This week, we got our Casa South update from Michael Rode, who is completing the practical teaching aspect of his Montessori training in the Casa South environment at DVMS.
Michael had the chance to witness the lovely scene above, which regular visitors to our Facebook page may recognize (our current cover photo is of the same two children working with the same material during the first term).
“Sandpaper letters are usually done by first year children into second year,” said Michael. “It’s a sensorial impression of all the different letters, because all kids that age, between 3 – 6, that’s how they learn. They learn sensorially and they need to be able to move and to touch and to feel to really absorb something, and they really have a want to learn this at this time.”
Michael also explained how the ongoing peer interaction evident here is not only a method of instruction for both children, but also an important part of building community in a Montessori environment.
“It’s a great example of community and the multi-age classroom,” Michael explained. “She’s had that work, maybe somebody gave it to her 2 or 3 years ago and now she’s taking that and giving it to the first year boy. It really helps the community come together in the classroom. Pat was saying that when the third years help the first years — in past years when they haven’t wanted to help the third years as much, sometimes they might not even know some of the first years’ names — because they are working so intimately together every day they get a good sense of each other and who they are.”
Michael touched on the repetitive nature of work with the Sandpaper Letters in a Casa environment:
“This happened in first term, it’s happening in second term, and it won’t stop. It’s going to keep going for them because you can’t just get an impression of a letter once and know it; you have to keep doing it and keep doing it. It’s as much muscle memory as it is absorption.”
Michael also filled us in on where he’s doing his training and how he came to DVMS:
“I am currently enrolled at the Foundation for Montessori Education which by the end of the year will give me an AMI diploma — Association Montessori Internationale — which will allow me to be a director in a primary (Casa, 3 – 6) environment. It’s an intensive one-year course. The woman who runs the Foundation, Sandra Girlato, learned under Maria Montessori’s grand-daughter, Renilde Montessori, so there’s a big connection there. I’m going to come into the classroom four times, this is my third time, after every unit — Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, and Language. I come in and develop my skills in real time with the kids.
“I’m focusing on math this time, so you can see in the pictures above, with the older child, I’m working with the Addition Snake Game. What that is is a concrete representation of what addition is. He can really feel the beads, and feel pulling the beads, adding to the beads, and putting the beads together, so he gets a real sensorial impression of what addition is, which he absorbs unconsciously in his mind before he really becomes a conscious learner. Before he does that he sees that ‘Ok, these beads and these beads feel the same, they look the same, and they create something new,’ and that’s what he’s absorbing there.”
A younger child is observing the Addition Snake Game work.
“He’s in first year and he’s observing, just watching,” Michael explained. “He’s seeing, ‘Ok, this is something I’ll come to in a year, maybe two years.’ He’ll just watch. Then, he got right in there with the Number Rods, which are very similar to another thing they do — the Red Rods, which are all about length — but here they are segmented so it’s all about the initial sensorial impression of numbers. He can touch the smallest rod, which is the one-rod, and feel that it’s different than the two-rod, he’ll feel that that’s different than a three-rod, that’s different than a four-rod. He’s placing them in descending order — and they’re almost as long as he is. ’10, that’s big number; it’s almost as big as I am.'”
Michael also explained how the material allows the child to self-correct his own work using the one-rod:
“Montessori calls it a unit of difference, so once he has the 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, he’ll take the one and he’ll put it at the end of the 9-rod and see ‘Oh, this small rod, plus this long rod, equals this longer rod.’ That’s all he’s getting right now. Maybe in a year, maybe two, he’ll understand it a little bit more, but that’s what he’s getting. This is preparing him for all later math work. This is the foundation of math right here. He’s indirectly learning about numbers 1 -10, he’s indirectly learning that 5+5=10, 9+1=10, this is totally indirect, but that’s what the Number Rods are showing him.”
Michael was also able to fill us in on a few other Montessori Casa jobs children were engaged with this week, including the interesting scene above.
“She is doing the Smelling Bottles,” said Michael, “which seem incredibly simple. All they are are a few different smells from around the environment, very different smells, so maybe something more medicinal, or something like ginger, and something else very subtle or very potent, three different smells. It’s less about the smelling and more about using a sense and refining that sense. She has to compare the scents; she has to contrast the scents, and that’s really the foundation of what this material is about. It’s not about the smells themselves, it’s about comparing and contrasting and figuring out the difference between the smells. Refining her sensorial talent.”
Michael also explained the indirect extensions inherent in the material.
“The caps [on the bottles] are all different, and that harkens back to a first-year Practical Life material called Boxes and Bottles, which is the first time, in the classroom, the child really develops their pincer grip or maybe a tripod grip in opening up the bottle and putting it back on [see this week’s Casa North update for an example of Boxes and Bottles]. They have to use those practical life skills again and again with all the materials that come in second year and third year, in Elementary, in Adolescent.”
The same girl took some time the same day to read to some of Casa South’s younger children.
“I love this,” said Michael, “this was a beautiful moment. She’s developing her reading and her oral skills. It also further develops that great community in the classroom. The development of reading starts off with the Sandpaper Letters, they learn the letters, they learn the sounds. The whole environment itself is all about the enrichment of vocabulary. A guide will be very specific with their words, and every word in the classroom will be very clearly defined and will be used again and again and again so the child will develop their vocabulary; they’ll be able to hear all the different sounds, and through that they’ll eventually be able to develop phonetic words. This all happens kind of unconsciously and then that development deepens. Writing happens first and reading usually begins about six months after the initial writing. Writing is much more concrete. You’re using your own hand and the writing’s about your own thoughts, while reading is about someone else’s thoughts.”
Elsewhere in Casa South this week, two first-year girls were working with the Montessori Colour Box materials.
Michael explained that, “We have three Colour Boxes in the Casa room, and they develop in the same way as the Smelling Bottles — you find the similar, you find the difference, and you find that within the similar there’s so much difference as well. They’re working with something called Colour Box 2. In Colour Box 1, you just have red, yellow, and blue, and they have to match those and contrast those and they get a sensorial impression of that. Now, they’re discovering that there’s not only those colours, there’s more of those colours, and they know that indirectly already by looking at the world, but we’re isolating the colours themselves. Everything else in these materials is exactly the same: they look the same, they feel the same — they smell the same, they taste the same,” he joked. “The only difference is the colour. Again, it’a refinement of a sense, they’re refining their visual sense here. A further refinement of the sense from what they began with at the beginning of the year.”
Pat was working with a Casa child this week combining a couple of different materials to help her continue to master her number sense and knowledge. Michael explained what they were doing:
“They’re using Large Number Cards, which are units, tens, hundreds, and thousands. You’ll notice that the units and the thousands are the same colour because they’re similar in their hierarchy of numbers. What she’s doing is getting the child to compose a number and take what’s on the card and bring back that quantity in beads. She’s relating a concrete idea — the actual beads themselves — with the symbolic impression of the numbers. Numbers themselves don’t have any meaning; humans give meaning to them. The child here is inter-relating the material and the symbolic.”
We also captured a young Casa student working his way through a couple of different activities in the Casa South Montessori environment one morning.
“The shells bring some of the natural world into the environment, and he’s getting a sensorial impression of what they feel like, he may look for patterns in the shells and lay them out from smallest to largest shell, or maybe sort the different colours of shells, it’s really a way to allow the child to key into patterns, and he is developing his tactile sense by feeling the roughness and the smoothness and the ridges of the shells, he may smell them or put them up to his ear, it’s an amalgamation of sensorial development.
“The trinomial cube is also a sensorial, visual, tactile representation of the trinomial equation, which is really interesting. Once he gets to Elementary and understands this equation he can relate it back to this really interesting sensorial representation he had in Casa and instinctively know it. I hear that a lot in Elementary kids: ‘I don’t know how I know it, I just know it.'”
“DVMS was the very first school I observed,” Michael told us about how he came to undertake Montessori training and how he ended up at DVMS. “Probably like most parents here, I’d heard about Montessori philosophy and that it was some sort of alternative school and that’s it, that’s all I knew. So I came in and I observed, in Elizabeth’s room actually [Casa East], and it blew my mind. Seeing children be so focused and so concentrated; there’s this calm joy and this love that emanated from the environment and I thought why did I not get this, my kids have to get this, and why does not every single child on this earth not have this type of education.”
In addition to our note in the recent “Events and Information” newsletter, Casa staff have asked that children refrain from bringing any type of Valentine’s Day card or treats to school. Doing so causes a significant disruption to the Montessori work cycle. Thank you for understanding.