The Day Montessori Met the iPhone

bobby_george1Bobby and June George have been making a name for themselves in the field of Montessori education for quite a while. They are the founders of The Baan Dek Montessori in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the first school accredited by the Association Montessori International (AMI) in South Dakota.

Recently, they have begun to develop iPad and iPhone applications based on Montessori materials, specifically the sandpaper letters and wooden math materials like the red rods. Called Montessorium, this idea has been met with some skepticism on the part of Montessori teachers and parents. I decided to talk to them about this new combination of Montessori and technology.

june_george1Lori: What is the main idea behind the development of the Montessorium apps?

Bobby & June: Montessorium was created by Montessori parents and an AMI-accredited Montessori teacher. The aim of this collaboration is increasing awareness of Montessori education by making the materials of Montessori available to children everywhere.

Lori: How did you conceive of the idea for Montessorium?

Bobby & June: While the Montessori community may be divided over what the next step in Montessori education should be, the world our parents, children and educators face every day is continually evolving with advancements in technology, as they drive to school, search on the internet, and communicate on blogs and forums.

We do not advocate or intend to replace the Montessori classroom; instead, we see this as a tremendous opportunity to address the convergence of technology with the tested and proven philosophy of Maria Montessori. We conceived of Montessorium as the next continuum in thinking about these complex issues.

Lori: What is the aim of the Montessorium apps – what do you hope they accomplish?

Bobby & June: Our commitment to education extends beyond the scope of any technology. It extends into an examination of the very ways in which we learn. We want to expose an entirely new generation to Montessori. We understand that our ideas are controversial, but we also see an unprecedented moment in the history of learning. Montessori education should not stop when the child leaves the classroom. It is our hope that Montessorium will education parents as well as children.

Lori: When I posted a link to your site on Facebook, many people responded negatively. They felt that “hands-on” materials can’t be translated to a screen. How do you answer this kind of objection?

Bobby & June: Anytime you combine a one hundred year old proven method of education with a ‘magical and revolutionary’ new device there is bound to be some discussion. We want to let our people know that we appreciate their comments and concerns and would like to take this opportunity to address them.

First, we do not advocate the replacement of the Montessori classroom. On the contrary, we are trying to introduce new families to the Montessori approach to early childhood education. We hope to highlight the importance of Montessori by exposing a new generation to the force of her thought. There is no substitute for the actual, physical materials or the social interactions that comprise a Montessori environment.

Second, we have carefully and thoughtfully translated the Montessori materials into iPhone and iPad applications. They are adherent to the Montessori philosophy of education. These applications are kinesthetic and proprioceptive, and use the audio, visual, and tactile senses of the child. They also address the sense of balance that Montessori found so important. Additionally, positive feedback systems are delicately put into place, and control of error offers the child an authentic Montessori experience.

Third, if Maria Montessori were alive today, we think that she would be at the Apple store, playing with an iPad, thinking hard about these complicated issues. She would be writing Steve Jobs letters, asking for advice. “What is this new gyroscope feature?” “Can we really duplicate the feel of sandpaper letters?” “Is it possible to create a positive feedback system?” In our opinion, Maria Montessori would be trying to open up and discover new ways to think about how we learn.

Lori: Something that occurred to me while thinking about this issue is that Maria Montessori would apply her scientific mind to this issue – rather than jumping to conclusions about the limits of technology, she’d observe children using the iPhone and iPad and draw conclusions based on their behavior rather than her own personal prejudices.

Bobby & June: Exactly. It is our belief that these apps will bring a new found awareness to the Montessori revolution in education. Montessorium will also allow an entirely different population to experience the brilliance of Montessori. Parents will Google Montessori and want to learn more. Existing Montessori students will return to the classroom with a renewed sense of joy and wonder. This could truly become Montessori for Everyone!

Lori: I like that idea! What will children specifically learn from your apps?

app_pic1Bobby & June: Intro to Math is specifically designed to introduce children to a concrete understanding of sequence, order, and ultimately, the basic components of mathematics, such as addition. Intro to Letters is meant to help children learn the alphabet, how to write, and ultimately, how to read.

Lori: What kind of feedback are you getting from other people?

Bobby & June: A parent summed it up best, “I look forward to this app since our children are VERY adept at using our iPad and iPhone – especially during long car trips and long waits at busy restaurants, doctor’s clinics, and in airports and on airplanes…all of which we have experienced in the past weeks. Our iPad has been engaging, educational, and fun – and if Scholastic can make some apps for preschoolers, why not Montessori? Hurry up! Get it done!”

As you can imagine, comments have ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Lori: I’ve faced similar challenges when it comes to updating the Montessori materials. Sometimes people have a hard time with that.

Bobby & June: In our estimations, the relevance of Montessori no longer rests with Maria Montessori. It rests with us. Are we willing to engage in serious and complicated discussions? Are we willing to reassess the very ways in which children learn? What is the future of Montessori?

Lori: I can see that this goes beyond the development of Montessori-based apps and touches on the future of Montessori and technology. I think it deserves more discussion so maybe in the future we can talk again. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about the thought process behind your new apps.

Bobby & June: You are very welcome!

Please visit Montessorium if you’re interested in learning more about this project. From their website you can follow and fan them on Twitter and Facebook.

The Math App is now available at the iTunes store: Montessorium Math App for iPhones.

It seems like Montessori-for-the-iPhone is becoming very popular; here are two other sites that are developing apps using Montessori (I don’t have any information about the availability or quality of these apps; please email the site owners if you have questions):

Montessori Tech
Montessori Apps
Montessori Revolution

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19 Responses to “The Day Montessori Met the iPhone”

  • Russell Hughes said at July 5th, 2010 at 4:24 pm :

    Bobby and June, this is just brilliant…I have a 6 year old and think such a device will aid him immeasurably – he goes to Steiner but that shouldn’t be a problem (except he’s not meant to read for another year – too late!!!). Congratulations to you two, outstanding stuff.

  • Trevor Eissler said at July 5th, 2010 at 5:40 pm :

    This is a fantastic idea. What a way to hook prospective parents and their children at the same time! It is going to make talking about Montessori to other parents at the neighborhood pool or the kids’ baseball games very easy. Just whip out the iPhone and say, “Check this out.” I’m going to be the first to download this app on all three of our family’s iPhones! Keep up the great work. Trevor

  • Lori Bourne said at July 5th, 2010 at 6:36 pm :

    Thanks for your comments, gentlemen! It’s definitely an interesting topic for discussion.

    I have to admit I was skeptical (I don’t have an iPhone, so my children have never used one) but this past week I was vacationing with my family and my nephew, age four, was using his dad’s iPhone to play some educational games and it was really amazing. Helped me see the issue in a different light.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Sarah said at July 8th, 2010 at 12:20 pm :

    I agree with the fact that Maria would have approached this new technology with an open mind. She was before her time then, she’d probably already have apps hidden in some secret Montessori book! LOL!
    We cannot deny and ignore technological advances, so by researching and testing, we can find the right fit with Montessori.
    Cheers to these two for exploring and venturing out!

  • Hanya Kim said at July 8th, 2010 at 12:23 pm :

    The app looks pretty compelling. Thanks for posting this — I hadn’t seen it before. The iPhone games have tons of potential and I’m very curious now. Lori, if you do get an iPhone or iPad and start using this app, I look forward to reading your review!

    Off to the Apple store soon…

  • Lori Bourne said at July 8th, 2010 at 1:15 pm :

    Hi, Sarah! Glad you found this interesting. I agree, we can’t ignore technology – it’s more about “Where does it fit?” than “Should we use it or not?”

    Hanya, my mom has an iPhone so I thought I’d try it there, and have my kids try it out. They’re beyond the Beginning Math apps in terms of concepts, but they might like to try it just for fun. They love to give me feedback.

  • Charity said at July 8th, 2010 at 2:12 pm :

    I read all the comments when Lori first posted the news about Montessorium and I was also a little skepical. I’m torn between feeling like it’s progress yet also like it’s not authentic.

    After reading this discussion and the comments, I remembered an app that my daughter loves on my phone. Tangrams is a work she has in the classroom, however she never touched it. When we get home, right before bed and after story time, she gets to choose one app to play and that has been her choice since I downloaded it. She feels a sense of accomplishment when she’s completes a puzzle.

    Is it a substitute? I don’t think so, I see it more as an extension! The great thing is that she does look at the work in the classroom now, and shows it to her friends. I think it is a nice connection, just like when an elementary student sees the same language symbols from preschool later on!

    The app and the materials will work to suite different purposes while using the familiarities of the process and visual stimulation. I’m now excited to see just what the app can do. As with anything else in life it can be abused, it’s up to the individuals to use it responsibly!!!!

  • valerie said at July 8th, 2010 at 3:02 pm :

    Kids today use the IPhone in ways adults don’t even understand. I say bring on the Montessori App!

  • Monica said at July 8th, 2010 at 4:44 pm :

    Great idea! My 1.5 year old son uses a variety of learning apps during long car trips or on plane rides. I look forward to purchasing the Montessori apps!

  • Nina Hooker said at July 10th, 2010 at 1:50 pm :

    Hi, I am a Montessori Public School Teacher and I have a touch pad in my classroom. I also have an iphone. I would very much like to get both these apps but can’t seem to find them. Can you post a link or something that will help me out?

  • Lori Bourne said at July 10th, 2010 at 1:53 pm :

    Hi, Nina! As it says at the bottom of the post, they are not available yet. According to Bobby, they have submitted the Math app to the iTunes store for approval. As I mentioned, I will update the post when they are available.


  • catb said at July 12th, 2010 at 2:33 pm :

    This is great news – I’m very excited to get this app and to provide a review on our site once it’s available. Our son attends Montessori and we’ve been a great fan of the method and approach.
    We’ve also been looking for apps that can be used to aid his development, enjoying apps that provide a virtual manipulative for him to work with and other means that the iPad,iPhone,and iPod facilitate well. We’ve been reviewing apps providing feedback on the ones we felt were useful for our son or ones that just seem like a lot of hype but no substance at .

  • Melva said at July 13th, 2010 at 6:55 pm :

    I just love the image I got thinking about Maria in the Apple store! Let’s face it, kids will be spending time with technology, why not make it good time, with Montessori apps. Of course they won’t replace materials in a classroom, but what a wonderful extension for long road trips and waiting times.

  • Carey said at September 7th, 2010 at 7:31 pm :

    I now have both of these apps, and I am very pleased with the quality and their ability to maintain the spirit and method of Montessori. It works very well when traveling and the real materials aren’t available, it inspires children that have temporarily lost interest in some of the materials.

    It is certainly an ‘extension’ sort of material, and someone can not rely solely on these or any apps to teach. One of the things I like most (other than the superb artwork & textural look/’feeling’ of the ‘material’) is that the app maintains the verbal responses that characterize a Montessori approach.

    There are no flashing lights, bells & whistle, or bongs if someone does something ‘wrong’. If only other ‘educational’ software would take a hint!! “[insert horrible noise] Wrong! Try again!” – ugh ;( There is no congratulatory, blinking “You did it! Great job!!!” There are no buttons to simply tap & guess, and eventually hit the correct one, even memorizing a button-hitting sequence(!!!).

    Anyway, I really hope and look forward to more advanced Montessori apps. At ages 5 and 6, my girls are beyond much of this material. Luckily, we can use it for our younger children.

  • Lori Bourne said at September 7th, 2010 at 7:34 pm :

    Thanks for your feedback, Carey! My kids are beyond these apps too, but I hope they keep making more!

  • Vanessa said at December 6th, 2010 at 10:39 am :

    Thank you for doing this. I am completely, 100% supportive of your effort and will show my support by buying every app. Please keep up the good work and make hundreds more. Imagine: the entire Montessori curriculum – through middleschool? – available as apps or interactive websites?!! What an amazing tool for homeschoolers, tutors, teachers, independent study kids….

    To any naysayers in the Montessori community, let them be skeptical, but press on. I think Montessori is perfectly suited to the online experience. Maria Montessori designed her curriculum to be self-driven, and available for the masses. How does that not correlate EXACTLY to the internet?!

    I wish you all the best.

  • Lori Bourne said at December 6th, 2010 at 12:18 pm :

    Thanks for your feedback, Vanessa! They are hard at work on another app and I’m sure that’s just the beginning. It seems like overall, most people feel the way you do. Montessori is finally entering the modern era!

  • Ms. Mustac said at January 5th, 2011 at 3:51 pm :

    The iPads are getting more and more popular. There are more Montessori applications now available for the elementary years. You can find Montessori virtual materials like the stamp game, place value, and the 100 board for the iPad.

  • Elise Zalesky said at May 12th, 2012 at 12:28 pm :

    I just keep going back to the good ole ‘before app’ days when our three-year-old daughter, from the back seat of the car, would count the trees planted in the median on the way to her Montessori school. She always seemed aware, in-tune, and interacting with the world around her. I liked that.