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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What should your child achieve at the end of first year in a Montessori pre-school?

When a child is admitted to a Montessori House of children ( called as pre-school) at the age of 3, a parent has a standard question " What is your syllabus for the first year?". Montessori does not have a year-wise syllabus. As montessori activities are arranged for a age group of 3-6, and not for a single age group of 3, a Montessorian will tell you that 'the child's learning in the first year depends on his interest and effort'. In a Montessori,  child can set her own pace of learning. But parents, instead of feeling satisfied, get even more worried with this answer because they do not know how to evaluate their child's progress.

So here is an attempt to clarify their doubts:

1. Fine tune Gross motor movement ( meant to make child independent): Gross motor movements are the movements of legs, hands and body. This involves helping the child to walk gracefully, balance her body with chowki and material in her hand, and helping the child to take charge of herself.

In a Montessori, every time a child picks the material and mat to work from its scheduled place to the work-place for every activity, it refines his gross motor movement. In a Montessori, there is an activity called 'Walking on the line' that helps the child to get control over her entire body. In a Montessori which has an outer environment, where slide and other gardening activities can be done, this helps the child to further develop his gross motor movement.

In Montessori, expect your child to develop his gross motor movement. But, if the Montessori house does not have external environment, you should help your child in developing Gross motor movements by taking him to park, letting him play different games, do difficult activities like climbing long ladders under close supervision.

2. Refine the pincer movement ( to aid intellectual development ) This is the ability to use fingers with thumb. Human beings is the only species that possesses the pincer grasp of thumb and forefinger. If you want to spot a child who is handicapped ( mentally or physically), watch his pincer movements ! Pincer movement learning is critical because it guides a child's intellectual development as he works with objects to feel their weight and dimensions, gains independence by taking care of himself (like buttoning his shirt), and above all, use it for 'writing' later.

Montessori has numerous activities to aid pincer movement such as initial preparatory activities like threading a bead,  countless EPL activities like pouring water in a glass, sewing a button or sensorial activities like cylinder block and drawing insets. By the end of the first year, expect your child to use his pincer movement in a very very refined manner.

3. Use child's coordinated movement to help him develop his Will: A child is driven by impulses and whims of movement. He therefore requires guidance in choosing a task and focusing on it to complete it without getting distracted. This is development of Will. Traditional school prefers to 'break the Will' to force the child to comply.

Montessori, on the other hand, enables this development of Will in various ways. By giving child the freedom to choose his work, the child learns to decide what to do every moment of the day. He even learns to choose his lunch time. As each activity in a Montessori has a complete cycle (pick the material from the scheduled place, arrange it on his mat, complete the work, and keep it back at the scheduled place), it enables the child to focus on the work for a long time span and 'accomplish' something 'concrete' at the end such as pouring water. As the work designed in Montessori is self-corrective, the child can correct his own mistakes. Be it EPL activities or sensorial activities, by completing the activity every time from start to finish, the child in a Montessori develops his Will bit-by-bit.

By the end of first year, a child can chose his work and 'complete' it by focusing on it for a time as long as 30 minutes. This attention-span is a very important indicator of child's progress, because it is this ability that enables the child to accomplish the long-duration challenging activities of language and arithmetic later.

A child, when he is admitted to Montessori, could either be too submissive or too aggressive/excited. In such situations, Montessori house may need additional support from the parents to develop his Will. Please provide more time to such child to develop her Will, instead of forcing the child to bypass the process.

4. Utilise the child's senses to guide child to develop concepts

A child does not have a reasoning mind to understand concepts like 'small', 'large' or wide' until she is 5. A child therefore understands a concept only by using senses to explore concrete objects.

In Montessori, sensorial activities are a special class of activities that help the child use the senses to understand concepts. For instance, the cylinder block activity helps the child to understand the concept of 'short' and 'long' through seeing short and long cylinders. Colour tablets help the child to understand the concept of primary and tertiary colours, while touch tablets are used to understand the concept of 'rough' and 'smooth'.

By the end of the first year, the child should understand the physical properties of material such as long, short, small and large. He can easily distinguish and name colours of different shades, touch of different types, noise and smell of different intensities.

5. Develop interest in English language by enriching his vocabulary

In Montessori, the child is introduced to different names of words through picture cards. Picture cards are organised in different categories such as wild animals, pet animals, sea animals, kitchen items, living room items, bathroom items and so on. Child is also introduced to shapes in Geometry, types of leaves in Botany and so on. The emphasis is on getting the sounds of the word in exact manner. Spellings of words and alphabets are not introduced at this stage. In the Montessori, the child is also encouraged to speak his experiences in English. He is also introduced to realistic stories and rhymes.

When the child learns to name a object in his environment, he feels he is control of the environment. This naming of objects not only help the child in gaining better understanding of the environment, but  increases his vocabulary of English words which in turn enables him to 'understand the language in the second year'.

At 18 months, the child has a vocabulary of about 50 words. By the time the child enters the Montessori, she may have a vocabulary of about 300-400 words. By the end of the first year, the child would have developed a huge vocabulary of words. It is estimated that a child learns about 100 new words every month in the first year of Montessori. More importantly, because the child learns the words in a context, he can also re-use those words.

In Montessori, as the child is taught English phonetically in the second year, please do not expect your child in Montessori to know the alphabets or the spelling of the words by the end of first year. By the way, best way to learn any other language like English is to learn it phonetically, i.e. by knowing the sounds of the words, rather than by knowing the alphabets. That is how you have learnt your mother tongue by the age of 3/5. 

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