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) Continue reading

Transition Techniques and Tips

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Imagine that you’re back in preschool. You arrive at school for the day, hang up your coat and back pack, and get settled into the morning routine. You decide to paint this morning, and begin gathering your supplies, which takes roughly 15 minutes or so. Before your brush touches the piece of paper, you’re interrupted by loud clapping. “Okay, everyone! Put your things away, it’s circle time!”. You’re frustrated. You barely had time to even start painting, and now you must put your things away. All that time put into the preparation, only to be interrupted and forced to do something else. Circle time begins, filled with sing-along songs and a few stories. After that, it’s music lessons, then outdoor time, lunch, nap, and then it’s on to afternoon extra curricular activities. Your day is filled with transition after transition, leaving little to no time to adjust to each new activity.

This rarely happens in a Montessori community. The children are given the freedom to work, uninterrupted for long periods at a time, with calm, comfortable transitions throughout their day. The Montessori Guide observes and understands when the appropriate time is to transition from the morning work cycle to outdoor playtime, or to lunch, and so forth. We observe the children to find out their needs. We look for signs of readiness for what comes next; signs that the child is ready for a new lesson, or for greater responsibility. We make the expectations for each transition very clear. We demonstrate and model how to carry oneself during a transition, and let the older students help the younger students practice.IMG_6431

If you’ve ever been in a Montessori classroom, and truly know the philosophy, you understand the necessary role that transitions play in the students’ daily routine. Transitioning from one period of the day to the next, can be quite challenging, for any age group. Guiding an entire group of children during a transition takes practice; both for the Guide, and for the children. Keep in mind that you need to have realistic, age-appropriate expectations for the children in your care, and expect them to struggle or make mistakes during the learning process.

The patterns and daily routines that we establish for our children help build the foundation for their ability to adapt. This, like many other skills, is something that has to be taught, and learned through repetition and consistency. A new student does not often come to school knowing how to transition, so we have to help them.

Whatever your technique may be, do so with the utmost respect for your children’s needs, and make sure their work is not interrupted abruptly, or unnecessarily. Over the years, I’ve witnessed many different transition techniques. A popular technique is to simply sit on the rug and sing, ever so softly, as to get the attention of the entire group. Another, has a small bell to ring when the work cycle is complete. This is usually done by a senior student. Lining up is also a lesson that needs to be taught. You cannot just expect a child to know how to stand quietly, or where to stand, what to do with their hands, or feet, can they talk to their neighbor in front or behind them, are they to remain quiet…there are lots of skills to be refined!
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Give your students advance warnings of an upcoming transition. Walk quietly from one child to then next, reminding them that “you have a few more minutes”, or play a quiet, familiar song. Give a set amount of time for actual clean-up. A child who’s been working on the world map all morning, and has lots of different materials, may want to leave their work out. Put it aside, with their name on it, for them to return to at a later time. Practice this “clean up” routine every day, be consistent, and encourage students to help one another. And as always, safety is of the utmost importance. Always make sure students respect one another’s space. One Guide can help clean up, while the other watch the students to make sure they are safe at all times.
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Most importantly, follow the child. The dynamics of your room will tell you how to conduct each transition, in a way that is beneficial for you, and your students.

Here are a few teacher resources, to help reference when planning transitions/daily routines:

Parent Resource: Managing Daily Transitions at Home:

The Power of Play: A Two-Hour Work Cycle

2-Hour Work Cycle
I’ve been stuck on a question from one of my new family tours earlier this week. They were fairly new to Montessori, in fact, they had never witnessed a Montessori work cycle in motion (something of which I was excited to show them). Many of the children were outside at the time, so we were able to walk inside the rooms and describe the layout, feel the works, and discuss what a typical day for their young toddler would be like. We talked more in depth about the various works, and their purpose in the environment. Unfortunately, they did not get to witness an active work cycle, since the children were outside, however I did my best to describe it to them, attempting to paint a picture in their minds. They asked me a few very familiar questions typical to non-Montessorians, “When do they play?”, “Are they just working all day?”, or “Do they just do chores all day?”, all of which made sense since we were discussing the dish washing work, hand washing, clothes washing, plant polishing, care of environment/self, and so forth. To children, this is purposeful work. To them, it is “play”.  They enjoy working with their hands, concentrating on the task at hand, free from unnecessary interruptions form the guides. By doing so, they learn that their work is essential to the community, and that they have a beneficial role in their classroom environment. I referenced the familiar quote by Dr. Maria Montessori, “The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.” It didn’t take long for them to catch on and start referring to the “toys” and activities as “work”.

“Here are five characteristics of play that allow the child the ability to move through his morning effortlessly, as described by Dr. Rachel E.White for the Minnesota Children’s Museum’s report, The Power of Play.

  • PLAY IS PLEASURABLE. Children must enjoy the activity or it is not play.
  • PLAY IS INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED. Children engage in play simply for the satisfaction the behavior itself brings. It has no extrinsically motivated function or goal.
  • PLAY IS PROCESS ORIENTED. When children play, the means are more important than the ends.
  • PLAY IS FREELY CHOSEN. It is spontaneous and voluntary. If a child is pressured, she will likely not think of the activity as play.
  • PLAY IS ACTIVELY ENGAGED. Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity.

When parents tour a Montessori school they often ask about the difference between play and work.  Play is the work of the child.  We use the term ‘work’ in order to hold it in high regard and respect it as purposeful and meaningful.”

Article Credit: http://mariamontessori.com/mm/?p=2727, Sarah Moudry, Parent Educator and Early Childhood Specialist