Natural Structure

A Montessori Approach to Classical Education at Home
Book cover: 'Natural Structure: A Montessori Approach to Classical Education at Home'
Edward and Nancy Walsh
Catholic Heritage Curricula
Number of pages: 
145 pages

Dr. and Mrs. Walsh who are Catholic homeschool parents of three children and Third Order Carmelites (and have many years of teaching experience between them) have outlined a Catholic homeschool curriculum using Maria Montessori's philosophies to guide the teaching methods and Dorothy Sayers' essay "The Lost Tools of Learning" to direct the content (subjects covered, materials used, etc.).

This book came about from their own experience homeschooling their young children. They implemented ideas from both Montessori and Sayers and saw truth in each. They wondered if two methods that seemed so different could be compatible. They decided that in both methods "some critical elements were shared. Both rely heavily, classical education in the division of the Trivium and Dr. Montessori in the sequence of the work, on the natural development and interests of the child. Both also claim as one result the ability to learn on one's own. Looking at them from this perspective we realized that htey could indeed be combined, and in fact complemented each other perfectly. Dorothy Sayers' outline provided the overall framework, while Dr. Montessori's method provided the day-to-day detail. In reality this is simply an extension of the Montessori method which, when closely examined, reveals a pattern of free choice within limits. Dorothy Sayers provided us with the content and Dr. Montessori with the method of our curriculum" (pg. 12).

This book outlines the philosophies of both Montessori and Sayers (including a separate chapter on each - but slightly more emphasis on Montessori - which makes sense because Montessori wrote many volumes on education and was a true pioneer in her field, whereas Sayers' educational philosophies are contained in her one excellent essay). It is valuable for Catholic homeschoolers to be reintroduced to Montessori from a Catholic perspective. Most Americans have heard of Maria Montessori, but few realize that she was Catholic and that her philsophies have been, to a great extent, watered-down and/or misunderstood in the United States today. Not only are there Catholic Montessori materials (such as the Miniature Mass Kit and her own book The Mass: Explained to Children), but her writings and teachings about children reflect Catholic teaching from Christ's exhortation to "Let the Children come to Me" and "Unless you become like little Children..." to the Church's modern-day teachings on the dignity of human life.

The Walshes give us the details about what is and what is not true Montessori philosophy, the basics of those parts of her method which are applicable to a homeschool setting, some thoughts which may change your philosophies about educational videos, toys, etc. and the basic ideas for setting up a Montessori-type work area in your home. Following these more philosophical chapters (including one that answers "Frequently Asked Questions about Natural Structure") are chapters which outline the curriculum. Grades are grouped together as follows: Preschool through 2nd Grade (Preparatory), 3rd Grade through 5th Grade (Grammar), 6th through 8th (Dialectic), 9th and 10th (Rhetoric), and 11th and 12th (beginning of the Quadrivium). Recommended texts, literature and other educational materials for each part (with a chart that breaksdown which texts are used in which grade - many texts are used over the course of several years) and descriptions of the texts (along with publisher information, etc.) are included in one of the appendices. These chapters also provide some of the whys and hows of implementing these materials along with pertinent quotes from Montessori and Sayers.

The appendices include the aforementioned "Text Descriptions" (generally a few lines of description for each text), "Curriculum Samples" (several brief pages of information regarding a one year Music Appreciation Curriculum and an outline of topics to research for the 12th grade Government Curriculum), "Materials Samples" (21 pages of sample worksheets that can be photocopied and serve as examples for making your own), "Foreign Language Curriculum" (which gives recommended texts for grades 5-8 and grades 9-12 along with a listing of which languages are available in each course), the "Sensorial Materials" Appendix has two Sections: First, an outline of the those manipulatives that Maria Montessori is well-known for (explaining that some of the materials will be expensive or hard-to-find, but the authors believe that explaining what they are and how they are used may lead homeschool parents to find adequate substitutes) and a basic explanation of the Sequin Method and the Education of the Senses. The Second Section, "Educational Materials for the Natural Structure Method", includes a book list by subject area, an "Alternate and Supplementary Text" LIst, a Suggested Reading List (literature and biographies), a list of Math Manipulatives used by Natural Structure (along with brief descriptions), "Shoestring Suggestions" (ideas for saving money in several subject areas) and a listing of the hands-on Montessori-type materials and activities suggested for each subject (along with descriptions of how to use them. Final appendices include "Curriculum Materials Sources" (recommended reading and supplier listings, an explanation of Maria Montessori's philosophies in light of Church teaching, and suggested quotes on Children from Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The text is illustrated with approximately twenty full-color photos depicting Montessori materials and substitutes and how they can be used in the home. The "Frequently Asked Questions" (which was not included in the first edition of the book) should be very helpful and includes pointers on dealing with ADHD and dyslexia, Natural Structure in the large family and further explanation of Montessori philosophies.

Note: As of 9-17-2016, this book is long out-of-print and not easy to find. I have kept the review here partly because I think there is value in the sample chapter found above.

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