Tag Archives: Montessori

Fine Motor Practice

Fine Motor Practice.jpgPart of the Montessori curriculum focuses very heavily on building fine motor skills and control in the young child. There are activities that help build strength, activities that build precision, and activities that encourage movement. Cam has always had excellent fine motor control and awareness. From a very young age she was drawn to small

 objects which she loved to manipulate put them in boxes, baskets, drawers, everywhere. She was never much of a mouther, but when she did attempt to put things in her mouth my husband and I tried very hard not to discourage her from playing with small things, just from putting them in her mouth. I could see not only her intense curiosity about small things but also how manipulating them was building her fine motor.

Because she is so drawn to find motor activities I always try to have a selection of them out on her shelves. It can be a bit hit-or-miss with them though as I can’t seem to put my finger on exactly what it is that appeals to her. Below is a little gallery of her current activities. Not included is a picture of the peg board (which we bought on eBay) but appears in the color study post.

Resources Series: Montessori Scope and Sequence

Resource Series BannerWay back in June I posted that I was working on a scope and sequence of Montessori materials and activities. You can refresh your memory here if you’d like. Long story short, I finished it and am ready to share. I know the blogosphere likes to share, especially the Montessori/homeschool crowd and I really want to contribute something.

There may very well be something out there on the Internet like this and it may be better. I haven’t found it though, so I created this scope and sequence. It is just that, a scope and sequence for the infant, toddler, and 3-6 age groups. It simply shows what the various Montessori activities and materials are and in what order they are presented. I have also cross referenced everything so you can see where each material falls in the sequence (often in more than one place) and how the various activities relate to others across areas of “study”. Meaning, you can see how the Red Rods are related to both early numeracy and the sensorial activities, etc.

While I have loosely grouped it into age ranges, none of those are hard and fast rules. My own daughter is ready for some things that would be presented to older children but is not ready for other things that are intended for younger children. It is organized in a couple ways that make sense to my particular brand of crazy organization. :) I included a couple ways of using and looking at it so I could get a handle on everything and how it all functions as a cohesive curriculum. I hope someone else finds it helpful too and that maybe someone else will feel less confused in the way I was to begin with.

As a side note, if you use it and have suggestions or find typos please let me know. I will certainly try to fix typos and would love to consider other input. I am already making changes to it that make sense for us as I am using it. It’s a living breathing document and should be flexible. I want it to be responsive, that’s one of the beauties of a blog and online community. 

Montessori Scope and Sequence Outline – This is truly an outline. With Roman numerals and tabs and everything. It may be the easiest to read, but to me it was the least useful way to work with the curriculum. This was the basis for everything else, though, and I use it in tandem with the Presentation Record.

Montessori Visual Outline – This shows you in a more visual way how all the pieces relate to one another. It does not cross reference anything though. It’s more like a curriculum map, if you’ve ever seen or worked with one of those.

Montessori Presentation Record – This allows you to record when you have presented a material or activity, when the child works with it, and when they have mastered it. This was really my end goal. From a homeschooling standpoint, this is probably the most useful, but I use it in tandem with the Outline.

Infant Activities & Materials Map – This is just a visual representation of the infant materials. It maps out the information from the outline and puts into more of a timeline context. I wish I had done this when Cam was still a baby.

Disclaimer: I would like to make clear that I am not a trained Montessori teacher and these don’t replace reading up on Montessori’s own works. I created this for myself and am sure it is flawed.They are here to help parents who want to do Montessori in the home but are having trouble grasping where to jump in and where they are supposed to go once they have. It in no way is meant to tell you exactly how to follow the curriculum or what your child is ready for. All children are different and learn at their own pace. It is also probably not comprehensive. I included a detailed list of sources that I drew from. It made more sense for me to combine all of that information into one cohesive, useable, workable document and for my purposes it’s comprehensive enough. It is licensed under Creative Commons. You are welcome to share and change it, however I would appreciate you crediting me where appropriate.

Imaginative Play

Pedagogy BannerOne of the projects I tackled this summer was working my way through my TBR (To Be Read) pile and, while I didn’t make it through many parenting/learning theory books, I did read one that I found very inspiring.
Reading about the place and importance of imaginative play, however, brought to mind Montessori for me. If this blog is any indication, I am far from being a Montessori purist. I don’t follow all her ideas, I won’t use all her materials and lessons, but this doesn’t stem from any distaste for her methods or any disagreement that I have. Except for when it comes to imaginative play.A Child’s Work was not a title I was familiar with nor was the author (although in the education field that isn’t surprising), but I was clued into it by one of the library blogs I follow. It was a quick read, but well worth it just for the pure joy Paley clearly feels for the relationship between imaginative play and children.

Child's Work

Now my understanding of the Montessori method is that it does not contain any imaginative play (meaning building with blocks, dressing up in costumes, pretending animals talk, playing in a toy kitchen, etc.) in the early years (0-6). I have read that fantasy is discouraged, although how strictly any Montessori program adheres to this I am not sure. However, I can’t help but look both at current research and at the natural inclinations of children and think the Montessori method is wrong to discourage imaginative play and fantasy.

One of the reasons I find myself passing on various Montessori ideas is that I find her to be very much a product of her time. (I’m not as concerned about teaching my daughter how to use a dustpan because we own a little hand vacuum.) Child development was a new concept. Sure, she was a pioneer, but we now have a century of research that she did not have access to. She was also very much a socialist looking to help the poor. I won’t argue that it was a lofty goal and one we should all aspire to in some way, but it also really colored her methodologies. The children she began developing her method for needed structure, needed to feel useful, needed to be a part of a collective, needed to keep the house clean in the absence of one or both parents. I would agree that children of all sorts need that and want that to some degree, but I think they also need to engage in imaginative play and the ideas encapsulated in A Child’s Work really hit home that point for me.

A Child’s Work is a bit light on providing real research to back up any of Paley’s claims. It’s a much more touchy-feely book than a hard evidence sort of book. Really it read more like a notebook of Paley’s thoughts and notes and that was fine with me. It went by quickly and its anecdotes and impressions certainly got her point across about the importance of fantasy. I think next up will be another book that I have on my shelf about play. I’m hoping to get a bit more of the science behind the theory in this next round.

Not only do I remember the joy of fantasy play as a child, but I can see the seeds of it starting to grow in my own daughter. Since Montessori is all about observing our children and following their interests I think I will let Cam lead me into the imaginative play realm.

My Current Project

Resource Series BannerYou may remember a few months back I talked a bit about how I felt it was difficult to get a handle on what all the Montessori activities/materials were and in what order they should appear. I did a bunch of searching and found several scope and sequences (sort of) that helped me see better. The problem was, none of them were complete and they frequently didn’t match up exactly with each other. I was still a bit confused and frustrated.

So, this past week I’ve been working on creating my own scope and sequence. I’m essentially combining all the other ones I have found, but I am cross referencing activities/materials in a variety of sections where they have relevance. I’m also putting it together in several formats. My hope is not only to use it myself with Cam, but to share it here and I thought it could be helpful for people to have it in visual, outline, curriculum map, and check-box formats. That way you can access it in whatever way makes most sense for you. I’m still plugging away at it, but hope to have it to share pretty soon, so check back.

A Little Weekend Reading: Blog Links

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A couple great blog posts this past week and half that I wanted to share:

  • Want to help your child follow directions? Try singing them. A post from Moving Smart about how singing instructions can help your child retain directions better.
  • Having worked in the classroom I’ve seen how delicate a balance it can be when choosing to either start a child early or late. There can be social issues and developmental issues and even self esteem issues. This article makes a really, really good point about the Montessori educational structure that I had never considered. It essentially eliminates the need to either hold a child back or send them in early by grouping students in 3-6 and 6-9 classrooms.
  • I came across this post through one of my library blogs, but it so spoke to what I am looking for in creating an educational experience for my daughter. It’s all about blending subjects better and the importance of teaching and encouraging inquisitiveness and the ability to think. It also talks about the duration of an education and how shortening academics can leave time for other important activities  like music and art…The piece isn’t long, but it’s really fabulous. I highly recommend reading it.

Encouraging Independence: Snack Table

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Snack Table

As a compromise with the Montessori weaning table, I did create a small area next to our kitchen, pantry and dinning table that gives Cam a small table for snacks. I like the idea that Cam can determine when she needs a little snack or drink during the day without being overly reliant on me to get it for her.

The “table” is actually a breakfast-in-bed tray with a blanket folded underneath to act as a floor cushion. She keeps her water bottle or cup here and there is frequently a bowl with a snack on it. Because it is portable I have also started pulling it out into the middle of the floor while I cook dinner. I place some crayons or a toy on it to keep her entertained and it keeps her close enough to me that she doesn’t become clingy.

The Weaning Table

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The prepared Montessori environment includes as small table and chair for children learning to eat solid foods. The use of this table is continued into toddlerhood. Here is a quote from the North American Montessori Center (NAMC) about how the weaning table is used:

As soon as an infant can sit up with support, she can be fed at a low table. Typical high chairs are not used. Instead, specially designed infant chairs which are low enough for the child to get in and out of by themselves. Unlike other chairs in the Montessori environment, these chairs are heavy and not easily moved or tipped over. The Montessori caregiver feeds the child sitting on a low stool, facing the child and places the food dish on the table in front of her.

They go on to say:

As soon as they are able, children are given the opportunity to feed themselves, practicing and mastering their developing movement skills. Once the infant can walk, she is invited to eat with other children, sitting around the table in a chair more suited for her developing needs.

Dinner TableWhile I appreciate the independence that is given to the child who sits at a low table in a low chair and could see how this would work in some households, my own approach to eating and food has been very different. My philosophy has always been, Cam eats what we eat, when we eat it. Because we eat a nutritious and healthful diet, I never saw the need to create special meals for Cam.

I also firmly believe in the importance and significance of the family meal. I think the weaning table separates the child from that dynamic too much and encourages different meal times and by extension different meals. Cam and I sit at the table together for every breakfast and lunch. If my husband is home he joins us and he is there for dinner every night.

That being said, I do still try to afford Cam her independence at the table. She is never forced to eat something she doesn’t like (although so far she has yet to meet a food she doesn’t like) and if she can’t eat something (like if I make a dish too spicy) I make accommodations. She is not in a high chair, but a youth chair which is much less constricting than a high chair. She is also free to ask to get down out of her youth chair at any time. Sometimes she eats a little and runs off only to come back. Other times she wants to sit in one of our laps and continue eating. And sometimes she runs off to play.

So far this has worked very well for us. Cam eats well and eats broadly and is learning the social etiquette of the table. I’m very curious, however, to hear what other people’s experiences and approaches have been to eating and weaning.

A Montessori Nursery

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From my own research into Montessori infant environments I believe the single most important underlying principle of them is freedom. Freedom to move about. Freedom to explore. Freedom to select toys and materials. There is also a very clean aesthetic and a focus on ownership. The room belongs to the child, not the parent. Which means shelves are low, pictures are hung at child height and furniture (with a few good exceptions) are child-sized.

But, if you are anything like me you need a bit more than abstract principles and a few pictures gleaned from Pinterest to go on for creating an environment. Especially when you are a brand new parent or in the last months of pregnancy. When I decided to go with a Montessori style nursery for our daughter I began looking around for a mix of principles, ideas, and pictures. If you are fortunate enough, you can even attend classes and talk with teachers at your local Montessori school. That was not the case for us, so it was all by the seat of our pants!

I didn’t figure out the Montessori mobiles or what infant materials Montessori created in time to really use them with Cam, but I have since come across this information. For anyone else struggling I’m using this Monday to aggregate some resources I have found for creating infant (first year of life) environments. I hope someone else finds them helpful.

  • Some thoughts on creating an infant environment from North American Montessori Center. This has the Montessori mobile sequence.
  • Here’s a link to a tutorial for a cloth puzzle ball. She also has tutorials for making each of the mobiles.
  • For the very young infant grasping toys are a great thing. Montessori mentions a small silver rattle to begin with, but you can also try these wooden toys or these grasping rings. I have also knit small, medium and large balls for a number of my friends and my daughter. I even put rattles in a few of them just to give them an added element. (The links I’ve added are to places you can buy the toys from, but I have not personally ordered from any of these companies or people so I can’t speak to their service and quality.)
  • Once the child is older, these are the “official” infant toys designed by Montessori, but if you take the ideas behind them (dropping a ball through a hole, threading a ring on a dowel) I think you can find other, less expensive toys that may serve the child longer. (See pages one and two, the rest of the puzzles and the like are not exactly Montessori.)
  • For pictures of some well done Montessori nurseries see my Pinterest board: Montessori Spaces
  • I also would like to note that if you have an IKEA nearby, they are a great resource for inexpensive and flexible furniture. We have A LOT of IKEA furniture and with the exception of the birds tearing it up, we haven’t had any problems with quality.

I will conclude by saying we didn’t go for a full-blown Montessori nursery. We were just a little too late to the game and our house wasn’t (and isn’t) fully remodeled. That made storage tight in the nursery and in other rooms. We eliminated a fair amount of storage, come to think of it. We also took an eye to the future and put in more shelving (such as a reading bench) so the space can grow with Cam. I am always an advocate of striking the right balance of principles and your own lifestyle. So use the resources to help you find what aspects work best for you.

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Following the Leader

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If there is one thing the Montessori method and Reggio-Emilia approach are in perfect agreement on, it is in a child-centered and -led approach to teaching. While Montessori calls this following the child and Reggio-Emilia calls the teacher a co-constructor of knowledge, the two concepts are based on the same idea that the child can be trusted to reveal to the teacher what and when they are ready to learn.

The two methods do diverge in what they present to the child. Montessori has a specific cycle or set of activities that can be presented to the child. The teacher carefully watches for signs of readiness that indicate a child is in one of the “sensitive periods” Montessori identified and then assembles and demonstrates the appropriate materials. In a Reggio environment the teacher carefully observes the children to discover what they are interested in. He or she then assembles a variety of materials that will allow the child to explore this interest. These materials can be anything from building materials to pretend play items; sensory materials to art supplies.

However, I think the underlying philosophies are much more important than the difference in practical application. The trust and independence inherent in both methods is the crux of following their lead. Traditional teaching uses a “sage on the stage” approach. Not only does the teacher know everything, he or she stands at the front of the classroom as the center of attention and presents the same information to every student. With Montessori and Reggio the child is given the message that they are in charge of their learning and that they are capable of being in charge. This really empowers the child and engages them in the learning process. Moreover, students get a tailored learning approach.

Update 5/7/2013: Here is a great post about observation from the Montessori perspective, how to do it and why it’s important, from Kylie at How We Montessori.

For an interesting (and short) article detailing a bit more on the teacher’s role in the Montessori classroom see this article from the North American Montessori Center. I particularly like that their articles almost always relate back to one of Montessori’s original works (in this case The Absorbent Mind).

Rigidity, Flexibility, and The Hundred Languages

Pedagogy BannerOne aspect of the Montessori Method that I am not overly fond of is its rigidity. If you are a purist, there are very specific activities and materials that are to be used in a very specific way, in a very specific sequence. If a child does not use the materials in the exact way demonstrated the teacher is to bring the activity to a close and shift to something else.

There are several reasons for this approach. Firstly, sensitive periods in brain development need to be fully taken advantage of and the materials are designed specifically with the needs and desires of these periods in mind. Secondly, children need and crave order. By insisting on the correct way to use materials or complete an activity and by imposing a cycle of setting the space, doing the activity, and cleaning up, you are satiating that desire and teaching order. Finally, specific skills need to be isolated and practiced, a requirement that was also taken into consideration when developing the materials and activities. By deviating from intended uses and proscribed sequences of activities a child’s full development and potential will be hindered. While I understand the reasoning, I don’t think it fits or sits well with my own educational philosophy for very young children.

Reggio-Emilia, on the other hand, has the Hundred Langauges of Children. This is a guiding principle based on the idea that children have many ways (a figurative one hundred) of exploring their environment and expressing what they have learned. This allows the Reggio-Emilia method to be very flexible in its application and use of activities and materials. It is up to the adult to provide the child with open-ended materials and activities and observe how the child uses these to express what they are interested in learning and how best to go about addressing their educational needs. Unfortunately, this is a bit too flexible for me.

Personally, I think there has to be a middle ground between these applications. I think it’s okay to have some activities that have a set outcome, product, or purpose. A puzzle for example encourages a number of skills and higher order thinking in a very particular way. But I also think it’s a good thing to have open ended activities, like pretend play, or to see where a child goes with an activity that they are not using “correctly”. Sometimes being flexible allows the student to express and learn things that the adult may not have seen or intended but are no less valuable and important. And I think both the Reggio-Emilia approach and the Montessori method would agree that allowing the child some intellectual wiggle room is a good thing.