I can see it sometimes in the eyes of the parents touring the school who have never seen Montessori. They look at the shelves and materials, and they’re thinking “Why would my child want to do this?” Even speaking to people who don’t believe in Montessori, or are skeptics of the philosophy think “Where is the appeal? Just looks like a bunch of wood pieces, their toys at home have that.” There are many reasons the children love to work with the Montessori materials! The works give them so much to do while they learn from the didactic materials: purposeful movement, development of concentration, coordination, independence, and sense of order.
I have been teaching myself to open my eyes more in the classroom. At times as a teacher, we train ourselves to focus on only the negative activities taking place in the classroom, instead of focusing on the positive things happening around us. In doing so, I have witnessed the children truly blossoming when working with the materials.
One example of this is a few days ago, I noticed one boy who typically doesn’t like to focus very long on his work. He would retrieve one bell from the Bells work off the shelf and walk back to his table. Without even sitting down, he’d strike the bell once, then return the bell and come back with another. Since I am currently going through the Sensorial unit in my AMS training, I have been trying to take pictures of the kids working with Sensorial materials. I stood out of his sight in the doorway and kept trying to set up shots, but because he was moving so quickly it was near impossible. Every picture came out blurry. I was stubborn however, since I have no pictures of the bells yet. I was very determined to get at least one usable shot! Then the most amazing thing happened – something I have only read about in Maria Montessori’s books – He retrieved another bell and for some reason, this one caught his attention. He sat down for the first time since getting the work out, and rang the bell at least 15 times. He completely tuned out the classroom around him and focused on nothing but the sound of the bell ringing. The concentration on his face was absolutely beautiful.
This was a wonderful example of spontaneous concentration that is often evident in children. Something about what they are doing – merely the repeating of the action captures their attention, and every aspect of it must be experienced fully. The child feels the need to hear the sound, feel the sound, repeat the movement, and truly FEEL all of it throughout their body. The simple materials provided in a Montessori environment allow the child to focus on the pure movements and senses used with the activity. In the Teacher’s Manuals towards the end of each written lesson, there is an area called “Points of Interest”. These are the specific parts of the activity or work that draw the attention of the child. When a child is pouring water between two pitchers, some Points of Interest might be: Hearing the sounds of the water as it pours, feeling the change of weight as one pitcher empties and the other fills, the movement of the water, the temperature of the water, the feel of the containers, et cetera. We take all of these sensory experiences for granted, but for the child they are brand new! We know the sound of a cup as it fills with water. A child finds the beauty in this, and wants to repeat the exercise over and over.
The didactic materials in the classroom provide the opportunity for the isolation of the senses, and give the child the purity of the lesson to be learned. I discussed this in the Pink Cubes entry – that instead of the numbered and colorful cubes, the Sensorial section provides simple and natural cubes that allow the child to fine tune their visual sense with size discrimination.
Of course I have been heavily relying lately on the importance of the Sensorial section – Forgive me! This is merely because it is what I’m learning right now, so it is forefront in my mind. This does not make it more important than any other section in the classroom! I personally just find the Sensorial section so amazing, because it is the one section unique to Montessori education. The materials found here are not found in many other schools of thought. I see the success that they bring to the child: the exploration and development that occurs is something that helps the child understand the world around them.