What is Montessori Preschool? #4

The fifth installment in a multi-part series about the history, philosophy and teaching of Montessori education.

Montessori Learning Materials, Part 1

“The objects that surround children should be attractive and concrete for the child. The children’s house [preschool classroom] should be pleasant and well cared for in all respects. It’s almost possible to say that there is a mathematical relationship between the beauty of what surrounds a child and the child’s activity; They can make many more of their own discoveries in an environment that is attractive than would be possible in one that is ugly and unpleasant” – Maria Montessori

All the Montessori learning materials in each area of the classroom are arranged on open shelves at the children’s height. Children have access to all the materials. They can chose what they want to do during classroom work time, which usually lasts for three hours, and they can work with each material for as long as it holds their interest. When the child is done working with a material, he returns it to its place on the shelf.

The Montessori materials and method of working invite children to move freely about the classroom, an aspect of development that Maria Montessori considered essential. Many materials are designed from geometric shapes, puzzles with knobs so that each piece can be removed, and blocks of varying shapes and sizes.

In a Montessori classroom, each learning material isolates one aspect of learning. In this way, the underlying concept is highlighted as it is discovered by the child. For example, the material known as the pink tower is composed of different size pink blocks. The child builds the tower starting with the largest block on the bottom, sequentially adding blocks of decreasing size, finishing with the smallest block on top. This material isolates the concept of size, because all the blocks are the same color and texture, the only difference is their size. Other materials isolate different concepts such as the color tablets for learning about colors, or geometric materials for learning about shapes.

The Pink Tower

Color Tablets

The Brown Staircase

Most importantly, Montessori materials are self-correcting. When a piece is left over or doesn’t fit, the child can easily realize she has made an error. There is no need for an adult to correct her. The child is capable of resolving the problem by herself, building independence, developing analytical thought, and achieving the satisfaction of completing the task correctly on her own.

As the child continues to develop and explore in the classroom, the materials relate to each other and can be used in combination. For example, different combinations between the pink tower and the brown staircase can be used to explore measurement of precise dimensions or units. Later on, in the Montessori Primary School curriculum, aspects of the same materials re-emerge. A child can, for instance, return to the pink tower and discover that the blocks increase incrementally in size by centimeters squared. This way, children’s learning progressively builds on the concepts inherent in each Montessori material.

Stay tuned for the next installment about Montessori Materials—“Practical Life: Everyday Life Skills.”

To see a Montessori preschool in operation, come visit Otoch Paal Community Center in Akumal Pueblo. Otoch Paal welcomes visitors who are interested in seeing how a Montessori center operates. Classes are in session from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Visitors are asked to come between 9 and 10:30 a.m.

How you can help. As a non-profit community-based learning center, Otoch Paal does not generate sufficient funds to pay for all necessary school improvements. Monetary donations and donations in kind are always welcome. Donations can be made directly at the school.

Or more information can be found at: http://montessoriaroundtheworld.org/otoch.html

Are you associated with a Montessori school that could donate used learning materials for the preschool classroom? Contact Eleonor Bermudez Ferrer, of Otoch Paal, at: leocancun@hotmail.com or Ellie Zucker, parent, at: elzucker@aol.com

Are you part of a Rotary Club that wants to get involved? Contact Ron Rockvam of the Foothills Rotary Club at: dvantage@msn.com

Directions to Otoch Paal: The school is located near the back of Akumal Pueblo, on the Northern edge of the town. It can be reached by following the Pueblo’s main street (avenida) to the fourth block on the right hand side of the street. After passing the secondary and kindergarten schools (which are on the main street), turn right at the corner where the kindergarten is located and continue to the next corner. Otoch Paal is next to the kindergarten and the entrance is at the far corner, near the town’s edge.

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