Sunday, August 29, 2010

Color or Symbol Recognition/Pairing

While recently spending time with a young friend of mine, I engaged him in a pairing exercise. As I was in his home, I didn't have any traditional Montessori materials to work with. Instead, I found a bag full of magnetic letters and numbers in his play area. The magnets were the type often found attached to the front of refrigerators. I placed a pile of them in front of me on his parent's kitchen counter and selected 8 pairs from the bunch. I paired them first to model my expectations for him. I never thought about the colors. I simply paired S with S and went about doing the same with the rest of the selected magnets.

However, when I watched him find pairs, I found myself asking myself whether or not a child might match the colors instead of the symbols; that they would have a mental preference for that. I began asking myself whether children are sensitive or more attracted to certain colors and would be visually drawn to them or, perhaps more accurately, distracted by them.

Advertising companies are very aware that the female eye is drawn, biologically, to the color red. Next time you buy Wheaties, look carefully at the color of the text on the box, as well as other brands of cereal. Advertisers, who invest millions in design, count on specific colors to attract the human eye to their products. Therefore, it doesn't seem that much of a leap to assume that a child's eye is drawn to certain colors. And too, how mature would a child have to be to resist the temptation of color.

The last sentence of the above paragraph brings to mind a wonderful lesson given by Mrs. Fernando when I took my AMI training in Minnesota. This particular lesson was part of a series of lessons of the metal insets. She informed us that a young child first doing the metal insets will draw rainbows and butterflies inside and outside the their drawn inset/frame outlines. What was fascinating was her explanation for this. She said that too often teachers/directresses/directors see this as a willful act of disobedience; that these drawings are an act of not listening to directions. Instead, she explained, it is more like the memory game.

In the memory game, children are given a card that has a number 0 - 10 on it. The children do not share with each other the number they are given at first. Each child walks throughout the classroom and then chooses something that they will bring back to the rug and they bring with them as many of those things that their card states. So a child might bring 3 spindles from the spindle boxes to the rug if they got the number 3.

At the rug, all the children sit in a circle and reveal their number and match it with the quantity of items that they returned with. However, an immature child will bring more than their number states as they can not resist the desire to bring more. Or, an immature child who gets a zero will bring a dozen items as they can not handle the notion of bringing back nothing. A mature child always picks the correct amount and when they get zero playfully pretends he has brought something back with him and then joyful announces he got nothing as he has the zero card.

This is the same, Mrs. Fernando, stated with color. An immature child, she said, can not resist the colors of the metal inset pencils or the desire to use many colors and fulfills that desire by drawing rainbows and butterflies. So, it not willful disobedience, but instead a level of maturity; something to be written about in one's observation notebook.

Therefore, pairing symbols (letters and numbers) that are also colorful is a duel challenge. The first is for the child to be mature enough to resist pairing a purple three with a purple five; for in truth he would be pairing them but not in the requested manner. Secondly, his task is to pair the symbols as directed - a 3 with a 3.

Yet, what would be truly intriguing would be to first ask the child to simply pair what he identifies as being a good coupling; to observe if he choose color pairing or symbol pairing. Then, noting his preference, give the lesson while identifying his preference. This returns me to one last note about Mrs. Fernando. This time it has to do with the phonetic object box.

I remember her giving us a lesson at the training center on the phonetic object box. She picked up a small plastic jet and placed it in front of one of my fellow Montessori classmates and asked him what it was (giving clarity of the names of the objects before beginning the 3 period lesson). He said that it was an airplane. She answered, "Yes, it might be called an airplane but, instead, let's call it a jet."

So with pairing non-Montessori materials so often found in home school settings, first give clarity in regards to what variables are being paired. So you might ask, "What is this?" and the child might answer, "Purple." You respond, "Yes it is purple. You are right. It is also a three. Do you see any other threes on the table. They don't have to be purple. They just need to be a three."