Montessori Learning Materials
In Montessori children are exposed to many complex concepts at an early age through the use of the specially designed Montessori materials. These hands on learning materials enable the learner to literally see and explore abstract concepts. What are the Montessori materials and how do they enable your child to explore and learn ?
The Pink Tower
A classic Montessori material, the Pink Tower is used by young children to discover how size changes in three dimensions.
The child builds the tower cube by cube, making decisions about which cube is bigger or smaller.
Exploration with the Pink Tower prepares the child for concepts such as the decimal system and volume.
Made of 10 wooden cubes, painted pink, this material illustrates the way Montessori isolates one quality at a time. Only the size changes; not the shape and colour. It is used by children from under three to four years although older children may return to explore it more!
Large Moveable Alphabet
When young children have discovered that words are made up of sounds and knows some of the symbols for these sounds, they can begin writing. Montessori suggested using a pre-made alphabet, so the child is not limited by their ability to write with a pencil.
The Large Moveable Alphabet is made of plastic or cardboard letters that the child uses to write words and eventually sentences, laying them out on a floormat or table. The different colours of the vowels and consonants are an example of how the Montessori introduce new concepts indirectly, without the teacher having to point it out !
The moveable alphabet is used by children when they know 8-10 letter symbols and sounds.
The phonetic writing often brings a tear to adult eyes. Some real examples from young children include; ‘Mi mum is luvle', ‘Wen I am big I wil bi my dad a fust cur (car)' and ‘Sprm wals et cril' (Sperm whales eat krill).
The Golden Bead Material
The Golden Bead material is used to introduce the quantities and symbols of the decimal system and all four operations of math - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. A unit is a single gold bead, 10 is a bar of 10 golden beads, 100 is a square of 100 beads and a cube is 1,000.
The child gains strong sensorial impression of number - thousands are bigger and much heavier than units ! Children start working with the golden beads once they recognise symbols and can make quantities 1-10 . Many games are played; making and reading numbers up to the thousands, bringing numbers to be counted. Children then work in groups to do the operations of math, seeing concretely how addition makes a number larger and subtraction makes a number smaller. Adults love this math material because they finally get to understand about ‘carrying' and ‘borrowing'.
Puzzle Map of World Parts
The young child is a sensory explorer and a lover of language. Montessori uses both these tendencies to introduce geography. The world puzzle map is a flat board with two painted hemispheres. Each continent inset is cut out and can be lifted by the child out of the frame. The child traces the shape of each piece and learns the name of all seven continents. Later the child will trace the map onto paper, colour and eventually label the continents. Used by children from around four to five years and seen in both 3-6 year and 6-9 year classrooms.
Older children move onto puzzle maps of each continent - learning the names of countries and later, capitals around the globe.
The dressing frames are used by young children to learn how to use the variety of fastenings found in clothing - from buttons to buckles, to laces, bows and zips. The dressing frames are an example of how Montessori appeals to the young child's need to repeat and repeat and repeat an activity - the child can do and undo the frame as many times as they want.
As with many other materials in a Montessori 3-6 year classroom, the child develops hand-eye coordination, the ability to concentrate and the skills of independence. Successfully finishing the bow frame is a big moment in the life of a Montessori child!
The dressing frames are used by children three to five years starting with the large button frame and moving along to bow tying and lacing.
The broad stair is one of the many Montessori sensorial materials found in 3-6 classrooms. It is an example of how Dr Montessori isolated abstract concepts such as size, colour, and shape in the materials she developed so that the young child could explore, classify and categorise.
Like the Pink Tower, the Broad Stair is used to explore size. The prisms of the Broad Stair change in two dimensions – only height and breadth changes. No other quality changes; the colour and length remain constant.
The concept of the decimal system is introduced indirectly with many Montessori sensorial materials. In the stair there are 10 prisms, which the child builds into a ‘stair’ from broadest to narrowest or uses to build in different ways as he explores the concepts inherent in the material.
The checker board is a Montessori primary (6-12) math material used to do long multiplication of numbers into the 100’s of millions. The material is part of a progression of math materials that enables the student to experience the process of multiplication using coloured beads and a painted board.
The Montessori student does not learn about multiplication as an abstraction; but knows why you ‘add the zero’, why you ‘carry the 10’ and what the multiplier, multiplicand and partial product actually are. The material appeals to primary-aged children who are fascinated by large numbers and is seen in both 6-9 and 9-12 classes.
Written language is an extension of spoken language and in Montessori begins with the concept that words are made up of sounds. Many games are played so that the young child realises that ‘cat’ starts with the sound ‘kuh’ and ends with the sound ‘tuh’ and has a ‘ahh’ in the middle. When the child is familiar with the sounds, the letter symbols are introduced using the Sandpaper Letters – symbols cut out of sandpaper and pasted on board.
The teacher asks ‘What sound can you hear at the beginning of ‘cat’?’ When the child replies ‘kuh’ the teacher says ‘This is what ‘kuh’ looks like’ and shows the child how to trace the shape of this letter with their dominant hand. By sounding out and tracing the letters the child learns in an auditory, tactile and visual way.
Sandpaper Letters are a perfect example of how Dr Montessori introduces concepts indirectly – vowels are on pink boards and consonants on blue board. When the child is familiar with 8-10 sandpaper letters the child is introduced to the Large Moveable Alphabet and starts to sound out and write their own words. Thus the child can begin writing before they have developed skills of forming the letters with a pencil Ask your Montessori teacher how to correctly sound out the phonetic sounds of the alphabet.
Sandpaper Letters are found in every 3-6 classroom.
Practical Life Equipment
Every Montessori class has equipment such as a broom, dustpan, brush, mop and duster that all the children can use.
Child-sized and of good quality the equipment is used by younger children to practise sweeping, dusting and mopping. Their desire to repeat, repeat and repeat may result in the floor being swept even when it is clean.
As the child matures they begin to notice when cleaning is required and mop only when water spills on the floor, or if the shelf is dusty. Other practical life activities that the children enjoy doing include window cleaning, wood, metal and glass polishing, mirror cleaning, dish and cloth washing and table scrubbing.
Older students in Montessori primary and adolescent communities use skills practised in early childhood to take responsibility for caring for their classroom environments.