In a previous blog, we discussed the value of inclusion and how Montessori’s tenet of following the individual needs of the child makes it inherently inclusive. The Circle of Inclusion Project (University of Kansas) and Raintree Montessori (Lawrence, Kansas) listed 11 specific ways in which Montessori education addresses the needs of all children, including those with disabilities. Included in this list is “An emphasis on repetition.” In today’s blog, Michelle kindly shares her classroom experiences to provide real-life examples of how Montessori meets that specific goal.
The Montessori Method, p. 171.
Practice makes perfect. Ask any musician and they will tell you that they put in hours and hours of practice to perfect their craft. Being able to play an instrument, sing, or dance, requires hours of hard work, dedication, and repetition until those skills and abilities become part of you.
Rouen Cathedral, Claude Monet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Impressionist artist Claude Monet painted more than 30 canvases depicting the Rouen Cathedral. While the subject never changed, the conditions did, allowing the artist to depict the same scene in a variety of weather and lighting. Monet showed us that even stationary subjects are fluid and dynamic over time.
Circle of Inclusion: An Emphasis on Repetition
Practice is not just for the arts. Einstein took ten years of repetitive thought and practice to formulate his E=MC2 theory of relativity. And it took another 20 years of experimenting and practice to validate his theory.
So, if we do not expect artists and scientists to get it right the first time, why do we have such high expectations for children? When I taught in the public school system, one of my biggest frustrations was the fact that we were expected to spend only one day on a concept, whether the students understood it or not. Children who needed extra time to practice and really understand were quickly left behind, and they struggled the rest of the year to keep up.
When I entered the Montessori environment, one of the things that struck me most was how repetition is an inherent aspect of the Montessori classroom. The materials are intended to be used over and over again by the child to solidify the concepts she is learning. Repetition helps refine the child’s ability until the child, not the adult, decides it is time to leave that material or concept behind and move on to something new.
So central is the idea of repetition to the Montessori methodology that each material found in the environment builds directly upon that which came before. Examples of this reinforcement of repetition can be seen in the Cylinder Blocks and the Sentence Analysis material.
The primary objective of the Montessori Cylinder Blocks is to develop and refine visual acuity. Simplistic in design, the Cylinder Blocks isolate the concepts of diameter and height. There are four blocks, each the same size and color; the only difference being the diameter and/or height of the cylinders. The physical repetitiveness of the material allows the child to recognize how the each block is similar and he is not overwhelmed by the incremental changes.
Because the child works with each of the four blocks in the same manner, the process and the order of each activity provides repetition as well. The repetitive left-to-right movement that is required throughout the Cylinder Blocks activity is already familiar to the child. Most Montessori activities, starting with the practical life presentations, incorporate left-to-right movement in some way. This repetition of directional movement reinforces hand-eye coordination and prepares the child for writing and reading.
While the cylinders in each of the blocks vary in diameter and/or height, the child uses the same repetitive movement with each of the blocks. The child is welcome to use and reuse the materials as often as necessary to fulfill his need for discovery.
As the child moves into the Montessori elementary environment, work becomes more abstract with less reliance on materials. At this point, repetition is found within the language of discovery, as is shown with the Sentence Analysis materials. Starting in the early childhood environment, when the child works with the Grammar Symbols, she adds a unique symbol to every word in the sentence to show its function. But when she works with the Sentence Analysis material, the work is more abstract with the child working with distinct parts of the sentence, which can consist of single words or longer phrases.
In this material, repetition can be found in the consistency in which the questions are asked to find the function of the parts of the sentence. We always begin with the same two questions:
1. What is the action?
2. Who or what did the action?
Finding the action, or predicate, first, immediately establishes the purpose of the sentence. The predicate is the easiest part of the sentence to identify because it is the movement (action). It then becomes easier to determine who did the action, or the subject.
The order of the activity continues by asking the child to find the direct and indirect objects in the sentence:
3. Who or what (did the subject do)?
4. To whom or to what (was the action done to)?
Asked in this order every time, the student knows she can analyze the beginning of even the most complex questions. Even if there is no indirect object or if there is an implied subject, asking these questions repetitively offers stability to an otherwise abstract thought process.
This is foundational material that provides children with repeated opportunities to practice and thoroughly understand the concepts, guiding them to discover the answers themselves. Children learn to rely on their own knowledge because they feel confident that they know the order in which to solve these abstract problems.
Whether repetition comes from the materials, the language, or the child’s need to repeat an activity, we should allow the child to explore and work on concepts as often and for as long as they need to.
We need to trust the child to know what he needs and that he will move on to the next task once he is secure in his understanding.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, February 15, 2017.