A while ago, I wrote a post about the children in my classroom exploring with the sensorial materials. I found their work provocative, imaginative, innovative and intelligent. They were not messy but organized and would often converse with a working partner about achieving balance, creating land forms, waterways and structural support for taller components of their architecture, which was what they created or perhaps urban landscaping. At times, they included gates, fire houses and prisons explaining the need for a defense system - remember these children live in a time when city/national security is denoted in colors orange and red. They are very aware that cities are vulnerable.
I also compared the exploration a child was making using the sensorial materials with the work of another child who was using the planets as a means of imagining our solar system. Their work was never intruded upon by other children who simply wanted to camp out and join the "play." The children made it very clear that they were not playing and often stated that they did not want observers. Also, they needed space. Another child would occupy space on a rug where they would want to expand their assemblage of materials.
Sounds somewhat like colonialism - occupied territory - something which I have at times envisioned when I see the positioning of rugs on the larger landscape of the carpeted floor. Each rug denoting occupied space and the walking around it extending this denoting of occupied space; the frame, outline, border, circumference of each rug not to be crossed or entered by the others. Oooops - that has been in mind a long time and I have sketched my ideas about it - my thoughts on the children exploring has often had this effect on me - my own mind opens up to abstract thoughts and reactions to their work. I never impose my own dialog on them - yes, that is what having a blog/diary is for.
"Floor mats mark the private work space" Michael Olaf catalogue
(the above rug looks so flag-like)
(the above rug looks so flag-like)
Returning to the children exploring with materials: On Thursday, after our Spring celebration which included decorating hard boiled eggs, two girls took out several of the sensorial materials. They laid the work out so that spatially it reminded one of the positioning of chess pieces. Only a few towers were built (this has been a recent phenomenon of this work - once everything came off the shelves - now there is a somewhat minimalist approach to the building of structures). After a few minutes of admiring their work, one of the girls asked the other, "Now what do you want to do?" The other child instantly answered, "Let's get paper and sketch our work." I remained quiet and just observed them. Both girls took a piece of easel paper and placed them on the floor in front of their work. Next they themselves laid down on the floor and using a tray of colored pencils began silently sketching their work. I snapped a photo and let them be.
Tonight, as I sit writing this, I am left wondering about the evolution of work, the creation of extensions, the process of work that is freely chosen and the leap to a higher plane of mental exploration/activity. I will not allow myself to hinder their work by setting guidelines, by corralling their efforts into a group presentation as if all children think the same. This is the aftermath of the method - the adult is no longer presenting lessons but instead left to digest the lessons that the children write/ act out/present. Food for thought...but the answers are always in the theory of the method - read everything that you can get your hands on so that you leave your hands off the children's work.
I went through one of my files and found a small pink pamplet printed by AMI titled:
An Unfolding - The Child From 3-6
by Margaret E. Stephenson
Here are a few paragraphs to consider:
The tendency for exploration is present throughout the stages of development from birth to maturity, but takes different directions. At this second stage of the absorbent mind, the child between three and six years of age has need of sensorial exploration of the world in order that his intellect may function. Again, therefore, the task of the adult is to make available those aids to development which allow the child to proceed from the chaos of impressions taken in during the first years of life to an ordered, classified, organized body of knowledge, which will form the basis for intellectual expansion. The sensorial material which forms part of the prepared environment for the child from three to six years of age, is not there to give the child impressions but to aid him in classifying those already absorbed. The mid of man works by organizing. The sensorial material of the first Montessori class affords the child from three to six "keys to the universe." With the knowledge of blue acquired from his work with matching and grading tablets of color, he can distinguish blue in all its infinite variety in the world of nature and art. The leaf form in that is hastate pertains to many species and from his work with forms of leaves, the child can move to an exploration within the field of botany of how many plants produce hastate leaves and in what area of the world they grow. The sensorial material to be used by the child between the ages three and six acts by isolating a quality, allowing the child to relate his recognition of that quality to any object whatsoever in the world. The tendency for exploration is thus made use of to further the development of the intellect based on sensorial experience. (pg 10)
And so the years from three to six are years of discovery, of construction. The tendencies of man lead the child to search and exploration. Where he will be able to search, what he will be able to explore, depends of the environment prepared by the adult. This is the measure, then, of our responsibility to the child. What the environment does not contain, is not accessible to the tendencies of man. On us lies the blame for any defrauding of the child of his creative possibilities. Each child faces us as a unique creation. His potential is an unknown factor. We can stultify that potential, we can help it to the realization of its fullest extent. We can attempt to understand or not the creative possibilities of the tendencies of man. If we understand their power for creation, why are we not making use of them? Is it this basic non-realization of the power inherent in man, the power that is the birthright of each individual child, that causes still at this point in time, at this stage in history of man's life on earth, the problems of the educational establishment? (pg 11)