Saturday, March 31, 2012

Art in Montessori


The art experiences provided in each casa dei bambini will differ with culture, location, availability of materials, and decision of the directress. 

Materials could be chosen to represent various media or based on sensorial exploration of the various elements of art, but always the emphasis is on providing keys to further exploration and use, not to provide every single art experience possible, focusing on how to use the various media. 

First, the child is provided with keys to explore the elements of art. Later we name and use them in studying works of art by the children and by various masters of art.
  • color 
  • form 
  • line
  • shape 
  • texture 
  • space
  • value


It is nice to have high-resolution prints of sculptures in addition to actual three-dimensional items in the environment and other pieces of works of art. All works should be rotated with long enough time for the children to truly study the works, but with enough changing to see various works, yet not have a too-cluttered environment.

Art suggestions: 
  • Children seem to easily connect with the works of Picasso
  • Mary Cassatt has many works of children participating in practical life works. 

                
The direct aim of all art experiences in the casa is self-expression and the exploration of art elements. 

The children do not produce crafts as such and the directress does not present this, simply presenting how to use the materials directly, being careful to keep her own work as open-ended as possible. 

Children in the casa come in at varying stages of art development and abilities and each one should be respected and encouraged. 
  • When a child’s work is brought to the directress for display, the directress should avoid general praise, instead asking the child to tell her about his work or commenting on the child’s use of color, line or another element of art. 
  • The children have individual drawers or cubbies in which to place their works of art for later use, taking home, recycling or other use.

                
Materials: 
  • The art materials are generally stored on trays or in baskets in complete sets, 
  • except that paper and fabric are stored separately for choosing according to individual needs. 
  • As the children proceed in their refinement of movement, smaller tools should be provided. 
  • An art oilcloth or mat should be used to define the child’s work space on the table and is white or ideally off-white to not be a distraction – this could be made from a flexible cutting board. 
  • Some how-to-draw books are good for the older children; similar to recipe books, they provide step-by-step instructions to follow on the child’s own, and knowledge gleaned can easily be applied to other work outside the realm of the few books provided. These are best for elementary. 
HINT: Oilcloth as described in most Montessori trainings is a form of vinyl at the fabric store - NOT the fuzzy backed thin stuff called oilcloth at the fabric store. This stuff is a bit thicker, very easy to wash, no fuzzies and cuts very easily. You can almost always find it on the remnants racks in various colors; otherwise it is found in utility fabric and sometimes around home decor. 



Friday, March 30, 2012

Writing - Elementary

Practically speaking, the children should be writing across subjects, and in cursive.

We hope that are able to write at this age; if not, then we give them the tools they need to do so without belaboring the point. Just as with reading, short blips throughout the day are more efficacious than 20 minute or longer sessions at a time.

Provide experiences and studies so that the children *want* to write. Some children will not be enticed to write very much until they are more sure of their spelling and other abilities; that is ok. Just keep giving them what they need.


Other activities for the elementary child:

Filling in their work journals (they can draw pictures or diagrams, or write words, or use their imaginations to find another way to notate how they have spent their time that day).

Learn Calligraphy - usually 3rd or 4th grade

Study and learn illumination (link is to Wikipedia page).

Study other ancient forms of writing.

Study modern forms of writing.

Write samples of each for the enjoyment of it.

Focus on content and style. A curriculum is not needed, just a wide variety of experiences; but a guide to different styles of writing can be handy. Try something like Creative Communications, a collection of sequenced writing activities that build on a child's real daily life and interests. Please list other resources in comments so we can share these around!

Write letters, cards, thank you notes, postcards, definitions of words, instructions for games, new instructions for new or old games, how-to guides such as caring for plants or animals, grocery lists.... the list is endless to get children using writing in a practical manner. Then we can build into stories and essays and book reports.

The point is still interest and practicality - not drill and kill (as in, kill all interest for writing).






Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Adult and Presentations - 4



As the child practices on his own, the adult should assure that the psychological environment is prepared in such a way that all mistakes are seen as opportunities. 


The child has freedom to make mistakes, learn from them, repeat them as does happen, and try again. 


Freedom after the presentations is the key that leads to independence, but the child needs the knowledge that he has freedom and what this freedom means.


The child should be aware that he is free to choose any presented activity, when and where to do it, for how long and as many repetitions as he needs, the freedom to ask for a presentation or even a repeated one, and to have a substitute similar or dissimilar one made available to him if the desired one is not available, either because another child is using it, or because the child is not yet prepared for the work.
             
The adult is also responsible for observation of the child, the environment, and the child’s interactions with other people as well as the environment. 


The adult should fade away in stages during a presentation, based on the child’s needs, sometimes physically staying with the child the entire duration but sitting back as often as possible to allow for independent work on the part of the child. 


The adult should observe the child’s reactions and his work during and after a presentation, taking notes after pulling back, recording for future planning of presentations all of the following: 

  • the manner in which the child works (i.e. with concentration, carefully, with interest), 
  • number of repetitions, 
  • the child’s preferences (choose later presentations accordingly), 
  • the child’s mistakes and difficulties (guiding the adult in clarifying further presentations, but not requiring or even needing an immediate re-presentation unless the difficulty is in using the material appropriately), and 
  • what does the child use or not and why. 
The adult should come to know the child so well as to anticipate and be prepared for the next step of the child’s work before the child gets there himself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Exercises of Practical Life - Table of Contents

The Exercises of Practical Life lead a child through many facets of his daily life, prepare him for future work in every area of the children's house (casa), and build up independence. For more on the benefits of the exercises of practical life, see this Montessori Nugget.

This is the AMI core list for primary. It should be adapted for local customs and cultures; around age 4, the children can receive presentations on the practical life of other cultures.

Elementary children, middle school and older will receive a different form of practical life, but this list can set the stage for what to expect. Non-exhaustive ideas for the older child below.

PRIMARY: 

Preliminary Exercises
General Overview
How to Carry a Working Mat
How to Place a Pitcher
How to Carry a Tray
How to Roll a Working Mat
How to Put Down a Chair
How to Sit On a Chair at a Table
How to Fold Napkins
How to Pour Grain
How to Pour Water
How to Fold a Dust-cloth to Put Away
How to Fold a Dust-cloth to Dust

Care of Self
How to Wash Hands
How to Polish Shoes
Snap Frame
Hook and Eye Frame
Button Frame
Buckle Frame
Zipper Frame
Bow Frame
Lacing Frame – V Pattern
Lacing Frame – X Pattern
Lacing Frame – Linear Pattern
Safety Pin Frame

Care of the Environment
How to Dust a Table
How to Use a Dustpan and Brush
How to Sweep
How to Wipe Up a Spill
How to Dust Leaves
How to Polish Glass
How to Care for Plants
How to Polish Wood
How to Polish Metal
How to Wash a Table
How to Wash Cloths
How to Iron
How to Arrange Flowers
How to Make Lemon Water
How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables
How to Peel & Cut Fruits and Vegetables
How to Bake

Grace and Courtesy
Introduction to Grace and Courtesy
How to Walk Around A Mat
How to Introduce Yourself
How to Apologize
How to Observe
How to Draw Attention
How to Accept a Compliment
How to Blow Your Nose
Own Grace and Courtesy

Control of Movement
Introduction to Walking on the Line
Walking on the Line
Introduction to the Silence Activity
The Silence Activity

Visual Art
Introduction to Visual Art
Rubbings (Exploration of Texture)
Cutting - Snipping
Cutting - Lines
Advanced Cutting
Contour Drawing with Crayon (Exploration of Line)
Drawing with Colored Pencils
Cutting and Gluing (Exploration of Space)
Painting (Exploration of Color)
Sculpting (Exploration of Form)
Beginning Sewing
Sewing a Button
Advanced Sewing – Running Stitch
Sewing a Pillow (Student’s Own Presentation)




Elementary and Beyond: 
PRIMARY SET UP FOR POLISHING
There is no concise list. Elementary children will receive presentations based on home chores; classroom chores; what they need for Goings Out. And the process continues from there into adolescence which may include Grace and Courtesy on handling emotional situations and physical changes with grace.

Elementary practical life is also a bit more "real-life" without all the individual trays. The children can handle having a supply shelf with a stack of trays which they choose to collect their needed materials. 

Some ideas: 

ELEMENTARY SUPPLY SHELF
This particular one has drawers that slide out. 
answering the phone
taking and giving messages
leaving messages

interviewing

map reading
asking for directions
public safety

utilizing public buildings

basic car maintenance 

snow and leaf removal

preparing and serving meals

how to strike a match
how to light a candle
(in primary you could add "how to snuff a candle")

Feel free to add more in comments below! 






Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Adult and Presentations - 3 - Giving the Presentation

The child or children should have the adult’s full attention and all the children should know from the beginning of their time in the casa that there can be no interruptions during presentations, so that this time is respected. 


The adult should maintain frequent eye contact, choosing words carefully, counting words as needed since actions speak louder anyway. 


The most important characteristic in the exercises of practical life presentations are in the analysis of movement, of which the adult should utilize very carefully and specifically. 
“Every complex action comprises a series of distinct movements; one act follows the other. The analysis of movements consists in trying to recognize and to carry out exactly these separate and distinct acts.”[3] 
There should be all the needed movements for the activity, shown clearly, with no superfluous movement, so that the child can distinctly see what needs to be seen and later practice these movements himself. 
“An analysis and economy of movement are bound together; to carry out no superfluous movements in the attainment of a goal is, in brief, the highest degree of perfection. This is the source of aesthetic movements and artistic attitudes.”[4] 
Rather than using slow motion, a brief pause between key moments generally suffices to provide a distinction between one step and another, allowing the child to clearly see and, at least partially, absorb each step, noting that each movement has many smaller steps. 


The child then identifies the movements, seeing their succession and how each movement is performed. 


The emphasis on the individual movements and brief pauses with eye contact also serves to highlight the points of interest/consciousness such that the child is given the opportunity to see them, attracting his attention and serving as a control of error in his striving for perfection.



[3] Maria Montessori. The Discovery of the Child. Fides/Ballantine. 1967. 86.
[4] Ibid. 87.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Exercises of Practical Life - Characteristics of the Materials

            
Some of this applies more to classrooms; the lovely thing about practical life is that it starts in the home, so homes already have the natural lay-out they need to meet the child's needs in this area. Just have items out in the proper areas for the child to practice these skills (pouring happens in the kitchen or bathtub; shoe polishing can happen on the porch or balcony, etc). 
  • familiar to the child, having been seen at home and elsewhere.
  • culturally representative of all the children in the environment
  • presented in sequence of graded difficulty for each individual child (i.e. chopsticks and forks are present for a mix of children including western and oriental cultures, but the appropriate tool is presented first to the appropriate child, then switched as a later exercise for each child).
  • physically proportionate to child, sized such that they are maximally useful for him
  • somewhat fragile to encourage control of movement, yet functional and useful for the child.
  • Psychologically appropriate materials demonstrate an obvious use, as the three year old child does not have abstract thinking as such; toothbrushes should not be used in polishing as the tendency is to brush one’s teeth with it, for example.
  • maintained: clean, complete and intact.
  • attractive to the child, as an invitation to the will and an inspiration to act. 
  • can have embellishments such as functional decorations which serve to clarify use of the materials, i.e. a tiny embroidered shoe on the shoe-polishing cloths, or a leaf fabric as the duster handle for dusting leaves. 
  • Solid color fabrics and materials are preferred over prints unless the print directly relates to the activity, allowing the child to see the coordination of materials needed for a given work. Children associate these things - so learning to count with a seasonal item will lead to an irrational connection. 
  • independent sets of materials with all the needed materials together in one place so that the child can easily locate the needed materials and begin his work (most of us think of trays here - it doesn't have to be trays, but that's the idea ;) )
  • aprons should be sorted in such a way that the appropriate apron is easily located, either folded with the material, or hanging near the material with proper color- or print-coordination. 
  • Exceptions would include having only one area for all brooms, dustpans, hand-brushes, mops and such – with these materials, the child knows where to go for everything needed to clean up a mess.
  • one of each given work (not two trays of glass polishing)
  • but similar sets of materials, i.e. pouring of grain and of water; separate, similar polishing sets for wood, glass, and metal. 
  • Each set of materials should be differentiated from others in color, size, texture, shape or placement, so that the child can more easily identify which aprons and cloths, for example, go with which materials.
  • within a presentation, the items are color-coded to one another, aiding the child in knowing what belongs together. Everything does not have to be the same color, but there should be enough similarity for the child to readily recognize appropriate grouping. - so wood polishing on a wood tray, with a wood oilcloth ring, with a wood bowl to hold the cotton ball
  • The separation of objects from tools should reflect the natural set-up of the home life. For example, a shoe is not kept with the shoe polishing set, since shoes are naturally kept by the door or in a closet of some sort; fruits and vegetables are stored in a separate dish on the counter or in the fridge, not in the drawer at home with the peeling and cutting instruments. This more realistic set-up keeps the motivation for activity practical and more readily applicable to home-life.    
  • The exercises move from simple to complex on the shelves and in order of presentation - left to right and up to down (adjust for your culture's order of reading - this is an indirect preparation), i.e. pouring grain before pouring water, dusting a leaf before plant care, folding napkins before setting the table, using familiar objects before using less familiar ones. This is a key concept in the materials, above all others, in how the materials are laid out in the exercises of practical life as well as other areas in the room.
  • The materials should be displayed almost like a window display, attracting the interest of the child. All similar items should be together and in developmental sequence, for example all polishing should be together in order of developmental sequence, all pouring together, etc. and everything should be within the reach of the child’s eyes and hands.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Exercises of Practical Life - Results

           
Long-term results



The full cycle of activity should be presented to the child and the child will practice this cycle: 

  • beginning by gathering all the appropriate materials, 
  • then doing the activity itself and 
  • ending by putting away and cleaning up the materials and the work area. 
This process forms a logical thought process in the child’s mind, gives a form of organizations to the mind and models respect for the environment and other people.



            Another key concept, along with the movement from simple to complex, is the indirect preparation for other work, such as:

  • the refinement of muscular skills for use in writing, as well as 
  • development of the pincer grasp, 
  • muscular memory, 
  • precision, 
  • movement from left to right and top to bottom, and 
  • development of the mathematical mind. 

            The long-term results working with the exercises of practical life are largely social ones, outside of the direct/immediate aims of providing skills for care of self and the environment. 

  • The children use real objects and come to understand the products of society as well as his own and others’ customs and social habits, assisting in his process of adaptation. 
  • He develops a non-sexist perspective – this work is for everyone. 
  • He develops problem-solving skills, learning to organize materials and breaking down the work process into manageable parts. 
  • He creates a cycle of activity, internalizing the value of following through on commitments, promises and decisions and the value in finishing things: in the end result. 
  • He discovers comfort and ease in social situations not only from the direct lessons on grace and courtesy but in the natural social situations he finds himself in as he begins his work in the casa, waits his turn for desired materials, asks for help from the adult and from other children. 
  • He listens for instructions, a skill necessary later in life for all sorts of purposes. 
  • He comes to care for his environment, seeking out ways to improve upon it when necessary. 
  • He develops poise and grace, the ability to work alone, a good attitude towards work, working for his own satisfaction rather than to please an outer source. 
  • He does not see these activities as menial but important, even later in life. 
  • He develops strong work habits in planning, follow-through, completion and preparation for the next child to work, a preparation for future work of academic or financial sorts. 
  • He also develops trust in the adult, that the adult will show him something worthwhile.


            “These things (graceful movements, analysis and economy of movement, etc.) may seem to be complicated and difficult to teach, but there is an age when movements possess a fascinating interest, when muscles and nerves respond to exercise, and when a person acquires those habits which will mark him in future life as a cultured or uncultured individual. And this is the period of childhood.”[5]



[5] Maria Montessori. The Discovery of the Child. Fides/Ballantine. 1967. 88.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Adult and Presentations - 2



A presentation given to a child is more of an offering than a lesson, as it is a present, a gift, given to the child and an invitation to further work. 


A presentation ultimately opens the door to the child’s activity; after the presentation, the child is free to work with the materials whenever he likes. 


Success of presentations depends on timeliness based on the child’s readiness, the perfection with which the adult presents it in knowing it so well that the adult can focus on the child and his reaction, and with the adult’s own interest in the work being presented.

  • If the adult has no to little interest or is too clumsy that day, the presentation should be held off to another day, as the key messages will not be transmitted to the child.
            
There are two types of presentations: 

  • intentional (direct)
  • unintentional (indirect). 
The choice of the three types of intentional presentations, collective, group, or individual, will depend on the needs of the children and the nature of the activity; some presentations can only be done with individuals or small groups, while some are more conducive for a collective presentation; however anything that can be presented collectively can also be presented individually. 


The unintentional and more powerful presentations are in every movement, the voice tone and choice of words of the adult; the adult’s actions are reflected back by the children, therefore presentations should be done with love.


Children also provide direct and indirect presentations for one another, through directly showing another child how to use the material, or through observation of another child’s work.
            

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Exercises of Practical Life - Areas


Areas of Practical Life

The preliminary movements or exercises 
  • aid orientation to the environment, providing immediate functional independence
  • provide introductions to the aiding of smooth efficient functioning
  • first begun during phasing-in and are continued as long as needed for the child to acclimate to the environment and remind him of the proper procedures in the room
  • not complete activities in and of themselves, but are basic aids to more complex activities. 
  • Examples include such things as rolling a mat, folding napkins, putting down a chair, how to walk in the casa, and how to carry and set down various items.

            
Care of self 
  • help the child toward functional independence not only in caring for himself, but later in caring for the environment and other persons in it. 
  • build self-respect, confidence and true self-esteem
  • two levels of activity in care of self: the first level fulfills the inner need of the child and the second level responds to needs in the environment. There is great repetition at the first level and greater external action in the second level. 
  • The child at first must be quite egocentric in order to build himself up and will spend a great amount of time with repetitive individual work in washing his own hands, polishing shoes, using the dressing frames, and others, regardless of the any actual need for these tasks to be completed (i.e. the shoes are already polished but he polishes them anyway). As the child constructs himself and becomes competent at these skills, he will move on to fulfilling perceived needs of himself and others, new activities and eventually show others how to do these tasks  (i.e. washing his hands when dirty or showing another child with dirty hands how to wash).

            
Care of the environment 
  • build respect for the environment 
  • allow the child to participate in caring for the collective community since the establishment and maintenance of beauty and order are collective tasks: each child is responsible for the care of the environment. 
  • Again, the child functions at two levels in the care of the environment: first doing a task to satisfy the inner tendencies, later fulfilling external needs of self and the environment.

            
Lessons in grace and courtesy 
  • begin on the first day and continue throughout the child’s years in the casa. 
  • specifically focused on developing social skills and how to act harmoniously with others.
  • The children are given skills to show respect for others, provided words to communicate in specific situations and they learn to control their behavior in specific and general situations, leading to a strong sense of self-dignity. Lessons are given in meeting a new person, introducing friends, blowing one’s nose or sneezing, and how to walk around a mat, as some examples.

            
Control of movement 
  • walking on the line and the silence activity. 
  • Walking on the line begins very early and should be done several times a week to aid in the process of normalization. 
  • The silence activity is done later as it requires a certain level of normalization (any few children not yet ready can go for a nature walk with an assistant during this time). 
  • Walking on the line is a point of departure towards normalization, while the silence activity is a point of arrival.

      
Visual art skills
  • focuses on providing keys to visual through exposure to basic art skills exploring the elements of art. 
  • Activities provided could include cutting with scissors, basic sewing skills, color and media exploration, and others.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Adult and Presentations - 1


            
The trained and prepared adult is the link between the environment and the child. 

  • The adult is responsible for the preparation of the environment and the materials, accounting for aesthetics, order, cleanliness, intactness and the physical construction and design of the room.
  • In preparing the physical environment as well as the self, the adult is able to meet the needs of the child and be the connection between the physical outer world and the child in such a way that once an introduction is made, and later introductions to slightly new concepts, the child can complete his great task of constructing his own self, utilizing the prepared environment as his tool. 
  • The adult should prepare a set-up for the exercises of practical life and all areas of the environment that will be conducive to the child’s work with the materials. 
  • The adult should also know and practice the work with the materials so well that presentations to the children come naturally and smoothly.
           

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Exercises of Practical Life - Introduction



Introduction to the Exercises of Practical Life

Definition and Description

Emerson wrote, “Your actions speak so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” 


With no one is this truer than with young children, whose language is still developing yet whose visual acuity, particularly with detail, is astounding.

The exercises of practical life are all those works in the casa that can be seen elsewhere in the child’s life, such as home, family and friends’ homes, museums, stores and really everywhere. These include but are not limited to activities such as baking, cleaning, polishing, pouring, caring for plants, manners and civility, washing, and sewing. 

In The Discovery of Childhood, Montessori provides this non-inclusive list of ideas: 
  • locking or unlocking desks or doors, distinguishing the acts of holding a key horizontally, inserting it, turning it, and then drawing out the drawer or opening the door; 
  • opening a book correctly and turning the pages one at a time with a gentle touch; 
  • rising up from a chair and sitting down on it; 
  • carrying various things, stopping, and then putting them down; 
  • avoiding obstacles while walking around, that is, by not bumping into people or furniture…. 
  • the formalities of social life, such as greeting each other, picking up and presenting an object dropped by another, the avoidance of passing in front of another, giving way to others, and so forth.[1]
            On the surface these exercises seem mundane, insignificant, trivial, and some people consider them essentially useless as an area of children’s education. However one discovers something different when looking more in-depth at these exercises. The work in this area is the essential, simple, ordinary tasks that adults do to prepare, maintain, restore and beautify their environment, such as washing, sweeping, cooking, cleaning, flower arranging, grace and courtesy, plant care, and others. 


Children see these tasks on a continual basis, yet are rarely allowed a true opportunity to participate in the maintenance of their environment; toy brooms and vacuums do not really clean, nor do the typical toy spray bottles actually spray; smaller versions of real items are required with appropriate time and example. 


Children have a strong desire, a human tendency even, towards real work: work of value that displays the child’s importance and role in his world.

            The adult does these types of tasks every day whether desiring to or not; these activities serve an outer utilitarian purpose. The child on the other hand is seeking to fulfill an inner purpose: to participate in the world around him. To the child, these activities are not chores, but are tools on the path towards self-perfection and in many ways they are new to him: in the newness of his own life, as well as for others, the opportunity to fully participate. These are development activities based on the natural laws of development. “A child… does not become weary with toil. He grows by working and, as a consequence, his work increases his energy. A child never asks to be relieved of his burdens but simply that he may carry out his mission completely and alone.”[2]
            The familiarity of these tasks, even if from pure observation, is a good transition for new children into the casa dei bambini, serving as a link between home and the casa environment, providing security and comfort. The child will work with these materials, not only for his own tendencies towards exactness, maximum effort and others, but to learn how to care for his environment in the casa as well as at home and elsewhere.
            The child is attracted to these activities not only for their familiarity, but also for their simple, clear and concrete purpose; following a logical progression of movements; ability to observe the sequence with the focus primarily on physical analysis of movement (mental analysis is less readily observed but is also present); the exercises of practical life are demonstrated with actions and few words. These activities become an invitation to the will; they are interesting so the child will repeat them many times regardless of actual need for their completion, leading to the development of focus and concentration, which is important for learning just about anything. Concentration and repetition in this area then leads to coordination of movement, with the integration of the mind and body. The exercises of practical life develop the intellect in the areas of memory, concentration, sequence of events and purposeful work.

Purposes
            The main purpose of the exercises of practical life is the ultimate integration of mind and body, a point where the child has purposeful control of his movement and can focus his mental energies on a given task independently (utilizing concentration),. The child’s movement, the muscular activity of the body, will be directed by the intelligence. The coordination of his intelligence, knowledge given through the presentations and observation of others, allows the child greater control of his will: once he knows how to do something, the will wants to do what it already knows how to do, but in a more perfect way.  The integration of the mind and body lays the foundation for the intelligence. The adult provides the raw material in the environment, but the child must do the work of building up his own self utilizing the environment; by nature the child strives to be independent and the fundamental goal in life is to have functional independence, the ability to take care of oneself and one’s environment whenever needed.
            Other purposes include the development of the will, as a material is not always available, or a process has not yet been perfected; rather than be discouraged, the child’s will must develop patience and perseverance. The child utilizes these activities, which should be reflective of his culture, to adapt to his world and his culture, aiding in social development. These activities can and will be used elsewhere outside the casa so the building of community in other places increases with the child’s competence and desire to participate. Lastly, as noted earlier, the familiarity of these tasks provides a smoother orientation for the new child into the casa.
            
HISTORY: The first casa dei bambini had only sensorial materials and toys; the toys were soon left behind for the sensorial materials. The exercises of practical life began with Dr. Montessori’s doctor concern about hygiene. She gave them presentations on washing their hands and blowing their noses, for instance, which generated such strong responses in the children, such as clapping with joy and much repetition, that she found they pointed to a deeper aim or need of the children; thus she developed more practical life activities.
            She had found that for the child, the exercises of practical life are not only developmental (they can and desire to do these tasks), but they are creative, in that the child creates himself, and these exercises fulfill several of the human tendencies used for self-creation (exactness, self-perfection, work, repetition, manipulation, order, orientation). The child organizes his intelligence through purposeful activity; these exercises are called thus because the child repeats them over and over. All of these characteristics lead to concentration of the child on the work involved, which leads to competence and eventually application of the skill elsewhere within and outside of the casa, thereby leading to functional independence.             



[1] 88-89.
[2] Maria Montessori. The Secret of Childhood. Fides/Ballantine. 1966. 197.
[3] Maria Montessori. The Discovery of the Child. Fides/Ballantine. 1967. 86.
[4] Ibid. 87.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Special Needs Identification and Treatment with Montessori Materials

Montessori materials and environments can pinpoint issues much earlier than typical tests and programs; but that does not mean that treatment is available at these younger ages. Interestingly enough, treatments for older children remarkably resemble Montessori materials. Not everything can be treated or remediated in the Montessori environment, but a surprisingly large percentage can. 

Watch this video (in pieces!) by Dr. Steve Hughes, Montessori parent and pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Minnesota. He goes through how to maximize the potential of the Montessori materials with special needs children. 

Click here for his main site where you can download the pdf of the slides from the video. 


Upper Elementary: Some Strategies for Keeping Work Going

Original is posted here: http://montessorilife.org/?p=117

Upper Elementary:

Some Strategies for Keeping Work Going

.

Paying close attention to what captures a child’s interest is one of the most effective tools for motivation.
1.   Make sure you present a large number of lessons in every subject area to every child. Give these lessons with the attitude that you are trying to “hook” the children’s interest; it is up to you to capture the child’s attention rather than it being up to the child to find your lessons interesting. Actively work to “find the way” with each child.
2. Through both observation and conversation, find out what each child is interested in and present lessons, create research opportunities, and encourage exploration of these interests.
3.  Search for the underlying cause of the child’s lack of motivation. There is almost always a cause and it usually involves a skill or set of skills that the child feels insecure about. Children like to do what they are good at and shun areas were they feel incompetent. If children successfully shun a topic for long enough, they can prevent themselves from developing their skills in that area and can set themselves up for feeling even further behind. We could address this vicious cycle by forcing the child to perform through assignments, but the gentler, more organic, and ultimately better way is to help the child identify the stumbling blocks and then help him or her work to overcome them. When we give assignments out of our inability to address the underlying problem, we often strengthen the child’s negative association with that area of study and shut them down in that and other areas of life. Often, we also create an adversarial relationship in which the child if forced to submit to the will of the adult.
4.  Set the expectation that everyone works to the best of their abilities. Follow this up with individual conferences in which you discuss each child’s work and set some goals with the child. If a child doesn’t want to follow up on their lessons, then it becomes their job to figure out what they are going to work on. Lack of work then becomes a problem that you work together to solve. Try to find good work partners to help and encourage the child. Try setting daily goals and then evaluate, with the child, what prevented them from focusing or what helped them achieve concentration. Make a list of the problems and solve them together, one by one. You may have to work towards creating a more harmonious classroom culture because social anxiety can make concentration on work nearly impossible for some children. We have to work hard in order to create and maintain emotionally supportive places of learning in our ever changing modern world.

Peer-support creates a much stronger learning environment.
5.  Check to make sure that there is a wide variety of work experiences available to all of the children. We increase the chance that children will unlock a hidden talent or discover and unknown passion when they are allowed to work in a wide variety of contexts. Raising chickens, going on camping trips, playing sports, creating art, performing music, cooking, model making all have the potential to ignite a child’s interests. The goal is to find something that the children are good at and enjoy doing. This becomes an arena through which they can attain mastery. The more paths that we open to the children, the greater the chance that we will be able to ignite the child’s interests and fan the flames of knowledge.
6.  Work to create a supportive class culture that is enthusiastic about learning. We can achieve this by encouraging the children, giving a lot f inspiring and interesting lessons, supporting the children’s own explorations, and setting high standards. When the culture of the class is elevated, then children learn to support their peers. Prevent children from forming non-working groups that socially reward each other for not working.
7.  Help your children set individual goals and then help them explore ways to become accountable to themselves. The goals are always negotiable, but children should be held to a high standard. Always assume that if a child is resisting work, it is because there is some part of them that feels inadequate, they have other unmet needs that are siphoning off their energy, or they truly lack interest and needs more engaging or a wider variety of lessons and work choices.
Copyright © 2008 Steve Thorpe. All rights reserved.
“The teacher, if indeed wise, does not bid you to enter the house of their wisdom, but leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”  – Khalil Gibran

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Which of these stands out the most for you? Which is the most obvious? 

For me, what stands out the most because I do it so naturally, but others have point out to me they think I'm doing it arbitrarily, is #4 - assuring the children know I expect them to work to the best of their abilities. I will ask them, "Was this your best work? Is there something you could have one better or in another way?" But these questions are coupled with general evaluation conversations - what have you learned? what are you planning to do with this information? what more do you seek? do you need to work in another area now? I also provide my expectations and let them know they are fully capable of meeting those expectations. 

Also be there for support - "this is a difficult transition for you - do we have all the bases covered, or do we need to re-evaluate our foundation?"

All of these things lay the foundation for #4 to happen naturally. 

What about YOU?