The Building Blocks of Montessori

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A Montessori classroom not only functions differently than many traditional classrooms, it also looks quite distinct from other types of classrooms. However, if you do a quick image search or scroll through #montessoriclassroom, you’ll begin to notice that from school to school, and even country to country, Montessori classrooms are easily recognizable and similar to one another. The backbone of Montessori education is the prepared environment, a place that fosters independence and facilitates learning. Making up the prepared environment are Montessori materials. Originally designed by Dr. Maria Montessori at the start of the 20th century, the same materials are being used today at House on the Hill. What makes them so special, timeless, and uniquely suited for children’s development?

At House on the Hill we exclusively use Nienhuis Montessori materials. Albert Nienhuis was the original collaborator of Dr. Montessori and Nienhuis Montessori was founded in 1929 to create materials that upheld Dr. Montessori’s vision and standard. Today Neinhuis materials are recognized as the global standard for quality in Montessori materials. We value our Montessori materials for three important aspects of their design: the educational purpose, the method of use, and the appearance and integrity of the material. 

Purpose: Foster Independent Learning Along a Child’s Natural Path of Development

Montessori materials have what we refer to as “control of error” meaning that the material allows the child to identify and correct their errors without the interruption of a teacher. The materials also begin by isolating qualities such as size, shape or color, allowing children to master these concepts on their own before they are ready to combine them.  

An excellent example of both these concepts are the knobbed cylinders. A series of four wooden blogs have a series of holes, each with a matching knobbed cylinder that fits perfectly inside. Each block presents a different introduction to height and diameter. It will be obvious to the child if the cylinder is in the wrong hole: either it will not fit according to its diameter or it will be too tall or too short. As the child masters each block they can then begin to use multiple blocks at once. 

Use: engage with the child’s senses and encourage full body learning 

Dr. Montessori was an early advocate for sensorial learning and observed the connection between a child’s cognitive development and movement. Her materials facilitate that link even more. For example, we may not often associate language development with fine and gross motor activity but Montessori’s sandpaper letters and the large movable alphabet make language learning interactive. 

As children learn phonic sounds they trace a sandpaper letter while saying the sound of the letter. Once the child has mastered all the letters they will use the large movable alphabet (LMA) to begin to spell. 

Appearance: natural, real, beautiful materials that attract and interest children

Our classrooms have almost no decoration, instead, the focus is on the beauty of the materials. The materials are usually simple in color, but made with excellent craftsmanship. Too many designs, flashing lights or glitter ultimately distract from the learning and overwhelm the child. In the right environment children will be drawn to the stocked shelves where they can learn, problem-solve, and explore. 

Dr. Montessori believed that children should experience the real world and learn to carry themselves in it. Everything is made of non-synthetic materials such as wood, metal, ceramic, or even glass. Some of the things are fragile, and so teachers work with children to learn the proper care and gentleness needed. 

Montessori Infant materials in our Nido 

The beauty and genius of the materials is not limited to our playgroup and mixed-age classrooms! Dr. Montessori designed materials for even our littlest children, and they can be found in our Nido. These materials follow the same design principles; they are purposefully designed, beautiful, simple, and engaging. 

Some materials are almost exactly the same, just simplified and scaled for smaller hands. All materials have the potential to grow with children as they develop. 

All the materials focus on developmental stages appropriate to the ages of the Nido. Children are learning the concepts of object permanence with the object permanence box, and begin to practice fine motor precision and matching with the 3D object fitting tray. 

Dr. Montessori believed that children learn best when they are very interested in a subject. She observed in her own work with young children that they have a “natural curiosity and zest for learning”.  Her materials, lessons, and educational approach are designed to capitalize on the nature of each individual child. After many years of watching children learning with these materials at House on the Hill, we can confidently corroborate the legitimacy of these findings! 

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