When we were little, my sister wanted a pixie cut. So, I gave her one. Our mother was not impressed. However, I was so inspired that I continued on and gave pixie cuts to all my sister's dolls, too. My sister was not impressed.
That tid-bit is my way of introducing this classroom picture.
I imagine this child's thought process went something like...."Hmmmm. I've cut snippets, straight lines, and zigzags. I wonder what else I can cut?"
Summer camp began this week and, after months of lousy weather, the temperatures suddenly soared to the mid-thirties. Some people love hot weather. I am not one of those people. Nor are most of the 20 children who spent the week with me and Ann. However, having been involved in the camp for several years, we are pretty well versed in how to keep the little ones cool.
Our camp is run the same way the classroom is run. Individual activities are set up to follow a logical sequence and to foster independence. All of the sensorial, language, cultural, and math activities are left on the shelf. However, there are a couple of activities that are set up only during the month of July. These are the hot-glue table and the clay table. I'd like to take credit for both ideas but that wouldn't be honest. : )
The idea for the hot glue table (indeed, most of the woodworking activities) came from a fabulous book called Woodshop for Kids by Jack McKee. (I've linked the title of the book to Amazon but the book can also be purchased through Montessori Services). This book is a must-have for any teacher wanting to include woodwork in the classroom.
Hot glue creations
Hammering and sanding
The idea for this drill press came from Jack McKee's book. After a bit of searching, I found it on Ebay. I'm pretty sure the seller thought I was nuts when I told him what I wanted it for. The little boy in this picture is 5.
Cleaning up after making a clay snake (or snail, or owl, or cube........)
Once the clay is dry, the creation can be painted.
In addition, many of the practical life activities are tweaked to reflect summertime activities and the art shelf is expanded with new materials and projects.
Art shelf from last year's camp.
Our school is situated in the middle of a small city and the neighbourhood children are welcome to play in our yard after school and on weekends. This tactic has kept vandalism down but means most of the outside environment has to be dismantled and brought into the classroom every evening. It also means putting everything outside every morning. Add this to the usual preparation work that is required in the classroom each morning and we have to be at school very early so that both environments are properly set up for the children.
Some parents may not fully understand why a child would prefer to continue working with the didactic materials rather than some of the summer activities. For example, a couple of years ago, one mother came to me with a concern. She wasn't happy that her daughter was coming to "camp" but was working with the long chains from the bead cabinet.
Once I assured her that I had not forced or even suggested the work to her child, I went on to explain that this was normal and to be expected in a Montessori program. Her child did not find the chains boring, difficult or tedious. Quite the opposite. She thought the chains were great fun – especially the 1000 chain – and worked on them every day for a week with another boy. Summer camp gave her the opportunity to master a work she hadn't finished when school ended in mid-June. In fact, once the novelty of the new activities has worn off, most of the children return to the other shelves and resume the work they've been perfecting during the school year.
Summer camp is really just a continuation of the year.
According to the writings of Dr. Montessori, learning is a natural, self-directed process which follows certain fundamental laws of nature. "Only nature, which has established certain laws and determined the needs of the human being in the course of development, can dictate the educational method to be followed; for this is settled by its aim - to satisfy the needs and the laws of life" (Montessori, 1988, p. 69). Dr. Montessori discovered that children learned best by doing, not by submissively accepting other people's ideas and pre-existing knowledge. It was an innovative concept which promoted the active, personal pursuit of many different experiences: physical, social, emotional, and cognitive.
(In the above photo, a student carefully paints a map of the world. I have chosen to present this work with two paint brushes. First, a very thin paint brush is used to paint just the outline of a continent. Then a wider brush is used to fill in the centre of the continent. In this way a child who is reluctant to write may hone the fine motor skills required for writing while using the two paintbrushes.)
Dr. Montessori discovered that children progress at their own rate and each child has an individual internal map which directs his or her own capacity and speed of learning.
(Here, a couple of three year olds work side by side although each is at a different stage of development. )
With these findings in mind, she carefully designed materials and methods to allow the children to progress at their own rate by spending a personally appropriate amount of time at each stage of development. In the prepared environment of a Montessori classroom the child is granted freedom and acts on her own free will to move around from area to area. Provided the child is ready and has had a presentation, she may select those materials which interest her and use them as long as she wishes.
(A young girl works with the second box of the colour tablets. She matched and "unmatched" them for about 25 minutes.)
Often a child will work with an activity for an extended period of time displaying a deep desire to master and complete the cycle of activity at her own pace. She is allowed to do so because Dr. Montessori recognized the child is perfecting herself and gaining mastery over her movements. She believed that a child should be guided by a teacher, but should be allowed to choose for herself which materials to work with and when. This discourages competition because curiosity leads the child to her work.
(One of the five year olds learns how to knit with the guidance of a teacher.)
In a Montessori classroom, children are encouraged to perform the activities, but they are not forced. This way they learn at their own rate and also - remarkably - faster.
Montessori, M. (1988). The absorbent mind. Oxford: ABC-Clio Ltd.