This week's blog is all about the Montessori Method and how it is carried out within Crawford Childcare, Glanmire.
To begin with, here is a little background on Dr Maria Montessori. Dr Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952), born at Chiraville, Italy was Italy’s first female doctor of medicine. Working with children at Rome’s Psychiatric Clinic, she noticed that they sought to learn about their environment through the use of their hands. This idea that the path to intellectual development is through the hands is a major theme in her method of education.
Montessori education is a child centred method of education. This method allows for the changing needs and interests at each successive stage of development. Essential elements of Montessori Education are (a) a Prepared Environment (b) a trained teacher and (c) freedom with responsibility.
What is a Prepared Environment? At Crawford Childcare we, the staff, have put together an environment that includes;
• An environment that is safe and secure. At Crawford this is seen by the fact that a door code is required to gain entry into the classroom. The room also contains an emergency exit door.
• A bright welcoming classroom. We are fortunate at Crawford Childcare to have a large classroom which allows movement around the room with opportunities to work either on the floor or at a table.
• Physical environment is adapted. This includes the coat hooks, tables, chairs, sinks, toilets, shelves being at child level yet at the same time these objects are real, which can be easily moved by the children.
• Windows, light switches, door handles are also at child level. We have a large glass door which leads to the outdoor play area. This brings the children close to nature with the view of the fields, trees and even cows in the distance. The light switches and door handles are also at child level.
• Environment. The children are exposed to the Montessori materials on the shelves and also the experiences. These would include the opportunity to play outside, celebrate birthdays, our school tour to name but a few.
• Materials are real. Our shelves of Montessori equipment contain a tweezers for activities designed to practice the pincer grip, glass jugs to encourage care and respect for the materials, pasta for transferring activities, sand and water activities.
• The Prepared Environment allows for freedom of choice and movement. The children choose the work they would like to carry out. They are given this opportunity during planning time where they are encourage to draw a picture of what Montessori exercises they would like to carry out.
• Allows for repetition. Many of the activities at Crawford Childcare allow for repetition which in turn aids the development of concentration. These include polishing of the shoe, peg boards, transferring water using glass jugs, spooning pasta. This exercises are simple in design while at the same time very repetitive encouraging the child to develop their concentration at their own pace.
The Montessori Curriculum is divided in five subject areas:
• Practical Life
Practical Life exercises are everyday tasks designed to teach children life skills and aid inner construction and also aid children master their environment. They comprise of child sized utensils which are real and are based on real purpose activities. The exercises form the foundation of the Montessori classroom and aid the child’s whole development. They are simple tasks the child has seen adults perform with roots in the child’s immediate environment and culture.
Examples of Practical Life exercises at Crawford Childcare include zip dressing frame and a button dressing frame which allows the child to practice opening and closing a zip hence preparing them with the ability to tie their own clothes. Washing hands again this is encouraging the child to care for their basic hygiene needs. Pouring of water using jugs. This would be indirect practice for the child to practice pouring the milk into their cereal.
Maria Montessori devised the sensorial materials as a result of her observations of children. Through the use of sensorial materials the children refine their senses and classify the experiences they have absorbed. The exercises require the children to compare, contrast and discriminate between stimuli. The material is designed to isolate the particular quality being taught. All exercises contain a control of error which assists the children in reaching their goal. Just one set of material is required for the pre-school. This helps the children develop patience.
Examples of Sensorial materials within Crawford Childcare include the pink tower which contains 10 wooden cube each varying in height, breath and width. The cubes are handled with a claw like grip (1 finger on each side of the cube). The control of error is visual whereby the child can identify that the cubes are placed in the correct order.
The cylinder blocks are four wooden blocks each containing 10 cylinders. The cylinders in blocks 1 and 2 vary in height and diameter; in block 3 they vary in diameter and in block 4 they vary in height. All cylinders are handled using the pincer grip. This is indirect preparing for writing where the pincer is developed and practice.
The Montessori language programme uses the phonetic method combined with the whole language approach. It follows the natural pattern of developing speech i.e sounds, syllables, words, phrases and sentences and is constantly reinforced by language – rich experiences in the classroom.
Examples of language materials in Crawford Childcare include insets for design. These are used to help the child gain control of the pencil. These are introduced to the child after they have had experience with the sensorial materials. Reading and writing are parallel activities in the Montessori Method. This material contains ten geometrical cut out shapes, squares of coloured paper the exact same size as the frame, coloured pencils, tray to carry inset, pencils. The first lesson is given on how to hold the pencil. Using the cylinders will have trained their finger muscles.
Another activity is the sandpaper letters which are a box of lower case letters, each one in sandpaper. The child is first introduced to two contrasting letters in shape and sound. The child is shown how to trace the letter using the first two fingers of the dominant hand while saying the sound at the same time. The teacher then says things like “can you hear “b” when I say “b”?
With regard to the maths material, the child has been indirectly prepared to the maths programme through the use of the sensorial materials as these materials aid the transition to abstract thinking by providing a firm foundation upon which to build abstract thought. A child learns best by doing, and therefore, the learning experience should be as concrete as possible, by using the materials.
At Crawford Childcare of maths materials include the red rods. These are ten wooden rods varying in length from 1 decimetre to 1 metre. Each decimetre coloured alternatively red and blue. Thus the first rod is entirely red, and the second which is two decimetres long is divided into one red and one blue and so on. The child mixes the rods on a mat on the floor. They build them into a stairs with the shortest rod nearest them, and all the red ends even on the left hand side. After the child has used the rods in this way they are taught the names of the rods.
The Culture subject is very wide and diverse and introduces the child to the world around them. Culture includes history, geography and science and can be discussed during circle time and/or on an individual basis. There are also a range of culture materials at Crawford Childcare which include the land and water globe where the child is given an impression of their place on planet earth. The solar system is discussed using models, photos and pictures. The child becomes aware of the Sun as a star that gives us light and heat. Dinosaurs are included in the history subject where are always a firm favourite among the children at Crawford Childcare. Through the manipulation of the models the children learn the names of the dinosaurs.
At Crawford Childcare we are very fortunate to have two large outdoor play areas, which provide the children with many opportunities to develop and practice their gross motor skills. This include cycling on bikes, climbing on the climbing frame, having the freedom to run, practice walking up the steps of the slide, sliding down the slide, use large building blocks to build a tower and even knock it down again and even on occasion it has been observed that a few girls use the space to practice their gymnastics.