Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Don't sit still - the importance of movement in Montessori education

“Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.”

If there was ever one thing I was skeptical about in the Montessori method, it would have the be the calmness of the activities I read about. Even from birth my daughter was active and not easily focused or calmed down, how was the proper activity going to keep her in one place? That always seems like the goal, right? Sit here and do this how I told you. Not only does that seem impossible, I don't even think I believe in being so ridged.

I've been reading Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook and it's really shed light on this aspect of the method for me. Maria Montessori says that the movements children make that adults see as fidgety and distracting are just the ones they need to develop coordination. It is pointless to try and keep children in check by telling them not to move, it's not going to happen. While you don't encourage your child to jump around and flit about, don't get upset when they do either. Instead, teach more controlled, useful movements that will serve them well in everyday life. This is where practical life activities such as setting the table, washing hands, dressing, sweeping, etc. come in. Montessori believed that children need and like to have a purpose for their activities and movements. This has the appearance of being ridged, but really isn't. It's just that instead of giving a child toys to pretend to do real life activities with, you give them real life to interact with and the tools to do it correctly.

So as you go through your day, model the proper way to do things through slow and controlled motions. You don't have to say anything, your child is always watching you and as they gain control of their bodies, they will emulate you. According to Montessori, "this education of the movements is one of the principle factors in producing that outward appearance of 'discipline' in the Children's Houses."

So THAT'S how they do it...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Making cookies

We made all different kinds of cookies for Christmas this year. And by "we" I mean me, and then sometimes Ryann would come in at a random part of the process and want to make something totally different. Like chocolate cookie dough with white flour sprinkled on top.

She said she was "making doughs." How could I argue? I couldn't. I decided to make it easier for her to make "doughs" and easier for me to keep working through my cookie recipes so I set up her own emergency work station. Had I been thinking ahead and more prepared, I would have set up an actual cookie recipe that should could add pre-measured ingredients into a bowl and follow the process all the way through to make cookies all by herself.

Instead, I was desperate, scattered and working against a toddler who was quickly trying to flour everything in her grasp. So I set up a fake dough-making activity that worked just as well for her at the time.

From left to right: water, chocolate chips, powdered sugar, flour, granulated sugar. She used measuring spoons to add all the ingredients into her bowl. We refilled the flour cup a few times it was so fun!

She was so focused on this activity, I barely even heard a peep out of her. Unfortunately, the recipe I was working on next to her required mixing with my hands and her dough was not as stiff.

Afterwards, she "washed" all her dishes in the sink and got all this gloop off. As well as soaked her clothes and the floor.

This was really fun for both of us! I can't wait to try again with a real recipe. We just need to finish off all these cookies first...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Introduction to teaching writing and reading

Someone asked me about teaching reading and writing with the Montessori method and I found this YouTube video that gives a great introduction into the method and the materials used. I want to do a more in depth post about this as I delve into it myself, but the main difference in Montessori is that writing is taught first and reading comes naturally after that.

I read in a Maria Montessori biography that in her classroom they would write a sentence on the blackboard each day and the children would, on their own, copy parts of it and study it along with the exercises talked about in the video below. Quite suddenly, the children would start to realize they could read the sentence. The sense of pride they have sounds amazing!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Buying materials for Montessori at home

I don't have gobs and gobs of money to spend on materials and I assume you don't either. Why when you search Montessori materials does every little wooden, simple thing cost over $50? It's hard when you don't really know what you need and everything labeled Montessori costs so much. I went to Target the other day on a search for cheap, cool things to use for activities and I wasn't disappointed!

I got a set of 6 pinch bowls on clearance for $4.10. I didn't know what pinch bowls were, I guess I am not much of cook, but they are used to hold small amounts of condiments or other foods you don't need a lot of. The ones I got were all different colors but apparently they do not exist on all of the internet because I can not find the brand (Epicura) anywhere! The ones below are similar to what I got. They can be used for transfer activities like spooning dried beans or droppers of water. Or you can put a spoonful of ice cream in each one and have an ice cream sampler like Ryann insisted on last night. Good thing the bowls are small!
Curious Chef® 4 Piece Silicone Pinch Bowl SetCurious Chef® 4 Piece Silicone Pinch Bowl Set

I also got this small pitcher for $2.99. There was a white one for $3.99, but I thought it might help her learn to pour easier if she can see the contents. Generally used for creamer, it's the perfect size for little hands. It is apparently in store-only at Target but Amazon sells it for just a bit more. You can use the pitcher to practice pouring.

Anchor Hocking Presnece Collection Presence Glass CreamerAnchor Hocking Presnece Collection Presence Glass Creamer

While we were in the kitchen section, Ryann insisted we get a turkey baster. I think we should be able to practice transferring water with it. She thinks it's a microphone,she calls it a "turkey phone." It was $1.99

Harold Imports Turkey BasterHarold Imports Turkey Baster

All-in-all I spent $9.08 for some pretty useful materials! My next purchases are going to be trays and rugs. I'll talk about uses for those in later posts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Real life montessori activities - hand washing

Yesterday I took advantage of a messy cookies situation and set up the bathroom to do hand washing. I got out our her little stool, foaming soap and a hand towel next to the sink. I took her into the bathroom and showed her how to wash her hands, focusing on washing really good, slowly going through each step. She *mostly* listened and watched but was excited to start herself. I let her have at it and this was the result.

She had a hard time moving on from the "bubble gloves" part. She did a really good job with soaping up though.

There  is some debate, I gather, in the Montessori community on whether or not to correct this kind of blatant disregard for the steps of the activity. Some say you should present the materials and then let the child do as they may, as long as they are respectful, and eventually they will begin to copy your demonstration. Some say you should help them through the activity from beginning to end and encourage them to do it the right way.

I obviously follow the former philosophy.

One nice thing did come out of this exercise, as she cleaned up her mess almost entirely by herself.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First activity for toddlers - hand washing

My plan is to start simple and with a small amount of setup. We are going to "learn" hand washing today. The thing I am most concerned about is getting my daughter to pay attention to the instructions and proceed in a calm manner. Hand washing is something she does all the time, but she generally uses far too much soap and makes a huge mess with the water so learning the proper way to wash her hands might be fun.

I've never been quite clear on exactly how to explain an activity to the child. I know you are supposed to show rather than explain verbally (which I will talk more about in future posts) but I wasn't sure on the specifics. I found this set of videos on YouTube that seem to be done exactly the way it would be explained to the child. I found this really helpful.

Monday, December 14, 2009

So it begins

I have been interested in the Montessori method since I was pregnant, if not before then. It's one of those things that always felt right to my unschooled mind. But like most things that take planning and motivation, I have yet to follow through on my grand plans created before a giggling, screaming, distracting child graced my life. Every so often I say I'm going to start "doing" Montessori, but I tend to get overwhelmed quickly and have no idea where to begin.

Ever since my daughter became entrenched in toddlerhood I can't seem to get her to sit still for anything, especially an explanation from me. While I already use many Montessori principles in our daily lives, like respect for the child, actual activities have alluded me. I tried it once or twice, but she never seemed to be interested in following directions or completing a task. I know that Montessori activities can be used at any age, but they weren't for Ryann at that age. She was much too busy with her own agenda to listen to mine. After entering the Twos, however, I'm beginning to see a shift in her focus and I know she will be much more interested in structured play and activities.

Now all I need is the patience and energy to actually do it.

Friday, December 11, 2009


The Montessori name is not trademarked and therefore is often used to promote a variety of teaching styles with no oversight. While I try to maintain what I think is the Montessori method, I have received no training in the method nor am I associated with any schools or organizations. I will try to differentiate my opinion from the Montessori literature so that readers are not confused by my methodology. As always, take what you can from this site and leave the rest.