Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Montessori Moment

With the majority of my official teacher training being in Montessori education, I am highly excited and inspired by Montessori materials.  I have a few that I treasure: some gifted and some made during my training.  The work I do with the children in my care are always lightly influenced by the work and observations that Dr. Maria Montessori made, and her understanding of who the child is that has been passed down to me.  This has also created a strong love for the manipulatives that she has created, and I try to incorporate them into the classroom here and there.  

While the new Preschool House was being created, we also made a change here at the Infant House.  Cohort 4 is now the only group of children until our new group of infants start in January.  The lack of older children has brought a quiet to our house at some moments, and others full of running and joy at the new, larger space which we are building to be perfectly fit for these children.  While we are missing our friends over at the Preschool House, it is very comforting for my boys to look around, both inside and out, and find things that speak just for them and challenge them to "Use me, care for me, explore me."

One morning I opened up the doors to the entire house and everyone began exploring.  It wasn't long before the cupboard in the middle room was discovered and the graduated cylinders or cylinder blocks that even I had forgotten about had been discovered.  In this same room was also our larger set of climbing blocks, which consist of a ramp of about 30 degrees and two sizes of boxes, both made of wood.  They are meant to be mobile for both the teacher and children, and I had set them up in a long line to support their interest in walking onto the boxes then running down the ramp.  When the cylinder blocks were discovered, all of the cylinders were systematically thrown to the floor and were rolling all over the place.  This didn't surprise me too much, and goes a long with my next blog post which will be about their intense love of dumping.  I moved the block part of this material onto the boxes parallel to each other and as the boys drifted away, I lined up the cylinders inside the cabinet and left the door open.  T noticed right away what I was doing, and when I moved away he chose a cylinder and went over to the blocks and went to work.

As you can see in the video this is a beautiful example of focused work.  It constantly amazes me how long even a 14 month old can focus on problem solving, and how they are seemingly drawn to figuring out a solution.  The other thing I notice when watching T is how his body moves along with his focus.  At first he is moving back and forth from the cabinet, then once his focus strengthens he squats and eventually sits down, so the majority of his body's focus is on his hands and eyes.  The purpose of the graduated cylinders is to draw a child's focus to the changes in the cylinders as they fit into the appropriate apertures.  Through their exploration with this material, their body learns by feel the changes of depth, width and height, which they can use to build their mental catalog of what these things mean.  Children of this age are sensorial beings by nature, which is why they explore first with their senses.  It is their way to absorb the world around them and then later apply their absorbed findings. 

It's also during this time that Dr. Montessori's words remind me to give the children space when exploring these manipulatives.  "(We) have to find a balance in a world where the adult does everything for the child and from that of a passive environment in which the adult abandons the child to himself." (The Secret of Childhood, Montessori).  T tries to fit the cylinder into various places, even stacking them at points.  Every nerve and muscle in my body was aching to 'help' him find the 'right' place, yet as he wanders away you can sense his feeling of satisfaction with how the pieces fit. 

Now, to my fellow Montessorians who may be reading this, I know this is not the typical set up for using the cylinder blocks.  That's what I love about both my school and the training I received.  What I know about my children, is that they are drawn to large motor provocations first, and once they are drawn in they often use something for a long time.  They love these big blocks for practicing balance and coordination, so adding in a fine motor element was something I tested out and found for T, on this day, it worked!  I am lucky to be at a school where I feel comfortable being able to do these experiments, and to have a teacher trainer who supported following the child first and foremost, because I believe we all (the children and myself) learn so much more about the world by figuring out what works, even if it only happens once. 

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