Confession time… I’ve had a Montessori Love Affair for almost ten years. I LOVE Montessori materials. I love everything about them. I love their colors (or lack of). I love their weight or their daintiness, depending on which works I am admiring. I love their design. I love how they are presented. I love the care and thought that goes into how to best present each work. I love the shelves they sit on. I love the clean, uncluttered environments they reside in. I love the methodology and thought behind the works. I just love, love, LOVE them.
I remember so vividly the first glimpse I had into the genius behind the Montessori pedagogy and materials. My oldest son was in the primary (early childhood) classroom at our local Montessori school. I was a drop-my-kids-off kind of mom and this was my first observation of the classroom with students working. I sat quietly in my assigned, child-sized seat watching. I remember being a bit bewildered as I watched the students go about their daily work. I watched children blissfully content with being focused on the task at hand, whatever that task was. I watched works being restored in their proper place with great care. I saw teachers giving lessons to small groups while the other students stayed on task in their own areas. I watched children taking turns and waiting for the opportunity to use a favored work. I was mesmerized! After my observation period concluded, I sat with the head of school and gleefully offered to purchase more of the particular favored work. She smiled, patted my hand, and patiently explained why they didn’t need another of those works. I WAS HOOKED! My Love Affair officially began then and there! I knew my children would be taught in a Montessori environment!
You must admit, the works and materials are mesmerizing! They are somewhat mysterious and exotic. After all, the design for some of these materials has been passed down for over a hundred years to be used to teach our children. The thought behind them was sheer genius. But we have to ask ourselves… what exactly is the goal of these fascinating Montessori works? Is their goal to teach the children how to use those beautiful works? I must say emphatically NO! Their entire purpose is to work themselves out of a job! Learning to use the Montessori materials is NOT the goal, they are simply a tool to be used to accomplish their goal, which is to lead students to become abstract thinkers. In today’s world, it seems “more” is the answer to every question, and as my first observation in a Montessori classroom above attests to, our first inclination is to get more. But that is NOT the answer… in our classrooms nor in our lives.
I honestly believe some of us in the Montessori world have elevated the works above being a tool, a means to an end. And that is dangerous, in my opinion. Would we want our children using their fingers to solve math problems when they are in middle school? Montessori materials, like fingers, are tools and they need to be in their appropriate place within our environments and curriculum plans. When your children are starting to want to work without the materials… LET THEM! That is the concrete materials’ collective goal, abstract thinking. By insisting on use of a tool, you are unconsciously telling your children not to trust their own ability and mind to solve this problem. And obviously, this is the LAST thing we would ever want to teach our children. Remember, we are to “follow the child”… so if your children are asking to work independently from the works… joyfully FOLLOW THE CHILD!
So, to summarize, I am not suggesting that the materials are not a valuable facet of the Montessori pedagogy, they absolutely are! Just remember their very purpose is for children to not need them! So put them back in their proper place. Use them fully and confidently, until their usefulness and purpose has been accomplished. Once they have accomplished their goal, pass them on to the next student that is starting their Montessori educational career!
Until next time….