Friday, January 16, 2009

The Montessori Classroom uses the phonics approach to teach reading. Outline the graded phonics sequence and state the reading skills required

Language is the origin of human civilization. Humans’ capability to express and to communicate an idea by means of speech and words lead the human race to greater discoveries. Building a word by combining sounds and building a sentence which represents an idea by combining words, then integrating sounds into symbols and presenting in a written language was the revolutionary transformation amongst human beings.

“…written word, the greatest triumph of civilization”

Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XVI, pg 239

The continuation and conservation of language plays a key role in the continuity of the human race. The responsibility of this important process lies on the hands of the future generation. However it is the responsibility of the present generation to prepare their next generation, for this key role.

Dr. Maria Montessori the revolutionary explorer of early childhood education discovered that every child acquires the sensitivity for language during a certain period time in their childhood. In these blocks of time child’s absorbent mind allows him to absorb characteristics of language from his surrounding environment through his sensory organs and directly store in his psychic life which aids in his natural development. As an infant these impressions are absorbed unconsciously but gradually when the child has a conscious mind, which he acquires around the age of 3, he absorbs characteristics of language consciously. So it is important to provide the child with a resourceful environment, lead by freedom which allows him to explore and experience his surroundings.

“…the means for preserving the continuity of language are the new beings who keep on arriving in the world. Whatever is formed at that time at the child’s mneme has the power to become eternal.”

Montessori M. - The Absorbent Mind: Chapter XI, pg 120

The role of the language, within a social group is another form of communication. It is made through speech, listening, writing and reading. As a result people have invented many interesting ways to communicate, in order to express their thoughts and emotions. For example singing, narrating poems, fictions, writing on personal diaries are some ways to express ideas. Furthermore documenting information on researches, discoveries helps to communicate and to pass on knowledge which benefits in development of another or their ideas. However having the knowledge documented could be the most important component for survival of a thought or a discovery.

But does only documenting knowledge would be enough for the continuation of survival?

This is where reading comes in place. In order to use this stored knowledge, a person need to be capable enough to read the written language with understanding.

Reading with understanding empowers the reader and assists in broadening his mind for many opportunities which includes constructing his own personality. Reading is also an essential factor in educational progress. Dr. Montessori revealed that this kind of reading; the process of interpreting writing symbols, requires a higher intellectual activity.

Even though language develops naturally within a child, like an impulsive conception he needs to be prepared for this mental process of reading, starting from his early childhood, especially focusing more during the time period he attains his sensitive period for language. During this sensitive time if the child was not exposed or not satisfied by language, his opportunity for a natural conquest is lost forever and the child will carry this lack with him throughout his entire life.

Dr Montessori interpreted writing as the ability of converting sounds into letters. But in reading she explains that a person needs not only to pronounce the word but also the word needs to be recognised and understood, which requires an extra step in the intelligence.

“A higher intellectual activity must therefore be brought into play.”

Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XVI, pg 230

Maria Montessori introduced an effective method to help the child in achieving the skill of reading, and to achieve it faster during his childhood. Dr. Montessori also revealed that to achieve the skill of reading, first the child needs to be assisted in acquiring the skill of writing. Because,

“…writing prepares the way for reading so that the difficulties are almost unnoticeable.”

Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XVI, pg 229

In the Montessori classroom we first teach the child reading of symbols, which are letters of the alphabet, combined with the sound it represent. This is the phonics approach for written language, which emphasis on the sound. In this process we also make use of child’s sensitivity for learning through sense of touch, because,

“…muscular memory is the most tenacious in a small child and is also the readiest.”

Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XV, pg 212

Tracing sandpaper letters helps the child absorb the muscular impression of the letter along with the auditory impression which makes a lasting memory in the child’s mind. I understood how effective this method is with my own experience. After learning about introducing the alphabet using sandpaper letters I came home that day and made sandpaper letter cards to teach my 2 years and 10 months old niece the sounds of the alphabet. Few days later, after she was taught some of the sounds she had her hands on one of the dress materials which had printed letters on it. She instantly recognised some of the letters she was taught and pointed them out while saying its sound aloud. It seemed that she was so much happier with what she achieved and so was I.

In order to absorb the characteristics of a letter effectively, the capability of the child to discriminate muscular and auditory impressions are essential. Child absorbs a lasting impression of the shape of the letter through tracing, which the characteristics include vertical lines, horizontal lines, slanted lines or curved lines. So it is necessary for the child to acquire proper prior skills for absorbing information through sense of touch, For an example, if the child is not given proper training in sense of form, it may be difficult for him to discriminate differences between ‘a’ and ‘d’. So it is important to train the child by giving him plenty of experience in sensorial materials that represent form such as stereognostic materials, geometric cabinet, geometric solids.

Also if the child is not given proper training in auditory sense, it may be difficult for him to discriminate differences between some of the sounds, such as ‘v’ and ‘w’. The child should be given prior experience with auditory sensorial materials such as sound cylinders and using of bells.

All the experience child gains in working with materials on the sensorial and practical life areas have lead the child to unconsciously “…perfect themselves in writing without writing.”

Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XV, pg 210

When the child enters the Montessori classroom he comes with his sensitivity to bringing the body under the control of his will. As a result of this he’s able to repeat an act any amount of time until he is able to gain control over his movement. Therefore for the purpose of writing he unconsciously perfects himself to co-ordinate his eye and hand movements and the mechanism to manage writing instruments by using pincer grip.

In Dr. Montessori’s mechanism for indirect preparation for written language, she concluded that it is very important to enhance a child’s oral and auditory language skills through conversation, speech work, drama, stories both red and told, songs, and naming activities. Through these activities the child is given the opportunity to express their thoughts and enjoy their work by building confidence, imagination, creativity, concentration, communication and listening skills. A simple naming activity games like ‘I spy game’ allows the child to understand the placing of a sound, whether it’s in initial, terminal or medial within a word and helps the child familiarise with the sounds used in speech. In order to succeed this exercise the child should have the skill to discriminate sounds and be familiarized with the names of objects.

After familiarising the child with sounds by presenting vowels and consonants in the alphabet, children are exposed to phonetically sounding words. Initially he is given simple phonetic words that have 2 to 3 letters such as cat, hat, and ant. At this stage child has naturally developed a tendency to sound out words according to its phonetic sound. But for the child to be easily understood that these words are pronounced phonetically the Montessori Classroom apply a pattern that is common only to these words. Which is a phonetic word of 2 or 3 letters are printed in larger, black coloured font and on pink coloured paper. All the materials that come under this category are called the Pink Scheme materials.

Then the child is introduced to Blue Scheme materials which contain longer phonetic words and words with simple acceptable blends such as ‘ll’, ‘ck’. Some of the words that come under blue scheme are black, bell, bond, and pond.

At the end the child, when the child is much comfortable reading words in the blue scheme he is gradually introduced to the sounds of the typical letter-patterns of English, which is called phonograms, for example ‘ch’, ‘aw’, and ‘tion’. These words come under the Green Scheme, which they are printed on green coloured paper. The phonetically sounding letters of the word are printed in black and phonograms are printed in red which makes it easier for the child to recognize phonograms and pronounce accordingly.

The words in all these three schemes mentioned above, the pink, the blue and the green are initially presented to the child in a written format by using the movable alphabet. Within these writing exercises directress assists the child in composing words by uniting sounds. The words given to the child to build consist of letters which keeps its individual sounds, and of phonogram sounds, when pronouncing the syllables. This is the next level in achieving reading skills which allows the child to understand that most common sound-spelling relationships so that they can decode, or sound out, words. This decoding ability is a crucial element in reading success. At this stage child is not required to read the built words, but only to identify words which involve with different sounds and associate them with objects. By being able to succeed at this, the child will enjoy one of the pleasant achievements in his life, the easy but complex act of writing.

As the third stage in preparation for skilful reading, the child is progressively directed in to reading words. At the initial phase of this stage the child is introduced to names of familiar objects. He’s provided with objects and tags containing the name of the object, which he needs to, read and match to the object. With preparation exercises done involved in writing, now the child is able to read a word as a composite of sounds. And the words that are given to the child to read needs to be selected by the directress based on the phonics approach; firstly the short and simple words that keeps its individual sounds which is pink scheme words, then longer phonetic words and words that contain blends which is blue scheme words, finally when the child is introduced to phonograms, he’s given words with phonograms the green scheme words.

As a technique to present words without them being too hard or too easy, were to group words based on their sounds. For an example, grouping words with the sound ‘o’

group 1 : on, hop, pot, ox

group 2 : pond, bond, cold, told

In this classification, it not only arouses child’s interest in getting to know words that are in the same category, and encourages his keen interest in reading difficult words; it also helps him to overcome the various difficulties connected with spelling.

Gradually the child is progress to read words without the presence of its concrete version. He is given wordlists, booklets that contains not only nouns but also verbs, adjectives and more. e.g. big, end, blend, own. When the child is given lot of exposure in oral and auditory exercises such as songs, speech, drama, telling stories the child have the opportunity to develop his vocabulary and by providing plenty of practices in reading which are frequently repeated, the child is able to easily recognise a word as he reads and he could easily tackle the issues that occurs in spelling. But if a child asks for help, it is required by the directress to assist the child willingly. And also it is much helpful to the child to reach a higher standard of achievement by encouraging the child for more challenging exercises.

Finally the comprehension of words proceeds to logical reading of sentences. But first the child needs to be introduced to few rules of sentence reading such as a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a full-stop and he needs to be introduced to articles that require completing a sentence or a phrase such as ‘the’ and ‘a’. These words are introduced as sight words that are taught to the child from a three period lesson which allows him to carry the words in his memory. The words does not pronounce phonetically are introduced in sight words. As child’s skill level of reading increases he is introduced to much longer sight words when approaches the green scheme, such as ‘mother’ and ‘father’

Then the child is provided with single sentences that are associated with pictures which give him the sense of what the sentence describes. The same technique is applied when the child is introduced to reading story books. The picture associated with the sentence act as a control, and by doing so he is trained for logical reading that communicates ideas to his thinking process, which they gradually discover on their own. The materials; sentence cards and story books are introduced at the pink scheme level which helps them to build their logical reading even with the limited words that they know. As the child’s word reading level improves in blue and green schemes more challenging reading is involved in sentence reading and story book reading. In order to succeed in grasping of sentence reading it is required for the child to carry the ability to describe and recognise each word and understand its relationship, thus he should have mastered his concentration, his fixation across the written line and the concept of left to right and top to bottom reading,.

The more the child is given practice in reading the better they are capable of read that leads to opportunity to expand knowledge. Also they’ve the prospect to be active freely for their sensitivity for language, and to satisfy the inner needs through enormous enjoyment of reading.

Furthermore if the child is encouraged to read aloud they have the opportunity to learn proper grammar and pronunciation. Also it enhances their spoken language development and helps them learn to express themselves clearly and concisely. With the exposure given for books, magazines, and the web children have the means to grasp to new words to their vocabulary. Also the child needs to be encouraged to use of the dictionary which not only allows their vocabulary to grow it deepens their level of understanding. In addition as his reading skills develop, encourage the child and challenge him with more difficult reading material.

Learning through graded phonics approach is the foundation of language and reading. By teaching the child how to identify sounds by listening to a word, then breaking it apart sound by sound helps him to map sounds onto spellings therefore enabling him to decode words. Decoding words subsequently aids in the development of word recognition, which progress to reading sentences that in turn making the child boosts his reading fluency and becomes a strong reader. He will also learn to use his senses as tools to achieve understanding, a skill that will help him in areas that expands far beyond his educational process. In addition, phonics instruction in each pink, blue and green scheme improves child’s spelling ability because it emphasizes in spelling patterns that become familiar from reading.

The phonics approach not only quicken the reading ability of a child but also helps the responsible figures to observe and approach the developmental disabilities that a child would posses, such as dyslexia or faults in speech like stammering or hearing and more.

Therefore, graded phonics instruction in the Montessori Classroom plays a key role in helping a child comprehend language effectively and preserve throughout his lifetime.

“If writing serves to correct, or rather, direct and perfect the mechanism of speech in the child, reading assists in the development of ideas and language. In brief, writing helps a child physiologically and reading helps him socially.”

Montessori M. - The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XVI, pg 230

Friday, January 2, 2009

How is the child’s exploration and orientation in his physical environment complimented by the Montessori materials and presentation?

Dr. Maria Montessori, the revolutionary explorer in early childhood education in the 20th century discovered a world within the child. Her observations of the child, at Casa dei Bambini - the first Montessori Classroom - led her to discover the secrets of childhood. And the framework of Montessori Philosophy is based on three important discoveries; Tendencies, Absorbent Mind and Sensitive Periods.

As Dr. Montessori said, the child has his own potential for life to develop. It is important for the adult to understand and allow the child build himself by his own experiences without the adult trying to fill their knowledge onto the child. Every child posses a pre-determined pattern of psychic unfold, which is not visible at birth but it is revealed when the child is exposed to the environment with freedom. When these two factors are provided, child’s psychic life will reach its potential and build his personality for his survival in the society.

From birth and throughout the childhood, a child’s Absorbent Mind allows him to absorb impressions from his surrounding environment and directly store it into his psychic life. As an infant these impressions are absorbed unconsciously but gradually when the child has a conscious mind, he absorb impressions consciously and make language connections.

There are blocks of time in early years of child’s life which he absorbs certain characteristics of his environment to the exclusion of all others. This is called Sensitive Periods. A child possess sensitive periods for order, to experience the world using his five senses, sensitivity for small minute objects, co-ordination of movements, for language and to be in groups. During these Sensitive Periods if the child was not exposed and not satisfied, the opportunity for a natural conquest is lost forever and the child will carry this lack with him throughout his entire life.

Based Dr. Maria Montessori’s observations, she was convinced that all humans possess certain tendencies or behaviour patterns, that are universal. These behaviour patterns are seen from birth to maturity. They are natural impulses that arise from the sub-conscious which direct humans without a reason or conscious thought to perform certain actions. The practical application of the Montessori Method is based on these human tendencies. They are to explore, move, share with others, to be independent and make decisions, create order, develop self-control, abstract ideas from experience, use the creative imagination, work hard, repeat, concentrate, and perfect one's efforts.

Humans love to be in groups which make them much comfortable and communication keeps them together. The best example to witness these human tendencies is the world consisting diverse cultures and communities. The human tendency for imagination and curiosity has brought the man into an advanced era. The “curiosity” builds the intellectual desire to experiment more and abstraction is the imagination which witnessed before reality. These imaginations to take the form of concrete the man require technology and manipulation of objects. It is the tendency for calculation and work. The work is made competent by the help of three more tendencies of man; repetition, concentration and self-control. For the continuity of man, perfection and creativity comes in place to make adjustments and modification to the environment we lives in accordance to our understanding. To make these modifications to the environment, man has to explore the environment. These successful cultural adaptations to survive in this world were called independence.

“Human tendency to explore puts him in contact with his environment”

- MMI, DMT 108: pg. 1

Child’s tendency to explore the environment is visible from the moment of his birth. Every human explores and experiences the world with their five senses. I’ve witness to the method of my 9 month old nephew experiencing the world. He mostly uses his tongue to taste objects and by that he absorbs its impression into his mind.

A child enters the Montessori Classroom when he is in the age of 2 ½ to 6. The human tendencies can be readily witnessed in a child at this age. Maria Montessori believes that when the child enters the Montessori classroom he should be given opportunities to act upon his tendencies. She identified that child’s needs for proper development of the psychic life, needs to be satisfied through purposeful work.

“…realising the peculiarly absorbent nature of the child’s mind, she has prepared for him a special environment; and then placing the child within it, has given him the freedom to live in it, absorbing what he finds there."

- Standing E.M – Maria Montessori- Her Life and Work: Chapter XVI, pg. 265

As a facilitator for early childhood education I agree with Dr. Montessori to consider the environment as secondary to life. It is the most important work of the facilitator to create the environment of the classroom with much thought. She should be creative, sensitive, organized and well knowledgeable. The prepared environment of the Montessori Classroom should be attractive to explore, child friendly, orderly and should provide purposeful work, which are self-correcting, so the children feel free to respond to their natural tendencies and construct their psychic and physical lives.

Practical Life exercises are the first activities the child is introduced to within the Montessori environment. These exercises are prepared based on activities children witnesses in their day to day life. Such as spooning, pouring, pegging, washing hands and greeting which allows children to immediately be comfortable and satisfy their inner needs and desires. By mastering these exercises independently the child is also able to orient himself not only within the classroom environment but also with the outside world.

Montessori sensorial materials and exercises are the most valuable for it aid the child in his natural and intellectual development. It is introduced at the peak of child’s sensitive period for using their senses and to refine their senses by materials. Activities such as working with colour tablets, would improve child’s ability to discriminate colours, and exercises with thermic tablets and thermic bottles would improve child’s sense for temperature. As a result, the child develops his intellectual order, and the quality of the child's orientation to his environment.

Language helps the child to unify with his community. When his ability for communication is improved he is capable of expressing his feelings, share his thoughts, ideas and desires. Montessori classroom apply simple methods to develop child’s language skills. Associating names to the objects that they come across in their day to day life is one important method which satisfies child’s tendency for exploration. I sometimes get the opportunity to bring my 4 ½ year old niece home after her pre-school. On our way she points to things and asks “What do you call this?” and she gives met he Sinhalese name and asks “What you call that in English?” Little children are more curious, it feels as if they want to explore the whole world in one day.

But child’s exploration for the environment within the world is greatly satisfied by materials presented in cultural subjects.

"Culture and education have no bounds or limits; now man is in a phase in which he must decide for himself how far he can proceed in the culture that belongs to the whole of humanity."

- Four Planes of Education: AMI, 1971 (Edinburgh and London lectures): p. 11

With all the experience the child has gained from activities in practical life, sensorial and language the child has already been prepared to absorb the enrichment provided in the Cultural Area. Practical Life activities have helped the child develop a respect for objects and have provided a foundation of experiences for future use in working with cultural materials. The Sensorial Area has helped him develop the awareness of shape, colour, texture and other property of the physical world and in developing his five senses and his mathematical mind. Language gives the child the means of expressing his emotions and knowledge. Math has begun a foundation of logic and reasoning. All these will help him to acquire the kind of behaviour that enables participation in social groups, understanding of diversity, respect the other life forms in the environment and to make connections with different cultures in the world.

Children are born with the psychology of the world conquest. Exercises in cultural subjects is the approach for cosmic education, and it is aimed to bring about in a Montessori classroom a variety of materials in zoology, botany, geography, history, art, music along with the respect for different cultures and peoples.

One of the early activities in cultural studies is the nature table. By observing and collecting materials from the garden will develop child’s interest and awareness of nature. Other nature studies such as discussing about animals, plants, vegetables and fruits using large picture cards, absorbing visual and muscular impressions of leaf shapes in the botany cabinet, growing a plant and observing its growth in stages, identifying living and non-living things, discussing about life stories of plants and animals will provide the opportunity for the child to observe and explore his environment using his five senses and to build a logical understanding of their environment. Also it would provide a concrete impression as to what other life forms are, to share and care for them.

The sensitive period for language occurs around the age of 2 ½ to 4. The child explores the whole world looking for words to increase their vocabulary. It is at this time the child is introduced to picture cards to identifying animals by its group, like mammals, birds, reptiles. Then gradually move on to showing parts of animals, parts of a flower and more.

In Zoology and Botany children are exposed to the study of plants and animals. They are taught to identify animals and classify them into clear and simple categories. For example animals can be categorised from their diet; whether it feeds on meat only (Carnivore) or feeds on plants, grass only (Herbivore) or feeds on both flesh and plant substances (Omnivore). Discussing about animals that are found domestic or in wild, which the child may have seen on television would make the child feel more comfortable also it would make the child be more observant on what they come across in the environment.

By learning about importance of the sun, and how it helps the man for his daily activities, and his survival, the child learns that he’s a part of the environment and he will be more aware of his responsibilities in order to protect and care for the environment.

In Geography children will be introduced to the globe, various continents, countries, and land and water forms. Child is taught, there are more to this world than the community he lives in.

“He has a type of mind that goes beyond the concrete. He has the great power of imagination………We do not see only with our eyes, and culture is not made up of what we see alone.”

The Absorbent Mind, chapter XVII, pg 176

We cannot see the globe from our naked eye. But in the Montessori classroom we provide a muscular impression of the globe using the sandpaper globe. With jigsaw map and isolation maps of the world we show the child, shapes and placements of continents and oceans. In later activities child is able to show us, “This is Asia” “Sri Lanka is in Asia”. This is an indication of child’s greater imagination power beyond his sensorial experience.

With picture cards of various continents, the child is explained about the differences and similarities in cultures of another country. In this activity child would gain only a visual impression. But having a ‘Cultural Day’ at the Montessori Classroom would provide the opportunity for the child to experience the essence of other human geography and cultures of the world. Associating model animals with continents will give an understanding of adaptation, in the animal kingdom to the world's physical environment. Whilst child’s interest grows about other parts the world would, he would explore and develop his own hobbies such as collecting souvenirs and learn about flags, languages of other countries.

“if education be conducted on scientific lines, we can effectively reduce the differences that divide men of diverse race and country…”

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter XVII, pg 180

Children use many puzzles for activities in botany, zoology and geography areas. Puzzles are a very important part of the Montessori Method of education, because children experience things that they can touch and manipulate with much greater interest than a picture on paper. By assembling these puzzle pieces; children can develop a real sense of discovery about the world, or parts of an animal and plants.

Through activities in the history area, such as timeline of a day, birthday walk, discussing about special moments in the past, the child is given an understanding of the difference between past and present and how past events have led to present situations. These activities lead the child to explore his past and be conscious of his present.

In the traditional Montessori birthday celebration, the child carries a globe around the sun. Each time the child takes ‘the earth’ around ‘the sun’ another year has gone by and the child is a year older. Other kids are shown photos of the birthday child’s special moments, as she gets older and the life story is told by the teacher. From this simple and fun activity the child gains a sense of both history and science.

"…today children learn, using language as their guide, a great deal of exact knowledge about biology, geography, and astronomy. And this knowledge is like seed sown in fertile soil. In the mind of the child the seed grows naturally thanks to the promptings of nature which invite a child to acquire knowledge of the world,"

- The Discovery of the Child: Chapter XVII, pg 262

In all cultural activities children are encouraged for communication. They are asked open ended questions so they are able to express concepts and use appropriate words describing events or pictures. Also all the materials are designed to be self correcting so that the children can learn from them directly and each material eventually leads the child to abstraction.

In conclusion it can be stated that the children in the Montessori prepared environment have opportunities to become insightful, observant, sensitive and most important thoughtful. The experience in the cultural activities are logical, real clear, simple and part of the real world These characteristics are cultivated to prepare the child for study of the cosmic world.

Children begin by exploring similarities between their cultures, objects, life forms in the environment, and then they cultivate appreciation and respect for differences. They learn how all beings are fundamentally related to each other to maintain the ecological balance of the world and discover ways to feel that they are an important part in this world.

The sequence of materials; from concrete to abstract representations, such as from models to photographs and drawings, develops child’s intellect. The child will continue with these activities as learning components and functions, classifying and definitions.

The ultimate goal of the ‘prepared environment’ is to stimulate child’s interest and give him the possibility to explore and experience the environment and help him in his mental classification in order to develop his own personality. We can e witness to the endless inner happiness of the child if he is given the opportunity to explore the world endlessly.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Montessori Philosophy

“Man himself must become the centre of education and we must never forget that man does not develop at the university but begins his mental growth at birth”

Absorbent Mind

The Montessori Method of Education stands up amongst many theories on child development. The Montessori Method of Education was discovered in late 19th and early 20th Century by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first Italian female physician, who was born in the town of Chiaravalle, in 1870. She discovered the potential of the child throughout her observations of children which made her understand the relationship between the adult and the child, which the adult fail to realize in that era. Dr. Montessori believed and researched on a scientific new educational system that was focused on the child, to support his true nature as a normal being. She hoped the child who has benefited from this new education would help and lead the world to a better future with peace and harmony.

About Maria Montessori, the creator of the Montessori Method of Education

Maria Montessori can be interpreted as a strong, self-confident woman who had great interest in change. She strived to be a perfectionist in everything she did and in many ways; she was ahead of her time. At an era women had little liberty for higher education Maria Montessori challenged her society’s traditions. With great difficulty she enrolled to the Medical School at University of Rome and in 1896 she graduated as the first female physician in the history of her country. Not only she graduated she was considered brilliant because of her very impressive track record in the medical school.

Dr. Montessori’s first appointment was at the psychiatric clinic in the University of Rome as an assistant doctor, and she was required to visit the asylums. There she took interest in the development of feeble minded children, who then was called as ‘Idiots’ and nowadays ‘Differently Able Children’. Dr. Montessori observed the behaviour of these children and created materials for these children to work with because she believed that the only path for these children towards intelligence is through work using their hands. This was the basis for the discovery of Montessori Method of Education.

In 1907 Dr. Montessori gave up her medical practice to start work with sixty normal young children, whose parents were at work for long hours. Likewise she opened her first “Casa dei Bambini”, means “Children’s House”, in Lorenzo, a slum district in Italy. Maria Montessori’s discoveries of the child at Casa dei Bambini made her famous throughout the world. The simplest but profound truth inspired Dr. Montessori was “Children teach themselves”.

The need for a New Education focusing on the Child

As a person who lived through the World War I (from 1914 to 1918) and World War II (from 1939 to 1945) Maria Montessori saw an urgent need for reforming of the current educational system. At that time the society often focused on the development of the adult. But Dr. Montessori believed through educating the young child, a new generation of ‘fulfilled and well balanced’ adults would arise to lead the world towards peace and harmony. Because the Child works towards creating and developing the Adult.

“If we are to obtain our objectives by natural means, we must have at our disposal numerous precise observations on human conduct and especially that of children, upon whom we must base the foundations of education and culture.”

The Discovery of the Child, Chapter I, pg 2

A person enters the university as an adult. At this age he has passed his childhood, adolescent and teenage life. The discoveries at Casa dei Bambini led Dr. Montessori to understand the differences between the adult and the child.

A child views the world through new fresh eye and mind. The child uses the environment he lives in to perfect himself. Whereas the adult always put his efforts to perfect the environment he lives in. The child has not seen many things; his life is about exploring the world around him. Children love to work than play; his interest lies in the process of his work rather than the end result, which the adult is interested in. The child delivers his maximum effort on his work which helps him for self-construction. The adult on the other hand works to finish the activity with only required effort.

Maria Montessori believed the most important time of a man’s life is his childhood. Even though a child does not demonstrate the physical potentialities to the extent of an adult Dr. Montessori considered that man has potentialities from birth. For example a child is not born with a pre-determined language, but he has the potential to learn any language. She called these potentialities as “Nebulae”. The nebulae direct the construction of the physical and psychic life of the child after birth. She argued that the psychic embryo; the mind and the physical embryo; the body; should be fused in a "single whole," with man's mind guiding his actions and his actions serving the orders of his mind

Dr. Montessori noticed unlike in other young animals, a child is not born with instincts. It has been replaced with something higher to the intelligence and will of man. She describes it as the ‘Spiritual Embryo’;

“…although no definite forms of behaviour are pre-established in the child (as they are in the animals), he must nevertheless possess the power to create a behaviour.”

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter VII, pg 70

The Spiritual Embryo is the pre-determined pattern of psychic unfolding, the child posses to construct himself which is not visible at birth. Dr. Montessori said for the psychic pattern to reveal itself it needs two internal and two external factors. If these conditions are absent the psychic life of the child will not reach his full potential and his personality will be underdeveloped.

The two internal factors aiding the development of psychic life are the ‘Sensitive Periods’ and the ‘Absorbent Mind’.

Dr. Montessori considered nothing is more important for the man than his Absorbent form of Mind, which shapes the adult and adapts him to any kind of social order, climate or country. This is the era that a child absorbs knowledge from his environment. Till about age of 3, the child unconsciously absorbs knowledge from his environment and form impressions in his mind. This prepares him for the conscious mind which appears from about age of 3. The conscious mind of the child absorbs knowledge from the environment consciously which he sorts, classify and put into folders in his mind.

Children pass through phases in which they have the ability to acquire new skills at a peak. During these phases a function can be more perfectly established. Montessori called these blocks of time as “Sensitive Periods” in a child. She observed several sensitive periods in the young child’s life: a need for order in the environment, use of his five senses to learn such as the hand to work and the tongue to speak. Furthermore the child has sensitive periods to co-ordination of his movement, development of language, a fascination for minute details of objects, and a time of social interest. These sensitive periods are very important because if the child was not assisted at the required time his opportunity for natural conquest is lost forever, for sensitive periods can be seen only in a child.

The role of the Man in aiding Child’s development

In order for proper development of the psychic life, Maria Montessori considered two most essential external factors, the environment the child lives in and the freedom given to the child.

Maria Montessori emphasized of an environment that the child is able to satisfy his inner needs and aid in his self-construction.

“…realising the peculiarly absorbent nature of the child’s mind, she has prepared for him a special environment; and then placing the child within it, has given him the freedom to live in it, absorbing what he finds there."

Standing E.M – Maria Montessori- Her Life and Work, Chapter XVI, pg. 265

She believed in a carefully “prepared environment” and considered it as secondary to life. The participation of a knowledgeable and sensitive adult is required to build a nourishing and a loving prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work. It is difficult to provide a proper prepared environment at home, therefore the Montessori Classroom offers the basic elements within the prepared environment; beauty with child-sized furnishings, carefully structured and ordered activities to gain independence and prepare the child for future learning. The Montessori materials serve a definite purpose, it challenges the child but offers auto education, which stimulate his thinking abilities be more independent.

Montessori teacher is the link between the children and the prepared environment. She should be responsible, encouraging, respectful, curios and creative. Most importantly she should understand the child has potential for life. Her primary role is not to merely transmit information from a prepared curriculum, but rather to help children to act and think for themselves, creating an atmosphere of calm, order and joy in the classroom to develop self-confidence and inner discipline. The teacher is an observer and a guide whose ultimate goal is to intervene less and less as the child develops.

In order aid child’s psychic development the teacher must observe the child constructively without intervene. Therefore the child should be given the opportunity to work in a free environment. Because with “Freedom” the child is able to reveal himself.

The most important single result of Education

“Normalization is the most important single result of our whole work.”

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter XIX, pg. 204

“Normalization” is the unique process of psychic integration, which Dr. Maria Montessori discovered in children at Casa dei Bambini, who achieved it by integrating their self through their work. The child who accomplishes normalization moves into complete harmony with his entire environment. When children are normalized it is possible to give them the perfect freedom in a class and yet have the perfect discipline from them. Montessori referred to this group as the “society of cohesion”.

A growing child has his physical energy and the mental energy to stay balanced in his psychic life. The mind and the body; should work in unison; mind guiding actions and actions serving the orders of the mind. If this is not possible for the child, he is easily deviated. “Deviations” can commonly observe in a child, for many of them are fostered by adults. Deviation occurs, when the child has the will to act but his movements are restricted, even though he has got the interest when his needs are not assisted and he is not satisfied. The lack of freedom to move around and to explore the environment and the acts of adults trying to bestow their personalities on the child has impacts on a child to be deviated. Maria Montessori distinguished three main classes of deviated children; naughty children, weak children and bright children. But with the right type of direction and purposeful work in a prepared environment helps the deviated child to be back in the path of normalization.

Normalization appears when children follow the cycle of work. Firstly the child should prepare for an activity, which involves gathering the material necessary to do the activity. The movement and the thought involved in the preparation serves to call the attention of the mind and begin to focus on the activity. Secondly the activity which holds the attention of the child helps him to reach a deep level of concentration. Lastly it is the feeling of satisfaction and well-being when the activity is completed. Even the materials kept back in its right place or perhaps talking with friend’s exhibits the aura of satisfaction with himself and the world.

Within the cycle of work, characteristics of a “Normalized Child” are clearly visible. Child’s “love for order” can be observed in the last stage of the work cycle when he places materials back in its place. For him it is important to have a place for everything and everything in its place. He would even extend down to the minute particulars and express itself in an intense “love of the environment”. The deviated child lacks care of self and the environment, he is clumsy in his environment. They fall in to the category of naughty children.

One of the most important features in normalized child is the “love for work”. Work involves child’s whole personality, includes repetition, concentration, and the ability to choose work freely and to find calmness and joy in work. The joy is the crowning characteristic of normalized children. Their manner suggests an inner peace and fulfilment from their experiences. It is the joy of acting in obedience with the laws of one’s nature. Whereas a week child is inactive, lazy and fearful to explore. They are filled with sadness and depression.

“The first essential basis for the child’s development is concentration.”

Absorbent Mind, Chapter XXII, pg. 222

“Concentration” of a normalized child appears when he works individually on a freely chosen activity. The Child at his deepest concentration often isolate himself from the environment, nothing will distract him. So that he is able to focus on purposeful work. I’ve witnessed to the concentration that my 4 year old niece had for folding her little brothers’ nappies. The pile of nappies was two times bigger than her, I thought, she would be bored and leave, but for my amazement even after 45 minutes I could see that she has folded all nappies very neatly and have kept one on top of another and was ready to be placed in the drawers. As a result of concentration the normalized child achieves the “Love of silence”. This can be seen within a society of cohesion, when the aim of the work is more conscious and external. However bright deviated children shows distract and restless behaviour. Even though they are strong in one area they do not concentrate on their work.

Another attribute of the normalization is “Spontaneous Self Discipline”. This refers to persevering and completing cycles of activity that are freely begun. Also the normalized children have gained remarkable obedience. When he undergoes various stages in the development of will he gains self concept, self discipline and obedience. In a society of cohesion even in absence of an adult, the perfect discipline and obedience can be expected from children. Self Discipline is the most important outcome to obtain independence. But a deviated child easily gets hurt if she is treated with contempt. In time they developed low self-esteem and poor self confidence.

“Sociability” is another characteristic of a normalized child. He works in groups in peace and harmony, respecting the works of others and helping each other physically and mentally. In a Montessori prepared environment the child develops patience and respect towards his peers.

“There is only one specimen of each object, and if a piece is in use when another child wants it, the latter – if he is normalized – will wait for it to be released……..The child comes to see that he must respect the work of others…”

Absorbent Mind, Chapter XXII, pg. 223

These are the characteristics observed in children at a society of cohesion. However deviated children have tantrums, they do not respect or help their environment and peers. They try to solve problems with violence and they defy adults.

Due to lack of stimuli a child becomes demanding and develops possessiveness. But with necessary love and care these their energy can be directed towards purposeful work which is the path for normalization. Normalized child’s possessive instinct has disappeared and instead they have developed intense love towards nature.

The mind constructs itself through contact with reality, not with projections of make-believe. In the normalization process child lays the foundation by first learning through their senses; such as working and manipulating real objects later by reasoning and imagination; which benefits the child to generate practical applications. However the deviated child always fantasizes, he entangles in aimless and uncontrolled wonderings, which could not produce tangible results. The deviated child tends to lie; they are able to create extraordinary stories to shock or interest the adult. Also in order to please the adult or even when they are afraid to speak their own mind these children are most likely to lie. Sometimes a person gets entangled in deviations rather than living in the true nature this makes his tell spiritual lies, which can also appear in adulthood.

In conclusion it can be stated that it is important and essential to focus more on the psychic development of the child, which allows them to build a strong personality while their true nature to emerge. Not only the education of the intellect but also education through senses, practical life and social responsibilities has to be a component of the child’s education. The adult has to play a major role in preparing an environment, offering purposeful activity and much freedom that stimulates and aids the self-construction of the child, which leads him towards perfect harmony with his environment.


Nirmani Dabare

Friday, July 4, 2008

How does Practical Life Exercises helps Children in their daily living

This is the essay I submitted for "Practical Life Exercises" module in my diploma in Montessori Method of Education

Dr. Maria Montessori developed her philosophy of education based upon actual observations of children. She said children prefer work than play, and they can only be in their natural self, when their natural self is satisfied through work. It's also through work they acquire independence, order, the power of concentration and be normalized. Exercises of Practical Life was introduced and was recognized as the very heart of Montessori Education for it provides the opportunity for the child’s development of physical co-ordination, social skills, emotional growth as well as cognitive preparation. Having a rich and stimulating prepared environment equipped with purposeful materials and trained teachers are important for the child to grow to their full potential.

Practical Life Activities are the first activities the child is introduced to within the Montessori environment. These exercises are prepared based on activities children witnesses in their day to day life. That is why children can immediately satisfy their inner needs and desires by mastering these exercises independently. Also Practical Life area allows children to do the things what adults do everyday, for example cleaning, dressing or greeting people. As we know that children construct their knowledge by themselves through their life experience.

Categories of Practical Life Exercises

Practical Life Exercises are grouped into four categories, development of motor skills, care of environment, care of self and social grace and courtesy. Exercises in each of these categories provide the opportunity to do purposeful work and are designed to teach the child life skills, so that they may become confident to do their daily chores at home.

Activities grouped under ‘Development of Motor Skills’, such as carrying, pouring, squeezing, and twisting, sorting, etc. give the opportunity to exercise and co-ordinate body movements of the child. Movement is very important to the child; because it contributes not only for the physical growth also intellectual and spiritual development of the child.

“Through Movement, he acts upon his external environment and thus carries out his own personal mission in the world. Movement is not only an impression of the ego but it is an indispensable factor in the development of consciousness, since it is the only real means which places the ego in a clearly defined relationship with external reality."

The secret of Childhood,

The child learns to ‘Care for the Environment’ from exercises like cutting, cleaning, washing, polishing, sewing and more. They learn that they are a part of the environment and learn to respect and develop a sense of responsibility towards the environment. Also the child will gradually learn how to gain greater control of his gross motor movements so that he would be able perform more complex tasks later on. Some of the activities such as washing of a table can be carried out as a group task, which helps the child to be socialized.

The child needs to build himself and learn to take care of himself. The exercises in ‘Care of Self’ category are designed to provide the child skills need for his sole independence. In order to gain independence, the child needs to establish will and discipline in order. Some of the activities in this category are on how to dress himself and stay clean by washing himself; hands, face, feet as well as his belongings; shoes, napkins, etc..

Between the ages of 2 1/2 -6, the child is in a sensitive period for the learning of good manners. The exercises of ‘Grace and Courtesy’ are focused on developing will power, establish a proper posture, greet people, excuse one and interrupt when necessary. Maria Montessori considers the Social Grace and Courtesy activities as the most important exercises in the practical life curriculum. She felt that when children are first brought into a Montessori classroom, emphasis must be placed on social grace exercises.

Motive of Practical Life Exercises

Practical Life Curriculum area has four main direct aims; Order, Co-ordination Independence and Concentration,

Dr. Maria Montessori observed that children need order at a specific sensitive period in their development. If not provided during this period the opportunity is foregone. A routine is very important as well as a place for everything and everything in its place. This offers the child for orderly self construction. Co-ordination refers to coordinating large and small muscle movements as well as eye-hand co-ordination that reflect the respective development of child’s mental life.

"Man achieves his independence by making efforts. To be able to do a thing without any help from others: this is independence. If it exists, the child can progress rapidly; if it does not, his progress will be slow"

The Absorbent Mind, chapter.XIV, pg 155

It is very important that the child is given freedom to do these exercises at a time the child pleases; he should be allowed to try, make mistakes and correct his mistakes by himself without any help. The satisfaction of completing an activity drives the child towards independence.

The power of Concentration is one of the most calming activities for a child. This is something which is controlled by the child and it challenges his body and his mind. With concentration the child is able to focus on purposeful work. I’ve witnessed to the concentration that my 3 and half year old niece had for folding her little brothers’ nappies. The pile of nappies was two times bigger than her, I thought, she would be bored and leave, but for my amazement after 45 minutes I could see that she has folded all nappies very neatly and have kept one on top of another and was ready to be placed in the drawers.

Within the Montessori classroom deep concentration can be acquired through the ‘Silence Game”. To achieve silence requires effort and the attention of the will, and maximum control of self-consciousness of every movement. Montessori thought of the silence lesson as a means for bringing children to this higher level of spiritual awareness.

Practical Life Exercises aid the child in his journey towards normalization

As a result of learning Practical Life Exercises in the Montessori environment, the child starts to develop confidence, self-esteem, he grow towards independence, mutual aid and co-operation, profound spontaneous concentration, attachment to reality and most importantly child's joy of learning is supreme. All these help the child to lead towards normalization. The normalized children possess a unique character and personality not recognized in young children

Normalization is the most important single result of our whole work.

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter XIX, pg. 204


Children needs a carefully prepared environment

It is important to provide the child an environment to work on activities of their own choice at their own pace experiencing freedom and self discipline while developing towards independence. Even though materials in Practical Life area are the least standardized, exercises needs to be carefully thought and designed. A prepared environment should consist of purposeful and meaningful materials and properly trained instructors.

When preparing materials the teacher needs to consider few principles of the Montessori Practical Life materials which satisfy Childs’ development needs. Firstly she needs to make sure that each material we give the child should have a definite purpose, for an example the mat is laid to mark the area of his workstation, handling the spoon develops child’s skill of spooning which leads to independence. Secondly materials should progress from simple to more complex design and usage. As a preliminary exercise for transferring solid objects we could give the child a spoon and later, it could progress to tweezers, chopsticks.

Also it should be designed to prepare the child indirectly for future learning’s such as writing, mathematics and scientific concepts. We prepare the child for wiring by teaching them the pincer grip, using thumb, index and middle fingers to hold objects and by left to right and top to bottom concepts, so that these orders naturally incarnates in the child’s mind. The mathematical concepts such as judgement of capacity and volume, division, calculation and exactness includes in activities of spooning, pouring and sweeping. The activity, transferring water using a sponge gives the child the scientific concept of weight. The child could feel the weight of the sponge defers when the water is absorbed and when the water is released.

Dr. Maria Montessori said, Each individual should become aware of his own errors. Each should have a means of checking, so that he can tell if he is right or not.”

Absorbent Mind, Chapter XXIV, pg 247

So she included the path to perfection, which she called “the Control of Error” within the materials itself so the child would be able to observe the activity he completes and understand his own mistakes. If a child has finished working on the dressing frame with large buttons, and he can see that buttons has gone through wrong buttonholes or buttoning halfway or seeing only half of the button come up the flap, these would be his control of errors. He has the opportunity to guide himself to correct his own mistakes.

Furthermore when preparing the activity in the Montessori classroom the directress need to make sure that all materials are kept together in a basket or a tray and grouped accordingly to the level of development. The activity should have its unique location and be reachable to the child so that the child could use the materials of their own choice and return the exercise, leading to independence and self-discipline. Also it is important to be providing attractive and clean child friendly and child size materials. Each activity should be limited in quantity.

In a Montessori classroom the directress plays a major role. She needs to be properly trained, be a good role model and she should be able to develop and maintain a happy and rewarding teacher-child relationship.

”The first essential is that the teacher should go thru an inner, spiritual preparation – cultivate certain aptitudes in the moral order.”

Her Life and Work, Chapter XVIII, pg 298

The teacher's prime objectives are to: maintain order in the prepared environment, facilitate the development of the child, encourage independence and self-sufficiency.

In conclusion it is apparent that Practical Life Exercises refines movement, providing a foundation in early learning, attitudes and dispositions. Practical life exercises also provide children a sense of accomplishment as they engage in real, meaningful work with tangible results. The familiar home-like environment of the practical life corner allows children to gain independence, order, concentration and confidence as they carry out thoughtfully prepared activities. This leads to normalization.