5 Oct 2011 (2Y7M) - Our Little FECS doing Montessori-on-a-Potty Practical Life activity

Why I Started This Series on Montessori Activities?

I am sad that private playschools and enrichment centres in capitalistic Singapore are so expensive, catering only to the privilege children of the elites and are largely beyond the reach of the average Singaporean heartlander families. This has created a further drift in the steeply rising income disparity in the population. Quality education should be available to all.

Denmark on the other hand, has a very high standard of daycare. Many teachers are truly passionate about their profession, but sadly the budget is cut to the bone every year in this socialistic welfare state, and it is hard for the kindergartens to keep up with the high standard they aspire to have. Danes generally believe that children should just play and learn to function socially. Danish kids run around, play with sand outdoor, do some jigsaw puzzles and colouring, dress make-pretend and attend kids' theatre play. Such free play in themselves are important and good, but I also believe that education can be fun and an integrated part of play, as play alone without some educational direction can be so fluid and haphazard. Generally, the teaching of alphabets, basic Maths, etc. are not in the Danish curriculum (actually they generally don't have any formal curriculum) until the children are 6 years old. Montessori is not well-known in Denmark.

Whether we live in a capitalistic or a socialistic country, we as parents can all do something about it to rectify the society's short-fall in providing quality education. We can roll up our sleeves and teach our kids ourselves. No one does it with more love and commitment than parents :-)

Background to Montessori

Montessori teaching methods were devised by an Italian, Marie Montessori (1870 - 1952), who was one of the first female doctors in Italy. She was appointed in 1896 as the director of an institution for the mentally retarded children, where she put her teaching methods to the test. She insisted that the staff recognize her patients' need for stimulation, purposeful activity, and self-esteem. Several of these mentally challenged children not only passed the State examinations for reading and writing, but had above-average scores, suggesting that their IQ has been raised by many points, an achievement described as "the first Montessori miracle." Several of them were transferred to a normal school.

In 1907, she opened the first Casa dei Bambini, a school for poor children from the slums of Rome and these children were generally described as disadvantaged. Her success was repeated with these disadvantaged children.

The needs of children discovered by Marie Montessori are as follows:

1. Joy in learning
2. Love of order
3. The need to be independence
4. The need to be respected and listened to
5. Interest in fact and fiction

Accordingly to Andrew McAfee, the cornerstone of Montessori method are:

1. Mixed-age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½-or-3 to 6 by far the most common,
2. Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options,
3. Uninterrupted blocks of work time,
4. A Constructivist or "discovery" model, in which students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction, and
5. Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators.

Is Montessori Education Concept Proven?

So far, the latest support I have found is "The Montessori Mafia" article in The Wall Street Journal. Here is a video which gives a good explanation to the Montessori's concept. Here is a testimony of by "Living Montessori Now" who is a Montessori mom with 2 grown up children, who had been through Montessori education, but more scientific research and empirical studies are needed.

Differences between Montessori and Traditional Pre-School

Here are the differences:

Advantages of Montessori pre-school:

1. Concrete - can see, feel and touch e.g. geometric solids (according to Tami Elliot, a Montessori pre-school teacher and owner)
2. Good rhythm and natural progression (according to Tami Elliot, a Montessori pre-school teacher and owner)
3. Most complete range of Maths manipulatives comparable by no other
4. Characterized by an orderly and peaceful environment

Disadvantages of Montessori pre-school:

1. Less emphasis on imaginative play

2. Less emphasis on art and craft

3. Child-led (this is both an advantage and a disadvantage)

Maria Montessori believes that children are naturally passionate and enthusiastic about exploring and experiencing their world, and that if this passion is nurtured, it will create self-motivated children who love learning. However, it is not all children are totally self-motivated and enthusiastic about learning.

In some Montessori preschools with an elitist culture, basing on the Montessori philosophy of following the child, you will tend to find teachers who have the tendency to give attention to the children who are self-motivated and who take the initiative to request presentation and learning. Teachers thus tend to pay less attention to the children who are less self-motivated. These children will actually need more special attention to draw them out, and thus require more intervention from teachers.

As an experienced Montessori teacher and Director, John Bowman, rightly pointed out based on his observation: "Left to their own devices, these kids were not going to develop excellent brain architecture by themselves. It's just that the approach required a lot more outside motivation from the teacher than Montessori prescribed for her Prepared Environment."

As such, in my opinion, it is very important to choose a good Montessori preschool which takes a measured approach to the concept of "following the child".

Advantages of traditional pre-school:

1. Creative and imaginative play
2. Art

Here is a video that gives a balance viewpoint of Montessori and traditional pre-school:

How to Overcome Some Challenges with Setting Up Montessori Education?

1. Short Attention Span of Children

The first hurdle - Short attention span of children. Although each Montessori lesson is very short - between 5 minutes to 15 minutes, still very few toddlers or preschoolers have the natural abilitiy to focus and concentrate for even 5 minutes, especially for boys. Yet, the ability to listen, focus and concentrate is so crucial to learning and preparation for formal schooling. It is no surprise that in Denmark and in Singapore, the number of girls entering universities out-number boys at a increasing rate. It would be a worrisome development for the society to have such skewed representation of boys and girls in universities. I come from a family with a history of ADHD among boys (my dad, my brother and now my nephew), and we have a boy, J. Thus I am very determined that J can focus, pay attention, concentrate and be determined in his pursuits.

Solution: Blanket Time & Room Time

To prepare your child for Montessori lessons and activities, start already when they are babies by introducing Blanket Time (BT) and Room Time (RT) to teach the ability to focus and concentrate. Even if you do not succeed with BT and RT with your child, it doesn't matter as they would still at least be familiar with the concept, and it would still be easier for you in the long run. However, if you haven't done BT or RT at all, don't despair. It is not impossible, but it just means that it may take a longer time for your child to learn to like Montessori activities.

2. Cost of Setting Up Montessori Classroom

The second hurdle - Setting up a Montessori classroom with Montessori materials can be horrendously expensive.

Solution: Use Household Equipment or Homemade Materials

However, with a bit of creativity, we can make many of the materials ourselves, some using household items. This blog thus aims to provide a structured and easily retrievable presentation of how Montessori activities can be introduced to your child on a budget, some of which are my own ideas, some gathering from the knowledge of others who have shared their ideas on the web.

This blog is also a log of my own experiences at trying out the Montessori and other fun & educational activities with Joshua, which I am recording it down systematically for future reference. If it benefits you to see how I have implemented these activities, I am most happy to share it through this blog.

I want to give my deepest thanks to all the other mommy bloggers out there who shared their experiences and took the effort to document them down and post them. I have learned so much from all of you. I can't personally send a thank you note, but if you are not happy about me linking to your posts or using your ideas in my blog, please let me know.

Disclaimer: I am not Montessori trained, but just one who has an avid interest in the Montessori concepts. Thus, this is just some cherry-picking from the concepts that I am using on Joshua.

How do I prepare for the activity?

1. Many of the activities are done on a tray, as a tray defines the work space for your child. It is best to choose a tray that is plain and simple, not patterned, to avoid distraction.

2. Prepare the activity in advance. This will minimize the error when giving instructions, and reduce the chance of confusing your child.

3. Sit your child to your left (to your right, if he is left-handed).

4. Make your child responsible for taking the materials to the work space and returning them when the activity is completed as soon as he is developmentally ready.

What should I do if my child does not seem to respond to the activity?

Do not worry or get angry with your child. Simply put the activity away. Ask yourself the following questions:

- Have you presented the activity in an appealing way?

- Was the level of difficulty or challenge right for your child's development stage, i.e. whether your child was ready for this activity, especially with regard to a language or numeracy activity?

- Was it the right time of the day?

- Did you understand the aim and did your child understand what was required?

If your child is unable to do the activity correctly, make a mental note to reintroduce it again at a later stage.

What should I do if my child abuses the materials?

If your child abuses any of the materials in the activity, remove the activity from him immediately. By doing so, he will learn that his behaviour was unacceptable. Introduce the activity again another time.

What should I do if my child makes a mistake?

Do not interrupt when your child is working. Learn to sit back and observe. Try not to point out your child's mistake, but find a way for him to correct his own mistakes. In this way, he will come to regard mistakes as something to learn from.

How do I incorporate these activities as a working mom?

Ideally, it should be in the morning as children are more receptive in the morning, especially for language and numeracy activities. To save time and multi-task, you can incorporate Montessori inspired activities during meal time (sorting activities) and during potty time (pouring activities) during the weekdays, leaving the weekends for other activities.

Where Can I Find Help?

This is one of my favourite books providing hands-on guide on Montessori activities that is practical, simple, easy to follow and fun to read. The book also provides lots of ideas on using simple equipment that you can find at home. You can find them in Amazon:

Lesson Plans

You can find the Practical Life lesson plans here:

You can find the Sensorial lesson plans here:

You can find the language lesson plans here:

You can find the Maths lesson plans here:

You can find the Science lesson plans here:

You can find the Art & Crafts lesson plans here:


Teach Me to Do It Myself by Maja ptamic

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