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Montessori School of Greater Lafayette Blog


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Following Friends to Physics


Free play and building with logs and boards is a realistic way to explore physics concepts. MSGL has an outdoor space that allows for more than just "recess." Outside time is not a chance to get away from the classroom, it's an opportunity for children to use their whole bodies to learn and, most importantly, have fun with friends.

     On Thursday, a quartet of boys was getting very silly in the back corner of our Montessori classroom. They were speaking with outside voices and using all available paper to make pretend swords so they could have a pretend swordfight. When I tried to redirect them, they asked to make paper airplanes and see whose would fly the farthest. Although Montessori teachers are known for their flexibility and laid-back grooviness, I could not condone sword-fighting and airplane-flying during class on this, only the second full week of preschool. What would people say?

     I empathized with these friends because they wanted to play together and needed to actively move their bodies, but it was still 30 minutes before we (read: I) could even think about going outside where this type of gross-motor play was appropriate. They took a half-hearted interest in another activity and I sat at a table nearby to observe. When they realized I was there to stay, they started putting away their work and chanting with dead eyes and sad voices, "No more fun. No more fun. No more fun." It would seem I had officially become "the man." They went to the other side of the room to build a tower with the brown stair and the pink cubes and within minutes, they were using the smallest brown stair as a lever to launch the smallest pink cube across the rug. Clearly, they were trying to tell me something.

     What these boys wanted was action. They are perfectly willing to come in each morning and work on their maps or practice writing their names, but after a time they really want to make things move. And it's not just the boys, of course. Girls thrive on kinesthetic learning activities and they are usually the first to line up to walk across the log seesaw.


 

     In fact, all young children are kinesthetic learners. Most mature into adolescents who can learn successfully through watching and listening, but not all. As long ago as 1979, researchers studying how humans learn understood this:

"Restak (1979) and others have indicated that many students do not become strongly visual before third grade, that auditory acuity first develops in many students after the sixth grade, and that boys often are neither strongly visual nor auditory even during high school. Therefore, since most young children are tactual and kinesthetic learners, such resources should be developed and used, particularly for those who are experiencing difficulty learning through lectures, direct verbal instructions, "chalk talks," and textbook assignments."- See the full article at Education.com

     No one is suggesting that preschoolers should be taught through lectures, but sometimes society (or maybe our high school principal's voice in the back of our head) worries us into thinking that if we don't make our children sit down, concentrate, and learn - how will they ever be successful in school or the Real World that supposedly comes after?

     Parents sometimes ask, "When will you teach him to sit still and listen to the teacher?" The answer is that he will sit still and listen when what I am saying is of interest to him. It's my job to find the topic that is so fascinating to the child that he can't help but hold his body still so as to not miss a single word. A teacher's job is to be fascinating; but only until the child is so interested in the subject that he sets off to explore it on his own. At that point, the teacher observes and prepares for the child's next question then guides him to find the answers on his own. (Please note: Matters of health, safety, and courtesy are always addressed immediately. No one in the classroom has the freedom to hurt themselves or to hurt or disrupt others.)

He has found the exact point to stand where his weight balances the log.
 

     Maria Montessori observed that not only do young children learn kinesthetically, they absolutely MUST learn this way for proper brain development. 

"Movement, or physical activity, is thus an essential factor in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside. Through movement we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas." - The Secret of Childhood

     So, as a good teacher who believes in a research-based approach to education, I am obligated to consider the kinesthetic learning style of my preschool students. I am also obligated to follow a child's interests because a child who is studying something she is interested in, as opposed to an externally-imposed curriculum, is much more likely to retain that information and build connections in her brain. So why were we still inside the classroom and NOT outside studying the physics of flight and simple machines? Because I didn't know they were interested until Thursday. But now I do.

     As a result, my assistant and I will be following our 3, 4, and 5-year-olds into the action-packed world of physics this week starting with the simple lever. We will spend a little extra time outside on the log seesaw for some major gross motor exploration, then we will scale down the kinesthetic experience to make smaller levers inside the classroom using blocks, rulers, pennies, rocks, and pompoms. We will introduce the appropriate words such as "load", "effort", and "fulcrum" and we will figure out how many pennies it takes the raise the rock load. I will do my best to be fascinating. There may be squeals of joy and pompoms flying through the air, but no more "No more fun."

Thanks for reading,

~Heather 


 

Today's Wayback Wednesday comes from March, 2000. The children in Room B were treated to a science presentation by a group of MSGL parents.

 

 

 



 

 

 

These parents must have been SO COOL! We are thankful for all of the Montessori parents and grandparents who have shared their interests and their time with our children over the past 41 years. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!