The Montessori Philosophy in the Music Together Classroom
By Carey Youngblood
All quotes by Dr. Maria Montessori
Italian educator & physician (1870 - 1952)
“Whoever touches the life of the child touches the most sensitive point of a whole which has roots in the most distant past and climbs toward the infinite future.”
“Education starts at birth.”
“The teacher must bring not only the capacity, but the desire to observe.”
My background as a Montessori Teacher:
I taught elementary music in a Montessori school in Louisiana for 4 years while also substituting in the Montessori classrooms. I was attracted to the Montessori philosophy and took early elementary training with Montessori World Education Institute and taught in the 6 – 9 year old classroom for 2 years. I then moved to Austin, Texas and worked in a few Montessori schools while taking the Association Montessori Internationale primary training for 3 – 5 year olds. I received my certification and taught in the classroom for 2 years. I had been teaching children’s music for many years prior to this, seeing many children for only on hour once a week and thought I wanted to really make a difference in the children’s lives by being in the classroom. I found out my personality prefers to see children only once a week for only an hour! I feel that I reach many more children’s lives also by teaching music classes.
Why I was attracted to the Music Together approach:
I had been developing my own early childhood music curriculum and elementary choir curriculum, putting together many different ideas for the best way to teach music to children. I was so relieved to find Music Together. The great quality of the songs, use of folk songs, international songs, newly composed songs in various modes, chants, movement, all research based, with many ideas and movements to use for each song or chant – I didn’t have to look any further. Everything I had been looking for (and MORE) was in Music Together. I could now relax and teach rather than pull together different themes each semester, flying by the seat of my pants! I began teaching many classes of Music Together and was able to do this full time and retire from the Montessori classroom. With my children’s choirs, I always used lots of movement and believed in the experiential aspect of music making. First a child must experience dynamics fully and only then can you talk about it. I was not performance oriented – rather just enjoyed the experience of making music together in its many facets!
Also, Music Together absolutely resonates with my Montessori training, as you will see in the following pages.
I. Basics of the Music Together philosophy:
A.) “All children are musical.”
Maria Montessori used the scientific method to study children’s natural learning processes. She found that the child absorbs the culture they are in effortlessly and without fatigue between the ages of 0 – 6. Whatever the child is exposed to is internalized by the child and accepted into the child’s own being, imprinted on his soul. If a child is surrounded with music, the child will be a musical person. If a child hears their parents singing, the child will sing. If a child sees their parents dancing, the child will dance. She called this the child’s “Absorbent Mind.” A description of the “Absorbent Mind” is found at the end of this paper.
B.) “Therefore, all children can achieve basic music competence. CMYC defines basic music competence as audiation and expression of meter by rhythmically accurate movement and tonality by in-tune singing.”
Dr. Montessori discovered that all young children (0 – 6) universally have the tendency from infancy:
To orient self,
To have order,
To achieve self perfection/creation of self,
To communicate (passes on the culture and sentiments – love; evolves to expressive ways of communication – song, poems, art, dance),
To move/be active,
To repeat an activity until mastered,
To have a mathematical mind (calculates, measures, sequences, estimates, exactness),
To have imagination, and
To be a part of the spiritual/religious culture.
A child will repeat a song over and over without fatigue and with utter joy until the child is satisfied with his/her work. The repetition is essential to the child’s way of learning and becoming! The child is born with this mathematical ability for exactness and sequencing, imagination, self perfection, work, and communication. If the child is exposed to the Music Together class and is given the working environment at home to repeat the musical activities, there is no doubt that all children can achieve basic music competence. All children innately desire to fit into the culture of birth and will work without fatigue to “fit in” and belong. This includes desiring to become a part of the Music Together community and culture!
C.) The participation and modeling of parents and caregivers, regardless of their musical ability, is essential to a child’s musical growth.
“A child is an eager observer and is particularly attracted by the actions of the adults and wants to imitate them. In this regard an adult can have a kind of mission. He can be an inspiration for the child's actions, a kind of open book wherein a child can learn how to direct his own movements.”
Maria Montessori’s research shows that the parent’s likes, dislikes, passions, culture, lifestyle, environment is completely and totally absorbed by the child. The child is born with this amazing “Absorbent Mind” that is a different mind than the adult mind. The young child immediately accepts and takes in their surroundings in a complete way as a means of survival and to perpetuate civilization. So therefore the parent’s love for music and dancing and moving and shaking is essential for the child’s musical growth.
The child’s inner guide (which is extremely strong the younger the child is) directs the child to absorb and become one with the environment he/she is in. The greatest influence of culture is the child’s parents, especially between 0 – 3. By 3 – 6, the child begins looking outside the family and is ready for other cultural influences (preschool, music teachers, dance instructors, playmates, etc.).
The teacher in the Montessori classroom’s every move and unspoken body language is absorbed by the children in the room. She becomes part of the culture absorbed by the children. Her feelings, passions, frustrations are picked up by the children without the children even realizing they are doing it. It is in the child’s nature to absorb their environment. The Montessori teacher must breathe deep, get centered before the children arrive, and remain calm and collected no matter what happens during the school day. The children are absorbing the teacher, too, as well as their environment.
Therefore, the parents’ actions and participation in the Music Together class affect their child in EVERY way, and also are absorbed by the other children in the Music Together classroom.
D.) This growth is best achieved in a playful, developmentally appropriate, non-performance-oriented learning environment that is musically rich yet immediately accessible to the child’s – and the adult’s! – participation.
It is the birthright of the child to absorb the joyful aspects of the culture they find themselves in. Music Together has allowed the families of the world, especially Americans, to regain something that has been missing for a long time – the joy of a community that sings and plays together.
One caution about “pretending” in songs is that Montessori believed in teaching children only that which is real between the ages of 0 – 6. I believe it is important if a song or chant we are singing in the Music Together class is not based on reality, to mention this out loud. For example, “Can a cow really jump over the moon?” “Noooo, but this is a silly song. And it’s fun to sing silly songs.” I see relief in the children’s faces. They truly appreciate the reality checks. Young children are desperate to understand their environment and work terribly hard at ordering their outer environment. If pretend is presented to them as reality, they get confused and don’t know what is real and what is unreal. The child is trying to make sense of this new world they are a part of and thrown into that at first seems totally chaotic.
Maria Montessori found that playing dress-up and becoming “someone or something else” was not beneficial to the child between 0 – 6. The young child is striving to create the self. The child doesn’t want to become someone else. All of the child’s energies are focused on “becoming,” on building the self. To become someone else just doesn’t meet the child’s inner needs. This doesn’t mean we cannot pretend to be dogs and cats and lions and kangaroos in class. (One child would rarely sing in class, though he sang constantly at home for two years or more, until he was given permission to “meow” everything one day. He was pretending to be a cat the whole class! Well, we finally got to hear him sing!) It just means to always keep in mind and remember to adhere to the fundamental workings of the child’s inner self – “becoming.”
2.) Developmentally appropriate –
“To keep alive enthusiasm is the secret of real guidance, and it will not prove a difficult task, provided that the attitude towards the child's acts be that of respect, calm, and waiting, and provided that he be left free in his movements and experiences.”
The mixed age Music Together class allows each child to grow at his/her own developmentally appropriate level. This is how the Montessori classroom works, also. Each Montessori classroom is always in mixed ages so the younger ones can learn from the older ones. The older children solidify what they have learned by teaching it to a younger child. There is no pressure to achieve certain levels at certain ages. Little by little, each unique child begins blossoming and showing their own personality and musical being and preferences to music and music making. In the Music Together classroom the children are given an assortment of activities and experiences to choose from and will take from them when they are developmentally ready. The parent/caregiver gets to observe their child while having fun making music themselves without any performance pressure or expectations on the child (or on the adult!). This is Montessori’s way, also. The Montessori way is to BELIEVE IN THE CHILD’S INNER GUIDE. The child is endowed with this amazing inner guide that is the best teacher of all, if allowed to have free reign. Dr. Montessori realized that young children desire to be independent. If a parent manipulates a young child’s hands to “make” them play their instrument “correctly” this INHIBITS the young child’s growth. Allowing the child to work with a difficult challenge or situation and solve it himself or herself, allows the child to become independent AND happy!
“A child who is free to act not only seeks to gather sensible impressions from his environment but he also shows a love for exactitude in the carrying out of his actions.”
“We are here to offer to this life, which came into the world by itself, the means necessary for its development, and having done that we must await this development with respect.”
3.) Non-performance-oriented learning environment – In order to have a healthy learning environment, there needs to be no sense of a right and a wrong way. The child in the Montessori classroom works on activities over and over until she is satisfied. There is a control of error with the activities in the classroom. Repetition leads to exactness. If the child is not satisfied with the outcome of the work, the child simply repeats the activity until satisfied. The child is able to work without fatigue and there are no performance expectations. The idea of performing an activity in a specific way hinders the child’s natural growth by forcing a behavior that the child is not yet ready to achieve. The Music Together child’s own way may be to only sing and dance at home where he feels most comfortable. Accepting the child’s own way of “becoming” respects the young child and allows the child to grow in his/her own way and at his or her own rate of development.
“Education is not something which the teacher does. It is a natural process which develops spontaneously.”
“The children must be free to choose their own occupations, just as they must never be interrupted in their spontaneous activity.”
4.) Musically rich –
“The needs of mankind are universal. Our means of meeting them create the richness and diversity of the planet. The Montessori child should come to relish the texture of that diversity.”
In the Montessori philosophy, since the children are absorbing effortlessly and completely the culture they are in, it is most important and beneficial to present to the child only that which is beautiful and lovely. The environment becomes part of the child’s whole being – so it is important to have everything in good working order (no broken or chipped toys, dishes, art work or rhythm instruments, for example), and it is essential to expose the child to that which is the most beautiful and amazing that our culture has to offer. Of course this includes the music the child is exposed to. Music Together is musically rich for the child. The complete banquet table of musical opportunities becomes available to each child. The child is exposed to rhythms and modes from around the world, as well as from their American roots. This allows the young child to accept all types of music as they grow older because all modes and rhythms of the world are a part of each child’s inner self which has been stored in the young child’s amazing memory. The young child’s mind is different from the adults at this early age of 0 – 6. What the child experiences and takes in remains a part of the child, within his unconscious and conscious mind and memory for life!
5.) Immediately accessible to the child’s – and the adult’s! – participation.
“To assist a child we must provide him with an environment, which will enable him to develop freely.”
In the Montessori classroom, the prepared environment is crucial for 3 – 6 year olds. You want everything laid out ahead of time so nothing impedes the child’s learning. Each piece of material is to be accessible to the child and lead the child to success. The child isn’t aggravated with unnecessary obstacles in his or her work. She can get right to work on the task at hand without unnecessary delays. If the obstacles persist, the child loses momentum and desire to work. If the child has to constantly fix something not pertaining to the work they have chosen, they lose their focus and desire to do the chosen work.
In the Music Together class, the only physical hindrances for the child are people. The child may be distracted from a crying baby or an overly active child on occasion, but I have found that if the child is really interested in the song or chant or movement, their concentration really is astounding and the loud crying tantrum going on next to them doesn’t even faze them! There is space to move, no obstacles to fall into when dancing and moving, few words to get in the way of succeeding in the activity – the child (and parents/caregivers) are free to simply watch the teachers movements and sing with him/her to their own abilities and in their own way. The families have the songbooks and CDs at home so they already have heard and enjoyed the music at home. In class, they feel comfortable and are able to feel well prepared for involvement in class at their own ability levels. In the Music Together classroom, we are able to present the music and movements and then “get out of the way” and observe the children while they express the music and chants in their own way. We get to just observe and be amazed.
Also, the instruments are in an orderly fashion and the youngest of children will put instruments away in the correct box, put the lid on and carry it to the shelf. Order is a “sensitive period” between the ages of 1 – 3. (See a description of “Sensitive Periods” at the end of this paper.) Children thrive on order and want their outer environment to be orderly because their inner self is not yet formed. If the outer environment is in order, they can then begin to feel secure enough to develop their inner order within the self. Many of my moms become worried at how orderly their young child is in class and at home and worry that their child may be a perfectionist. They are so relieved to know this is normal behavior for 1 – 3 year olds. The young child thrives on order. If everything has its place in the house, they are comforted by this and will help maintain it. The child is trying to put order in the world and it begins outside of himself. By 6 years of age, the child is able to create the order within the self, and there is no need for order outside of the self any longer. (There bedrooms then become disorderly and messy, and the child could care less!)
“I don't need to teach anything to children: it is they who, placed in a favorable environment, teach me.”
II. Other Music Together Concepts:
A. Actions, not instructions
“Education is a natural process carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences in the environment.”
“Imitation is the first instinct of the awakening mind.”
In the Montessori classroom, the teacher uses very few words when she gives a child a lesson on a particular piece of work. The child watches the movements of the teacher in an activity. Step by step, an activity is laid out for the child’s mathematical, calculating mind. Then the child will do the activity himself, over and over until the child does it to his own satisfaction level. No words of instruction are spoken, just actions and modeling by the teacher. And these children are 3 – 6 year olds, who have mastered the spoken language! Words still get in the way. The child absorbs EVERY movement of the teacher - even the ones you don’t want them to mimic. (I have a tendency to tighten my lips together when I’m concentrating, and the children would do this, too! Yikes! And in Music Together class, if I have an “oops!” moment, I tend to put my hands up to my cheeks, and the children mimic this, thinking it’s part of the actions of the song…) If you do use words while giving a lesson, the words are used extremely sparingly. Children learn by watching and mimicking what they have seen and not by the spoken language! Words truly get in the way. Most children are incapable of listening to words while at the same time watching the teacher’s movements with her hands and the objects she is manipulating to achieve a desired goal.
Also language often gets misconstrued. You may say to a young child, “Stop running.” The child then hears and retains “running” and can’t help but run. The great urge has been planted in the child’s mind. Then many children begin running around the room because they heard “run” also! Or “please don’t throw your instrument across the room” is spoken out loud in the Music Together class and you wonder why many more instruments start getting thrown by other children. Rather the teacher and parents/caregivers need to be careful to say what behavior IS acceptable. “Hang on tight to your rhythm instruments.” Or if you don’t want the children to run, be sure to only say what they CAN do: “You can hop, gallop, or skip today.” The children truly want to be belong, be a part of their community they find themselves in, and the teacher can actively believe this about children and let the children know what the Music Together culture is meant to be and the 3 – 6 year olds will truly rise to the occasion. 1 and 2 year olds are really close to their inner guide, it is SO ACTIVE within them, the parent just needs to follow the 1 – 2 year old children around and patiently watch them discover the world! Once they get to be 3, the children become more conscious of fitting into the culture they are in and truly want to be a part of it in a real way.
“When the teacher shall have touched, in this way, soul for soul, each one of her pupils, a sign, a single word from her shall suffice; for each one will feel her in a living and vital way, will recognize her and will listen to her.”
“Growth comes from activity, not from intellectual understanding.”
“The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit.”
B.) Accept and include – There seem to be so few venues for people to go to where they are accepted and included. Each person has his/her own individual personality and ideas and preferences. It is such a joy in the Music Together class to be able to observe and then acknowledge all children’s expressions of music making, and this also affirms and celebrates their different learning styles. If a freely moving 2 year old gets to guide the movements of the whole class, what affirmation for that child that “I belong!” Maria Montessori discovered that all children universally desire to belong. To belong is one way the child builds his/her own inner self. “To belong” in the Music Together class of 12 children and at least 13 adults will truly change humanity one class at a time! The Montessori classroom is designed to accept all learning styles. The visual learner, the auditory learner, and the kinesthetic learner are all able to have their inner needs met and fulfilled. Since the Montessori child teaches himself through working with the materials, she can take and learn from them in her own way that best suits her learning style. The Music Together experience allows this, also. I am so thankful! Each child is respected, honored, understood, and upheld as a precious soul.
“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”
“The child is truly a miraculous being, and this should be felt deeply by the educator.
“The first duty of the educator, whether he is involved with the newborn infant or the older child, is to recognize the human personality of the young being and respect it.”
C.) Music and movement relationships –The child can and must move for the child to develop mental abilities. The child constructs himself through movement. The child needs to always be active. The organization of movement is the foundation for the psychological construction of the child. There is NO substitute for movement. Fatigue arises when mental and motor activities are forced to act separately. Eurhythmics (music and movement) can bring about a moral transformation of character. Educational value of a movement depends on the END of the movement and must be such that it helps the child perfect something in him/herself (muscles, mental capacity, or both). Educational movement means that the movement must ALWAYS build up and fortify the personality, giving a new power to the child and not leaving the child where he was. Intelligence is fixed on the purpose of the movement and not the movement itself. Educational movement must not be too easy – it can be just out of reach, but comes within reach by the stretching of the mind. If a child is prevented from using powers of movement as they are ready, the child’s mental development is obstructed. Only by movement can the brain express itself. Nature has endowed us with many movement abilities – these must be developed and used. Action must be connected to mental activity going on.
Dr. Montessori realized to be pinned to the chair like a butterfly pinned to the wall is no way to learn. It is necessary to let students move. The nervous center, neurotransmitters, transmits messages to the brain, brain to the muscles. Brain and system of muscles are called systems of relationships. It puts humans in touch with their surroundings and the world. Expression of thought has to come through movement. Movement has to do with expression of the personality of the human being. When there in not a relationship between the mind and body, we have got problems. The mental and physical are separated. Maria Montessori said it is vital that education realizes mental development is dependent on movement. Movement is the basis for development of the personality. Movement is the means by which the child experiences the environment and then constructs the self. Between 0 – 2 muscular contact is the way the child connects to his/her world. (The child doesn’t have language yet.) Movement needs to be natural and encompass all of child’s life, especially during the early years of child’s life. Freedom of movement is child’s basic birthright. Coordination of movement is the expression eventually of an inner equilibrium. Integrated movement is the expression of the integrated personality. It is important to provide the child with motives for activity, reasons to move. Movement is life. All activities need to have a reason for doing them, (i.e. table will last longer if we polish it; floor is dirty and needs sweeping; study math because it is a human thing to do, math is part of being human; sing a song to soothe the baby; find some friends to help pick up the play along box and put it away so we can all sing the lullaby). It is so important to respect child’s rhythm of life, pace. Allow the child to repeat and practice as often as they want. Don’t hurry a child. Montessori said never, never, ever interrupt a young child when they are involved in an intellectual work. You can tell by the child’s focus on the work, body language and facial expression that they are totally involved in some intellectual work or a new discovery. The adults need to honor and respect this work, discovery, or activity above all else. The child will also let you know if you have disturbed their intellectual work by often throwing a huge tantrum. The message by the young child is, “How could you disturb me right now? I’m deeply engrossed in my work!”
All levels of movement are found in the Music Together experience which challenges the young and older children alike to achieve moving to the songs at their own developmental level of ability. In the Music Together class the child is challenged to do small motor movements, large motor movements, dexterity of the hands when using different rhythm instruments, locomotive movement, stationary movement, and movement that crosses the midlines of the body. As movement is so crucial to the development of the SELF for the young child, what great purpose Music Together has in aiding the discovery of the inner self for each child!
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
“What advice can we give to mothers? Their children need to work at an interesting occupation; they should not be helped unnecessarily, nor interrupted, once they have begun to do something intelligent.”
“Since it is through movement that the will realizes itself, we should assist a child in his attempts to put his will into action.”
“Since adults have no concept of the importance of physical activity for the child, they put a damper on it as a cause of disturbance.”
“Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.”
“’Wait while observing’. That is the motto of the educator.”
“Let us wait, and be always ready to share in both the joys and the difficulties which the child experiences.”
“We cannot know the consequences of suffocating a spontaneous action at the time when the child is just becoming active; perhaps we suffocate life itself.”
D.) SQ – Dr. Montessori’s teachings focus around utter respect for the child. Once the child can walk, the parent is to refrain from picking up the child. Allowing the child to practice using their muscles means the parent needs to slow down their own pace in life and meet the child where he/she is. Also, respect the child by being genuinely, authentically silly with the child. Children respond to someone who meets them where they are at. The 3 year old loves to play with words. The sillier they come out, the better. If the Montessori teacher knows how to have a sense of humor and have a joyful attitude, the children will pick this up and it will become a part of the child’s idea of the world in general. The same is true in the Music Together class. If we show that we are having fun, genuinely, the child feels this intuitively and trusts the teacher and parents, and then the community spirit in the classroom can begin to be built.
E.) Oops! Dr. Montessori is not interested in perfection – just wholeness, meaning well rounded individuals who are full of purpose and passion for all of life. The teacher is a real human being who will often tell a young child, “Yes, my writing is better than yours but I’ve been working on it for years and years. You will become a great writer, too, and will probably get even better than me!” By saying, “oops!” in the Music Together class, the teacher is saying to the young child, we don’t have to be perfect. That is not the goal in life. The goal in life is to become all that we can be, letting our unique selves come out in all their glorious manifestations! Life is not about perfection but wholeness – being a truly integrated person, happy with self and happy with the world. Life is full of “oops!” moments and we all survive and thrive on experiencing life to its fullest – not holding back in fear of making a mistake!
Quotations taken from books written by Dr. Maria Montessori:
The Discovery of the Child
The Absorbent Mind
Secret of Childhood
I. What is the Absorbent Mind?
A. Between the age of 0 – 6, the child’s mind is different from the adult’s mind.
B. Environment absorbed
C. "Mneme" – special memory
D. "Horme – life force
II. When? 0 – 6
III. Why do children possess the Absorbent Mind?
A. 0 – 3
B. 3 – 6 Prepared environment
B. Characteristics of the Absorbent Mind
A. Irresistible impulse
1. toward will-defined activity
c. once skill acquired, disappears
B. Burning passion
1. intellectual love between child and environment
2. establishes certain functions
3. functions last for a lifetime
C. Dropped stitch
1. if not allowed to function creates a hole in the soul like a dropped stitch of a garment
III. Types of sensitive periods
2. Upset when order destroyed
a. poor in experiences
b. upset when discovered order gets destroyed
c. destroys inner construction
1. Construct self from elements of environment
3. outer needs
a. things in place- enjoy in putting back
b. routine steady
c. all prepared environment materials have order
a. right way desired
b. fit in with culture
c. not self-conscious
2. grace and courtesy lessons
3. social situations
D. Movement 1-4
1. need to gain skill of muscles
a. gross motor – walking on line, carrying bucket of water
b. fine motor – manipulations, drawing, cutting
c. develop muscular coordination so can bring mind and body together = intelligence and normalization
2. move to become
a. develops intellect
b. brings concentration
c. inner nourishment
3. if movement not allowed
a. personality out of balance
b. less happy