Saturday, September 27, 2008

Architects in the Montessori Classroom

The pink tower is an architectural achievement based on the decimal system. It is built with ten cubes and is self presenting in that it is displayed as it should be constructed. It is a constant representation of the numerical values 1-10. And, as I stated in my first sentence, it is an example of architecture. The children build it. It stands constructed. When placed horizontally alongside the brown stair it sings a duet of the power of ten and the beauty of their design.

It should be no surprise then that children want to merge materials into broader and higher constructions. I have witnessed over the past few weeks children standing on their tippy toes attempting to place one final prism or cube. Their entire beings were focused on this task. They were silent and they strove for perfection. They achieved it. Using both Montessori materials and architectural blocks that included columns and arches, these children built cathedrals, palaces and designed cities. A child who often travels referred to a structure she built with another student as the Eiffel Tower and a second as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I keep on display models of famous examples of architecture in the geography area. They have often been used by children to compare and assess their own designs.

(Note: In the last photograph of the above four you can see the childrens' drawings of their constructions in the far right hand corner)

I must confess that I find the photograph below to be one of my favorites. In the foreground is an amazing piece of architecture constructed early in the day. In the background, sitting besides a ray of sunlight, is another child quietly and independently doing the hundred-board. She worked most of the morning on it and finished placing all of the pieces correctly. There is a spiritual element to the photographed scene.

It answers the question regarding whether or not stillness can be maintain in the midst of movement. It reminds me of a famous line in one of t.s.eliot’s poems,

"The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs."


My Child's Diary said...

Hello Susan,
What are your restrictions on creative use of Montessori material? When are the children get free to use the material for their own architectural designs - after they have mastered it?
Thank you, Miri

Susan Y. Dyer said...

Yes - after they have mastered the work and make a leap towards abstraction by seeing a correlation - an element shared between one material and another. Their language informs us as it is filled with references to balance, size, width, height and as of late in my classroom - refers to architectual designs like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Eifel Tower. If you look at some older posts of mine under sensorial I have a lengthy post on this subject. Hope all is well with you Miri,

Susan Dyer

My Child's Diary said...

Dear Susan,
I am fine, thank you for wondering. My son is growing, and it is such an enriching experience to witness that. Thank you for the prompt reply. I have found these posts. How could I forget about them..?:)
I have two more questions, if I may: Is this completely lead by a child or you offer them to go on this creative journey of exploration when you observe them make this leap? How do you explain to them the rules of such an exploration - for instance, the difference between the exploration and play with the material?
Warmly, Miri

Susan Y. Dyer said...

I really do not participate in the "discovery" part as I would not discover what they would. However, I do present the pink tower and brown stair together after much work and have the pink tower laid down alongside the brown stair. This sometimes initiates their own work. If they ask what to do next - I tell them that it is up to them - see what they can find.

In terms of playing - I am going to write a long post about how to help a child conclude their work this weekend - as I have seen really good work get messy when a child/children work at something too long and lose focus - this is what I mean in terms of helping a child conclude work - to see that it is done. Think of the painter that sometimes wishes he did not add that last stroke of paint.

Also, if children get really messy, loud or misuse materials I tell them to put the work away. I tell them that they have a tremendous amount of freedom - yet responsibility too. A responsibility to care for the materials, to engage in challenging work and to be respectful to the whole community. Freedom is abstract in itself.

Each of these steps, Miri, requires much self-reflection on the part of the adult. Our inner dialogue, the self-questioning and re-defining our role is - in my mind - essential in maintaining our own fluidity. We have a Montessori theoretical base from which we teach - yet Maria Montessori asks that we follow the child, be scientists, understand the needs of a child and to approach each child as an individual. Sometimes I tell my assistant that I have second long inner dialogues with myself that ask questions like - should I reel them in - is this education - should I say no or yes - and then in a moment I respond to a child's needs with the answer I have just choosen. Maybe that keeps the river running.

It seems to work - I love that we talk - I wish we lived near by.

Susan Dyer

My Child's Diary said...

I wished we lived near by too - one of my dreams then would become true:)
I think that these inner dialogues make your guidance so true and unique! Just to make sure that I get you right, what kind of presentation do you present at this point - do you built the pink tower vertically and then the brown stair beside it?
Looking forward to your weekend post! Thanks, Miri

Susan Y. Dyer said...

Miri - maybe what you need to do is to sit down and do the work yourself. Experience combining materials. In a quiet moment run your finger tips across the top of the brown stair and down the pink tower. You are an artist - I visited your blog - your work is amazing - now instead of seeing a blank canvas to paint on blending colors here and there - see ten knobless cylinders resting on the ten brown prisms of the brown stair. What I am hearing - and I could be wrong - is your uncertain how to approach presenting this because you have not yet made your own discoveries. Go and sit and work with the materials and then you will know how to present these extensions.

Susan Dyer

My Child's Diary said...

Thank you, Susan, for your suggestion.
What I am uncertain that I would intervene in their discovery journey, if I present my vision of combining the materials. I wouldn't want to do, but help them open a door to their imagination.

Susan Y. Dyer said...

okay, my final thought here is that you experience it for yourself and then when you present just do one or two extensions. So you would get out the red rods and place them on a rug and say something like, "Is there a box that has red cylinders in it?" Your child might answer "Yes, do you want me to get it?" "Oh, that would be lovely," you would reply. As you carefully lift one of the cylinders and place it on a red rod, you ask, "Oh, do you think you could help me?" The child might answer, "Okay, are you tired?" "Well, it is just that I really love to watch you work and I think that maybe you could make something really beautiful. I would love to see that. Is it okay if I observe you do the work instead of me doing it?" The hope is that the child says, "Okay." When they finish putting out all of the knobless cylinders you might say, "I wonder what it would look like if you made something taller. Oh, I just had a great idea. Maybe you could use the pink tower too? You could build it right next to the red rods and the cylinder blocks. I like that idea, do you? And again the hope is that the child says, "I do." After a minute or two you might add, I would really like to write down some of the things I am seeing you do on paper. Why don't you keep working and I will get my observation notebook. I don't want to foget any of the work your doing. And in the end, the child returns all of the materials to the shelf or you return to assist as you also took out some of the work. Always remember to be a good actress. First learn for yourself the act of discovery and then guide a child towards that experience - although fresh - as it is his own unique sensorial experience. With all of our presentations we are aware of the outcome but we allow the child to discover it for himself.

Whew!!! Cool conversation.


Susan Dyer

My Child's Diary said...

Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!
I've learned so much from your description, you've helped me a lot!
I appreciate it very much. I've left you a few questions on your post "How Do You Teach A Child To Paint". I would be grateful if you could reply, whenever you've got time. I hope it is not too many questions..:)