When parents take an interest in early education it’s natural to ask, “Can I teach my baby to read?”
Many parents have heard about the Montessori sandpaper letters and some have already bought them. They ask, “Can I start presenting them to my nine-month-old? He seems interested in them and has even taken a bite of them”.
Montessori recommended a certain order in the education of young children. We need to respond to their needs and presenting the ABC is premature for a nine-month-old child, even for a two-year- old. This means the child is not mature enough and hasn’t had enough experience to benefit from this exercise. The call to action for parents is to provide the environment for the later flowering into writing and reading.
Like in gardening, there are steps to take before planting the seed. You need to consider the circumstances that affect a plant’s growth to achieve a good outcome. Nurture is a big part of the success of early learning, as any unfulfilled emotional need will distract children from learning. An understanding of the sensitive periods of growth is also important and Montessori recommends working in accord with them. This makes learning effortless for young children.
At the age of two, children are in a sensitive period to order. They want things to proceed in an order that they have envisaged, and when things don’t proceed as they had imagined, it is upsetting. You may have noticed that they are very touchy in this regard. At this age it is best to offer open-ended play. Some parents are frustrated that they can’t show their child how to do things, and it is a fact that the child is likely to push any helping hands away. However, it is only a matter of waiting a few months, when there is a change.
At the age of 2.5 or 3 there is an interest in precision and a point of interest. Montessori included this point of interest in her Practical Life Exercises, which are suitable for this age.
A 2yo is bursting into speech and at the same time is responding to the urge to develop their gross motor skills, so anything the child chooses that develops coordination is helpful. She is making great strides in adapting to life.
She is also fighting for her independence. She resists help from anywhere. She wants to do it herself. It is good to offer initiatives that draw her attention, but to then retreat and allow her to explore the possibilities. We provide the environment where there are plenty of objects to manipulate, carry and push. Cubby houses to hide in and places to run.
We allow the child to absorb through the senses, but don’t demonstrate any particular adult-led exercise in exploring it further.
She has a keen eye for what the protocol is in daily life and watches to imitate modeled behaviour. It is good to tread carefully, step back and wait until you realise what she has in mind. She will simply absorb the culture and social customs of her time and place. It is best not to force anything or seek a response from direct teaching and it is disastrous to insist.
A good first step in education is to involve the child in all that goes on in the household. She will be noting where everything is kept and she is quite capable of going on little errands. This habit will make her happy and satisfied that she can do things and change things. There is a thrill in finding an object in a particular place.
She is participating in real life.
The adults’ first step is having things in order and making suitable materials accessible for the child. Prepare the environment to help her form habits of doing things herself. Make child-size utensils and tools available so she can use them at will, and as this interest grows you can begin to prepare the Practical Life Exercises.
“Help Me Do It Myself” – popular Montessori motto.
The Values of Practical Life Exercises
- Recognises children’s need for order.
- Strengthens the hand muscles.
- Shows the left to right sequence.
- Gives the concept of beginning, middle and end.
- Heightens observation skills.
- Forms the habit of order and sequence in completing an exercise.
- Gives the habit of self-care and care of the environment.
- Promotes spontaneous reaction to other people’s needs.
- Develops orientation.
- Develops coordination.
- Fulfills the need for independence.
At 2yo she may choose running, climbing and balancing, riding a bike or a rocking horse, sand and water play, pouring, ladling, sieving, transferring, and digging.
Other activities include:
- Swimming, gym and dance.
- Music, singing, drums, bells and shakers.
- Drawing and painting.
- Threading with large beads.
- Open and shut doors and containers.
- Feeding and looking after animals
- Simple puzzles and cards for matching and grading.
Another sensitive period is emerging – the Analysis of Movement, and this causes the child’s intense interest in how things are done.
It is another preparation period where we refine the senses and sharpen perceptions.
I will explain the Analysis of Movement Part 2.
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