Friday, September 11, 2009

Spontaneous Activities

Montessori classrooms are amazing environments for observation. Children are active learners, choosing their activities based purely on intrinsic motivation and a desire to learn. Montessori wrote an advanced level book on this topic and it is now available to read online here: "Spontaneous Activity in Education". It's 300+ pages, so I'd be more than impressed if anyone from our school community chooses to read it, but it is definitely worth a skim.

I was lucky enough to observe ample amounts of spontaneous, purposeful work today. One activity, however, simply floored me. Please keep in mind, this child (JP) is a very young child. When I say very young, I mean she is just turning three. This was her second day of school in a Montessori classroom. I watched her roam about searching for her work. She seemed intent on finding an activity revolving around numbers. She reached out to the sandpaper numerals and gently touched the surface of a numeral. JP then walked over to the mats (after several mat presentations last time), chose one and unrolled it on the floor. She then returned to the math shelf gazing at the cards and counters. At this point, many Montessori teachers would walk over to her and say "I'm sorry, but you haven't had a lesson on this material. May I show you another lesson?". As a rule, the children in a Montessori classroom are only to work with materials with which they have received a lesson. Otherwise, materials could be misused and broken or damaged, not to mention injury to the child or others. HOWEVER, Montessori teachers must be flexible and must observe constantly. I decided to observe JP to see what spontaneous activity she had in mind. She gently picked up the cards and counters and placed the numerals on her mat. She laid them all out neatly so that each one could be seen. JP then walked back to the math shelf and chose the sandpaper numerals. She placed the box on the mat and removed one numeral. She looked at it carefully and matched it to the corresponding card. She continued this way until she reached "nine".

Apparently, the numerals were created with two different fonts. One is considered an American-style 9, while the other is a European 9- they looked very different. JP flipped the card around, upside down and contemplated this problem for several minutes. She wanted to match the final numeral, but they didn't look the same! Finally, she broke her concentration and looked up at me. I walked over to her mat and traced the sandpaper numeral saying "nine". I then traced the 9 card and said "nine". A huge smile spread across her face as she realized they were indeed the same, and she could complete her work. She stood up and appreciated her masterpiece.

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