Thursday, 25 August 2011

Montessori inspired

(Goblin is 22 months)
The Goblin goes to a Montessori nursery one day a week while the Hublet and I are both at work. Before deciding to send him there I read a lot about montessori methods and theory. I am no expert so I'm not going to attempt to sum up the principles. But some of the things that appealed to me about the Montessori approach are:
Child led learning - activities are laid out on shelves and the child picks what they want to to do and when. Furniture is made specifically to fit the children, no huge chairs that their feet dangle off of. And kids learn in mixed age groups so they are under no pressure to master something within one academic year.  
Practical life - early years focus on practical life skills like doing up buttons and lacing shoes, undoing latches and pouring your own drink. Rather than pretending to make toast, montessori kids are encouraged to actually make toast and butter it using a real knife. 




While reading about Montessori I found loads of suggestions to help your child develop. For example I've started using a shelf that is easy for Goblin to reach (I know it doesn't look like he'd be able to reach the top but he's such a climber that he gets to the stuff very easily). On the shelf I put a mixture of educational activities (mainly montessori inspired), toys (like a shape sorter or a tea set), jigsaws and books. 
I'm just not neat or organised enough to go the whole hog with Montessori shelves. You are supposed to have each activity on separate trays and encourage your child to do one activity at a time and put it back before doing the next. If you want to see what Montessori shelves should look like check out the Counting Coconut Flickr pictures.
As you can see mine are somewhat more haphazard. And I commit a cardinal montessori sin - I have a toy box. Montessori practitioners would not approve because a toy box is a messy way of storing toys and kids find it harder to access them, and can't easily see all the toys at once. My way of dealing with this is to rotate the toys out of the toy box and onto the shelves so Goblin gets fresh toys every week or so. Its quite satisfying restocking the shelves on a Sunday night - it feels a bit like cleaning the house but is easier. 




I also have a child sized desk and chair for Goblin to work at.  This is a picture of him looking at colour matching sheets that I have put in an A4 holder on his desk. You can just see the corner of his mirror on the wall. That's another montessori idea, having mirrors at kiddy height so kids can look at themselves.


Activities
I have been teaching Goblin to pour since he was about 20 months old. We started with dry pouring. I used a ridiculously huge amount of beans. One pack of lentils would have been enough, I think my tub contained about 5. I realised that it was a mistake when I could feel my stress levels rising every time Goblin wanted to play with this activity. He would start off just pouring from one tub to the other using a little cup, but the lentils and beans felt nice and he would end up sticking his hands deep into the tub and then flinging them everywhere unintentionally. 




I finally worked out that if I put a big blanket down (a double bed size one - lentils fly quite far) I could let Goblin make a mess and then I could wrap the blanket up and slowly shake all the beans back into the tub. That made my life a bit calmer. 



As well as pouring activities we used the beans to bury some of his schleich animals. He really enjoyed digging around to find them. And once we had established this game I brought out some flash cards that matched the animals we were hiding. I'd get Goblin to find the animal and then match it to the flash card. The cards were actually a good reminder of how many animals we'd buried - I put the tub away more than once with a stray penguin buried at the bottom. 
Schleich animals are really well made, sturdy and beautiful. But they are expensive. I bought a mixed bundle on ebay, but even there they are too popular. It took me about two weeks of bidding on various bundles to get one at a price I was wiling to pay. 


Once I felt that Goblin had mastered the basics of pouring I let him loose with liquids. The first attempt was not a huge success. 




Since then he has improved. He loves it when I let him pour his own drinks. He will get the milk bottle out of the fridge and sits down on the floor with it and wait for me to give him a cup. I realised quite quickly that he doesn't know when to stop pouring and we got quite a few overflows. So now I keep an empty milk bottle in the fridge. When he wants to pour I put the right amount of milk into the empty bottle and let Goblin pour from that. This usually avoids spills. But I discovered another problem with this pouring practice. When I gave Goblin a cup without a lid he did not comprehend that the pouring game was over when the cup was full. He would carry on pouring by upending the entire cup of milk onto the floor. Now I quickly snatch the cup away and stick the lid on while asking Goblin to put the bottles back in the fridge. He's then happy to drink from the beaker.


Today he had two drinks on the go, milk in an open cup and squash in a sippy cup with a straw. He has only just started drinking from an open cup. He came over and asked me to take the lid off his sippy cup. I assumed he wanted to practice drinking from the open cup so I obliged. Next thing I know he is pouring from one cup to the other. It made a horrible curdled orangesquash/milk combo but I was really impressed by his pouring skills. 



 When he did miss the cup, he even went to the shelf and got some tissue and wiped up the spill. That's something I have been trying to encourage but its the first time he did it unprompted. 

As well as pouring practice Montessori encourage fine motor skills. I have been doing a few of these activities with Goblin and have mentioned them in other posts but I will mention them again here to put them in context. 


One activity is putting sticks into holes. The classic example is the kebab skewers into a parmesan cheese shaker. Goblin mastered this activity at about 16 months. He really enjoyed it and would bring me the shaker all the time. In our latest version of this I got him to put golf tees through holes in a serving spoon filled with playdough. Pushing the tees into the playdough is satisfying and the holes in the spoon add the skill element.



Goblin has also been moving objects with tongs. I read somewhere that using the tongs helps prepare a child for holding a pen correctly and manipulating it for writing. I started Goblin moving pingpong balls.




And he has moved on to cars. I thought the balls would be more difficult because they slip out of the tongs and bounce away, but they are actually easier than the cars. Pingpong balls are a uniform shape. The cars offer more of a challenge because the tongs only fit round then one way. Goblin got quite frustrated with one car and abandoned it. 





Montessori have lots of specialist and often expensive equipment. One piece of equipment used in their practical life teaching is the dressing frame. Dressing frames are frames with zips, laces or other fastening on them which allow the child to practice doing up clothes without actually having the clothes on. I'm not entirely convinced that they are necessary - can't you just practice with actual clothes? Having said that, I decided that Goblin could use some button practice (he's already quite good with zips, and too young for laces).  


 I got this idea from What did we do all dayShe had much nicer felt, I used the colours left over after I made my felt fish and alphabet bean bags - so basically all the borring colours.
I don't think I've ever given buttoning up much thought, but its actually quite a complex use of finger and thumb. I thought Goblin would be able to do this easily, but he struggles with it. I think it will be a while before he can get the felt on and off the button snake. 

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