Part Eight of Many: The Montessori Life: Handling Materials

The underlying theme of all Montessori work and projects is respect. Learning about mathmatics, reading, writing, geography, science and practical life is all secondary to learning respect, and the reason I say this is that being the most educated individual on the planet avails you nothing if you can’t interact with your fellow human beings and your environment. No one will hire a smart guy who can’t follow directions without arguing. There are several things you can do to encourage respecting others, but one of the things that many other teaching philosophies don’t stress is respecting the materials. In Montessori, this means handling the works properly.

The First thing to teach your preschoolers is how to set up their work spaces. You should have place mats for table works and small rugs for floor works. The first step is getting a placemat or a rug and spreading it out. This defines the work space. It means that the work belongs in that space and nowhere else. I’m emphasizing that because you want to avoid the consequences that result in having a messy room with works spread out everywhere on the floor or all over tables intermixing with each other. Preschoolers want a clean environment, but you have to teach them how to compartmentalize, and how NOT to multi-task. The works belong on the mats or put away.

The second step is showing them how to carry the work from the shelf where it lives to the work area they have prepared. If a work has a tray, they set it up on the tray from the shelf and carry the tray with both hands to the mat. If the work has no tray, the child should carry each piece of the work individually from the shelf where the work lives to the mat with both hands. It doesn’t matter that the smallest part of the work can be carried with two fingers: the child holds it carefully with two hands. The child should be walking. There is never any reason to run in a Montessori classroom. We do that in a gym setup, romper-room or outside.

The Third step is demonstrating the work. There is a prescribed way that each work should be demonstrated, and before a child works with a material, he should be shown the demonstration, but after that, the child is free to explore the work within the defined work space and learn whatever he can from it.

The Fourth step is putting the work away. The child should put away his work so it’s ready for the next child to use. This means putting each piece back on the shelf in an organized and methodical manner. With works that have a tray, every piece should be put on the tray and carried back to the shelf from which the work was originally taken. If there is no tray, each piece of the work should be carried with two hands back to the shelf where the work lives. It doesn’t matter if the piece is small enough to be carried with two fingers: the child needs to carry each piece one at a time with two hands.

There are always children who do not respect the materials. If a child cannot respect the works, she should be kept from working until she’s ready to respect them. Set up a rug in the corner so she can see how she should be behaving during work time and how to work from the other children. If she’s not ready to carry a work piece by piece with two hands, help her hands carry them with yours until she’s willing to do it herself. When she does it right, clap and tell her how happy you are that she’s ready to work now. The works are not the children’s to play with; they are the classroom’s for the children to work with.

Maintaining the proper atmosphere during work-time can help kids stay on track with their work habits too. Try playing soft and calming music and encourage the children to use a whisper-voice if they need to communicate so they don’t disturb the other children’s work. Remind them to walk and use two hands if they need reminding. If they’re getting loud and wiggly, you can take them to do some activities to get the wiggles out. If they’re getting rambunctious, you can practice sitting silently all together with crossed legs in a circle until they’re ready to work again.

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6 responses to “Part Eight of Many: The Montessori Life: Handling Materials

  1. Pingback: Part Eight of Many: The Montessori Life: Handling Materials | Sesasha Says

  2. Do you recommend doing the same procedures at home – using a mat, ect? My 2yr old attends a Montessori preschool half days, and I was wondering if following the same procedure for his play at home would be beneficial, or too stifling? Is it good to have some “free” play time? He follows the procedures at school perfectly, but I cannot get him to clean up after himself at home.

    Thanks for your blog – I am new to Montessori and you have been very helpful while I am trying to learn to incorporate it into home.

  3. I’ve found that unstructured play is best left unstructured, but you can still have the same expectations for care. If he leaves something out, I recommend reminding him that he needs to put it away before he moves on to the next thing. And for someone so little you might want to enforce it by sitting with him and keeping him away from the other toys until the ones that are out are put away. You might find that some of his toys have too many pieces for his attention span. I recommend putting those in storage until he has deonstrated that he can take care of more complex toys.

  4. I am a teacher in a montessori classroom, and we have 16-18 students ages 2.5 to 5 years. However, I spend more time and energy to trying to get the kids to do their work on a mat than anything else. The age range makes it hard to be individual with everyone and no matter how many times I try to demonstrate, have them practice, and constantly remind them to work on mats or rugs they just wont. I am harping on them all the time. It honestly seems too advanced for most kids, with the exception a few. What is the point and is it really worth all the wasted effort? I’m wanting to pull out my hair here or quit!

    • OOf all of the things you spend time doing in a Montessori classroom, one of the biggest is teaching respect. It applies to other students when you maintain quiet and not touch each other, waiting your turn, putting the materials away so they are ready for the next kid… it also applies to the materials. The mat is meant to define the work space. If you take that away, it makes it harder to avoid encroaching on other space and it also makes it harder to maintain the respect for the materials. Have you demonstrated how to properly use the works at circle time? It also helps if when you start work time, you send each kid individually to get a mat before they choose a work. Do you have a helper in your class? 18 kids in such a wide age range, you should definitely have at least one helper if not two. Two year olds need a lot more help reminding and guiding their hands than 5 year olds do. I would imagine that legally the work you can have in the room gets downsized too, since kindergarten works involve some small beads and tiles that littler kids might try to eat. 3-5 I can see, but there is a big difference in maturity between 2s and 3s.

    • I left a reply as a comment on the post, but I had another thought too: if they’re being belligerant, they’re testing boundaries and you may need to lay out the law and have them sit in circle until they are ready to work properly on the mat quietly. I imagine if they’re having a hard time staying on the mats that you’re probably struggling with some other discipline problems as well. It’s no fun, but after a few times of having to sit in circle during work time and they don’t get to do anything that they’ll start getting the gist of the rules.

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