Friday, December 11, 2009

Flow Theory: Seeing the Relationships Between Materials

I have been thinking about the relationships between the Montessori materials a lot over the past year or so. I have returned to the notion of an indirect aim as a grounding place for my own abstract thoughts which sometimes take me too far from what is at hand. So, I began mentally pairing materials that seemed to me had physically similarities or required a shared hand movement. These two variables became my mini-criteria for inclusion in a longer paper on this same subject.

Defining the pairs in regards to these two criteria meant having to mentally visualize their use and to remove the labels that so often isolate materials: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math and Cultural Studies. These labels, found on our albums, isolate materials from each other and therefore isolate and separate them in regards to their use by the children.

Once I simply thought about each work, and their individual design, similarities between the materials emerged. In fact, I would refer to this as a harmony which creates a flow in the classroom ultimately serving in normalizing a child. That is a lot to say but I whole heartedly believe that isolating materials fragments the environment and works in opposition to sensorial exploration and the freedom of movement - in the most broad understanding of the phrase. In regards to the term "Flow," I am referring to the writings of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Here are my initial pairs and some of my reasons for coupling them:

Spooning and the Multiplication board. Spooning is the transference of quantity from one place to another. Working with the Multiplication board, a child transference quantities from a small bowl and distributes them as required.

Similarly, Sorting and the Division board.

Here again sorting is a transference of quantities from one place to another. Sorting also requires that the items be divided into smaller portions and placed in individual containers. This is division. Look at the green beads in the small wooden bowl and think Practical Life instead of division. You should then be able to easily recall which work(s) the child initially did in order to have the eye hand coordination needed to carefully place all of those small beads in their circular placeholders.

Folding cloths and the Constructive Triangles.

The next time you see both of these materials in use by two separate students, look at the triangles and the rectangles made by the fold lines in the cloths and look at the various shapes made when the constructive triangles are placed together on a rug. See the black lines that designate which sides of the constructive triangles are to be matched and imagine each line as a fold. Do this and you will see these two materials have surprising similarities.

Perhaps the two materials most isolated from each other are the Botany Cabinet and the Geometry Cabinet.

When I was trying to think of materials to couple, I simply thought of the word Cabinet which instantly was followed by the question, "As these two materials are so physically familiar, what else do they share that I have not paid attention to?" Immediately I had an answer in my mind: the line. I then began thinking about polygons and non-Euclidean geometry. This was the key to unlocking the mystery of their relationship, of their overlapping values.

And what of that briefly mentioned statement regarding the line. When very young children do scissor work in the Montessori classroom they cut along a simple, straight line drawn on a small piece of paper. Soon, that paper is replaced by others which bear the image of a wavy line or a zig zag line. Eventual these are replaced by ones that resemble a shape, a recognizable shape. This is the same for the progression of sewing activities. The significance, other than learning to use scissors or needle, is the introduction of a line, of a basic element in grasping geometry. To pair this work I looked to the materials in Lower Elementary. Here, I found the geometry sticks.

Instantly I coupled cutting a line/sewing a line to this material.

I think children more readily see the relationships between materials than the adults in the environment. My suggestion for myself and for others is to go back to the albums and pick out a few lessons that have listed for their indirect preparation very specific materials. Get these out and work with them until you see their overlapping variables. And when you get an Ah ha! moment, set out to find other relationships between the materials. This will aid you enormously when you write your lesson plans for individual children.

I read recently that Maria Montessori took time off from her work to "meditate" on the writings of Itard and Sequin. She spent months hand writing the Italian translations of their work so that it would be available to her. She said she then meditated on the intentions of their methodology. That is what we need to do. We need to meditate on the intentions of Maria Montessori's work. It has become my passion.


希望 said...


montessorimatters said...

That's truly fascinating, and you're so right! I am currently reading "Flow" and it has changed how I approach my more difficult students. The results have been marvelous!

Over the winter holiday I will meditate on the flow of materials... Great food for thought!

pooja said...

what an insightful post! thank you for sharing .... i find myself looking for patterns at a different level now! :)