Monday, September 21, 2009

To Experiment or Not Experiment

That is the question among many Montessori teachers. Do we allow the children to use the materials in a way that does not reflect the direct purpose of the activity? Some Montessori groups insist that children can only use the materials for their intended purpose. Others, like mine, encourage the children to use the materials properly until the activity is mastered. Then, the child can feel free to experiment creatively with the work under two conditions:

  1. The child's exploration is not disruptive to the class.
  2. The child is not being destructive to the materials.

Gauge what your reaction would be to the following situations. Would you allow the exploration to continue, or would you ask the child to put the work away?

1. A child is using one of the red rods as a sword.

2. Two children are mixing up the pieces to the frog puzzle and the bird puzzle to make the exercise more difficult for themselves.

3. A child is making quiet animal noises while using the farm.

4. A child has set up the brown stair, and is now standing on them and using them as steps.

5. Two children roll the sphere from the geometric solids as fast as it will go across the entire classroom.

Well? What do you think? Of course, every situation is different and oftentimes I gauge my response by the reaction from the other children. Typically, here is how I would respond:

1. I would ask the child with the "swords" to please put them away, that game might be fun for a playdate after school.

2. I would certainly allow this exercise to continue. What a great extension to the work.

3. As long as the animal noises are not disruptive to the class, I would enjoy observing the child with the farm.

4. I would ask the child to come down from the brown stair because that is destructive to the work. I would further his interests by comparing and contrasting the brown stair to the stairs in our classroom.

5. Rolling the sphere is lots of fun and a great excercise in teaching the principals of that solid. However, I would be sure the children use it on the mat only. Their choice would have been both destructive to the sphere and disruptive to the class.

I observed one of these activity experiments today with GG and the farm. He had received a lesson on male/female/offspring with the farm and was told he could now creatively work with the farm on his own. I became mildly concerned when I noticed the grammar symbols being placed on the farm, simply because this child has not yet been introduced to that lesson. The children are aware that they are not to get out work without a lesson because they could potentially hurt the work or hurt themselves (we do use glass and other breakable objects). I was about to put a halt to the use of grammar symbols when I heard him speaking quietly to himself, "Look, horses, you have now entered Egypt! Look at those beautiful pyramids!" Now how could I put a stop to that!?!

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