Montessori works are notorious for having a "right way" to do them. As a teacher, I present this "right way", and then expect that the kids will follow it. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. The trickiest part, for me, is knowing what to do when they don't.
Example- the "numbers and counters" activity. The first step is to lay out the number cards in order from one to ten. Then the little counters are placed under each number. But when a student refuses to lay out the cards in order first? And insists on laying them out in "mixed order"? The key in this case is knowing the student. I have observed my kids long enough that I am learning what is really going on in those little heads. In this particular instance, either I could have gone along with it, let the student lay them out in irregular order, but still asked them to lay out the appropriate counters. It could have been a way to increase the challenge of the activity. And in that case, it would have been okay and I would have gone along with the change. The point is, after all, to make sure they can lay the counters out. And I would have only done this if I knew the student COULD have laid out then number cards in order.
However, in this particular case, I realized that this student wasn't really ready for the order demanded from the activity. What was really wanted was a chance to play with and sort the counters. That is what I so appreciate about Montessori. Everything in order, even in the order of materials presented to children. Practical life activities are always presented first, way before math and language, and these include many sorting activities and chances to handle small, enticing objects. The kids can get their fill of that kind of thing, and get it "out of their system" so to speak, before moving on. However, practical life also includes learning to follow directions. Even in the sorting, spooning, tonging and pouring work, there are certain rules to follow. The materials are not completely open-ended, just not as complicated as those that follow. So, the ability to follow directions is honed at the beginning as well.
Well, what if that ability to follow directions needs more fine-tuning? Well, that is something that all the kids are working on. And something, perhaps, that I need to learn how to teach better as well. All of them insist, in their own ways, on HAVING their own way when it comes to using certain materials. And that is where I struggle a little. It is important for the kids to use the materials appropriately...that is the point. Otherwise they may not learn what the material intends to teach. But, is it just that they don't remember how to use it? Or is it that they choose not to remember? All the kids have their stubborn, sticking points, and it is my job to choose which battles to fight.
From anyone reading this, I would appreciate hearing any feedback you have on how to teach children to use materials correctly. Should I insist on correct use and threaten to take the material off the shelf if not used the way it is intended? When I have done this, I notice that the material is usually just avoided for a period of time instead of used correctly. A silent protest, I think. But also an indication that the child was perhaps either not ready for the material, or too advanced for it...