Attachment to Reality: The Importance of Real Materials in the Classroom

“Yet, when all are agreed that the child loves to imagine, why do we give him only fairy tales and toys on which to practice this gift? If a child can imagine a fairy and fairyland, it will not be difficult for him to imagine America. Instead of hearing it referred to vaguely in conversation, he can help to clarify his own ideas of it by looking at the globe on which it is shown.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

One of the most obvious differences between Montessori and your typical, conventional daycare, is the use of real materials in the classroom, as opposed to plastic toys made from synthetic materials. The pedagogy is only successful if the child has real tools to work with. One of the characteristics of a normalized child is their “attachment to reality”. We strive to provide real material as safely and practical as possible. We want children to develop real skills and habits for living in a real world.

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I use a glass mortar and pestle to grind fresh cinnamon. The sound of the crushed spice against the glass, and the fragrance stimulate my senses.

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There is absolutely nothing wrong with imaginative/fantasy play, however there is a time and a place. Play is the work of the child. Playful learning is done so through many aspects of the Montessori philosophy. Play is beneficial for children in a variety of developmental areas, and different types of play is associated with different stages. The pedagogy is dedicated to meeting all of the developmental needs of the “whole child”. Montessori guides must consider play as a developmental area, and observe and guide the children’s movement in the classroom to support their growth. These areas should contain the same preparation, analysis and sequencing as all other areas of the classroom.

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” -Fred Rogers

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Practical Life works, such as plant watering, fulfill my need to care for my environment. Taking care of “real” plants connects me to my environment and helps me to keep it beautiful. This exercise helps me also understand the reality of what happens when I do/don’t care for plants in the proper manner.

By engaging in real activities with purposeful means, the child develops real abilities, which give him independence and control of his life. These exercises help the child adapt to their environment. The aim of these activities is both practical and developmental. They help build upon the child’s concentration, independence, self-discipline, among many other things.

Life-size objects are a bit difficult to use with this lesson, so instead, I use miniature versions of the real object to help me associate them to their phonetic sound.

Life-size objects are a bit difficult to use with this lesson (a horse, for instance), so instead, I use miniature versions of the real objects to help me associate them to their phonetic sounds.

Dr. Montessori emphasizes the use of real materials in the classroom. She believed that imagination is the natural inclination of the child; it stems from what is real. To stimulate the child’s imagination, give him real objects and a real understanding of the world from which he can use creatively. While it is natural for the child to be drawn to fantasy, it is the knowledge from the real world that can enrich his ability to imagine and create.

Dr. Montessori wrote: “Yet, when all are agreed that the child loves to imagine, why do we give him only fairy tales and toys on which to practice this gift? If a child can imagine a fairy and fairyland, it will not be difficult for him to imagine America. Instead of hearing it referred to vaguely in conversation, he can help to clarify his own ideas of it by looking at the globe on which it is shown.”  

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A basket that holds a real peach and a real pear sit on one of the shelves in our toddler rooms. Although the child is tempted to eat the fruit, they understand that they are to handle it, only. They’ve been given a lesson on the proper handling and care of real fruit, which helps connect them to the environment. It is a language lesson as well; introducing the child to the names of new fruits. The use of real fruit is much more practical than plastic, synthetic fruit.

There are many things you can do to incorporate a sense of reality in your child’s home learning environment. Most importantly, and I can never stress this enough, is through the use of Practical Life (dish washing, care of environment, and so forth). This is probably one of the best ways to give your child real life experiences, and help them obtain real life skills. Provide a basket with kitchen utensils for them to explore. Teach them to properly handle glass, instead of plastic cups. Instead of the plastic musical instruments that have over-stimulating lights and sounds, let your child experience real instruments. Plant a garden, let them work with the soil and care for real plants…the list is endless. It’s important to encourage children to explore, to enter the world of real things and make genuine discoveries that will have value to them.

 

Taken from Tim Seldin’s, How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way, and his thoughts on “Glass in the Home”

Whenever possible, try to build a control of error into each activity so it becomes clear to your child when she has made a mistake. The rationale behind letting children use cups and bowls that break if they are dropped or misused is that children quickly learn to be careful and controlled when they use them. Mistakes are an opportunity for patiently showing your child once more how to do a task correctly, and generally lead to a new lesson in problem-solving: “How do we gather up all those beads?” or “How do we safely clean up the broken pieces?”

Select toys, tools, and other everyday items that your child will use on the basis of their appropriate size, ease of handling, and beauty. When you choose trays, pitchers, and other utensils for your child to use in everyday life, avoid things which are cheap and made of plastic. Look instead for the most attractive materials you can find and afford. Children respond to the beauty of wood, glass, silver, brass, and similar natural materials.

Young children absorb and remember every nuance of their early home environments. The aim is for you to design activities that will draw your child’s interest and to create prepared surroundings that are harmonious and beautiful.

Montessori is beautiful. It gives the child the opportunity to work with real materials, in real life situations. Our goal is to teach the child life skills that can be used outside of the classroom. The best way to foster that type of learning is attach them to the environment, and to their real surroundings.

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