Saturday, October 10, 2009

Things I have Learned

So...I am in the midst of taking a training course to become a real Montessori teacher. Someday maybe I'll actually teach in a real school. We'll see. But, while that is on hold, I can at least apply the things I'm learning to my own kids, right?

One thing I've learned is to not say "No". That came as a big surprise to me, because we definitely say "no" often to our kids. But this applies in a strictly school in, a Montessori classroom should only display things on the shelves that are accessible to ALL the children in the class. The shelves start out with safe, larger objects so that the youngest children won't hurt themselves or swallow something. As they get more proficient at using the safe materials, gradually the materials are exchanged for others that are smaller, messier, sharper, etc.

But that is just the Practical Life section. In the other areas of the classroom, as well, the materials start off easy. In math, there may be just number puzzles out at first. Language, a bunch of books. Other materials are introduced, but the classroom starts off this way so that the youngest children will feel welcome. Imagine a new barely 3-year old, coming to school for the first time, who watches some bigger kids do something that looks really neat and exciting...and the teacher tells her, "No, you can't do that" when she goes to take it off the shelf once they're done. Anything the teacher tries to show her next won't look as exciting as what she had chosen herself.

I said "No" a lot last year during our school sessions, and I saw the difficulties of it. The kids were sad they couldn't use the materials they wanted to.

But, there are always some limits in the classroom. It is definitely okay, and even a must, to say "No" when a child is misusing a material in a way that is hurting it, them self, or another person. The teacher can help them put it away, and say that they can't use it until the next day. But they will be given another chance, with perhaps a lesson first on the proper use.

I have put this into practice this year in our classroom. Everything on the shelves is accessible to everyone, even to Janie (just turned 2). If she chooses something that I don't think she is ready for, I still show her something she can do with it. Something educational...if not the complete lesson, then at least a mini-lesson. For example, she was in awe of the Numbers and Counters- laminated cards with the numbers 1-10 on them, and a bunch of colored stones to place under each number. She watched the other kids use them, and one day she got them out and put all the cards (in random order) out on the mat, and then put some counters on top of each one. She also counted (up to 20 or 30) as she put them all out, but she wasn't exactly counting them as individual stones. Last year I wouldn't have let her take it off the shelf, but this time I just watched her, and she was concentrating very well, and not hurting the material at all. She used them for probably 10 minutes (pretty good for a toddler!) and then put the cards in a fairly good pile, and asked for help with the rubber band. Since then she has chosen it almost every day we do school, and someday she will get the concept of exactly how to use it. For now, though, it doesn't hurt to let her do her thing.

One more example- scissors! I would never have given a 2 year old scissors. But she chose the cutting tray, and put her fingers in the scissors, and tried to cut a strip of paper. And she actually did (a little!). She has chosen this work a few times, and if I sit with her and run through the process of what to do with the strip after she has cut it (put it in an envelope, along with any pieces she has cut off), she really enjoys herself. Now, I really should make an easier cutting work for her (without an envelope, and just a container to put pieces), but for now this works. And I should have a tonging work out, and other works to strengthen her hand, but for now this works...

Not saying "No" creates a much more peaceful, pleasant environment:)


My Boys' Teacher said...

Okay, so now I'm confused.

I have always read that the children learn that they may use any material that they have received a presentation on, not any material in the room. If a two-year-old picks up the subtraction snake game they are really allowed to work with it? A puzzle words language activity? Grammar boxes? Doesn't this take away from them learning that every material has a specific purpose?

Aaargghhh! I am so frustrated with Montessori this week!

Hannah said...

Ok...I should have clarified that a lot of teachers do say "No", and are very strict in keeping materials from the hands of children who haven't had a lesson. But, the training program (which is AMS, not sure if AMI is different) is pretty clear on this. If a child shows interest in something they aren't ready for, in your opinion, you give them a mini lesson. If they are bored and leave before lesson is over, they probably won't choose it again. If you can figure out WHY they chose the material, perhaps you can introduce something else that would better meet that need. In my daughter's case, I think she was interested in the colored stones. I could put out a hand transfer or spooning exercise with the stones. But she had also caught on that counting was involved, and she is in a sensitive period for counting right now (i.e she loves to count to 20 or 30, skipping numbers here and there). So, I could come up with some early math activities appropriate for a 2 year old (not sure she's ready for real Montessori math, but maybe I could come up with something...)

Does that make sense? One more example, the hundred board. I don't have one, but I know what they are. I observed in a classroom once, and a child had gotten it off the shelf and spilled all the number tiles on the floor. The teacher was pretty stern with him, as he had never had a lesson before, and it was promptly put away. However, I have heard of a 3 year old who was fascinated by the hundred board, and loved to just place all the tiles in random order on the board. And the child was allowed to.

The training class stresses that the main goal of many of the early activities (those geared to the younger children in the class) is to promote 5 things: concentration, coordination, confidence, independence and order. These goals would be accomplished by letting the 3 year old use the hundred board. Later the child would figure out (by watching the other kids, or by a specific lesson by a teacher) how to use it properly. But if he's not hurting the material, himself, or someone else, he should be allowed to use it.

To answer your questions about specific materials, what harm would there be in letting a 2 year old use some of those things? If you showed him how to take the things out carefully, and how to put them back, that would probably be enough. He wouldn't really get anything out of them because he'd be too young to read the words or the numbers, but it wouldn't hurt him to see the material. As long as he doesn't hurt it...and I think that's part of the worry among teachers (and parents!). I would stay right next to him and if he started to hurt anything, quickly tell him it was time to put it away. I doubt he'd take it out again, if there were enough other activities to interest him on the shelf. I think that's part of the problem with homeschooling...hard to have enough shelf space for a lot of activities.

You could also put some of the activities that you would rather your 2 year old NOT touch on a less accessible shelf.

Hope that helps:)

My Boys' Teacher said...

Thank you Hannah for taking the time to write such a nice response, here and at my blog. I am going to take some time and think about this, and may come back with another question at some point :) You truly are as friendly as your smile in your profile picture!