Monday, July 05, 2010

"Why shouldn't the children use the pink tower blocks to build a fairy castle?"

The post title came from a question posted to a Montessori list. I came up with an answer and a couple of people liked my explanation, so I thought I'd share it here (I was responding to different things, hence the "First..."). I'd welcome any comments to make the explanation even better! And yes, it's specifically about ages 3-6.

First, to answer the question: Why can't they use the pink tower for building fairy castles?
Answer: Because that is not what the material was designed to do. We should not use our personal cars as battering rams ;), towels as clothes, forks as weapons, etc. It's part of setting limits on materials. Kids do not come preprogrammed to know how different things are supposed to be used and will use things in ways they really shouldn't. These are educational materials, not toys. But this is just part of it.

Another part of it is that it's being used for *fantasy play*, which Maria felt the children did well enough on their own, outside of school time, with materials they found (sticks, clothes, etc.). Her method's aim is to *educate* the children and they do not need any education in fantasy play, especially since so many children are prone to engage in fantasy play excessively. As stated above, the materials are educational materials; they are designed for the children's education. They are not educating themselves while lost in fantasy with the material. They are not getting the intended benefit of the material. Just as she cautions against presenting a material too early--because if it's done too early, they won't connect and they may see the material as nothing to connect with ever--using the material to make fairy castles will not help the child connect with the material properly, so the desired educational benefit is gone.

What are the pink blocks for? The direct aim is sensorial: to develop visual analysis skills in the area of dimension. The indirect aim with all the primary materials is to develop concentration; for this particular material, it is also a preparation for math. Is a child really concentrating on the blocks while she makes fairy castles? No.

The first goal for a child starting Montessori is to develop attention/concentration. That's part of the aim of the sensorial and practical life materials. I've read it recommended that a child not be presented with language, math or culture materials until they have developed concentration. (I don't know if it was Maria Montessori who recommended this or someone else.) If the child feels the desire to build a fairy castle with a material that's supposed to be helping her to focus, then she ought to be directed to an activity that will help her focus on the here and now, not an imaginary world.

1 comment:

Evenspor said...

Just for the sake of argument, there is a contradiction here I do not understand.

Take this quote from Margaret Homfray about the origins of the 'Walking the Line' activity:

“Dr. Montessori always noticed children wherever she went... she was watching the country children, and it suddenly struck her, a fact that you see everywhere, is that all country children climb, and that all of them enjoy doing some form of balancing along a straight line of some sort... She watched the city children doing the same thing. The children have to find something in the environment that satisfies this need. When you see children all over the world doing the same thing, you know it's not accidental; it's purposeful.”

That is just an example. Were not all of the activities originally designed to help the children do something they naturally wanted to do anyway?

Yet, fantasy play isn't appropriate because it is something children do on their own without help. I am curious as to why the line is drawn there. Why is fantasy play not considered "educational" when balancing, organizing, sorting, and other activities are? Using the same logic as above, it is something you can observe children everywhere doing, so there must be a purpose for it. Is it possible then, that drawing the line at fantasy play has been a matter of personal preference/prejudice (as well as for convenience sake in classroom management, which becomes a moot point in a homeschool setting)?

I can understand the idea of using tools in the proper way. On the other hand, if we take it back to the walkng the line analogy, children are sometimes permitted to use one of the other materials while walking the line to help perfect balance, as long as they are careful and put it back when they're done, etc.