To convey or express the heightened focus and desire to work children have after completing large wood-working projects (or a project such as sink or float anchors on handmade boats) is difficult as it is hard to capture in words. Each of the older students, who recently built something which they brought home as finished projects , have asked for new lessons. They have carefully and accurately, with amazing attention to detail, finished several new works and were asking for more lessons yesterday.
Let me preface that by saying I was ready with prepared materials and a pre-planned mental guide of what I wanted to present to each of them to keep them moving forward academically before they asked. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I encourage the children to explore, to imagine and to create endless possibilities using the Montessori materials and as well as other construction materials. Yet, that does not mean that they do not have lessons nor work with the sensorial, math and language materials, not to mention practical life, as presented in my albums. They do and they do so often.
The day after Jack finished his space shuttle, I spoke to him about how astronauts need to be able to read, and to understand math. I also told him that learning to read would make it possible for him to independently read the instructions for other model projects. He was eager to get started. I sat down with him and re-presented the phonetic object box that he had no interest in last spring. He easily read each label and later wrote out each word.
He next drew the objects next to the words. He stayed with the work all morning. The following day he came right in to the classroom, walked over to me and said, "Miss Dyer, I want a really hard math lesson." I introduced him to the small chains. Again, he stayed with the work all morning. This continued for the rest of the week.
Suzy finished her stool and said she too wanted a math lesson. I worked with her on subtraction with the small number rods. She was so pleased with her work that when we had show n tell that day, she used her math sheet as her object to show and to tell about. After telling her fellow students about her work, she asked them a question, "Who helped me with my work?" All of the children shot up their hands. Suzy called on one of them who answered, "Miss Dyer." I felt my face flush with emotion.
After Meaghan and Dylan finished testing their anchors to see if they sank or if they floated to the surface, they returned to the classroom and ask for lessons on math or on writing/reading. I introduced Meaghan to the small chains, as I had with Jack. She placed every label correctly and did 4 or 5 chains.
Over the summer I had Cristina cut and laminate language cards that I had found at the Montessori elementary teacher's blog Cultivating Dharma. The cards label and define parts of a sail boat. I presented this work to Dylan and he was instantly engaged. He carefully wrote each label, illustrated each card, pasted the label to the cards and almost finished the entire work yesterday.
He only needs to make a cover and the work is done. I must add that this was the first time he was really interested in writing. He was captivated by the images of the ship having just constructed one himself. It was perfect timing for this lesson and the work done reflects that.
A final example is the work that Lloyd completed and the work he did next. Lloyd is a pretty quiet person. He often works with an older student, one who enjoys being the leader of a team. After Lloyd finished a week plus wood working project - a wooden basket - he ran, for the first time his own group with younger children.
The above picture shows Lloyd running a small group with younger students. He sat up straight and maintained their focus for a good twenty minutes. He appeared so much more confident and capable. He also seemed to enjoy the position of leader.
The children's ability to work so well on extensions and creative projects stems from their years of work with the Montessori materials, from ongoing presentations taken straight from my AMI albums and from a strong desire to come to school and be present. An older, serious student who goes straight from hanging up his coat to getting out work, told me this week after being absent the day before, "Miss Dyer, you know what I did yesterday?" "No I don't because you weren't here and we all missed you," I answered. "I cried because I couldn't come to school because my mom told me I was too sick to go," he answered. He smiled at me and walked away with a freshly sharpened pencil in his hand.
I find an echo in all of the children's work in my classroom in Maria Montessori's own description of "manual instruction" being done by children she observed as noted in the text, "Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook," (1965)
"For manual instruction we have chosen clay work, consisting of the construction of little vases and bricks. These may be made with the help of simple instruments, such as molds. The completion of the work should be the aim always kept in view, and, finally, all the little objects made by the children should be glazed and baked in the furnace. The children themselves learn to line a wall with shining white or colored tiles wrought in various designs, or, with the help of mortar and a trowel, to cover the floor with little bricks. They also dig out foundations, and then use their bricks to build division walls, or entire little houses for the chickens." pg. 60