Healey Library's New Website

The library has a new website! The new URL is http://www.umb.edu/library. Starting Friday, August 26 access to the library's old website will automatically redirect you to the new site. If you experience any problems or wish to provide feedback, please contact library.support@umb.edu.

Montessori Method Teaching Tools, 1920?-1950?


5 cartons, 2 file cabinet drawers, 1 wooden box


The collection of historical Montessori Method teaching tools came to the University of Massachusetts at Boston from Boston State College.


Few early childhood programs have been as influential around the world as the Montessori Method. Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was one of great pioneers in studying the intellectual development of the young child. Montessori first introduced her teaching method in the Casi dei Bambini (Children's House) in 1907 in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. The first school based on the Montessori Method in the United States opened in Tarrytown, New York, in 1912, and soon afterwards many public and private school systems adopted the Montessori approach in their kindergarten and primary grades.

In the Montessori system the child is considered a self-activated learner at work in a prepared environment of programmed materials which encourage autoeducation. The teacher fulfills the role of a trained observer who prepares the environment that will be acted upon by the child and would intervene directly only when necessary. This method was a radical break with the traditional classroom format in which a teacher imparts knowledge to students sitting at their desks. Only through movement and manipulation, through thinking with the senses, Montessori believed, does the child proceed to later "abstract thinking". While being involved in "cleanliness, order, poise and conversation" children use selected, specially designed materials to develop a sense of order and lyrical thought.

Montessori divided her methodology into three main parts: motor, sensory, and intellectual (language and mathematics) education. She evolved a series of learning games, or didactic materials, which, in effect, place the child in direct contact with content, thereby freeing him or her from dependence upon direct teaching by an adult. For example, the didactic material for sensory education, made of wood, metal, cloth, cardboard, and other such material, is specifically designed to give the child orderly self-activated experience with color, size, shape, weight, texture, and sound.

Montessori described the child's concentration as the key to pedagogy and she used materials sufficiently attractive and challenging to engage the child's interest and to develop concentration. The child would work in a flexible schedule of long blocks of time on the materials he or she had chosen. The sequence of materials the child worked with provides clues or feedback that would enable him to correct errors himself, freeing the teacher to spend time observing and providing initial instruction. This sequence of materials, progressing from the simple to the complex, the concrete to the abstract, were a key element in the larger prepared environment of the Montessori School.

For additional historical information, see William Kilpatrick, The Montessori System Examined (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914); E.M. Standing, The Montessori Revolution in Education (New York: Schocken Books, 1962); Rita Kramer, Maria Montessori - a Biography (Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1976); or Arithmetic Teacher 35 (February 1988).

Scope and Content

This collection consists of wooden boxes, shapes, and sticks and metal rings and shapes used by teachers following the Montessori Method. Some of the items were described by a member of the UMB Education Department for a Healey Library exhibit in 1989. Those descriptions follow. Box 1 of the collection also includes: Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), which is a reprint of the translation of the book published in 1912 in which Dr. Montessori introduced her teaching method to the education profession; and a 1980s Nienhuis Montessori USA catalog of teaching tools.