Capturing Ordinary Days:
Touching the Periphery—Communication

The primary Montessori teacher is tasked with optimizing learning opportunities for the children in her care. Contrary to the traditional definition of a teacher as the sole source of all information and education in the classroom, Montessori pointed out that children are natural learners, driven by intrinsic motivation to explore and master their world. The trained Montessori primary teacher observes her charges, notes their needs, and when necessary acts as a dynamic link for the child, connecting him to the multitude of activities, materials, and experiences available. She is the caretaker of an enriched learning environment that is carefully designed to enable a child to encounter a concept, practice and master skills, and most importantly, to engage and deeply focus. It is at precisely this delicate intersection—the meeting point of individual human development and the needed, if indirect, guidance of an adult—that Dr. Montessori’s concept of education as an “aid to life” takes place.

The Montessori primary teacher is asked to become the “dynamic link” to the prepared environment for the child. 

Dr. Silvia Dubovoy, Ph.D., on the personality of the child. 

Shorts: Touching the Periphery— Communication

1. The Bucket (9:10)
2. The Bead Chain (7:25)

Delving Deeper Into Our Craft:
Touching the Periphery—Communication

Montessori Education: The Importance of Direction and Intervention
by Gary Goodwin


Every facet of authentic work in Montessori has a guiding principle underlying its practice. These principles follow from remarkable observations of the child in the course of his fundamental development. Dr. Montessori’s observations led to discoveries: that the child’s development follows natural laws that are universal among all children. These laws are expressed in tendencies which engage and underlie the child’s formative activity. Education can only be meaningful if it first considers who the child is and takes into account this profound process of human construction.

The pedagogical principle we use follows from these observations: as teachers we look out for and are guided by the child’s expression of these tendencies that inform what and when we present to the child. Also in keeping with these principles, the child requires an environment prepared by the adult with tools designed especially to attract the interest and activity-response characteristic of his plane of development...  READ MORE

The Neurological Basis of Indirect Preparation
by Annette Haines, Ed.D.

Readers may find this summary of Dr. Annette Haines’ final lecture from the 2011 primary refresher course, “The Neurological Basis of Indirect Preparation,” useful in exploring this topic.  

The first years of Montessori practice present unique challenges for newly trained teachers. Teacher trainers from all age levels of practice explore some of the dynamics involved. They describe the type of support a budding guide needs to successfully navigate his/her critical beginning years.


In Her Words

Here is a little gem from the past. In a volume, dating 1935, titled The Source Book: A Compendium of International Encyclopedic Authority is a lovely description of a Montessori lesson. The author is not named but the chapter on Dr. Montessori’s method is crystal clear. A small excerpt:

Plans for Using the Method:
“Character of Lessons - Montessori lessons given to all the children or to any number of them as a class are of rare occurrence. The development of the individual is the end sought. The lessons are characterized by: 

  • brevity

  • simplicity

  • objectivity


Montessori Dictionary

Dr. Montessori wrote extensively about the craft of Montessori teaching and her words still speak to us today. Many of her phrases have their own distinct meaning to Montessorians. Annette Haines, Ed.D., director of training at the Montessori Training Center of St. Louis, created a “Montessori Dictionary” to further parse out these meanings. Here are a few select items relevant to this topic:

Analysis of movement
A technique used by Montessori teachers. The adult, when showing a complex action to a child, breaks it down into its parts and shows one step at a time, executing each movement slowly and exactly. The
action thus becomes a sequence of simple movements and the child has a greater chance of success when “given the liberty to make use of them.” (Montessori, 1996, p. 108)

The act of concentrating. The young child focuses his or her attention on aspects of the environment essential for development. From a Montessori perspective, concentration is “a consistent activity concentrated on a single work—an exercise on some external object, where the movements of the hands are guided by the mind.” (1983, p. 149). Deep engagement.

Cycle of activity
Little children, when engaged in an activity that interests them, will repeat it many times and for no apparent reason, stopping suddenly only when the inner need which compelled the child to activity has been satisfied. To allow for the possibility of long, concentrated work cycles, Montessori advocates a three-hour uninterrupted work period.

Help from periphery
The periphery is that part of the child that comes into contact with external reality. The child takes in impressions through the senses and through movement. Help from periphery means presenting objects and activities in such a way so as to evoke purposeful movement on the part of the child. “We never give to the eye more than we give to the hand.” (Standing, 1957, p. 237)

Isolation of difficulty
Before giving a presentation, the Montessori teacher analyzes the activity she wants to show the child. Procedures or movements that might prove troublesome are isolated and taught to the child separately. For example, the simple movement of holding and snipping with scissors is shown before cutting curved or zigzag lines; folding cloths is shown before table washing, an activity requiring folding. A task should neither be so hard that it is overwhelming, nor so easy that it is boring.

Points of interest
Montessori realized that if children spend too much time on a complex task or fail to master necessary details, the exercise ceases to interest them. She suggested that points of interest be interspersed throughout each activity. These points guide the child toward the goal and stimulate repetition and interest by offering immediate feedback, or what Montessori called “control of error.” The child’s performance becomes refined through trial and error, the points of interest acting as signposts along the path to success.

The teacher does not teach in the traditional sense, but rather shows the child how to use the various objects and then leaves him free to explore and experiment. This is called a presentation. To be effective, it must be done slowly and exactly, step by step, and with a minimum of words.

The young child’s work is very different from the adult’s. When an adult works, he sets out to accomplish some goal and stops working when the objective is achieved. A child, however, does not work to accomplish an external goal, but rather an internal one. Consequently, they will repeat an activity until the inner goal is accomplished. The unconscious urge to repeat helps the child to coordinate a movement or acquire some ability.

The entire “Montessori Dictionary” can be obtained here.

Specialized sets for parents can be obtained here.