Wednesday, May 16, 2012

5 Days of Montessori: Montessori Materials

Welcome to day three of my 5 day Montessori Series.  I'm excited that so many of you have dropped by to learn more about how to incorporate the Montessori Method in your home learning!  I love sharing about Montessori and I'm thankful that you are finding it helpful!  So far, we have discussed What the Montessori Method is, and How To Create a Prepared Environment.  Today, I'll be telling you a bit about the Montessori Materials.

The Montessori Materials are certainly the most distinct portion of the Montessori Method.  They are the curriculum of Montessori.  I am not aware of any other learning method that is based on materials.  Often, learning methods have a book and use manipulative's to help enforce concepts taught in the book.  In the Montessori Method, it is just the opposite, there are no textbooks.  Any paper products are used to help show mastery of a concept learned with the materials.  

Montessori classrooms are not filled with just any old item that looks fun or educational.  They were carefully crafted and selected by Dr. Montessori.  In her first Children's Home, Dr. Montessori worked with very poor children in a housing complex in Rome.  When the school opened, many of the wealthy women treated the school as a charity and donated many beautiful toys to the nursery.  There wasn't a lack of toys for these children to play with.  

Dr. Montessori began to test out her materials by placing them on the shelf with the other toys.  She found that the children began choosing her materials instead of the traditional toys.  If a toy was not played with for a time, she removed it from the shelf completely.  My understanding is that she did this with her materials as well, and that there are some of her creations that we have never seen because the children were not attracted to them :).

Montessori Materials are very beautiful objects.  They draw a child in and captivate them so they will stay and work on the material.  They are generally made of wood and are very durable, lasting through many children.  

The materials are each designed to teach a specific concept.  The concepts build from one material to the next, with each material teaching both it's own individual concept, and acting as a stepping stone to the next one.  It is important to introduce them in a specified order so that a child has mastered the skills necessary to complete the materials.  

Now, I suspect you see these photos and think.  Well, those are lovely, they really are!  I am sure my children would like them.  But, come now-they are BLOCKS!  My children need to learn their letters and numbers, we have plenty of blocks.  

If you haven't read my blog before, let me introduce you to my daughter, Explorer.  She is 7 1/2 months old.  In the last 7 months, she has learned how to hold her head up, roll over, sit up, scoot, pick things up, put them in her mouth, respond to her name and babble a little bit.  Of all the things I just listed, only 2 of them are language related.  As humans, the first things we do are motor.  We learn to roll, crawl, stand, balance, walk, and run before we can say much of anything.

As I said above, the Montessori Materials build on concepts already learned.  When a 2 1/2 or 3 year old enters the Montessori classroom they are very capable with their motor skills, but their language is still very much developing.  They can use their hands, balance blocks, and build a tower, but many of them can not hold a lengthy conversation about height and length.  They will have a difficult time saying orange, for example, but can quickly match two orange tiles.  Dr. Montessori understood this about a child and chose materials that encouraged a child to use and master the abilities they already had before moving to things they did not yet grasp.

Another reason Montessori doesn't start with ABC and 123, is that the purpose behind letters, numbers, and language are to label things.  When a child observes two things of different sizes, she can see-concretely-which is bigger and which is smaller.  She can see which is taller and which is shorter.  The words 'tall' 'short' 'big' 'small' are just that-WORDS.  Words to describe something.  Words that are chosen to mean what our language says they mean.  We could have chosen the word RAINBOW to mean tall and the word CRAYON to mean short.  When looking at the two items, the words would not change that one is taller then the other.

The Montessori Materials work from concrete to abstract.  They show a child how something works and how it relates to other things.  Then, the words are introduced so that the child can explain what they know to someone else. 

So, enough about the whys.  I want to show you some of the materials.  Because, a picture is worth 1000 words :).  There are MANY different materials, each of which are really neat. Here are a few of my favorites.

The very first materials presented in a Montessori Classroom are the Knobbed Cylinders.  The only two skills needed to do this work are 1) The ability to use the pincher/grasper fingers, and 2) Enough strength to lift the cylinders.  The blocks themselves are quite heavy, but if a child is unable to carry them mom or teacher can help.

There are 10 wooden cylinders in each block.   

They increase in diameter from 1 centimeter to 5 1/2 centimeters.  This is the first of four blocks.  The child treats this as a puzzle, finding the correct home for each of the cylinders.

Once the first block is mastered, they are able to add block two.  This block looks exactly the same on the top,

but they are different heights.  

All the cylinders are placed in the middle to be placed in the two blocks.

Mini Cooper is 2 1/2 and able to complete this work.  You would continue to introduce all the blocks until all 4 are being used at once.  There is a wonderful description, with photos, on

Margaret Homfray gives a wonderful presentation on the Knobbed Cylinders.

I want to show you this.  Last year, I purchased the Mini Knobbed Cylinders to save us some money.  DONT DO IT, lol.  The Mini Knobbed Cylinders are soooo mini, that they really are hardly the same material at all.  

The material that everyone thinks of when they think of Montessori is the Pink Tower.  Aside from being pink, and therefore very attractive to young children, it is a brilliant material.

The first cube is 1x1x1 (centimeter) cubed.  The second is 2x2x2, the third 3x3x3, and so forth.  So, from age 2 1/2 to 3, a child has the opportunity to internalize what a cube looks like.  This can be very helpful down the road when you are trying to explain what 7 cubed is.  

Each material has a self-checking or control of error.  Since each block is one centimeter smaller then the next, you can take the top block and slide it along two sides of each block to check your work.

The Brown or Broad Stair is a similar material.  The first prism measures 1x1x20 centimeters.  It goes up in height and width, but not length.  The longest is 10x10x20 cen.

Each of the prisms matches one of the pink cubes.

Because of this, each material not only has it's own exercises, but figuring out how the materials work together is another element of learning.

They are very inviting.  I had barely finished my photos when Mini Cooper decided she wanted my work :).

Margaret Homfray also has a lovely lecture on the Pink Tower and Broad Stair.

These are the yellow Knobless Cylinders.  They decrease in diameter and height.

They build a tower.

But, they also work together with cylinder block two.

The red cylinders are all the same height, but get smaller in diameter.

This tower is a bit trickier to build.

It matches with cylinder block number one.  Each of the 4 knobless cylinder sets match with one of the four cylinder blocks.

Again, Mini Cooper decided to steal my work.

Here is one more lovely lecture from Margaret Homfray presenting the Knobless Cylinders.

I don't know about you, but teaching math scares me.  I am horrible at math.  I was happy to get out with a passing grade.  The Montessori Method has given me AWESOME tools to help teach math.  This one is the Golden Bead Material.  Here you see a place mat.  Across the top is labeled Thousands, Hundreds, Tens and Units.  Below each label are the amount of beads-a Thousand Cube, Hundred Square, Ten Bar, and a Unit.

The unit is just a simple golden bead.

When building a number, the child literally gets the amount of beads needed to match the number. As you can see, there are 2,694 golden beads in this photo to match the number cards.

The beads are used to do concrete math.  In this photo, Mustang is learning multiplication by giving each of her peg people the same amount of units (yes there are two people on the last set, Adam and Eve always go together).  A child is presented addition, multiplication, subtraction and then division-using all four place values, from the start.  Again concrete.  You don't have to explain it, you just show them the process.  The actual writing down of problems isn't done until later.

After the Golden Bead material, the children move on to the Stamp Game.  It is used in the same way as the Golden Bead Material, but it is the first step towards abstraction.  Instead of using large bead blocks, they get stamps to represent the quantities.

Here you can see a quantity of stamps to match the number.  This material will bring in written problems and be a part of the lessons for quite awhile.  We just (as in today) began using the Stamp Game, so I don't have action photos, but check back over the next couple weeks as we get into it more :).

There aren't any math lectures from Margaret Homfray.  Why I don't know, I would have loved to see them!

You don't have to be a Montessori school to purchase materials.  The famous Montessori Materials supplier is a company by the name of Nienhuis.  My understanding is that they are an 'authorized supplier' and have copies of Dr. Montessori's original blueprints.  That said, they are very PRICEY!  If I were running a school and had a large budget to work with, I would consider their products, but since I am a homeschool I have gone with a couple of discount suppliers.

The two suppliers I have worked with and will recommend are Kid Advance and Alison's Montessori (not affiliate links).  There are a number of other suppliers out there.  If you choose to use another supplier, I would suggest doing a little research to be sure they are a reputable company before sending them money.  

Some Montessori Materials could be made by hand if you have the time and resources.  I find that I have more money then time these days (though I don't have that much money!) and have not ventured to make any materials.  Because of the great care that Dr. Montessori took to create her materials, I do recommend that you are careful to make materials that capture the intention of the material you are trying to make at home.  The blog What Did We Do All Day has a great database of homemade Montessori Materials from the web.  Check it out if you are more crafty then I am :).

As you can see, Dr. Montessori created some amazing materials!  Which you have, or are going to order.  But, then, what do you do with these materials?  There are so many of them, which do you order first?  How do you lesson plan a Montessori homeschool?  Where and how do you begin?  Come back tomorrow and I'll discuss the Scope and Sequence of the Montessori Method and how I lesson plan in our homeschool classroom.  (And yes, when I say tomorrow, I likely mean around midnight.  It's when I blog!)

Thanks for stopping by!!  Goodnight and God Bless!

Oh, and don't forget to check out the other 65+ blogs and their great topics this week!