Today I had a Montessori inspired playgroup in my home. The ladies who attended it were so lovely and Knox was so excited to greet each new guest at the door! (and happy to hold other people’s toys, apparently!) We sort of had too many people in this one session, but despite the crowd it was relatively calm and I got to talk to some mothers at a time. Here is a summary of our exchanges in case some moms missed it:
Demonstrating Montessori at home: Scooping activity-
Materials: 3~6 Ping pong balls (can be styrofoam), one large container with water, one smaller dry container, one scooper (can be a small sieve, a spatula with holes…etc for the water to runout)
Step 1: Take the dry container with the balls in both hands and tip carefully into the water bowl.
Step 2: Scoop each ball slowly into the dry container, until all are in it.
Step 3: Put scooper down and pour balls back into water bowl.
Retrieving materials from his cabinet
When you demonstrate it, as with all Montessori activities, you demonstrate an entire cycle. And you do it the same time every time, until you feel like the child has mastered it and perhaps you want to play with it in a different way. This helps with children’s need for order.
Usually I have him put his activity back on his shelf. In this case I take it to dump out the water.
How to know your child is finished? He/she will start playing with the project in a messy manner: splashing the water, throwing the balls around…etc. Tell them “Okay, you are finished.” and take it away. If they do this too much they will cease being able to work with this object in an orderly fashion in the future. Always keep an eye out for when this sort of thing happens. This activity will likely amuse them up to 10~15 minutes a day. Our goal is not to have them do something so we can go do something else for ourselves (I wish!), but to build up their capabilities and concentration gradually, so they will be able to work in a focused and constructive manner. I have read that one does not expect children under 3 to be able to work too long. But one will be rewarded later on with a calm, proactive child. Indeed, from the Montessori classroom I observed, it is lovely to see the 3+ year olds go about purposefully getting an activity from the shelf, laying it out, working on it for a long while by themselves, and then going to put it back. I have also heard that there are Montessori activities that foster team-work, and research shows that a Montessori classrooms foster a “greater sense of community” among kids. http://www.montessori-science.org/montessori_science_journal.htm
*Demonstrating cycles: Children this young may be impatient for your entire demonstration to be finished, they may try to grab it before you finish and start. Try to limit this, but if they become very anxious let them go ahead and do as much of the routine as you just demonstrated. And next time you demonstrate it again with more of the routine. If there are multiple steps this is even better, as a child may not remember all the steps that is required on the first get-go. Remember to not be anxious and not rush. As before 12 children’s brains operate at half the speed of adults, and they have all the time to master skills that seem simple to us. They are not goal oriented – they do not see cleaning up as the goal, but they enjoy the process of imitating you wipe. Be very consistent in your demonstrations and think it through before you commence it. What may seem obvious to us may not seem so to them. Example: Today when I was demonstrating the scooping activity. When I was done I should have put down the scooper before using two hands to pour the pingpong balls back into the water.
Imagination/ Reading real stories
One mom said that she had read that Montessori says children should mainly read stories that are based in reality (as adverse to make believe). I found this passage from “To Kill a Mocking Bird” congruent of children’s real attitudes towards make-believe：
“Miss Caroline began the day by reading us a story about cats. The cats had long conversations with one another, they wore cunning little clothes and lived in a warm house beneath a kitchen stove. By the time Mrs. Cat called the drugstore for an order of chocolate malted mice the class was wriggling like a bucketful of catawba worms. Miss Caroline seemed unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and floursack-skirted first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginative literature.”
Children want to learn what is real about this world. Make-believe/fantasy/myths are part of the tools we as humans utilize to make sense of a world we do not understand. But we are no longer living in the stones-ages. I think it would be disrespectful of them as little humans not to allow children access the wealth of information that is already known about our world.
Update June 5th, 2013: A great post summarizing Montessori points about books for toddlers. + 1 tip I recently learned: Try to find books that display the whole picture of something, and not just part of it. For example, the whole animal, a whole person…etc.
What does Montessori say about sharing?
I haven’t read anything about it yet (there is a lot I need to learn) so if any moms have suggestions, ideas please do share with us all!
From what I understand though there is usually enough materials in a Montessori space for all the kids to choose their own and work on. You shouldn’t feel anxious for them to get off one project and try to ‘distract’ them with another if there is another child waiting for it, as if they are focused at the moment the best thing is to allow them the space to work. One of the cool things about the Montessori method is that there are no recesses, no 45 minute time limit intervals. This allows the students to work at their own pace, to switch activities as they like while maintaining the flow. They do not have to anticipate that they will be interrupted after 15 minutes (Don’t you hate that?) so they can truly concentrate on what they are doing.
*Update: New Post on sharing On Toddlers and Sharing
Today the play was less structured than it could be, as there were too many kids! The moms who were here were great and I wish I could invite you all again! Unfortunately we’ll need to keep strictly to 8 moms per playgroup in the future, so stay tuned for RSVPs! (Next week we will be on vacation, so perhaps the following week) Feel free to start your own at your home too! A lot of the info I looked up myself, there are a lot of resources in books, articles and blogs to be inspired by. Just keep learning! (and sharing!)
Also, feel free to check out my Facebook page, where I regularly post new things I’ve learned about Montessori, and pictures of doing it at home. https://www.facebook.com/WhenTheDiaperLeaks