What makes an activity, montessori?

The easiest way to start montessori practices at home, is to start with structured activities. Although, not the earliest. Montessori, like I keep reiterating is a lifestyle, and you can read more about incorporating it, here. But what makes an activity, montessori? How does one sieve through the million ideas available on Pinterest and choose activities for the child? I hope to answer that in this post, and the ones that follow. For now, here is a checklist that would help you set up an activity for the child.

1. Child- directed

First off, montessori activities are child- directed. The child is free to choose the activity, work on it at their own pace for as long and as many times as they would like.

2. Hands-on

Activities that involve doing actively, do a lot more for the child than passive activities. This also follows the principle of concrete to abstract.
For example, a child would learn a lot more by working with a shape-sorter toy ( manipulating the pieces into the hollows), than say, flash cards on shapes.

3. Involve the senses

The senses, being the explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge.

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Like we now know, the child learns through sensory exploration. This is on par with the multisensory theory of learning, that reinforces the use of visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile senses during any learning. Use of smell, balance and taste are add-ons.
For example: using a flash card to “teach” a child – apple. And an alternate scenario- where an apple is handed over to the child. She sees it, smells it, feels it, transfers it around her hands, maybe bites it, ultimately learning and remembering it.
This may also explain my open disdain of worksheets, for children below 3 years of age.

4. Isolated skills and concepts

A montessori activity targets only one skill or a concept at a time. Some activities need ti be broken down into concrete, smaller steps which must be completed for the final outcome.
One would notice this in montessori materials as well, such as the pink tower or cylinder blocks, where one particular quality is isolated, making it stand out for the child.
Let us consider an example. The child is focussing on the skill of sorting or visual discrimination. Instead of using a toy that overwhelms the child with multiple shapes, colours, etc, one can start off with simple sorting of laundry. Maybe start off with only matching her socks, amongst a pile of her socks. Then move on to sorting pairs of all sock sizes. And then move on to finding matches from the whole laundry basket.

5. A complete activity

The activity must have a sensible beginning, middle and end. This is to facilitate the sense of accomplishment and sequence.
For example, for an activity set up on a tray in our shelf- V would start with bringing the tray to the work space, playing with it, and then keeping it back.
Or a simple task like chopping paneer would start with her arranging the chopping board, doing the actual cutting, and finish with cleaning and putting away.

6. Have a purpose

I have a confession. Once I had set up a number recognition activity with peg clips for V. And she asked me, “but why amma?”
I learnt a huge lesson that day. A child is motivated to work something they enjoy doing, have a developmental need for, or something that has an immediate purpose. Which is why, encouraging the child to button up her shirt on her own makes more sense than using a buttoning frame at home. Or, like I figured, a walk around our apartment and calling out numbers on car plates to search for our car was more fun.
And this is why, I am a huge advocate for practical life activities right from birth. The child is happier helping with peeling potatoes when she knows the potatoes go into our dinner, than peeling stickers or velcros off paper.

7. Increase concentration

I am often asked how and why I rotate toys only once a week, and if V doesn’t get bored working with the same activities all week. A montessori-aligned activity facilitates repetition, thus increasing focus and concentration. It goes without saying, that the child must be given uninterruption and the time to work at will.

8. Control of error

Montessori materials are self-correcting. Meaning, the material points to the child if they have succeeded or not. This, apart from immediate feedback, again facilitates concentration until the child feels accomplishment upon completion.
For example, peg puzzles of different animal shapes would facilitate the placement of only a particular piece in one hollow. There is no need for the adult to point out if they are right or wrong.
This is also why, a plastic stacker toy would be more montessori aligned than wooden jigsaw puzzles that are not self-correcting.

9. Natural materials, real experiences

This figures last on my list because it is least important. Yes, children are naturally attracted to natural elements and materials, they are safer, one of a kind and beautiful. However, as long as one’s priority is giving real, authentic experiences to children at home, it is okay if one uses what is feasible.
For example, working in the kitchen with real food preparation over an expensive wooden pretend play kitchen set.

Is it possible to follow all the pointers on this list, all the time? Perhaps not. But keeping these pointers in mind would help us make sensible, child-friendly choices while setting up activities for our young children.
Absorb everything, and incorporate as much as possible.

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