVD players were installed in vans to keep the kids quiet. You are right- whatever happened to relating to your children? Singing songs with them (and NOT Lady GA GA)or teaching them how to pass the time creatively rather than escaping into fantasy. Thank you for this post!

  6. Montessoribeginnings July 29, 2010 at 6:59 am #

    I LOVE YOU!!!! I’ve been away for a bit and just found your post. I got an email from these people a while ago and chose to ignore it because I couldn’t eloquently write my real opinion on it. Thank goodness you’ve done a brilliant job of doing it for all of us!
    I’m not very technology savy I have to say and I was wondering how on earth they could get the feel of sandpaper on a computer screen!lol
    Thank you so much for your outspoken passion, commitment to children and willingness to so eloquently fight for a cause you believe in!

    • montessorimatters July 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

      (I tried replying on your blog but Blogger has been acting up and won’t let me post replies…)

      Awww… I just read your comment on my blog. Thank you so much for your supportive words and for the link, they really made my day. 🙂 So glad you’re back, by the way! I look forward to reading about your on-going adventures!

  7. Anna Langstaff July 29, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    Thank you for putting together such a thoughtful response to this unfortunate new App. I appreciated the quotes your used to illustrate your points. I am glad that I am not the only one who is disturbed by this.

  8. Leah July 29, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    First, I love your blog! Second a few thoughts:
    In terms of entertainment, I totally agree that bringing gaming, DVD, and i-devices into a “waiting” situation is odd (at best). However, I don’t agree that technology as entertainment, when children are shown how to use it responsibly, is across the board “wrong.”
    As for educational use of ipad or other devices, to simply scream no, I think is misguided. Technology -like other things- happens! 😉 and it is and will continue to happen. Rather than rail against the obviously nonsense concept of computerized Sandpaper letters, I choose to be apart of developing and educating others about apps that would be beneficial to Montessori and ALL children. Having said that, I will disclose that I don’t own an ipad and my cell phone is three years old. 🙂 I am only beginning to realize the potential of various technologies, but – like all of you – I want those potentials to be positive for my children. I want these devices to increase their independence and critical thinking skills- not increase their isolation and atrophy their brain. As an analogy, I don’t much like TV, which is to say, I don’t watch many TV programs. I do however, like to watch folks do Karoke. It is interactive TV! Who knew 60 years ago that TVs would have THAT “app?” 🙂 Submitted respectfully and in full support of what you do and the dedication and passion I hear from you all!

  9. Mari-Ann July 29, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    I am livid. You have GOT to be kidding me about these phone apps — these people obviously have ZERO concept of what Montessori is all about. Such presumptuous (and inaccurate!) claims – what a blatant effort to swindle unwitting parents.

    I applaud you for taking on this issue and for posting it on your blog in order to spread the word. Well done!
    And I must point out that I completely 100% agree with everything you wrote, and I was particularly pleased to read your views on how to entertain children during times of waiting. So few people seem to agree with this these days, but I, for one, refuse to plug my 3 year old child into the electronic world. I know full well he will be introduced to it eventually, but now is not the time.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Best,
    Mari-Ann
    Counting Coconuts

  10. Angela Hartwig July 30, 2010 at 1:35 am #

    Hello,

    I am a Montessori parent, an avid technology lover, and a partner in Montessorium. I just wanted to write to say that we appreciate your comments and concerns. Please know that we are all very passionate about the Montessori methods and materials. In no way do we hope to detract from or replace the beauty and genius of a Montessori classroom; rather our hope is that interest is spurred in Montessori as a mainstream school of thought. In our household, we utilize technology for the benefit, not the detriment of our children… as do millions of families across the world.

    I thought you all may be interested to see this email from a customer, unknown to us, who used the Intro to Math app as a supplement to the physical materials. The idea completely originated from her daughter. http://montessorium.com/blog/2010/7/28/whats-your-intro-to-math-story.html

    My hope is that this illustrates for you that there are beneficial educational opportunities to be had in the new realm of interactive devices. It is of course the role and responsibility of parents and educators to ascertain whether or not such usage is of value, as well as how and when it should be used. Our goal in Montessorium will always be to promote and push education to its fullest potential in this format; to expand upon as well as to encourage improvement in the alternative applications available for children in the app store today.

    On a more personal note, we are very nice people! 🙂 Please bear this in mind before presuming the worst. Additionally, speaking as a Montessori parent, I would hope that you do not place unnecessary judgement upon any existing or potential Montessori parents who utilize technology as a supplement to their child’s education, or you may soon find that Montessori as a whole will have an increasingly diminishing user-base.

    Respectfully yours,

    Angela Hartwig

  11. Jody from Mommy Moment July 30, 2010 at 2:25 am #

    Thank-YOU!!!
    So well written – I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who felt this way…

  12. Ilana Dover July 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    Well done! Thank you for bringing sanity and reality in defense of the child!

  13. EV July 31, 2010 at 6:07 pm #

    I felt compelled to pass along this comment from an active Casa/Primary teacher who is a friend.

    Oh my! I cant believe they cheapened the beauty and the purpose intended by the materials.

    This has strong implications for our world:
    1. Introducing new sounds when the old ones aren’t mastered. The people who will use this at home will not have the training to understand the processes important to when to introduce each concept.
    2. The children will have the attitude of I already did that lesson without the full understanding of the mastery of the concept. What a nightmare just like your baby can read.

    Aggggh!!!!!!

    Why cant we let children be children without having to figure out how to send them to school and to home school at the same time with the same materials and not the proper training. I dont try to do surgery after watching an episode of ER on the TV.

    PS: Lets not even touch the research about introduction of electronics at a young age and the link to attention deficit.

  14. Cynthia July 31, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    Thank you, Pilar. I was unaware of these apps until I read your post.

    Angela, I have no doubt you are all very nice people with the best of intentions. However, I must agree with Pilar and the other practising teachers who have already posted here. In addition, apps smack of homework and it is no secret that truly authentic Montessori schools do not hand out homework.

    If a child is made to do “homework” – and this can be pouring, printing numbers, reviewing sounds, doing times tables – she might not want to do it at school. Would you? Home should be a place to relax – a place where the child does not have to share with many other children. Home should be a personal place designed for all members of the family to live together in harmony. It should not be a place where Montessori education is “supplemented”!

  15. Annicles August 5, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    I’m a bit late to this party but I have a little extra to add.

    I think it is important to remember that new technology that is slightly uncomfortable to us is what our children will be using on a daily basis in 20 years time. It is our responsibility to make sure that they are not left behind or left out because of our attitude to technology.

    I have to admit that we do have a computer in our 3-6 classroom. It is used for limited time (20 mins a week, per child) and very restricted use, but it is still there and used, partly because in the UK it is part of the EYFS and therefore law that children are exposed to computers and are able to use tham in a limited way even at the age of 4.

    The oldest children in my class (age 6) may sometimes use the computer to do a piece of research or to watch a video or demonstration of something that they are working on. For instance, a child last year was convinced that a volcan was about the same size as his dad. Showing him picures of volcanoes with houses on did not convince him, showing him a short video of someone standing on a volcano did.

    I completely agree though, that the Montessori materials are about the use of as many senses as possible and not about a little smooth screen. It did occur to me that the makers of the apps had targeted the wrong age group and the wrong set of materials. They went for materials that are all about the size and dimension of the material. If they made apps for the language work, later maths, stuff that isn’t so dependent on the physicality of the material it would almost be acceptable.

    As for the waiting argument – I completely agree. Waiting is a fact of life. Teaching children to deal with it can be a painful process but a lot better than handing over a screen and letting all involved switch off. I am a big fan of boredom!

  16. skwood1234 November 2, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    I reviewed the application, and found it a lifeless facsimile of the Montessori materials. From the dancing numbers, to the mechanical movements of the beads, it was not very educational, nor very interesting.

    Thanks for the thorough review. I am sure many parents will happily part with $2.99, and get as little as they paid. I suspect a child who has been in a Montessori classroom would find it amusing for about fifteen minutes.

  17. Miss Anna July 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Thank you for your well written post! I am so tired of parents telling me how much their children are “learning” from the ipad. Meanwhile some of them are hardly able to hold a pencil or crayon because of overexposure to technology. How can an app for the pink tower ever be the same as the pink tower? You can’t walk around it, you can’t feel it, you can discriminate dimension and size. I had an actual Montessori teacher tell me how great the app for the sandpaper letters is. Really? Does it change the texture of your ipad screen? Ridiculous!

    I am not opposed to new technology. In fact I welcome it and realize that our children will be a “high tech generation.” However, allowing your 3 year old to be entertained by an ipad is irresponsible and unnecessary. Your child will be just as “high tech” if he starts using a computer at age 10 or 12 as if he started at age 3 or 4. This is a proven fact.

    So please parents, if you are spending the money to send your child to a Montessori school don’t ruin their experience with Montessori apps. And if your child doesn’t go to Montessori school but you still want them to have that experience, well then do a little reading, go on ebay and buy a some REAL Montessori materials to use at home. Don’t fool yourself with useless apps.

    As a note to this I would like to mention the disagreement between AMI and AMS trained teachers. There seems to be a general conception that AMS teachers welcome this or similar kind of technology in their classroom. As an AMS teacher, beyond a cd player, I do not have any technology in my classroom nor do any of my AMS trained friends. Although I have been in AMS classrooms with computers and I am sure they are used in some schools, I have never actually seen any children using them or the teachers teaching on them at the quality AMS schools I have visited. As you pointed out the authors of these apps are AMI trained. Hmmm. I think it would serve us all better as a community of teachers, AMS and AMI, if we stopped assuming what one training dictates versus the to other and simply come together under the umbrella of Maria Montessori’s writings and philosophy. In my opinion we ALL need to return to the philosophy behind the classroom and stop being so obsessed with the materials. It is this misdirection that leads to sandpaper letter ipad apps. It’s not just what they look like, it is how they feel and function and how our children use them.

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