Whew, blogging while getting the Elementary certification is a little like birthing a child while cooking a seven-course meal (or something like that…). At any rate, I wanted to share these great principles that can help you make the right decision for your child or your students during your Montessori journey. They’ll be posted in four parts for ease of reading. I hope you enjoy them!
When faced with an uncertain situation in the classroom, it is always advisable to go “back to the basics”. What follows are reference points/yardsticks that will allow us to make decisions that are aligned with the Montessori approach and are in the best interest of the child’s development.
The True Purpose of the Materials
Dr. Montessori’s focus was not the teaching of subjects; she was intrigued by the child’s development and how he learns. Therefore, the subject area should never become more important than the children. She offered materials as a means of development, not as an end in themselves.
We should not offer a material – be it table washing or the stamp game – with the goal of getting the child to learn how to wash tables or to obtain the right result for an addition. We should guide children towards materials that will provide them with the developmental opportunities they require at that precise time. We can know what their needs are by observing them and educating ourselves regarding the different sensitivities children exhibit at different stages (that’s a post for another day).
A child who washes a table will be refining his movements and developing the ability to follow a sequence of steps, regardless of how clean he leaves the table. Similarly, a child who works with the stamp game will come to understand the fundamental concepts of arithmetic operations, regardless of whether he gets the correct answer every time or is able to add in his head.
The characteristics of the materials must be such that they prepare the child for something in the future (indirect preparation), while allowing him to reach awareness in the present (direct preparation). Only the adult can develop an idea of what happens in the future; the child is not conscious of the preparation that is going on while he works.
The repetitive use of the Montessori materials is what allows the child to reach abstractions. Dr. Montessori deemed a material valid and useful if it was able to hold the child’s concentration and if it permitted him to pass from the material to the mental world (from the concrete to the abstract).
It’s important to remember that abstractions take time. The child must use materials that will allow him to reach abstraction by himself on his own timetable; this is the real meaning of freedom, growth, and self-construction. When a child reaches abstraction depends on the individual, but if it is to be meaningful it will be based on individual experiences and not on someone else’s knowledge.