In a Montessori environment, children learn by exploring and manipulating specially designed materials. Each material teaches one concept or skill at a time, and lays a foundation from which children can comprehend increasingly complex and/or abstract ideas.
Children work with materials at their own pace, repeating an exercise until it is mastered. The parent may gently guide the process, but his/her goal is to inspire rather than instruct.
Throughout your home, you can set-up a prepared, inviting environment containing a sequential array of lessons to be learned. As children work through the sequence, they build and expand on materials and lessons already mastered. And all the while they are developing qualities with which they’ll approach every future challenge: autonomy, creative thinking, and satisfaction in a job well done.
Let me emphasize 3 Things: The Role of the Adult, The Need for Demonstration, and The Sequence in which activities are presented.
Part I: The Role of the Adult
The way I learned about the Montessori Method is by reading the work of Dr. Montessori and through mentoring by seasoned Montessorians. I also attended the Silent Journey at Abba's Orchard and I regularly talk to the head teachers and founders to further understand the proper way of incorporating the principles as part of our lifestyle. I am not trained, but I pass on to you what I have learned. Thanks to the Abba's Orchard founders because they also agreed to hold the small sessions so that more and more parents appreciate the method. They even do the talk themselves! Sharing is caring after all :)
So what is the role of the adult? Does it mean we just let the child do whatever she wants? Does it mean we just prepare the activities and let them explore on their own?
This isn't what "Following the Child" means; following the child means following their pace in learning.
As Dr. Montessori said:
"In her duty of guiding a child in using the material, a guide must make a distinction between two different periods. In the first she puts the child in contact with the material and initiates him in its use. In the second she intervenes to enlighten a child who has already succeeded in distinguishing differences through his own spontaneous efforts. It is then that she can determine the ideas acquired by a child, if this is necessary, and provide him with words to describe the differences he has perceived." (Dr. Maria Montessori, 'The Discovery of the Child', Clio Press Ltd, 153)
Part II: The Need for Demonstration
Rather than telling the child what s/he has to do, present him/her with choices of different options. QUIETLY DEMONSTRATE how each material is used (for those that need to be presented - like Practical life skills). It is important that you TEACH BY EXAMPLE - show your child how an object is properly used. This isn't simply to educate but to ensure their safety. Some will say the child is there to discover and figure out on her own. I agree, but there are specific activities that require demonstration.
Sit side by side and do the activity.
Then, stand back and watch what the child does, there is no need to intervene all the time unless the child is really just making a mess and can potentially hurt him/herself or others (this is a good exercise of freedom within limits which is observed in a Montessori classroom). Just present a different set of choices. Knowing when to intervene is a skill us parents will learn as we get to know our child.
Part III: The Sequence in Which Activities are Presented
In terms of what options or activities we prepare, I follow the guide provided by AMS. WHY?
I'm not a teacher - and this guide is extremely important for my husband and I because we have to start with creating a strong foundation. The child is taught a simple activity using didactic materials. And as she grows, the activities become more complex. Dr. Montessori has studied children and came up with this "sequence" herself, on what should be introduced first. She even designed some of the materials found in a Montessori classroom.
It is up to the parent - based on his/her observation, on what the child is ready for. It's just good to have a guide or a list of suggested activities from a good source.
For example: Matching Activities
You have to start with Object-to-object Matching followed by Object-to-Picture Matching and then Picture-to-Picture Matching.
Children learn through their senses, through experience, especially for the first 6 years of life.
"He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man's intelligence." (The Absorbent Mind, p. 25)
This is why it is important that they learn to match objects first. They will be able to understand the concept of matching more as they get to touch, smell, or hear the objects. It helps them develop visual discrimination and concentration which are important when learning to read.
Photo of Socks from Pinterest
Once this is mastered, you can introduce Object-to-Picture matching. Now, the child develops vocabulary and also abstraction - Kara can make a connection in her mind of what a picture is versus what she has on her hand.
Lastly, is picture-to-picture matching. This is now purely an abstract activity. This focuses on vocabulary and visual discrimination. And guess what, once your child is very familiar with this - you can even extend the activity - cut the flashcards in half, you can teach them anatomy, math, etc.
Going back to my main point - we are here to guide, and as our child becomes more independent, they become more confident, self-motivated learners.
Admittedly, as Kara becomes more independent, it pains me (it's like I'm not needed as much). She used to always call for me but now she would get her own snacks then she would hand me a piece of it and say: "Mama, let's share."
Makes me cry every time. Hahaha.