The ScrumMaster in kindergarden

28. February 2010

well prepared environment

“Help me Do it myself ” has been Dr. Maria Montessori’s first work on her ideas on chilrens education. She developed ideas how to assist children develop the abilities by making their own experiences.

I am sure everyone of us has learned that guiding teams is sometimes really hard. The teams are diverse in mentality, person’s characters, motivation and engagement. While we always strive to have a sustainable pace we have to meet some goals, too. This can only be reached if we learn each day to improve ourselves and the team. Please stay with me during this little essay: I will first write quite some ideas about children learning – later I try to relate this to agile development and teams.

How I learned about Montessori

Before I start to talk about the interesting ideas of Maria Montessori, I need to mention that I started reading about her, six years ago, a bit ahead of the time when our son was born. I wanted to find out how a child can and should be educated. After reading some books I noticed that a kindergarden (Maria Montessori calls it a “children house” / casa de bambini) was nearby to where we live today. We participated in an introduction evening and there I asked one of the kindergarten teacher if every child was “appropriate” to the Montessori Pedagogy. She smiled back to me and said “Yes, every child is, but not every parent”. Wow, that really made me think! What she meant is if you want your child be raised based on the Montessori ideas, of course you should live up to the same ideas by yourself otherwise you would just counter it. Today our is a happy member of the “Kinderhaus” since 2008 and he, as a person, at least to us has become a person who is joyfull, self-confident with a  good portion of self-competency “but” still a very “normal” child. Let me explain why this is so important to us:

How should we actually learn and teach new things? Enter Montessori!

One of the main ideas is nicely expressed in the few words I mentioned in the beginning: “Help me do it myself”. Though not said by Maria Montessori herself but by a child she worked with, it greatly expresses that teaching does not mean to throw new information and requests onto the child who wants to learn but to prepare the environment to let the child experience what it wants to learnd and what it is open to. Children (and adults too) have the capability and the motivation to learn by themselves (though learning ability over the lifetime of a person changes). They are eager to strive for more information and are hungry to learn. Maria Montessori though emphasizes that every child has its own point in time to learn what it wants. This is probably one of the hardest ideas to accept as an adult (or parent). In education most of us learned in school that the teacher decides what is to be learned at a certain time. If you have children you most probably know a lot of other families with children and you happen to compare your own child with theirs (I am not free to that!). Guess what, they all develop differently, even though seen over a longer time frame all children learn similar things (like walking, speaking etc) but just not at the same time. This is why every child choses its own point in time to be “motivated” to the next step.

Did you ever try to teach a child a special topic but I didn’t want to listen or to work on it? If you have never experienced that you are probably one in a million are you have no children…Even if you don’t like to compare your child with others, you eventually will do. Parents many times try to make their children learn the alphabet or numbers before elementary school and nicely fail because the child just isn’t interested. The reason is that the child has not chosen to work with numbers or the alphabet yet. But how shall I then teach my child?

Learning  and teaching  differently

Disclaimer: As I am not a trained montessorian teacher I can only reflect what I think is important and I hopefully have understood the right ideas within her pedagogy.

As I said before, children do not need the motivation to learn, they need the right environment. Maria Montessori noticed that children learn by viewing and by mimicking others behaviours and techniques. When you have the chance to experience how a child learns something new from its montessori kindergarten “teacher” you would see a lot but you wouldn’t hear anything. Everything is shown in an exact order of steps but it is not explained verbally. The spoken word would only distract the child from mirroring the action in his own mind for later replicating the same thing. The child then starts working on that task and only when it needs help and asks for help, the teacher jumps in again (for those who are montessorians I know that this is a simplified description). “Help me, do it myself”.

The highest degree of concentration on a task a child performs is called “normalization“. You all have experienced this one situation: A child is sitting in a sandbox and lets the sand flow through its fingers for minutes and minutes without noticing anything around it This is a totally concentrated “normalized” child. Many adults try to achieve a similar mood by doing meditation!

To support this, the children have a well-defined tidy environment with well-defined rules (far from laissez-faire!). Everything has its place and having done the work, it has to be put back to where it belongs. If you ever went into a montessori room (which is where the children “work”), it is amazingly quiet - not that nobody speaks but in a room where many work it is obvious that here not everybody should scream around disturbing and distracting the others.

This reminds me a lot to our working condition. We, as a team, wanted a room where we all would be able to sit together and work to keep communication very much integrated within the room. However with sometimes 12 people in one room there has to be discipline not to distract the others too much. Again the “tidy rule” is something that makes it easier for everyone to work in the project. Of course tidyness not only relates to the room but to the whole work: Put the documentation back to where it belongs, keep the source code in a tidy state (remember the boy scout rule!) and so on.

One of the really nice things is the way the children in Montessori go through the years of learning. Kindergardens are typically grouped. Within Montessori kindergarden and schools(!) children stay in the one group for three years which has children of three years of age. In the first year they are they youngsters and are being helped by the older, the next year they become the aquainted and help the younger ones, the third year they are the oldest who feel responsible for the one- and two-yearers. Then, they “move up” into the next group and the cycle restarts: They are becoming the young ones again! This iterative way indirectly boosts their learning process of becoming a self-confident, helping and understanding person.

I often noticed in schools or kindergardens that children enter the building and at “some” point the day or the lesson starts (I may be unfair to some institutions here, though). Not so in Montessori: Every child is being greeted in the morning with a little talk (and when it leaves) and politeness and social competence is very important to the whole group. The children are not treated as adults but they are taken seriously and everyone is respected.This should remind us that everyone in our team should be respected and taken seriously. I good social competence is very important to everyone of us.

Weekly Kids conference

Just lately I heard about the “weekly kids conference” in the child house. It is a weekly meeting of the children at friday where the group looks back what has happened, where children present what they did and where special topics can be talked about. Wow, I thought, isn’t that what we call a Sprint demo and Retrospective in the agile world?

What role plays the kindergarden teacher?

What is the role of the personnel in the child house or in Montessori schools? Really different to what you have experienced in traditional institutions. There are much more like mentors and guides to the children than teachers. There aim is to listen to the child, recognize what they are open for and assist them to learn what they currently interested in and most open to, while they make sure the rules of the groups are followed. Doesn’t that remind you to a well-known role? The ScrumMaster! He/she is a mentor who guides the group to makes sure the aims of the projects are met, tries to move away impediments and supports efficient ways to improve. Very similar, isn’t it?


Maria Montessori has not invented all the things by herself. She, as science person (she was the first female pediatrician in Italy), put together many good ideas from others and added some parts by herself. This is the similar to Agile. Many techniques have been there all along, just the philosophy and the way the ideas and techniques have been put together with a nice name (“agile”) made it so successful.

There are still a lot disbelievers  who doubt Agile works as because it is  so different to the traditional project management approaches which is comparable to the pedagogy of Maria Montessori as many have no clue what it is about and cannot image that learning and teaching could work without pressure and without a totally controlled way.

The longer I think about the pedagogy of Montessori the more commonness I find to Agile. I leave the rest to you if you like to dive deeper into both worlds. I promise you it is worth it.

Further information on Maria Montessori

If you like to learn more about Maria Montessori, her ideas on pedagogy and her life, I highly recommend to recommend the summary on wikipedia and the little 4-minute-film called MARIA MONTESSORI: HER LIFE AND LEGACY that can be seen on google-videos.

the above image was taken in our child house and shows the well prepared environment with the prepared working material for the children

2 comments zu “The ScrumMaster in kindergarden”

  1. chrisam 1. November 2010 um 4:35 pm Uhr

    Stephan – interesting post and analogies in that we are considering sending our 4 year old to a montessori school next year after 10 years managing swd projects using mostly traditional methods, I have recently realized agile is clearly and definitivey a much better, andwhat I call, a natural way. Natural in that the nature of swd is perfectly tuned to the dynamics agile software product engineering vs. software project management (the latter being bad, former good). Also got your point in spades that Maria M. “…. put together many good ideas from others and added some parts by herself” makes perfect sense. I was agile without being agile by way of that dynamic at least partially forcing agile practices. Much like a plant growing at angle to stretch from the shade to sun.

    Anyhow, thanks . . . Chris

  2. Karen Favazza Spenceram 5. February 2014 um 5:37 pm Uhr

    You’re singing my song. Maria Montessori, John Dewey and Jean Piaget all emphasized the importance of environment and exploratory learning. It’s based in the constructivist approach to Learning. These educators were also cognitive psychologists, they realized the human brain requires visual stimulation to be fully engaged.

    As an Agile Coach and former holistic kindergarten teacher, I wrote “A to XP: The Agile ABC Book” with these lessons in mind. I knew that despite what we want to believe about “adult learning” – we all learn best when the environment is structured with clarity to allow exploratory learning.

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