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Montessori and Religion

 

 

A large part of Montessorii's philosophy includes the goodness of a child's soul. Montessori was a devout and practicing Catholic and her beliefs are evident in her approach to educating children. Basically, Montessori believed in the innate ability of a child to love and respect life deeply.

Here are some highlights of teaching morals or religion to your child.

"Now religion itself is not something that has to be given the child; it is not something that has to be taught. Men have been religious since the very beginning of their history, every race of men however primitive has had a language and a religion. We know therefore that a sense of God exists in the heart of the child, it is not conscious but it is there and it cannot be lost, though it may be obstructed and distorted. It is something that has to grow, and it grows slowly, the important thing is not to interfere, for the plant will not flower if the buds are broken by clumsy, impatient handling. We must watch this plant carefully, give it the right conditions for growth and protection from cold and rough weather, but we must have patience while it grows in its own time and its own way." Child
"This approach means that we are to give religion in a form that a child can understand at his or her present stage of development. We are encouraged not to make a child memorize a religious formula or verse. —"We are not giving him religion, we are building up a barrier that will prevent him from accepting, understanding, loving and holding to these truths later on."  Religion should never be identified in the child's mind with a school lesson, with recitations and cross-examinations! He should not think of it as facts to be memorized, or even as rules to be obeyed for, if he thinks in this way of it, it will never have any reality for him. Real religion is not just certain information that can be taught to a certain class at a certain time, it something mysterious and inexpressible, it can only be communicated directly in moments of inspiration, but it is expressed in an indirect way through traditional ceremonies. "
Montessori believed that society, the family and teachers should introduce religious concepts in a living model.  She felt that even babies absorbed the church services. Babies, children and adults should worship together and not be segregated into separate rooms. By the time a child is 5, Montessori believed that the main part of religious development was almost complete.

The conditions for development of religious disposition go hand in hand with normal psychological development.  The universal growth and development is the same for any child. As a child requires physical and intellectual support, also he/she needs the right environment for moral and emotional development.

The first religious period starts in infancy.  An infant needs to have the stability and experience of his/her parent's attention.  Children who have a strong bond with their parents develop an internal moral code of right and wrong. In this ideal environment, the baby has an opportunity to become a moral or religious person.
"A religious person is one who can really love God and his fellow creatures-the child has this power when he is given the right conditions, this is the secret of the charm of childhood. What we have to do is to protect the children so that the power is not lost in the process of growing up." Child
"This spontaneous benevolence should be given conscious expression in religious beliefs and observances, not so much through direct verbal instruction as giving a child a part in the religious life of society." Child
Montessori believed that children should be a present and viable part of the church service. Of course, many children won't be able to sit through a long sermon, but children can be a part of the service. They can help with the offering, the alter flowers, light the candles, and sing. Also, many religions have the drama of celebrations and feasts with colors, decorations, special music and events. If your church has a praise and worship part of the service, children can use religious flags, dance and banners with the adults. Young children don't need to understand the theology behind the events because that will come later in their development and curiosity.

Child further elaborates on Montessori's view:
"It is a pity that modern children miss the real significance of Christmas because there are so many distractions; Dr. Montessori thought the custom in Italy, when she was a child, was better. The presents and toys were given on the Twelfth Night, to commemorate the gifts of the Magi, but Christmas Day was celebrated by beautiful services in church in which the children were present and took part. And they were deeply impressed by the fact that many people left their beds on Christmas Eve and went to a midnight service to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. These children had religion in their environment; they could absorb it in a natural way. The only teaching that can be put in words at his stage (preschool) is that God made the world and that he loves and cares for every creature."
Montessori believed that young children could understand God in this way and feel secure about His love. Montessori also believed that children before the age of 5 needed to know God as the father and loving protector. She also believed that teaching a child about good and evil at this age was to "teach him something which he is not capable of understanding, or at least which he cannot assimilate."(Discovery of the Child, Montessori, 347)

During the second period or plane of development (ages 6-12), children have strong maternal and paternal feelings toward younger children. They have a great ability to take care of young children. At this stage, Montessori believed it was a good time to give stories and pictures of baby Jesus. Also, the Christmas Nativity or Crib has a great appeal to these children.

Also, these children have a love of discipline, laws and morals. "That's not fair!" is a very common statement at this stage of development. Montessori believed in teaching morals in a practical way. She believed that moral values that were demonstrated were essential. "They have a tremendous interest in right and wrong and a great desire to do everything that is good and nothing that is bad. If we give them high ideals and standards at this age it will help development; but if this chance is lost the children will grow up without real moral principles, guided only by the whim of the moment, or a blind compliance with popular opinion." (Child)

This moral training was done, not by lessons, but by experiencing freedom in a social life, by answering the children's questions and requests. Only occasionally could a positive suggestion be given when guidance was needed. Mentoring a child through this stage was foremost in Montessori's approach.

Lastly, Montessori believed in approaching everything by use of the hands or a practical way. Dr. Montessori sums it up,
"I recognize that when the hand and mind are not united there is no unity in the individual and it is then that the superficial traits of badness, goodness and brightness appear. I reached this conclusion as a result of my observations. It was a new factor that came to light and which perhaps is difficult to understand. This is probably because we live in a world of virtues and vices which are rewarded and punished, and among children who have always shown these defects because there was no opportunity for anything else to be expressed by them."
Montessori felt the way to remove obstacles from moral development was to help give your child opportunities for social interaction and to encourage your child to grow into an adult with good character and morality. This social interaction would not provide a negative environment, but provide positive influences. In this environment a child should feel safe and protected by a moral adult.

Quotes from Montessori about moral character and religious education:

"Religious education, considered in accordance in the same general terms as the method as a whole, includes the preparation of an environment in which several divisions are distinguishable-those which might be referred to practical life, and those which, corresponding to what in the school refers to the development of the mind, deal with the development of religious sentiment, the education of the spirit, and the religious knowledge which constitutes the culture necessary to understand religion. ... Such statements as are made will be directed towards opening up the necessary connection between the two branches of education, i.e. in a practical sense, the behaviour in the environment of daily life and the behaviour in the environment particular to religion." (The Discovery of the Child-Maria Montessori(Religious Education)
"It was at Barcelona, in the Model Montessori School, a civic school of Province, but on in which the Catholic religion was established as a fundamental subject, that there were laid down the first bases of religious education planned according to my method."(The Child in the Church-Maria Montessori)

"The first move made was to prepare an environment-the Childrens Church in which this place reserved for the faithful was made to suit their small proportions.
We furnished it with little chairs and kneeling stools, and we had the holy-water basin placed at the knee-height of an adult.
Small pictures were hung low down, and changed often according to the season of the year; little statuettes represented the nativity, the flight into Egypt, etc.
At the windows were hung light curtains, which the children could draw to shut out the light.
They took turns to prepare the church-to put the seats in place, to fill the vases with flowers, to light some of the candles." (The Discovery of the Child-Maria Montessori)

Montessori goes on to write:
"there appeared, almost to our surprise, a fruit of our method which we had not anticipated. It was that the church is almost the end, up to which leads a great part of the education which the method sets out to give. Some exercises which, in the schools, seem to have no definite outside purpose, find their application here. The silence, (such as the silence game) which has prepared the child for withdrawing into himself, becomes the inner restraint to be observed in the House of God, ...
Walking in silence without making a noise,
moving chairs without scraping the floor,
rising up and sitting down quietly,
passing amongst benches and people without creating any disturbance,
carrying fragile objects in their hands and seeing they are not damaged, as for example vases full of water to be filled with flowers and replaced on the altar, or lighted candles, the wax of which must be spilt over hands and clothes-
all were repetitions and at the same time applications of what the child had learnt to do within the classroom walls.
They appear to be the tender intelligence as the purpose of the efforts so patiently persisted in; hence there would arise a sense of gratitude, joy and new dignity.
At first the children carried out these exercises in obedience to an inward impulse, but without a purpose; afterwards they get almost the revelation of a difference between the two occasions and the two different places-as between seed time and harvest. The very act of differentiating between similar actions which have different applications and meanings constitutes in itself another source of intellectual development...it is done in the holy place pertaining to the worship rendered there to the Lord."

As a child enters the second plane of development, Montessori explains:
"In fact, it is only at the age of seven that the need is felt by the child to distinguish between good and evil. The young child does not have these problems; he accepts everything and believes everything. To him the only imaginable evil is 'naughtiness' which attract upon him the severity of the adult.
He is extremely 'receptive' and an environment that touches his senses has a strong influence upon him. Therefore it is very necessary to realize that in the first age of growth the environment and the impressions it conveys are, so to say, sculptured in his soul in an indelible way. The mother who takes her little child with her to church, prepares a religious sense in him which could not be aroused by any teaching.
It is therefore a mistake to wish to teach the distinction between good and evil at a precocious age, in which interest for this problem has not awakened. That is why the development of moral conscience in this sense would be premature.
The sentiment for what is good can be cultivated at this age (6 or 7) by affection and a sweet disposition in dealings with the child. What the children really need then is a feeling of security, through the protection given by their elders. Also, education therefore must be in accordance with these natural conditions. The God who loves and protects the child and sends His angels to accompany him invisibly day and night is the foundation of their religion.
Only later on a social sense is awakened and a responsibility for one's actions felt; this is the time to accompany this new development with a guide-a guide in the world and especially a guide who directs one's own conscience.

(...)Religious, and free in their intellectual operations and in the work which our method offers them, the little ones show that they are strong in spirit, exceptionally robust as are the small bodies of clean, well-nourished children. Growing up in this way, they have no bashfulness, no timidity, no fear. They show pleasing self-confidence, courage, a calm knowledge of things, above all, faith in God, the author and preserver of life. The children are so capable of distinguishing between natural and supernatural matters that their insight have given us the idea that there exists a period specially sensitive to religion. The age of childhood seems to be bound closely to God, as the development of the body is strictly dependent on the natural laws which are transforming it at that time." Maria Montessori, "The Discovery of the Child"

Here are some practical life skills for church:
  • Pouring exercises, rice-beans, water and so on
  • Care of environment-Cleaning, sweeping, sponging, and dusting
  • Polishing brass, copper and silver
  • Care of plants-watering, cleaning off dead leaves, cleaning leaves
  • flower arranging and materials-
  • vases, water, scissors, different flower arranging materials

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Last Updated: September 19, 2013
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