“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.
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
“If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities, which they can perform themselves. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down the stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.” – Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
I find it fascinating how children have an innate desire to be a part of a community; to belong. They want to be involved in purposeful work, and to keep their tiny communities clean and orderly. It’s not necessarily something we have to teach, but something that can come about by providing the right tools, and making sure these tools are easily accessible. We model for the child how to carry about one’s body, how to handle fragile things, that everything we do has certain steps that have to be followed, and that their are effects or consequences for everything that we do. In Montessori, we teach the child skills that can be used in “real life”, beyond the classroom. These lessons are done so through their persistent participation in exercises of “practical life”.There’s much to be said about the Exercises in Practical Life, and how beneficial and extremely crucial they are to the child’s overall development. It’s through practical life works that the child learns concentration, focus, scope and sequence, pre-writing skills (cleaning a table with a bar of soap from left to right in circular motions), fine and gross motor development, small and large muscle development, they develop a sense of order, and generally learn to take pride in their work. They learn to be independent young adults, free to think critically and problem solve. Continue reading
This is truly a Montessori child at work! Water splashed all over the hair, floor and clothes, suds on the face, his arm stuck through the apron head-hole, and his head through the arm-hole…in complete bliss and happiness as he washes the cloths. He completed this work all on his own, with no adult redirection, from start to finish. He is definitely a seasoned cloth washer!
Today’s work of choice: harvesting cauliflower.
Gardening is an outdoor extension to our students’ work cycle. Maria Montessori emphasized, “the land is where our roots are, the children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the earth.” Our gardens are lush with lettuce, cauliflower, flowers, and various roots. The children harvested the cauliflower, washed it, cut it and then steamed it for lunch this afternoon. What a joy it was to prepare for one another the “veggies” of our labor!
We reference the child’s daily activities as “work”. “The task of the child is the formation of man” (Dr. Maria Montessori). In other words, the child’s “work” is to create the type of person they will be for the rest of their lives. Their work is extremely important. These early years of their childhood are very precious. Their work is to be honored and protected, both at school and home. Giving them the opportunity to explore and learn from the tools in their environment is extremely critical to their development.
The term “play” is referenced as “work” in a Montessori community, because the children “play” with a purpose. Work is purposeful. When a child plays, it does not always need to be imaginative, overly-stimulated, chaotic, loud, or involve physical activity. When young children play, their purpose is to develop an executive function. Playing can involve many things, such as refining a fine or gross motor skill (small and large muscle movement), playing emphasizes emotional and social interactions, problem solving, patience, developing hand-eye coordination, balancing their bodies, learning to prioritize in order to carry out a particular task…the list is endless. A Montessori classroom caters to all of these functions of “play”.
“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 5)
As Montessori Guides, our main responsibility is to engage the child to the environment, therefore letting the materials teach the child. We do not present a lesson, and afterwards put it away in a closet, never to be touched again. The entire environment is available to the child (considering they’ve been given the proper lesson). They’re given the opportunity and freedom to work with whatever their driven to do for that day. The child experiences many different, spontaneous “sensitive periods”, where they’re internally driven to fulfill an inner desire. Often times, they’re desire is as simple as practicing to walk so that they can refine their balance and composure. Or, it could be that they want to work with water in the “practical life” area (as many children do), so you may see them washing their hands, cloths, tables, dishes, or watering plants for the entirety of the work cycle. Whatever it may be, it’s important to make sure the environment is fully prepared to meet their individual needs.
“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” (The Absorbent Mind, p.56)
Simply put, the child absorbs everything. Every object, sound, smell in their environment plays a vital role in their daily learning. Stop and observe your children every once and a while. Watch their careful, gentle movements and observe how they carry out their work. Try to understand what they desire most, and capitalize on these spontaneous learning opportunities. Through the child’s work, they feel a sense of purpose; that they are contributing to a greater good. They are developing and refining skills, and shaping their personality, which will further build the kind of person that they will be for the rest of their lives.
Photos credit http://melmphotography.com/
One of our absolute favorite blogs that we religiously follow, How we Montessori, posted a wonderful article explaining the benefits of allowing our children the opportunity to work with dangerous, or fragile things. In the classroom, our students are encouraged to work with challenging tools, such as scissors to develop fine and gross motor skills, they’re also allowed to grate/cut vegetables as part of food preparation/”practical life”, which teaches valuable life skills, and they’re invited to use glass tumblers to drink out of during mealtime. If they drop the glass, it’s not a problem. They’re well-equipped with problem solving skills to clean up any mess they make. We want them to learn how to handle delicate materials so that they will learn self-control, and self-discipline, amongst many things. We empower and enable our children to be self sufficient, working with tools that aid in their independence. Often times, learning from mistakes can be a powerful method.
Children need risk. Risk challenges them and keeps them alert, it makes them responsive and teaches consequences. However parents are often so afraid, it’s to the detriment of their children. Maria Montessori would call this oppression.
Children are capable. But they need our help. We need to enable and empower them.
Children need to learn new skills, real life skills. Once they are capable in one area they will have the confidence to work and excel in other areas. When they complete real work there is a powerful sense of accomplishment which can build the child’s sense of self. Children need work and accomplishments they can be proud of.
“Here, let me help you.”
These words, while innocent enough, can interfere a great deal in a child’s development. It’s natural for us as adults to want to interfere and offer assistance when a child is struggling to carry a heavy, full water pitcher, or can’t put on their coat and shoes by themselves at the end of the day. It’s just what we do as parents and educators; to protect our precious little ones whenever they’re struggling, hurt, or going through a hardship. We need to, however, ask ourselves this question, am I really helping them?
I can share a personal example (among many), of my son and his struggle with independence.
While dressing himself this morning, and putting on his shoes, I reached over, “Here, just let me help you.” At the time, I did not realize the harm my interfering had caused. I did not see the disappointment in his eyes as I took his shoe and hurried to put it on his foot.
Our mornings are generally rushed, eating a quick breakfast, grooming, dressing, feeding/walking the dog, getting bottles/cloth diapers ready for sister, etcetera, etcetera…there’s very little time allotted for my son to put each article of clothing on his body by himself.
I replenish a “changing basket” in my son’s room every night, complete with a few pairs of pants, shirts, socks and underwear so that he can choose what to wear for himself in the morning. I’ll give him between 20-30 minutes to dress himself, which usually ends in me pulling his shirt over his head, or putting on his shoes because, I’m sorry my dear, but we just don’t have all day! I’ve recently discovered that because of this, he is now dependent upon me to finish getting dressed. He will follow me around the house with his shoes, waiting for me to put them on his little feet. If I can’t help him immediately, he will resort to crying or try to get my attention in a negative way. It’s as if I’ve set such high expectations for him to put his shoes on, and why not, I’ve made it clear that he needs an adult’s help to do so, through my impatient actions. So the way I see it, I haven’t really helped him during his morning routine. Instead, I’ve damaged his independence, and made him more reliable on me. Granted, he is 2.5 years, and may need help with some of his day to day tasks, but I can confidently say that dressing himself is a task that he can do all by himself.
Dr. Maria Montessori said, “The task of the child is the formation of man”. In the earliest years, the child is forming the kind of person they’ll be for the rest of their life. They will refine fine and gross motor skills, learn how to cope with different emotions, experience social interactions, conflict resolution, and so forth, all with a strong emphasis on independence. They can achieve this independence by working in an environment, well-equipped with tools they can use, free from adult interaction. Montessori guides strive to be “invisible”, letting the materials teach and manipulate their student’s young mind. Through works in “practical life” (care of environment, care of self, care of others, etc.), the child learns to control his movements, they develope concentration, self-discipline, control of error, scope of sequence, and so many other qualities that can further strengthen their independence.
Self discipline is key to a child’s independence. Children who have developed internal self-discipline, have the freedom to enjoy independence. We need to allow the child to develop self-discipline on their own terms; they need that internal struggle in order to grow independently. Self discipline comes about through a child’s concentration, and their ability to successfully complete a challenging task.
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
We all love our children and want to nurture them, overload them with love and affection, and help them at all times. By doing too much for our children, we take away their ability to learn independently. By following your child’s natural rhythm of learning, and allowing them to experience obstacles for themselves, they will become more intelligent, better-coordinated, disciplined, self-sufficient young children, well equipped with the knowledge to solve problems on their own. Do not feel guilty to let them make mistakes, and learn through “control of error”.