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Is Montessori Right For Your Child?

Montessori is not a new word in our vocabulary.  Maria Montessori, an Italian educator, developed this once-unique style of learning over 100 years ago.  Since then, the Montessori method has been utilized worldwide to establish a strong educational foundation for children, and it has even been used with older children as well.  Like any other method of learning, it is not the best way to learn for every child, but it is a highly positive, highly motivational, and extremely hands-on way to establish key educational concepts with young children.

My children are not schooled in Montessori, at least not formally.  Both of my boys attended (or are currently attending) a more traditional preschool program, but concepts from the Montessori method are incorporated into their routine at school and at home.  In a Montessori-conceptualized classroom, children are self-directed, and the teacher plays a passive, facilitative role.  Children learn at their own pace, within their own interests, building their own set of skills.  Teachers (or “guides”) are present to assist the child and to give general directions on use of materials.  This method of learning places emphasis on the independence of the child, giving rights to children to function on their own in their environment, leaving the adult to observe and make materials available that suit the needs and interests of the children.  Children are not formally graded; they are evaluated in a more annotated, holistic way, using checklists and narratives to chronicle a child’s growth and development.

The Montessori method is almost completely hands-on learning.  Children learn best, according to this method by being actively engaged in the process, developing their observation skills, and participating in many types of activities. These activities can be kinetic, spatial, sensory, geared toward motor skills and the acquisition of concrete knowledge in order to attain abstract thinking. 

The Montessori based classroom will be found with multiple collections of student-centered activities, shelves stocked with supplies that interest the age range of the students, and a serene and calm atmosphere.  Many times, children are grouped with multiple ages together to encourage flexibility and sharing.  Children do not use materials unless they have been introduced to them by an adult or another student to ensure that concepts are being correctly mastered with each activity. 

Montessori is not for every child.  Some children need a more direct sense of guidance from an adult.  But, there are key elements to the method that can benefit children in many areas when used correctly.

For a collection of Montessori-style toys and products, visit Wonderbrains.com.

For more information on Montessori programs, visit www.montessori.edu

Mirror, Mirror…

One of my most fascinating toys in my pre-k classroom has to be a set of colorful blocks and a mirror.  The children in my class will sit for their entire center time, putting together designs and creating structures with the blocks, only to find it magnificently changed when the mirror is stood up behind their creation.  It is a simple enough set that teaches some pretty amazing concepts to children.

First off, the visualization of symmetry in objects is completely engaging.  Children can use one or two blocks, place them up against the mirror, and easily find the “line of symmetry” for the newly created image (the mirror is the line of symmetry).  Even children who are not ready to fully grasp the concept of symmetry will find excitement and fun in creating symmetrical designs.

Patterns are also fun to explore with a mirror.  Set up a pattern in either color or shape (or both!), then hold the mirror to extend the pattern.  Children can get a true feel for the repetitive nature of patterns.

And, what about using more than one mirror?  By bouncing images off of one mirror and onto another, a simple structure can become a masterpiece of intricate design, using patterns and symmetry to create an amazing sight.  Playing with the angles of mirrors, children can explore how images are seen, the role mirrors play and feven ind all sorts of fascinating ways look at themselves!

The Mirror Images Game is the perfect set for such play.  It contains 108 colorful blocks that are shapes such as rhombuses, trapezoids, and triangles.  Also included are two acrylic mirrors, perfect for exploration by a couple of children or just one.  The kids in my class don’t even realize that what they are doing is exploring mathematical concepts – they are too busy having fun!

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