Maria Montessori’s scientific approach to the education of young children revealed to the world her profound understanding of children’s learning processes. Although she was a pioneer in the field of education, many of her contemporaries scoffed at the notion that young children demonstrate proclivities for knowledge acquisition which are directly related to stages of development and sensitive periods for learning. Remarkably, almost eighty years after her initial findings, and thirty years after her death, more recent studies revealed Montessori’s innovative findings as decades ahead of her time. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983) parallels the very essence of Montessori philosophy and its function in the classroom. Gardner suggested that “rather than having one fixed intelligence [or intelligence quotient, IQ], people can be intelligent in many different ways” (Gardner: Multiple Intelligences). Furthermore, Gardner theorized there are eight such intelligences which can be defined in terms of distinct sets of processing operations that permit individuals to solve problems, create products, and discover new knowledge (Berk, 2000). This article will demonstrate the direct correlation between Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and the founding principles of the Montessori method of education.
Gardner’s concept of intelligence stems from an accumulation of knowledge about the human brain. Additionally, every human being has the capacity for developing within each of the eight intelligences (Driscoll & Nagel, 2005). Similarly, Montessori previously uncovered comparable concepts during her careful observation and study of the child. Gardner’s concept of a Linguistic Intelligence is seen in the individual who demonstrates sensitivity to the sounds, rhythms, and meanings of words and the different functions of language. Children who demonstrate proclivities to linguistic intelligence enjoy the sounds of language, storytelling, books, and experimenting with writing. The Montessori setting directly promotes linguistic intelligence through the use of materials in the language curriculum. Montessori designed specialized materials to promote language learning. For example, the Sandpaper Letters not only introduce the child to letter sounds, but is also presented as a pre-writing exercise. Reading and literature are also highly promoted in the Montessori setting. The notion of Gardner’s Linguistic Intelligence can also be demonstrated through the use of the Montessori Three-Period Lesson. During this specialized lesson, the teacher introduces the child to precise language. The Montessori classroom is infused with similar opportunities for language learning promoting Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.
The Montessori setting is also representative of Gardner’s Logical/Mathematical Intelligence. “Children who show talent in this area may like to reason and solve problems; explore patterns and categorize objects; ask questions and experiment; and count one-to-one correspondence” (Gardner: Multiple Intelligences). This precisely describes not only the Montessori Early Childhood math curriculum, but also, and even more obviously, the specialized apparatus of the Sensorial area. While enhancing and refining the child’s sensory discrimination skills, these auto didactic materials also encourage a mathematical process of thought.
Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences can be identified across other areas of the Montessori classroom, oftentimes covering more than one type of intelligence at a time. For example, lessons of the Language or Math materials are also representative of Spatial/Visual and Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligences. Children are able to create visual images of a potential entity, such as a project or specific idea, and consequently act on their visualization. This is a manifestation of exercising the Spatial/Visual Intelligence. Likewise, the ability to use one’s body or parts of the body as a medium of expression or to solve a problem refers to the essence of a Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence (Driscoll & Nagel, 2005). This can be identified across all Montessori areas including the exercises of Practical Life.
Montessori also realized the importance of musical understanding and its relationship to a solid foundation of learning. She therefore, incorporated the use of the Bells as part of a specially prepared environment for young learners. Montessori’s promotion of a musical component of education further demonstrates how Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences is revealed in a Montessori classroom. Another aptitude included in Gardner’s theory is a Musical Intelligence characterized by the ability to produce and appreciate rhythm and pitch and the understanding of forms of musical expression.
Gardner also theorized that a Naturalist Intelligence “is used to discriminate among living things, such as plants or animals, as well as an understanding of other features of the natural world” (Driscoll & Nagel, 2005). This very idea is likewise represented in the Montessori setting through Montessori’s endorsement of a cosmic education. She advocated the necessity for children to be exposed to nature and how the development of a relationship to the universe provides nourishment for the child’s intellect and soul. Young children in an Early Childhood setting can be seen not only caring for plants and animals in the classroom, but also participating in gardening and care of the outdoor environment.
Montessori and Multiple Intelligences: Part Two
Montessori and Multiple Intelligences: Part Two