Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Should Be Left Out?

Note: It has (is) taken me several times to get this posted and working. I apologize if you have received several posts or updates to your RSS feed, etc.,

Note #2: My computer is acting strangely. I tried clicking on "results" and couldn't find them. So, I tried voting myself (I picked leave them out just to pick something) and it froze up and voted five times. SOOO, if you look at the results subtract five from "leave them out." Also, to view results you have to scroll way down on the new page it opens and it prints them in reverse of voting order. Sigh. Need to find a better poll app.

What Should Be Left Out?

Let's pretend I have all the space necessary to have a full classroom of Montessori materials available all at the same time.

Question: As my oldest child seems to "finish" one material, and it is too soon for my youngest to start that material, should I put it away or leave it out so it is available in case he has a need to revisit the material?

I am not referring too much to practical life, I sort of have "categories" of materials in that area (a sorting work, a transfer work, etc.,) and rotate the specific work representing that category. Although I wonder, do I put away the snap frame when I bring out the button frame? This comes up more frequently in the other subjects. For example, do I put away the sandpaper globe when I bring out the globe of world parts? Do I put away the color boxes when I bring out the geometric solids? Do I rotate which animal/botany puzzle is out or just keep adding to the pile? The questions are so endless, what I really need is a governing philosophy.

There are some materials that Kal-El has just never shown any interest in. I don't know if I missed the sensitive period, if the material is flawed (I have determined my color box three is just not good), or the sensitive period is still to come.

I have seen both ideas in action on blogs, so let's take a vote!

Remember, we are voting as if there are no space limitations. As always, you are welcome to expand on your thoughts in the comments!

Note 3: Okay, I removed the horrid poll gadget. I felt like it was gumming up my whole blog. If you have an opinion please leave it for us in the comments. This has been an interesting topic I think and there is a lot to read in the comments section.

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  1. If there are no space limitations, I would have everything out. What I do in my classroom is cover up the shelves of advanced language and math that I know my oldest children won't get to until the middle/end of the year. These materials tend to have a million little pieces that are very tempting for you g hands. Once a material is presented, it should always be available for re-visitation or explanation. I'm always surprised at the connections children will make between the materials. On the other hand, I do also have some materials "take a break" if they are being overused incorrectly (ahem, painting and bells in my classroom). Also, in practical life prelim exercises, if every child has mastered the activity, it can probably be removed as the purpose of prelim exercises is to perfect a skill for other work.

  2. Like you, I would rotate my sorting/tonging, etc. practical life works.

    The other stuff, well, I don't have an exact rule. It depends on space to a certain extent.

    I don't tend to have all the sensorial things out. After we get through the knobbed cylinders, then I put them away and start the knobless. I rotate the smelling/tasting/etc. things and I'll only have one kind of touch thing out at a time. (like fabric swatches but not rough/smooth boards, etc.)

    With botany and zoology, I'll have the puzzle, the 3 part cards, a plasic figure, and little books about one of the things (like for zoology - mammal and botany - tree) and then I will switch to something else the next month, but after we have been through them all, then I bring ALL of the puzzles and 3 part cards out again.

    For the globes, I keep both globes out all the time, but will do the landforms one at a time, along with the sandpaper figure, books about it, etc., and then afterward we get through them leave just the landforms out.

    Math is similar to practical life. I keep the basics out all the time (sandpaper numbers, short bead chain, spindles) but create seasonal counting acitivies (most of which I get from My Montessori Journey.)

    I rotate activities out of the language area regularly too. We are working on the red level from My Montessori Journey, but I'll have to rotate the yellow level instead of leaving the red out all year because I don't have that much room. I rotate other pre-reading activities too. I do keep sandpaper letters, moveable alphabet, chalkboard, and dry erase boards out all the time. We focus on one inset a month, but they are all out all the time.

    So, I'm sure you noticed, I really don't have a good rationale for what I keep out and what I don't, except that MOSTLY I will keep out the "core" materials from each area.

    Oh, and P.S., I have a small class, and I'd never be brave enough to have the bells, even if I could afford them. On the other hand, I have no problems with the kids misusing paint. The red rods though??? They are frequently "on a break."

  3. I would also leave out what you can. I bring out work as it is needed as the kids in my school will simply not take anything on the shelf if there is a lot of unknown work. They often go back to easy work, particularly at the beginning of a work cycle and after a prolonged piece of work that required much concentration. Als as PS wisely says, it is the connections between materials that children make independently that are really valuable. The lessons you give are a springboard.

  4. I wish I had the room to leave everything out! I find, like someone else mentioned, that sometimes Beeper prefers to so something realy easy for him, like the other day when I was rearranging, and he saw the beads and wanted those, then wanted to do his color train. I don't know whether it's because he needs a mental break, or if it's because he needs the reassurance that there's something he's really good at. I get frustrated at how limited our space is, because somedays it feels like he's done everything already that week and is bored with it and we need more choices at once.

    On the other hand, since he is the only one there, I also wonder whether walking into a room with TOO many choices would be intimidating and he'd have trouble settling on any one thing.

    Also, I still like the idea of unit study, so for some things, I would be tempted to just do one thing at a time, like only having things from one continent out at a time instead of continent boxes. This gives you a chance, as you rotate, to present each new thing as a gift, like Montessori described.

    In short? Good question.

  5. I come from two perspectives- my home with very limited space, and the school where I receive my teacher training, which is a regular Montessori preschool classroom.

    In my house, I definitely rotate. Even some of the core things, only leaving things out that I am pretty sure the kids are using and getting something out of. I was getting really frustrated last year, because no one was using the sensorial things like the cubes, prisms and rods, the geometric I put alot of them away for awhile. I just didn't want to waste shelf space. In our home this year, I am definitely experimenting with some things. I actually brought everything mentioned above (except the rods) into our family room and arranged them attractively and in plain sight (I could actually stack the cubes in that room, but they don't fit in the school room, so they were just in a box). Now the kids are really using them, especially the geometric cabinet, which NOBODY used last year. So, the lesson I have learned is this: decide what you want your kids to learn and what materials you want them to use, and then do EVERYTHING you can to make those materials accessible, interesting and enticing to them. Last year I was just focusing on the materials, wanting the kids to use what I had bought for them...I like the child-centered approach better.

    But your question is really about a school where there are no space limitations. In the class where I have my training, their system makes a lot of sense to me. They start the year with their shelves pretty empty, and add a little every day. They leave out the basics all year, in all subjects, and in practical life they always have spooning and pouring but it goes from using large containers and utensils to very small ones by the end of the year. If something in practical life is not being used much anymore, it's taken off the shelf and not brought back for the rest of the year. If the teacher thinks the kids really do need more practice in that skill, she'd bring out a different work that they may use more. The science shelf is rotated frequently depending on the unit being studied...books are rotated in the language section...

    One thing I think is different in a home is that, in a sense, things ARE available even if they aren't on the shelf. Sometimes my kids remember about a work they've done, and will ask about it. I usually can get it for them from the basement, either right then or within a day or so, if it takes some work to put back together. An idea I've wanted to do but haven't is to put together a big photo album of all the materials/works that you own. Then, if your child gets bored of what's on the shelf, he can look through the book and make a request. It's a nice way to remind the kids without having to KEEP IT ALL OUT. That way, you can stick to smaller shelves and only put out what you think they'll use.

    Hope you get your question resolved. It's one I've often asked, too.

  6. I'm loving all of these great comments! Keep them coming!

    We have the luxury of a whole room dedicated to "school" so I can do it either way I want to. In the past I've heard "schools" talk about having them all out and "homeschools" talk about rotation, but I've suspected that this has more to do with the fact that "schools" have to accommodate many children and "homeschools" have space restraints. These responses are just what I want to hear...opinions on what is best for the individual child based on Montessori theory! Thank you!

  7. Ok, sorry to comment again after my lengthy comment already.

    Another reason why I don't put everything out, especially at the beginning of the year, is because I DO get new students every year and I DO have 4-6 students in our preschool room every day. I just can't manage to keep up with teaching lessons, observing, making sure that the students are acting appropriately, etc. when I have everything out and so much of it is new to most of the students.

    But by November-ish, when the students are more comfortable with expectations, and they are familar with many works, and how we have lessons before trying new works, etc., etc., then I can and do have a little more things out at once, although I'm still fairly limited on space.

    If it was just my own children, I would probably handle this issue a little differently.

  8. Without space limitations I would leave them out. Keeping the classroom environment consistent is especially important for the development of order. This means, not just keeping the materials out, but keeping them in the same place. If the location and materials available are constantly (or even just regularly or occasionally) changing it increases the child's dependency on the adult to choose their works.

    A few weeks ago, my oldest was really wound up at bedtime and he was just wild. We talked about what would help him settle down and he said work would help him settle down. He went into our classroom and took out the pink tower and brown stair and started building extensions (not building like blocks, doing the actual appropriate extensions). It really worked to help him refocus his mind and he was able to settle down. That is why I argue for for leaving them out because you simply don't know when then might be used again. As a first grader and reader it never occurred to me that he would ever use it again!

    My only comment would be to say, don't let them sit and get dusty. Be sure to keep them clean and shiny (if the children aren't) so that the boys see those works are prepared and ready for them. The shelves also need to be visually accessible enough to encourage the use of materials.

    Sometimes if I notice something hasn't been used for a while, I will get out a rug, carry my materials over, and complete a work silently. If the kids ask me about it, I ask them to please not interrupt me while I am working. When I am finished I complete the work cycle and return the material to the shelf. It is almost always used by someone after that. If not then that is one way I test to see if a material is still relevant (we do not have unlimited space...quite the opposite).