Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Montessori

Tonight we attended Parent Visiting night at Clio's school for the second time, an event where the children choose work to demonstrate for their parents. Clio's list, written on a clover cutout that she had colored green, included:

1. Metal Cutouts
2. Spindle Box
3. Color tablets
4. Plant polish

What she showed us was:

1. Watercolors
2. Trinomial Cube
3. Color Tablets
4. Metal cutouts
5. Plant polish

right there, you learn something about Montessori: we trust the child, and allow them choice within a prepared environment.

Earlier this week, a very tired Clio threw an absolute fit in the morning, refusing to go to school. There was nothing she liked to do there, she claimed. I asked her if she did painting at school, an activity that she never tires of at home, and she revealed to me that she had not yet had a lesson in painting. Montessori work is based in precise practice, with a number of practical steps building to the completion of a project. Painting does not mean sitting at a table where an adult has laid out paper, paints, and water--no lesson required. It means selecting the work, carrying it to a table, taking a small glass vial to the sink to fill with water,carrying the vessel back to the table, careful not to spill, pouring that water into a shallow vessel, going to another shelf to get a piece of paper, setting the paper on the tray, pulling out your chair, preparing the brush, and painting. Clean up is even more elaborate, and the work is complete when everything is clean, the material is back on its shelf, the child's chair is pushed in, a pencil is retrieved, the back of the work is signed, and the completed work is hung to dry. On that very crabby morning, I suggested to Clio that she ask her teacher for a lesson in watercolors. Apparently she did ask, and did get the lesson, and now there is something she can do at school that she always enjoys, and her sense of independence is validated.

I also believe that Clio was empowered by this experience of agency in directing her education. With each work tonight, Clio wanted to give us a lesson, and with the trinomial cube, she did. She demonstrated each of the steps to me, with verbal explanations and exaggerated motions: carrying the box and felt pad to the table. Unfolding the pad. Lifting the box onto the pad--with two hands, she specified. She continued: "take the top off. open this side, then this side. Put the top here." She took all of the pieces out of this 3-dimensional puzzle, laying each layer to one side of her work, then proceeded to put them back in--perfectly.

Now you do it, she said. And I did, getting reprimanded any time I lazily took two pieces out at once (one at a time, mom!) and praised when I followed her directions (good job, mom. very good.) And as I built the cube back up again, I slowed down and placed each piece deliberately, aware of the hurried way I do things now, with an emphasis on finishing. And I just marveled at this 3 1/2 year old creature, truly teaching me how to experience this puzzle box, one block at a time.

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