Part of the reason I became interested in occupational therapy was because I became certified using the Montessori method, a learning method invented by Maria Montessori, the first Italian woman doctor. Dr. Montessori began working with intellectually disabled children in Rome. From 1900 to 1901, Montessori began to research European educational materials, seeking those which had been used for children with disabilities. Her research led Montessori to the work of two French physicians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard and Édouard Séguin. Itard is well known in the twenty-first century for his work with the “Wild Boy of Aveyron,” a youth who had been found wandering naked in the forest, presumably abandoned as a very young child and thus spending many years living alone.
Set of Knob-less Cylinders-The child has to organize the cylinders according to color and size, but the cylinders have no knobs
It turns out that from the work of Itard, Montessori was highly inspired to develop a teaching method that could work with a hypothetical “wild” child, in another words, for her, even children without disabilities had an unorganized central nervous system. Also, with Édouard Séguin, who was a French psychologist who studied with Itard and carried on his research, Montessori drew further confirmation of Itard’s ideas, along with a far more specific and organized system for applying it to the everyday education of children with disabilities
Set of Knobbed Cylinders-The child has to place each cylinder in the block, according to size, and using a small knob for grasping.
Working primarily with the blind, Édouard Séguin developed a methodical approach to breaking skills down into small steps, and was highly successful with a carefully developed collection of hands-on educational materials. In the early twenty-first century, Séguin is recognized as the founder of the modern approach to special education. He introduced the first “sensory” materials, still in use today.
Set of Sandpaper Letters
It turns out that language also had a “sensory” approach. Letters were made out of sandpaper so that children could trace them first, before emitting the sound of the vowel or consonant. Children were also blindfolded and then asked to trace the letter with their fingers and identify which letter it was.
The Movable Alphabet
After learning the sandpaper letters, children would go on to use the “Movable Alphabet”, which are simply cutout letters children can hold in their hands, an eventually compose words with them. These same letters are used today in traumatic brain injury clinics in hospitals today. The Montessori “sensorial” method seeks to provide children with “concrete” learning experiences using gross motor skills, before going on to more fine motor tasks such as writing and reading.
The Mystery Bag
The “mystery bag” using the Montessori method, utilizes objects with different textures, so the child spends time using “somatosensory” skills. These are skills that do not rely on vision but on touch and positioning of objects according to similarities and differences.
There are even “Sound Cylinders” that children shake and sound like rattles! They have to be able to discriminate sounds from soft to loud, shaking each cylinder and comparing it with one another.
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870–1952)
So this is why children attending Montessori schools for the first time may think that all the previously shown materials are toys. They may have no idea on how to use them, and rely exclusively on a ‘Montessori’ guide to teach them, step by step. This makes Montessori schools more expensive because everyone who teaches this method must be trained and certified. Montessori materials can be handmade, but other times they must be ordered. Once children learn how to use the materials, they become highly disciplined and independent, which was a major goal for Dr. Montessori as an educator.