Montessori materials were created by Dr. Maria Montessori out of natural materials, especially wood. These were scientifically designed after hours of observation. These materials are not like the commonly available toys /blocks in the market. They have some very unique features embedded in them which reinforce the Montessori principles of fostering independence, building focus and concentration & helping the child reach their full potential.
Montessori materials are ...
Simple, aesthetically beautiful and complete
Very inviting to the child
Minimalistic: Simple, clean lines, devoid of excess features, orderly and utility in teaching the skill.
Isolation of difficulty: In order to refine and encourage the child to master a specific skill at a time, each Montessori material follows this feature of isolating it. For example, Pink tower has 10 cubes- all of which are made of wood and are pink. The only difference is in the ‘dimension’ of each cube. So, the child needs to focus and learn only the ‘concept of big and small/dimension’ through the pink tower. So, there are no distractions or added features to it. This encourages the child to hone in on that skill and master it comfortably.
Each material has a set of similar items exploring the same property in various increments- the child is then stimulated to use their hands and mind to make the comparisons. In most cases, this hand on exploration of ‘1 specific trait’ encourages child to work with the material for extended periods of time to figure various ways to decipher it. This in turn builds focus and concentration in the child.
Extensions: Montessori materials are designed for the multi-age grouping seen in their classrooms. Almost all the materials can be used by a young child like a toddler or 3-year old and can also be extended out for an older child who is 5 or 6 years old. Different areas of the curriculum can also be combined to extend out the use of the materials.
For example: The Pink tower in Sensorial area of the Montessori classroom has 10 cubes made of wood, are pink and differ only in the ‘size’.
A young child can bring the cubes to rug and create a tower from big to small. You could also use it to make designs that are 2-D or 3-D. They can also be traced on paper and painted pink. Child can trace and pin prick the cubes on a pink construction paper – they can just glue the pieces from big to small to reinforce the skill. Pink tower can be combined with other sensorial materials like brown stairs, knobless cylinders etc to make lovely designs. Older children can also write the terms, ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘Pink tower’ etc on the paper. Staying true to the Montessori philosophy of basing the lessons on the child’s ability and not on the chronological age, a material introduced to the child can be extended out to provide the right amount of challenge for them to master the skill.
Provides opportunities for creativity and imagination: Montessori materials are colorful and aesthetically beautiful. This encourages the child to explore them using their creativity and build/design different things with them, enhancing their artistic abilities and imagination. Especially the Sensorial materials call out to the child to use them creatively in turn helping build a variety of skills in the child. You could observe towers, trains, bike, castle etc built from the Sensorial materials.
Purposeful: Montessori materials are built after hours of observation and understanding of the skill it should teach and removal of any obstruction in the path of the child to learn it. Most materials especially the sensorial materials encourage ‘Movement’ which is very important for children in the 1st plane of development(especially for those in the 3-6 years of age). For example, the Pink tower has 10 cubes, the child carries one cube at a time from the shelf to the work rug. This means for the child to complete the activity, they would make 20 trips from the shelf to the work rug to bring the materials, build the tower and return it back to the original spot so it would be ready for another child.
Control of error: This is probably one of the most defining characteristics of Montessori materials. The material has a way for the child to correct themselves. It is almost as if the child receives instant feedback about the progress they are making, allowing them to recognize, correct and learn from an error with any intervention from adults/other children in the classroom. This helps the child see it visually and correct it independently.
This aids in fostering independence, building self-esteem and self-discipline eventually leading to confidence.
One of the greatest examples of ‘Control of error’ in a Montessori material is the Knobbed cylinder. There are 4 cylinder blocks, each having 10 cylinders in them. They have different width, diameter, height etc.
Child won’t be able to fit all the cylinders properly even if one cylinder is out of place.
If you are building a DIY Montessori material , ensure ‘Control of error’ is embedded in it. It can simply be done through color coded ribbons or stickers at the back.
Last but not the least, each component of the material is there for a reason and satisfies a specific need in the child’s development. They provide awesome opportunities for hands on learning.
“What the hand does, the mind remembers”Dr. Maria Montessori