Tonight I want to share with you something my oldest son has been working on at home over the last few evenings. He is 7 1/2 years old and attends a private Montessori elementary program. He attended a Montessori preschool for two years, then attended a public school kindergarten last year before starting first grade in the Montessori elementary school this year. To give you a little background, he has always been a very self-directed learner at home. Since beginning his formal elementary education last year in kindergarten, he has always come home and done projects related to what he learns in school. It is always inspiring to us to see how he reflects on and extends his learning.
Over the past few nights, he has been developing materials for a Montessori classroom that he set up in his bedroom. I wrote a little bit about that and shared some photos in my other blog. I decided that his work was remarkable enough to write about in both my blogs. So, in this post I am going to share something he developed completely on his own tonight after we got home from school. And after I show it and describe it I am going to share a few of my thoughts about the tremendous impact a Montessori education can have on a child.
As soon as we got home from school tonight (around 5:30), he pulled out some paper and started making a "Guide Words" activity. Early on he asked me for a small dictionary that we have. I didn't know where it was so he took our larger dictionary and continued his work. I didn't pay much attention to what he was doing with the dictionary. I was busy washing dishes and starting to prepare dinner when he invited me to come into his "classroom" and see his language area. I went into his bedroom and listened while he showed me the various materials he had developed. I told him I would have enough time to do one "work" before I had to return to the kitchen. He let me pick, so I chose the newest activity which was about "Guide Words." As he pulled the pieces of paper out of the little pocket, he warned me that "This might be a little hard for you." Knowing my son as well as I do, I silently agreed.......it could very likely be too hard for me!! As it dawned on me what the intent of the activity was, I was completely blown away, for several reasons. Before I elaborate on those reasons, I'll share a few photos of the "work."
You cannot see this very well, but I wanted to show the whole activity laid out. Closer-up photos and descriptions will follow. In the above photo, at the bottom left is the pocket he made to contain the slips of paper. He made three "heading" cards which are laid out across the top. They say: A previous page, monkey-monster, A following page. Then there are 8 words, all beginning with "m" which are to be sorted according to whether they would be found on a "previous page", the "monkey-monster" page, or a "following page." As I began sorting, he pointed out to me that the middle column would start with "monkey" and end with "monster". It was then that I realized that an additional component of difficulty that he had built into the activity was to place the sorted words in alphabetical order within each column. I was seriously impressed by this!!
The next three photos show close-ups of each column. If you find any errors in my work, let me know!! :0)
I snapped the photo below to show you the scraps that were left on the table after he made the work. I am just amazed by all the thinking and creativity that went into this project.
OK.........now for my thoughts about it. First of all, I was naturally curious about what work or lessons my son had done in his elementary classroom related to "guide words" as that isn't something I have talked to him about much at home. He said that he hadn't yet received a lesson in the classroom on guide words. Then I asked if he had seen another student in his class receiving that lesson. He told me that he had seen a girl getting the guide words lesson. I was not surprised by this, because he often comes home and does things that he has seen other students doing. I was still curious, however, so I asked him a few more questions. One thing I wanted to know was whether the other student had done a lesson using the same guide words that he used in his activity. He told me that she was working in the "c"s, not the "m"s. So what he had done was watch another child getting a lesson, then he came home and replicated it. However, instead of copying it exactly, he transferred the learning and came up with his own guide words and the appropriate sorting words.
Here are some of the key aspects of a Montessori classroom that allow such learning and transfer of knowledge to occur. First, the fact that Montessori classrooms are mixed-age creates a situation where children can naturally learn from one another. Additionally, a mixed-age classroom allows younger children to be exposed to materials and concepts that they would not necessarily have access to in a single-age classroom. Obviously, we can never underestimate the power of learning through observation. In my own preschool classroom, there are ALWAYS younger children lurking around watching as I give lessons to the older children. While it is impossible to measure what they take away from these observations, there is no doubt that powerful learning is taking place even when a child is not the direct recipient of a lesson. Secondly, the fact that a Montessori classroom is set up for independent learning creates an environment where every subject area can be studied simultaneously. This capitalizes on the human mind's need for novelty and stimulation. In a classroom where everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, there is little opportunity to be motivated or inspired by the unique and interesting work that the child next to you is doing since they are doing exactly what you are doing! Contrast that with the Montessori classroom where you might observe another child doing a history timeline that you have never noticed before. In such a setting, the child needs to simply ask for a lesson on the material of interest and away they go!
I'm sure you can tell that I am a big proponent of Montessori education; however, I realize that the majority of my posts have been "activity-specific" rather than focused on the Montessori philosophy. I am going to try harder to sprinkle posts like this in with the others so that I can feebly attempt to honor Maria Montessori's work by helping people understand it better. Hope you enjoyed this post!