Basic Property of Montessori Materials
You may have noticed by now the materials used in the Montessori method are unique. They are carefully designed and selected to cater for each child’s needs.
Each set presents one concept at a time for the child. However, the materials can be used and reused and the child will learn something new every time. To use the material to promote a single concept, the child’s attention must be drawn to that characteristic during the exercise. The gradation and error control aspects we mentioned in the previous chapter are present in all sets of materials.
All tools and materials are designed to be presented in a specific sequence. Parents and teachers using these materials should start with the simplest materials and slowly progress toward the more complex, going from the most concrete concepts to the more abstract.
These materials were also designed to become the foundation for the more complex concepts that children will learn in the future.
All exercises should be based on real-life activities and must enable the use of real-life items. Do not use pretend-items or toys. That would defeat the purpose of teaching Practical Life skills to children. Use soapy water for washing the dishes, real knives for slicing fruits, real shoe polish when cleaning shoes.
One at a Time
Although parents and educators using the Montessori methods are not limited to a specific list of activities to teach Practical Life skills, they should make sure that all four areas are given equal attention, while only focusing on one activity at a time. This helps develop patience and concentration in your child. They will also learn that life is not about instant gratification, which will teach your child to place a higher value on the materials and activities.
Materials for Practical Life activities should be stored in their respective place. This will teach your child the concept of “a place for everything and everything in its place”. This also caters to a young child’s natural tendency to seek order. If your child’s environment is in order, it will be easier for them to develop order within themselves as well.
A Complete activity means that you have applied all aspects of the activity. This includes showing your child how the material is used and putting it back to the shelf or storage area. For this purpose, your child should make sure that the set of materials is clean and complete before putting it back. Teachers and parents must also teach the child how to restock materials, where to get the supplies and how to arrange them.
This circles back to all activities being self-contained. All food preparation materials should remain in the food preparation area, and this the only place were cooking activities should be performed. Activities that require water such as washing dishes should be performed near the water source. Materials for this activity should also be kept within the vicinity.
Make the beginning, middle and end of an activity clear to your child. For example, for a cooking activity, we begin by putting on an apron. Next is setting out the ingredients and preparing the snack, followed by cleaning everything up. End the activity by removing the apron and putting it in the appropriate place, be it the laundry basket or its designated hook on the wall.
Always follow the established sequence of events for every activity, since changing things up can cause confusion and maybe distressing for your child.
Color-coding helps the child to quickly learn where things should go and what items belong together. Replacing items will also be faster when there are visual cues for them to follow.
You can use ribbons, eco-friendly non-toxic paints, and different color tapes for this purpose. You can also get all materials of any given set in the same color—for instance, using plates, cups, and utensils in the same color.
It’s very important to make the purpose and function of each material clear to your child from the outset. For example, teach the child the specific use of cups, knives, plates, and utensils. Never allow the child to use the knife to spear and pick up items or use the same spoon for scooping different ingredients.
The parent or educator should make sure that the materials can perform their intended task. For example, a knife or pair of scissors should be sharp to slice or cut. Otherwise, your child may think that they lack the skill to produce the results that others were able to. This could also lead your child to seek out other items to use, which may be inappropriate for the task. This defeats the purpose of Practical Life and may also compromise the safety of the child, such as when using knives for slicing paper because the pair of scissors is too dull.
The size of the materials should be fit for your child’s size. For example, water containers should be small enough for the child to lift or carry—if they’re too large, your child might spill or fall over when carrying it.
Same as the previous characteristic, the materials should be manageable for the child’s size. Small children should only be allowed to use baskets that they can comfortably carry. Trays should be deep enough to hold things yet just the right length and width for a child to hold.
Again, this is related to the previous characteristics. For example, a bucket should be large enough to hold the items (water or sand) intended for the exercise yet small enough for the child to comfortably carry. It shouldn’t be so small that the child will have to make too many trips just to acquire the amount required by the exercise. It should also not be too big that the child will struggle to keep balance while carrying it.
Items made from natural materials provide a more multi-sensorial experience for your child, as well as being more pleasing to the touch and more enjoyable to work with.
Easy to clean
Materials should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. This helps to reduce the potential for spreading infections. For example, cutting boards should be washed thoroughly to keep the bacteria that cause food poisoning from multiplying.
It is also important to teach the children to clean items after use. This will further help them learn to be responsible for the things they use and the environment they work in.
Always keep your child’s safety in mind when planning and executing activities. One way to promote safety is keeping materials within the vicinity of the exercise area. For example, buckets for water should be near the water source. This way, children won’t have to carry water for long distances, which decreases the risk of spills and falls.
Sharp tools such as scissors should have rounded tips to reduce the risk of accidents. Sharp corners in tables and chairs could be rounded out, or you could find child-proofing products to cover them.
Practical Life activities should be exactly that—reflective of and applicable to the child’s life. This means that parents and educators should modify the activities as they see fit according to the child’s lifestyle, culture, age, and current social situation. The Montessori method recognizes that the learning needs of every child vary between cultures, environments, and cultures. Just follow the theoretical guidelines when designing the best activities for your child.
For example, if the child’s home does not use broom and dustpan for cleaning but a vacuum cleaner, the child doesn't need to learn to handle a broom at this point. Another example is when the child’s cultural environment practices kosher food preparation. This should be taken into consideration when designing the child’s food preparation activities.
The Sensorial Curriculum is a special and unique principle of the Montessori method. It involves a progression through a specially designed set of wooden materials designed by Dr. Montessori herself. The materials aim to train and refine the child’s senses. They are introduced in a specified sequence to target specific senses and develop a set of skills and awareness.
According to Dr. Montessori, the education of the senses must start during the formative period, which covers the first five years of a child’s life. This is when a child absorbs the most impressions from their environment. Experts agree that the formative period is the best window of opportunity to teach the child critical skills that can serve as a foundation for many types of life skills.
The education of the senses, Dr. Montessori believed, should start from infancy. It should be methodical and continue throughout a child’s years of education. This will prepare the child for life within their community.
With these observations in mind, the Montessori method utilizes sensorial materials that can help facilitate learning in children.
Exercises provide children with opportunities to explore using their senses. This helps children develop keener eyes for spotting minute details and discern contrasts.
Each of the materials used for sensorial teaching is designed to isolate a specific defining quality such as weight, texture, shape, color, smell, size and sound.
The exercises should help the child develop basic problem-solving skills, sharpen their sense of perception, and begin abstract learning. They also help develop the child’s awareness of the different qualities and characteristics of objects using the different senses. This includes sorting exercises, use of knob-less cylinders, knobbed cylinders, color tablets, brown star, and pink tower.
Dr. Montessori’s Sensorial Curriculum was presented long before the concept of “sensory play” was ever developed. She had the groundbreaking idea of training the sensory system of a child at a young age to integrate information systematically.
Scientists nowadays have recognized Dr. Montessori’s Sensorial Curriculum as a basis for the development of the so-called mind palace, a technique that greatly helps in improving memory.
The Sensorial Curriculum in Montessori is not just for enhancing memory though. It is a foundation for everything a child learns in this environment.
Sensory play provides children with activities that stimulate all their senses and does not follow any specific order, as long as the materials and the activities all promote sensory stimulation. Each activity follows a controlled and orderly guideline and access to the materials depends entirely on the child’s interest at the time.