In Her Words
Excerpt from Psychogeometry, Chapter on “Introduction to the Elementary Period,” p. 55
In 2011, an English language translation of Psychogeometry, one of Dr. Montessori’s works originally published in 1934 in Spanish, was published by the Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company. Professor Benedetto Scoppola, with the assistance of Kay Baker, Ph.D. and AMI, used Dr. Montessori’s original Italian manuscript to produce this version.
Here are selected excerpts from her chapter on “Introduction to the Elementary Period” which offer an extraordinary insight, as the editors say, into “her deep understanding of the psychological workings of the child’s mind.”
“That which we are about to describe is not an elementary, systematic study of geometry. We only offer the means to prepare the mind for systematic study. These means (the advanced geometry material) could almost be described as a gymnasium for the mind, which is evidently able to discover relationships and therefore not just carry out research and make observations, but also make discoveries. The discovery of relationships is certainly most likely to arouse real interest. The theorem itself is not interesting to a child who hears it enunciated without understanding it and without being able to appreciate its aims, having to tire his mind by studying the solution he is given. However, discovering a relationship oneself, formulating a theorem and possessing the words to describe it correctly, is truly something able to fire the imagination. A single one of these discoveries is sufficient to open up a brilliant, unexpected path to the mind. And so interest is aroused—and where there is interest, indefinite conquests are assured.
“We do not therefore offer material for the clear and concrete demonstration of what is taught in a an abstract fashion in most schools. We simply offer geometric shapes, in the form of material objects, which have a relationship to each other. These shapes can be moved and handled, lending themselves to demonstrating or revealing evident correspondences when they are brought together and compared. This stimulates mental activity, because the eye sees and the mind perceives things that a teacher does not know how to convey to an immature and inactive mind. Mental processes that are apparently premature and far advanced for the child’s age, thus become possible.
“In other words, if we realize that there are abstract and quibbling reasonings on things that are complicated, but the things themselves, when materially observed, are much simpler, it becomes immediately evident how an alternative path can be opened up for the elementary study of geometry, leading to unforeseen results.
“Superior mental work begins with the evident, material periphery. Having observed truths as a natural result of things, the mind then begins reasoning and logically examining them, soon leading to the realms of abstraction….”
“We therefore prepare exterior conditions, and environment that puts certain means into contact with the periphery of the active mind, so that the centre can use them according to its energy.
“It is this offering to the periphery, and not direct action on the centre, which characterizes our method and distinguishes it from others. Instead of resorting to the powers of comprehension, reasoning and mental mechanisms for conveying a given thing to the pupil’s mind, we provide the periphery, which relates to the surrounding environment, with certain means that lend themselves to spontaneous mental exercise.
“And so psychic energies are free to grow. The child thinks and reflects according to his natural ability.”
“We began by saying that the process we are describing does not relate to the systematic study of geometry. It is nothing more than mental exercises relative to geometry.
“It prepares the mind to act rather than receive, and arouses interest that is always refreshing. The prepared mind is thus made active, and when it is time to receive true systematic geometry teaching (at secondary schools), the pupil will resemble an intelligence that meets the teaching halfway with great interest and with an amazing capacity for understanding. He may perhaps give much, rather than take much. This will also produce future benefits for science.”