Thursday, February 11, 2010

My frequently asked questions

My blog is far too young (and rarely posted on) to get questions from readers, this post refers to the questions I frequently ask myself, or Google, about the Montessori method and how to make it work in my household.

I haven't posted much recently because we haven't *done* much recently. Or at least much Montessori-ish. And the things we have done haven't gone as hoped.

Like last week I brought out this bean spooning activity.


She actually watched me do the activity and then repeated it fairly well (although a little haphazard at the end) the first time through. Then she wanted to do it again. And again. And suddenly it wasn't an activity so much as it was beans all over the floor.
This was also the first activity that I left out when not in use. Usually I put activities like this UP, very high, so I'm in control of when and how it happens. Of course, this is not part of Montessori's philosophy at all! The materials should be available at all times for the child to get out when they want to use it. Unfortunately, in this house that turns into a lot of playing with beans and not a lot of organized activity. In fact, I think almost all these beans have been lost to the vacuum after I got sick of picking them up.

So here are my questions to anyone who stumbles across this blog with more experience than me. 

How do you teach respect for materials and make sure your child doesn't just play with them while you are, say, doing the dishes?

How do you effectively stop an activity when it's obviously degrading yet the child doesn't want to stop?

How do you present materials that have already been demonstrated? 

That's all I have for tonight, but I'm sure I will have plenty more in the future!


  1. I don't have more experience than you, but I was faced with this problem just the other day.You inspired me to do some bean play with Adam, and we had a great time! He loved putting his hand into the container of beans and experiencing the sensations.

    Of course, a few fell out. This is how I handled it: the first time one fell, I said "Uh-oh! Beans need to stay in the dish. Stop what you are doing and pick up the bean that fell." And then I praised him when he "helped Mommy" to clean up. This happened a few times and then he got tired of having to stop to clean up, so the beans tended to stay in the container.

    All of our craft type of materials are stored on a counter, generally out of his reach. I get them out and just sit with him when we are using them. When I'm doing dishes, he is too, or that is a time for him to free-play with his toys. I'm trying to gradually give him more freedom by giving him some kind of directed assignment while I walk away from him for a minute or two--such as giving him 1 piece of paper and his safety scissors and telling him he may cut the paper, but must stay seated while doing so. If he wants to get up, the scissors stay on the table. I'm hoping to gradually increase the time he has alone with the materials as well as the difficulty of the task. We'll see :)

  2. Good tips! It seems to me that some of the problems with how to treat materials are probably amplified at home. In the classroom, older kids would model how to treat the materials and younger ones would follow along. I think it's hard to be the only role model for a behavior, even at this age we aren't as cool as other kids!

  3. I think the clean-up can become part of the learning process, since picking up beans develops the pincer grip (so important for writing later on). Believe me, the little ones in the classroom have a ball spilling beans on the floor, but then I stop what I'm doing and show them how to pick up the beans. I also show them how the dustpan/brush works, so they can choose how to pick up the beans. As in "do you want to pick them up with your hand, or with the dustpan?", but he's picking them up either way. :)

    If they don't want to pick up, they will be invited to sit in a chair until they are ready to clean up, saying "You may stand up when you are ready to pick up the beans". I will go by every few minutes and ask "Are you ready to clean up now?", especially at first because little ones sometimes don't know they have the freedom to stand up when they are ready (I blame time-outs at home...). When they clean up, I don't say "good job", but instead I point out "ah, I see you are cleaning up very carefully". This is all they need to hear to know they are on the right path, and if you say "good job" then they will spill again on purpose to get the praise again.

    In the classroom, children WILL play with the materials, which is normally a sign that they're done and need to move on to another activity. The concept of "being done" is a learned skill. Don't get angry, just suggest a couple of activity choices and tell him he can work on the one he chooses as soon as he's finished cleaning up.

    That's why it's important to have all the activities OUT, so they can transition from one to the other. There's a trust that needs to develop between child and adult, so that the child can feel free to choose whatever material he's been shown how to work with. However, if the child begins to play with the material or misuse it, the consequence is that it gets taken away. Then, when you re-introduce it a few days later, you re-present it with much fanfare and stress that it needs to be used "soooo carefully". Here's where it helps to have other children present (even one more child would do the trick, maybe a neighbor?), because when you take it away you can say "this is so sad, now nobody can work with the material because it is being misused".

    You re-present in the same way you introduced it the first time, asking the child to put his hands in his lap and wait his turn. You could ask him "What happens to this material if it is not treated correctly?", which will serve as a 'warning'. When you re-present, you can ask "Do you see how carefully I am spooning the beans?" Then ask, "Would you like to try?".

    Sometimes, if the activity is too easy but the child knows he is expected to work with it, he'll get silly as a way of protesting the forced use. Keep in mind that in the Montessori classroom, children will only revisit the materials they find challenging, not the ones they've figured out.

    I hope this helps, please let me know if you have more questions!

  4. Thank you so much for your help and time! This helps so, so much as it seems like many Montessori resources make it seem so smooth, but when you read of other people's experiences there are always bumps in the road (like all things) and it helps to see how others deal with them! If I have more questions I'll be sure to ask :)

  5. Glad I could help. I admire you so much for introducing Montessori in the home!

  6. Actually, from a teacher and philosophy point of view there are two things here...

    I read very quickly tonight, but I think that I saw your child is only two. Two is still at an age for exploration. If you want to practice spooning then either do it with much larger materials or get out a big bin with a bowl inside it. A two year old is not interested in perfection but quickly moves onto exploration of other properties of beans - like sound and spilling and pouring and texture and squishing. SO... make the work not "bean spooning" but bean exploration.

    Remember to follow the child, not follow the manual.

  7. Tracy, you must have been reading my mind today because I was just thinking exactly what you wrote after a frustrating day of limit testing. We weren't doing any activities or lessons today, but I definitely see now where she is looking for more structured exploration instead of the extremes of, say, hanging off floor lamps or being expected to sit still and pay attention to a detailed activity. There must be a middle ground that will meet both our needs :)