The most valuable tool in the prepared environment is the adult; a guide to introducing Montessori Work to infants.
When it comes to new Montessori work the adult’s role is to demonstrate how a material should be used and then to observe the child at work. Our role is not to ‘teach’ the child our skills but to direct the child towards their own. If the child seems confused or frustrated, the adult may step in, likewise if it appears that they have exhausted the material then the adult may ask open questions to nudge the learning towards a new outcome.
So how should we go about introducing a new material without dictating the extent of its use? I’ve made a very short set of guidelines, it’s all very complex! Do try and keep up!
- Choose the right work. What can your child do? What are they showing an interest in? Follow their lead and give them work in similar areas.
- Use appropriate vocabulary and few words. Give the child the language to dominate their work, let them control it first with their thoughts and if they’re speaking their words. The ability to verbalise a task has direct repercussions on how confident a child feels completing a task. Briefly describe the item as well as how and why it’s used.
- Show it slowly. Slow your actions and words waaaaaay down. Children think at about half the speed that adults do until they are 12 years old (then the hormones kick in and they don’t think at all!) Complete the work slowly a few times, making sure they can easily see your hands.
- Show don’t tell. While you’re demonstrating don’t distract a child, or offer lots of alternatives, demonstrate one use only, in near silence. Once you’ve done this leave the work partially complete and let them interact with it.
- Observe and but out. If a child is engaged leave them alone! If they’re using a material ‘wrong’, leave them alone! They might have found a better way to it! If however they seem confused or overwhelmed or frustrated then consider removing the work to reintroduce another day, try not to interrupt them until they have finished.
In summary: observe, use the appropriate language, show in silence, observe. Oh and have fun! As the meerkat says, SIMPLES.
PS: the use of language point is actually very important for all sorts of complex psychological reasons! During my teacher training we read several fascinating studies about children who were learning maths. Those who had the complex language they needed (numerator, factors, divisor etc) felt more confident, experienced less stress, achieved better results and described themselves as good at maths compared with those children unable to verbalise what they were doing. When learning something many children need to ‘explain it to themselves’ as they do it, so empower them to do that by giving them the words they need.