Feb 13 2018

Montessori Materials and Learning Environment, montessori toys, educational materials, prepared environment, homeschooling, best learning websites


for the home and the school

  • The Environment
  • Montessori Homeschooling
  • Educational Materials Sources / Suppliers
  • Educational Environments and Materials Birth to Age 12+
  • Television as an Educational Tool

Dr. Montessori, in her initial work in 1907 in San Lorenzo, observed that the younger children were intensely attracted to sensory development apparatus. The children used these materials spontaneously, independently, repeatedly and with deep concentration. They emerged from this spontaneous activity renewed and with a profound sense of inner satisfaction. Montessori method is based on the spontaneous activity of the child which is aroused precisely by the interest the child takes in the material. From this initial discovery, over many years of observation and trial and error, Dr. Montessori and her son Mario, went on to design an entire range of Montessori materials. . . more

The Montessori learning environment is much different than the traditional model. Instead of information passing from the teacher to the student, the teacher is skilled in putting the child in touch with the environment, and helping him learn to make intelligent choices and to carry out research in a prepared environment. The teacher then protects the student’s concentration from interruption. This fosters a love of lifetime learning in the student. Keep in mind a triangle: the student, the parent or teacher, and the environment. It is the role of the adult to prepare, and continue to prepare, the environment, to link the child to it through well-thought-out introductions to books and materials, projects, and lessons, which nurture the child’s exploration and creativity. Children thus taught often surpass both the level of education of their peers, and the knowledge of the adult in all areas — then they learn to find answers for themselves. The Montessori school environment is arranged according to subject area — cooking, cleaning, gardening, art, caring for animals, library corner, etc. — children always free to move around the room instead of staying at desks. There is no limit to how long a child can work on something she has chosen. At any one time in a day all subjects — practical work, math, language, science, history, geography, art, music, etc. — will be being studied, at all levels, by children of mixed ages learning from each other, facilitated by careful observation, individual lessons, record keeping, and help of the teacher.

Just as anyone can use the word Montessori to describe schools and training centers, they can and do use the name to describe toys and materials that often have nothing to do with Montessori. Quite often suppliers start out with a small selection of good things and then add more and more, veering away from the kind of quality that one would find in a Montessori school. For example, a Montessori teacher avoids plastic, choosing instead natural materials. Also there are no kits or sets but rather a good supply of beautiful and real materials that the child uses to carry out real work. And although in the first school in Rome there were dolls and imaginative toys, it was discovered early on that, given the choice, children always prefer to learn about and to study and interact with the real world in all its glory. As far as the didactic or teaching materials in Montessori schools, there is an international committee that has overseen the production of such things as the sensorial materials for many years. An impulsive or artistic change in the production, that can result in a breakdown of the success of the method, is then avoided.

Since 1982 the Michael Olaf Montessori Company in California has supplied toys and materials that supported Montessori activities in homes and schools. They have also published books that are considered by many to be the best first introduction to Montessori. In January 2018 they will no longer be supplying toys and materials but there are several more Montessori books on the way. Here are the links to the store and more information: Store closing

The Michael Olaf books are being translated into several languages and the international English versions can be found on the Amazon websites in several countries. Here is the USA list: Amazon

A sparse environment of carefully chosen materials calls the child to work, concentration, and joy. A crowded or chaotic environment can cause stress and can dissipate a child’s energy. As Montessori education becomes more popular more materials are produced which are labeled “Montessori” and one must be more and more careful in selection. Too many materials, or inappropriate materials can be worse than too few.

Birth to Age Six: Before the age of six, a child learns from direct contact with the environment, by means of all the senses, and through movement; the child literally absorbs what is in the environment. The toys and materials in the home and school for this period of development should be of the very best quality to call forth self-respect, respect and care from the child toward the environment, and the development of an appreciation of beauty.

Age Twelve +: From age twelve to eighteen, the child’s education becomes more traditional: books, computers, and the tools of the place where he may be apprenticing or doing social work. This is transition to adult life during which time the child learns to function in the real world. The environment now includes the farm, the public library, the work place, the large community.

At all ages, since the adult’s special interests usually lie in one or two areas of study, we must be sure to introduce him to materials and lessons in all areas, all kinds of experiences, and not limit him to our own interests. In the words of the famous music educator Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, “What does not exist in the cultural environment will not develop in the child.”

Many families are using Montessori principles at homes to provide to provide supportive environments for infants, to supplement the Montessori or other schooling of their children, to make their school studies more vibrant, to teach independence, or sometimes even to completely homeschool their children. Often these parents mistakenly think that they need expensive materials which have been produced for many years for Montessori schools. These materials are made to withstand the constant use of many children over many years and their cost reflects this durability. It is quite possible to provide a Montessori environment without these materials.

Of course these are valuable tools for education, but we must keep them in balance with other experiences. In support of this balance, here is a quote from the July 1997 issue of The Atlantic Monthly: “Sesame Street” . . . has been around for twenty years. Indeed, its idea of making learning relevant to all was as widely promoted in the seventies as the Internet is today. So where’s that demographic wave of creative and brilliant students now entering college? Did kids really need to learn how to watch television? Did we inflate their expectations that learning would always be colorful and fun? . . . . and finally I see a parallel between the goals of “Sesame Street” and those of children’s computing. Both are pervasive, expensive and encourage children to sit still. Both display animated cartoons, gaudy numbers and weird, random noises . . . both give the sensation that by merely watching a screen, you can acquire information without work and without discipline.

Television . . .Is an anti-experience and an anti-knowledge machine because it separates individuals from themselves and from the environment and makes them believe they are living while they are only observing passively what other people decide to make them see. – Dr. Silvana Montanaro, MD, Psychiatrist, Montessori Teacher-Trainer

The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces as the behavior it prevents. Turning on the television set can turn off the process that transforms children into adults. – Urie Bronfenbrenner, Professor of Human Development, Cornell University

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