Nancy Jordan (1908-1978)
[Extracts from her work for the hospitalized and emotionally disturbed child in Dublin.]

We did all kinds of exercises with their legs up and their toes and fingers, and moving their hands and even discovering their bodies. Some of these children had no self identity at all. They were even surprised almost to realise that their hands belonged to them. They had become so remote from reality. They had withdrawn. And the most frightening thing of all was the withdrawal of speech. They lost not only speech, but the desire to communicate as well.

I remember for instance one child... who came at the age of five and a half. She had not spoken. She had one word - 'no' - and she didn't understand what it meant. If she wanted something, she said 'no', if she didn't want something she said 'no' ... She sat in the class for eight months ... For eight months she never moved out of one place in the corner. And I felt I could not disturb her because at least she remained willingly. This was an enormous success, that she did not want to leave us. Then one morning the group was singing and I heard this little voice behind me humming. My student got so excited that I was terrified the child would see her and I made a sign because if she went back then we'd have lost her forever. She just continued humming. But the next day she took her chair and put it in the circle. She started to sing from that day. We had to wait many, many months before speech came. Then suddenly she began to speak, not in a flood, but slowly reversing sentences ... It was almost two years before speech came. And everybody had said if she doesn't speak before she's six she'll never speak. I just said, 'I don't know if they know what they're talking about but I'll go on anyway.'

Speech came.

By kind permission of the Jordan family and the Montessori College, Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), Dublin.


  1. How do we know from this first extract that many hospitalized children had experienced a loss of identity?
  2. Why was the withdrawal of speech considered by Nancy as the most frightening thing of all?
  3. In the second extract how did Nancy Jordan give the child a sense of security?
  4. How do we know from this document that Nancy believed that the child had the power to help herself?
  5. What particular qualities does Nancy Jordan show are necessary for the teacher before such a child is released from its deep-seated anxieties?
  6. Why do you think that the Montessori system of education is particularly suited to the needs of the emotionally disturbed child?
  7. Refer to Montessori education in Ireland.
contents index