More Than Meets the Eye
Direct and Indirect Aims of Montessori Materials
by Anne Marie Vega, Principal
Montessori materials are an essential aspect of quality Montessori education. The materials enable the full execution of the Montessori philosophy and methodology. They are more than “toys” or “hands-on activities.” Montessori materials are the hallmark of a Montessori classroom.
The Montessori curriculum is divided into the following general areas: practical life, sensorial, language, math, geometry, cultural studies. All Montessori materials and presentations have direct objectives or aims. These are the skills and/or concepts that the material is intended to develop. Montessori materials are designed to be attractive, didactic, and self-correcting. They draw the child into the work and call forth the child’s inner desire to learn and develop the self.
Montessori materials are attractive. They are often made of smooth wood and painted in subtle, inviting ways. They are displayed in attractive baskets and trays. Human beings are, by nature, attracted to beauty and the beauty of the material invites the work of the child. Montessori materials are also didactic, meaning they are designed to teach or instruct. They engage the child in self-directed learning and are more than just a visual to reinforce the teacher’s lesson. Montessori, as a physician, recognized the intimate connection between the hand and the brain. She designed materials to engage the child in movement and specifically hand movement.
Another hallmark of Montessori materials is that they are self-correcting. They are designed in such a way that the child knows when it is correct or incorrect. This degree of this varies throughout the levels and depending on the material, but the design is such that the teacher does not have to be present to “assess.” As a result the child becomes more engaged and self-directed toward mastery.
In addition to the direct aims of the materials, all materials have indirect aims. These are the more subtle skills and concepts that are being developed for future work. These indirect aims focus on building the child’s muscular and neural pathways. They help the child begin to categorize, assimilate, and make connections. This is one reason why children are encouraged to engage with the materials over and over again. The child might have seemingly mastered the direct aim or concept, but the continued work with the materials leads to a depth of understanding that builds for future learning.
Montessori materials are connected across levels. What a child experiences in preprimary is reinforced and built upon at lower elementary and upper elementary. For example, the Pink Tower, a sensorial material presented to the youngest child in preprimary, has the exact same dimensions as the long chains and cubing work that is presented at lower elementary and then solidified in upper elementary. As the child feels and carries the cubes of the Pink Tower, matching them to the Broad Stair, stacking them, lining them up, etc. he/she is building the motor memory of the size, depth, height, shape of these cubes. As the child moves on to work with the counting chains and builds squares and cubes, the sensorial nature of the cube becomes a numerical reality. Then as the child is introduced to the formula of cubing, that motor memory engages the intellect and a connection is made. This is a stronger connection than one that is approached from the intellect alone.
The Montessori maps are a favorite activity in the preprimary and lower elementary. They are big works encouraging the young child to engage large muscles to carry them around the room. They also have small pegs which focuses the child’s “three-finger” grip and develop small muscle control. In addition, on all the pieces the peg is positioned in the location of the capital of the country. This is never pointed out to the child, but rather builds motor and visual memory. The child’s eye is automatically drawn to that location. As the child moves into the upper elementary and begins a more in-depth, historical study of maps they unconsciously draw upon this motor memory.
The concrete nature of the Montessori materials builds and refines, leading the child to abstraction. The slowness with which Montessori materials are used and the multi-step nature of working in the environment helps the child to engage on many levels. The time it takes to lay out all those beads, separate the tags, walk down the hallway, etc…all this helps build executive functioning skills and allow the child to work in steps toward completion.
Montessori materials are beautiful and engaging. They look fun and inviting. But there is more than meets the eye…Montessori materials have a timeless quality and a depth of possibility that help children of all ages to grow in wisdom, age, and grace.
Building the Habit of Reading
By LinMarie Cameron, Upper Elementary Humanities Directress
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
From babyhood, we read to our children simple books such as Pat the Bunny and Go, Dog, Go! As children start learning to read, we sit with them daily to support them, talking about the story and the details of the pictures. But when children become independent readers, it’s easy to get out of the habit of reading together, and assume they are reading enough during the school day.
Yet there are many distractions in our modern way of life, and children need clear guidance to ensure that they develop the habit of reading, the ability to sustain focus and become immersed in the story, and enter into discussion to deepen their understanding.
Daily, sustained reading is an essential habit with rich rewards. It is well worth the time, effort, and investment as parents to ensure our children build this habit. Some of the rewards are as follows:
- Building concentration
- Expanding knowledge
- Developing a vivid imagination
- Exposure to rich vocabulary and beautifully crafted sentences
- Strengthening the moral sense through the conflicts in the story
- Cultivating empathy by seeing other points of view
The first four are intellectual benefits, key to enabling a child to learn in all areas – including math, science, history, and especially writing. Ordinary conversation, both in life and in movies, offers only basic level language. Written language, however, has been carefully crafted and refined to convey meaning in the most beautiful and effective manner.
The last two are spiritual benefits, helping the child become a person who can do what is right and necessary when faced with moral challenges of his own. Having “lived through” bandits attacking the stagecoach, a thief making off with his last coin, a friend tempted into joining a swindle, or a family member falsely accused, the child will have seen courage, loyalty, honesty, protection of the innocent, and determination to find justice. What better preparation for life, especially when it comes from such an enjoyable pastime as reading? Daily reading helps to develop the whole person.
“The Magic of 15 Minutes: Reading Practice and Reading Growth” illustrates the research on both the significant effects of reading 15 minutes a day, as well as the overall decline in time spent reading since the 1980s. Children who read 30 minutes a day learn 12 million more words throughout their childhood than those who read less than 15 minutes, and so it is vital that we do all we can to ensure our children develop the habit of reading every day.
Let them see us reading in the waiting rooms for appointments, in the evening after dinner, relaxing on Sunday afternoon. Let us give them the structure they need to turn to reading before screens, to bring a book while waiting at a sibling’s piano practice, or to read every night before bed. The habit of daily reading will be a gift that will bring immeasurable and life-long rewards.
Basic Human Tendencies
Montessori’s Insights into How Humans Behave
by Anne Marie Vega, Principal
As human beings we have a unique, God-given gift of adaptability and ingenuity. This is part of “the breath of God” within us. It enables us to enter into a relationship of being co-creators with the Divine. We take the gifts God has given us in the world and within ourselves to continue moving Creation along the path of ultimate fulfillment in Christ.
Maria Montessori, through her keen observation of children identified 11 basic human tendencies that we all exhibit. They are natural instincts that draw us to behave in a certain way–in a way that will allow us to adapt to our environment and that impel us toward refinement of the human personality and ultimately the goal of being one with God through action upon our environment and the development of relationships with one another.
- Orientation to the Environment–Humans desire to know the environment around them and how they fit into that environment. Feeling comfortable in one’s surroundings allows a person to explore and investigate.
- Order–Humans desire security and predictability. Order is more than a lack of chaos, but the internal feeling that everything fits together and has a sense of sameness and comfort. Order has an internal and an external component, which support one another.
- Exploration–Humans have a natural curiosity to discover the wonders of the physical and spiritual world. Learning how this great world works and operates stimulates human cognition and allows intellectual growth.
- Communication–We have been created as communal beings, drawn to connect with each other through a variety of paths. Sharing and passing-on information allows the human family to continue from generation to generation.
- Activity–The desire to move and move with purpose calls the human person to greater integration of mind and body.
- Manipulation–The tendency to explore leads to a desire to control and discover the environment through activity. The human hand, in particular is the tool for discovery and mastery of the environment.
- Work--Finding one’s purpose in life and contributing to society leads to a positive self image and sense of accomplishment. Montessori believed that the child creates him/herself through meaningful, purposeful work.
- Repetition–The joy of doing something over and over in order to reach mastery is innate in the human person. It stems from a desire to be in control and understand with depth.
- Exactness–Humans desire stability and preciseness in their activity and work. This allows safety and ultimately survival. It also creates a sense of order and control.
- Abstraction–With our highly developed brains, the human person is drawn to think beyond the concrete and see connections between thoughts and ideas. Our imagination and emotions take us to a higher level of understanding.
- Perfection–All the tendencies draw the human person to self-actualization and integration of mind, body, and spirit.
The Montessori prepared environment speaks to these basic tendencies, enabling the child to grow and develop in a natural way. The environment calls to the child and touches his/her very being.
“As we observe children, we see the vitality of their spirit, the maximum effort put forth in all they do, the intuition, attention and focus they bring to all of life’s events, and the sheer joy they experience in living” ( Maria Montessori).