What lessons a child absorbs

I observed something very interesting in the classroom on Friday. Each Friday, we have a guest speaker come in and talk to the kids about basic health, nutrition, and science. The lesson this past class period was about germs – What they are, how to prevent getting sick, etc. The first experiment the children conducted was wiping their hands on a slice of bread. After doing so, they were to put it in a ziplock bag and take it home to observe on their counter to see what would grow from the germs on their hands. After this, the guest speaker covered her hand in glitter, and told the children to imagine that the glitter was germs. She then pretended to sneeze, and then shook hands with all of the children in the classroom, showing how the glitter spread from child to child. The children were ecstatic about playing with glitter, wiping it on each other, sprinkling it on the floor, etc. I feared that the previous experiment was lost in the glittery haze that followed. However that night, as each child left and showed their parents their slice of bread, they were able to very accurately recount the experiment and everything it stood for. The germs that would fester and grow on the slice of bread showed the children their hands were pretty icky, and they should wash them a lot more. In hearing at least 15 children explain their day and this lesson, not one mentioned the glitter. This seemed like a complete juxtaposition as to what I had observed earlier – the children were loving the glitter example when it was happening, seemingly having forgotten about the bread. Did the showy-ness of the glitter overwrite the lesson learned? Is simple really better when teaching younger children, because you are not then clouding the lesson being taught by being “glittery” ?

This seems to completely fall in line with things I have learned thus far in Montessori. I just started my Sensorial classes this weekend, and one thing that we discussed about the works instantly reminded me of Friday.

Pink Cubes (Ours are not-so-pink..)

The Pink Cubes – a beautiful Montessori work. A set of 10 cubes starting at 1cm cubed

Tower of toy blocks

and ending with a 10cm cubed prism. Traditionally they are colored pink, however some classrooms have natural wood versions. The cubes have no differences between them other than size and weight. I know that I have seen many building block towers that are very similar to this in size and intention, but instead have pictures, numbers, or letters of the alphabet on them. We discussed in class how the purpose of the Sensorial materials are to isolate what is being learned – the pink cubes teach a visual sense of discriminating size and grading. If the cubes were to have increasing or decreasing numbers on them, or letters of the alphabet this might draw the focus of the child instead of refining the sense of size and perception. The only indicator of which cube goes next is by noticing the differences in sizes. This is the beauty of the Sensorial section in a Montessori classroom. Simple and beautiful materials enhancing a child’s field of perception, and teaching them to discriminate slight variations in senses. A child’s innate desire to explore is given a purpose and allows for the fine-tuning of their view of the objects in the world around them by isolating each sense.

This leads me to my observations on Friday. I see now that it is possible for a child to be over-stimulated when learning too much at once. I think perhaps if the two experiments had been done on different days, the children might have taken more away from both. A focused child can concentrate on what they are learning if there aren’t too many senses or topics being involved at once. This is something that is seen over and over again in child development. Tying these two observations together really solidified the lesson of “Simplicity is best”.

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6 thoughts on “What lessons a child absorbs

  1. Am loving your insights. Please keep them coming. As a side note I have heard of using flour for the germ experiment. A little less flash than glitter might do a better job of isolating the lesson.

  2. I do like the sound of using flour better. I do think however it had also a lot to do with two pretty detailed (in a four year-old’s mind) lessons back to back. Perhaps this is an activity best done outside, for us OCD people 😛 .

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more. Each child takes away something different from every lesson or experience that simplicity is best when there is a specific skill to be learned. I just wished that the Montessori materials weren’t so expensive. Sometimes, we can to sell for cheaper, less beautiful versions.

    As for the lessons on germs, some kids are so sensitive that a lesson that detailed will get them very nervous about touching anything. My friend’s daughter had nightmares about “viruses” after a lesson in school. Perhaps, there’s a sensitive period for these things?

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