Montessori Guide for 3 to 6 Year Olds
Children between three and six years
At the age of five or six years, the child's brain is nearing its final size, which will remain almost unchanged throughout adulthood.
The stimuli received during the stage between birth and six years will define the quality of the learning basis the child is going to have for the rest of his life. During these early years, repetitive experiences reinforce neural pathways (i.e. connections between neurons). This is the time of life when children have the greatest capacity to learn. The stimuli they receive now will be the basis of all the functions and skills that their brain will have in the future. Later, unused neural pathways will be abandoned, in a process known as neuronal pruning or removal of synaptic connections.
Up to the age of approximately three years the child has been absorbing knowledge, in a process of self-construction that will culminate around the age of six. After the three year-old mark, children become devoted to consciously organizing the concepts that they have previously acquired with the help of their absorbent mind.
At this age, children already have an excellent ability to concentrate. They are able to repeat the same activity countless times, allowing us a glimpse of their wide capacity of self-instruction.
Five- and six-year-olds still need a hands-on learning style, moving from concrete to abstract concepts, and from general to detailed ones.
They become able to sit and work for longer periods of time, but we should not forget to offer them plenty of opportunities to move and explore outdoors: their young bodies still need plenty of movement in order to develop properly.
The Dilemma of Technology
As we discussed earlier, pre-schoolers still need plenty of hands-on work in order to properly assimilate abstract concepts. For example, it is much easier to give children a ball to help them understand what a sphere is, that trying to explain it with complex formulas or words. From this point of view, the use of technology instead of the real-life objects which can be found in a prepared environment is a clear disadvantage, because it deprives the child of very necessary manual work. When a child uses a computer, he is using only two of his five senses: sight and hearing. The other three do not receive any kind of stimuli. For all these reasons, basing our children’s learning on computer programs, tablet applications and DVDs will never be as effective as working with three-dimensional Montessori materials. The use of technology is, in itself, an abstraction, and should not precede sensory activities, but only complement them.
Technology doesn’t have to be necessarily harmful, it’s important to set limits.
Some pediatricians advise against all types of screens (mobile phones, tablets, televisions, etc.) until the minimum age of two or even three years. From this age on, the maximum daily limit should be of two hours, including television, games, applications and cartoons.
Many families today have decided not to have a TV set at home at all. This can be seen as a radical decision and may not be suitable for everyone, but it’s a wonderful way of creating peace, order (and silence!) in the home. A house without television is, without doubt, a great ally to promote children’s concentration. However, a TV is not the only screen modern children are exposed to: today we also have computers with internet connections, smartphones, etc.
The keys to success: critical sense and moderation
Some newer studies have suppressed the ban on television watching during the first years of life: instead, they have added some more extensive and detailed recommendations for its use. For example, the American Academy of Paediatrics considers the possibility that children between 15 and 24 months might be able to learn some new vocabulary through multimedia applications, as long as parents accompany them at all times while they are using them.
It is a fact that our children have been born in a world different from the one most of us grew in. In their environment, technology is a part of daily life. Technology, by itself, is neither good nor bad. It just depends on how it is used. Some applications, computer games and DVDs can be a good supplement to what is learnt through physical materials and experiences. Many apps teach geometric shapes, colours, or even more complex concepts, such as musical notes or foreign languages.
If you don’t own a tablet yet, there is no reason to buy one for a child under six: at such an early age, they really don’t need one. Better get them a bicycle or a family trip to the zoo. However, almost every home already has one or more electronic devices, and there's nothing wrong with allowing your child to use it occasionally if he shows interest. It works better than a total ban anyway, as we all know how coveted forbidden items can become.
Here are some helpful tips to keep children safe while they are using your electronic devices:
- Create a child user: most operating systems allow you to create a child user account with limited permissions. In tablets and mobile phones, there is usually an option to turn on kid’s mode or create a children corner, which allows the child to access only the applications that we choose and locks the rest of the device’s functions and contents. This is also a great way to ensure that they will not delete any of your important files by mistake or make any unwanted phone calls. In order to exit the kid’s mode, the user is required to type in a password.
- Airplane mode: when you turn on airplane mode your device is disconnected from all networks. This means the child can still use most apps and programs offline, but he won’t be able to access the internet, purchase paid applications and services by mistake, or click on ads (many free apps are full of ads with dubious content, deliberately placed in portions of the screen that are easily pressed by error).
- Search engines: you can install special filters and browser extensions, or even download a few especial browsers for kids, which omit results not suitable for minors. In any case, preschool children should not be allowed to surf the web on their own.
- Filters: if using an ordinary browser (with this I mean, non-children specific) you still have the possibility to install certain extensions that will limit adult content. Some popular websites, such as YouTube, can be used in restricted mode. At the time of this writing, there are some Chrome browser extensions which can eliminate certain videos from search results (for example cartoons of little educational value, toy advertising videos, etc.).
- Applications and programs: let your children use only the applications that you have installed yourself. Always test them in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises (many apps seem educational but in fact, they are not).
- Accompaniment: always be close to your children while they are using computer games or educational apps and preferably sit next to them while they are browsing the internet. It’s not a bad idea to keep pre-schoolers company while they watch television, too, since the contents are always unpredictable, especially during commercial breaks. If you must leave the child watching cartoons for a while, it is best to choose a DVD, the contents of which you know and which has no ads.
- Setting limits: limit the length of time your child can use a screen. The two-hour recommendation mentioned at the beginning of this chapter is a maximum amount of time, and it includes cartoons, advertisements, apps and any other digital media the child is exposed to during the course of a day. There is nothing wrong if your child remains far below the limit. However, exceeding it often is not recommended. At this age children should spend most of their free time moving and working with physical materials, instead of sitting and watching cartoons passively.