“She’s counting the 4-Square Chain,” Casa South Montessori assistant Serena explained of the image above. “She’s putting out a ticket for every four beads that she counts, so this one goes up to 16. Once she’s put them all out she comes and tells me or tells Pat what the tickets are. She will memorize them, or she can go back and check the tickets if she can’t remember. It’s a sneaky way of learning the multiplication tables, and it’s fun — these are the hardest materials for the first year students to not just touch.”
Yep, the young girl above is learning how to use a wrench to secure nuts and bolts. Why on earth is that part of a Montessori Casa environment?
“Well, because we might need to know how to use them,” said Serena with a smirk. “There is a little boy in the class who likes to ask, ‘Is this a girl job?’ ‘Is this a boy job?’ So I tell him there are no boy jobs or girl jobs, the jobs are for everybody to use. She has to be very focused. For this job she has to align the holes on the two bocks so that the bolt will go through and everything will fit together properly, so there’s some spatial orientation and eye-hand coordination. There are fine motor skills involved in threading the nuts onto the bolts as well, which helps to prepare for writing.”
“This is drawing job,” said Serena about the activity being enjoyed, and patiently waited for above. “It’s broken down by shapes, so they first start with, for instance, a triangle and then add a circle for the head and smaller triangles for the spines. For those of us who are not necessarily natural artists this helps us to learn to draw. There are sort of skeleton-like shapes in the figures, so instead of trying to draw from memory they’re using the geometric shapes.”
As to why we don’t just buy or make more of a popular material in Montessori Casa environments, Serena explained that “In life, we sometimes do have to wait. We don’t always have something for everyone. We need to take turns and wait until something is available, and we need to do so patiently and politely, which is a skill that isn’t necessarily just there. You have to develop it and practice it.”
The Montessori Arranging Flowers job requires children to select a specific number of flowers from a bouquet, and to ensure the material is properly put away after, so it is a job that teaches not only fine motor skills and artistry, but also respect for others.
“This mat does take quite a bit. You have to start off with a tight roll in order to make it fit on the tray,” said Serena about the task of cleaning up and putting away the Flower Arranging job in Casa South. “It needs to be sponged clean and dried, ready for the next person so that when they go to take it off the shelf they don’t need to start by cleaning everything off, it’s nice and ready for them to use. She can only take three flowers so that there’s enough for everyone to use — respecting the others in the class.”
“Some peer hairdressing going on,” joked Serena of the little girls above, who are preparing to work with the iconic Montessori Pink Tower material. Perhaps one of the most well-known and recognizable Montessori materials, Serena explained its point and purpose:
“There are ten blocks — there’s a lot of ten-ness in the environment — and it’s about volume. The smallest cube can serve as a control of error. Once the tower is built from the biggest cube to the smallest you take the smallest cube and, if it’s built concentrically, put it right at the edge of each of the cubes going up and it should fit just nicely. They are grading from largest to smallest. It’s a visual discrimination activity. The fine motor skill to put the smallest cube on top — you have to be very steady.”
As for what else is going on in Casa South lately, “There’s been a lot of peer teaching,” said Serena. “Third-years giving Sandpaper Letter presentations. Once they’ve done at least one challenging job in each area of the environment, their fifth job to do is to choose a first-year child to give a presentation to. They’re really taking on the responsibility now. It’s good for them both because they love learning from each other. It’s great, them helping each other. It’s community building.”