The Remarkable and Timeless Nature of the Montessori Materials

DSC_0013This time of year is typically the kick-off for parent tours, or those looking for fall enrollment. One of the many things I enjoy most while guiding new parents through our hallways is the opportunity to show off the works in our classroom. If they come at the right time, they even get to witness the beauty of a Montessori work cycle in motion. The families seem to be amazed at the pure quality of the Montessori materials, and how everything in the classroom is…real.

Montessori classrooms are beautiful. They resemble tiny living communities for the children, complete with authentic, real materials. It’s common for Montessori classrooms to have wood shelves, filled with wooden works. Porcelain pitchers in the practical life area. Glass cups and plates in the kitchen, and glass vases for flower arranging. The use of real materials shows the child that we respect their work; we want them to have “real life” experiences. We want them to learn to handle the materials with care, and to carry their bodies in a cautious manner.Prepared Environment_Flower Arranging

Montessori materials are absolutely beautiful.

Each material was designed by Dr. Maria Montessori with a specific goal in mind, brought forth by observing the children, as they experimented with the works. She was a scientist, and spent many years creating, manipulating, and revising her works according to what worked best for the children. She understood human development, and developed a pedagogy based on just that. Montessori materials allow for the child to work independently and spontaneously, bringing forth a subconscious love of learning.

Children have a desire to explore; to manipulate objects into whatever their mind desires. For our young, primary students, we do not use computers in the classroom. According to Paula Polk Lillard, “It appears that children six to nine years old develop best when their hands are more directly involved with manipulating materials in their work. It is essential during this period that the children learn to think clearly and read and write in an organized manner. Computers are therefore not included in the prepared environment for use in research studies and creative writing until the upper elementary level.” (Montessori Today)

Montessori materials provide for the use of many different variations of the same work. The pink tower, for example, can be used in so many different ways, with which the child discovers over the entire course of their primary career. The tower is beautiful and almost alluring. Maria Montessori designed the tower to be pink because she found through observation that children were most interested in that particular color. Paula Polk Lillard goes on to say, “A three-year-old will spontaneously build, dismantle, and rebuild this [pink tower] from the largest cube to the smallest cube over a period of weeks or months. Children repeat this activity on occasion when they reach four or five years old, in the manner of someone revisiting something known rather than discovering something unknown.” (Montessori Today)DSC_0741 (1)

“Through their use of the materials, children reach high levels of abstract knowledge and creative thought.” (Paula Polk Lillard, Montessori Today)

Materials are presented to one child at a time, occasionally a small group. The guide shows great enthusiasm, and dramatizes every movement and hand motion to emphasize how the work is to be done. Children absorb everything. If we respect the work, they will respect the work.

Children become interested in math through the introductory sensorial materials. They’re able to feel the growing quantity of 1 through 10, and visualize the different sizes of the number rods as they increase in number. Rather than simply memorizing 1 through 9, they get to hold each quantity from the spindle box, and to feel the difference of weight between 1 spindle, and 9 spindles, and how there are no spindles in the zero slot, symbolizing that zero by itself means nothing. Their curiosity is evoked by the beautiful materials, inviting them to discover their many variations.DSC_0557

Montessori materials are self-correcting, allowing the child to control their error. They cannot complete the work, until each step is properly executed. The knobbed cylinders, for example, teach the child to visually discriminate each cylinder by increasing/decreasing height and diameter. If they put the a cylinder in the wrong hole, it either won’t fit, or will stick out, or fall through. Each hole is created to snugly fit around its corresponding cylinder.DSC_0714 (1)Montessori materials are beautiful, visually stimulating, fascinating, and timeless. They reach all of the child’s senses. As Montessori guides, we strive to remain invisible, letting the materials teach and guide the children through the early years of their lives.

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