Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Good Explanation of Managing Children's Materials

This article is from THE WONDER YEARS blog. I love some of the things she has to say about "Less is More."
As a christian I think this goes so far beyond an educational philosophy. I also believe I am teaching my daughter a spiritual concept, as well, when I help her see that she does not always have to be surrounded by "stuff." I hope our choices in limiting her toys as a toddler will affect the degree to which materialism and commercialism prey upon her....

Anyhow, here is the article:

Montessori Question: Activities for Toddlers

I'm planning to use Montessori ideas/methods with my son when he is born in a couple of months (I know I'm an early planner). But the biggest question is how many activities do you leave out for the child to use (I'm thinking for a 18-24 month old)? How often do you rotate activities? For Montessori at home do you set certain times of the day for learning or just leave the activities accessible for whenever the child is interested?

Before being introduced to Montessori, I worked as a preschool teacher in a typical childcare setting. The co-teacher that was hired to work with me came from a Montessori school. (My introduction to Montessori) After she had spent the first day in our room we had a chance to talk. One of the first things she wanted to discuss was the shelves. Like most preschools, we had large quantities of toys and manipulatives. The shelves were full and many items were contained in large laundry sized baskets or in nothing at all and stacked on the shelves. My co-worker asked how I felt about removing half of the objects from the shelves(!) At first I couldn't see why, but then she explained. "Just because the blocks come in a package containing 150 pieces, doesn't mean you need to put them all out." She pointed out that large quantities of anything can be overwhelming in many ways. Visually, it can be overwhelming and overstimulating to see cluttered, stuffed shelves. Children get confused as to where objects go and can get overwhelmed looking at the amount that needs to be cleaned up afterwards. I questioned what about children who want the same thing at the same time? She answered, they learn patience and learn to take turns. As it turned out, removing the abundance from the shelves proved positive and the children never lacked toys and manipulatives. We often rotated the toys every 4-6 weeks because we had more this way.

The reason I share this experience is because having too much is a common mistake. When setting up an environment for a child, we want it to be as inviting as possible. In creating this environment, less can be more. Starting out 2 objects per shelf allows a very young child to return objects to their spot easily. Low shelving is important and a rule of thumb is the smallest child should be able to easily reach the top shelf. In our home, for a long time we used the inexpensive shoe shelves for my daughter because they are low, inexpensive and can be used later for holding closet items. I had out about 4 activities for her to choose from on the shelves and after I saw her interest in it diminish, I exchanged it for something else. We had these activities on the shoe shelf near the kitchen because at least one of the activities usually involved water. In other rooms we also had blocks, puzzles, books, dolls, and other play based activities.

Some parts of Montessori work should be accessible at all times. This includes practical life clean-up materials, care of self items like clothing, hairbrush, facecloths, and food preparation activities (pouring water or spreading peanut butter on crackers type activities). How you set up the environment is dependent on what works for you and will most likely change as your child matures. I had found that at about 20 months, I wanted to set up more activities and have a more structured time and space, so I created a spot in our Montessori room for my youngest daughter too. She doesn't use the area everyday, usually at least three days a week, and she loves it. For me, I prefer to have Montessori time and play time separate but incorporate things like practical life into our daily routine.