Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Montessori Moment: A Fire Lit

 We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.
~Maria Montessori

Let's get right into it. Tyler received a caterpillar jigsaw puzzle from his grandparents for Christmas, with pieces numbered 1-10. Though I thought it was really cute and loved that it was handmade by a local merchant, I didn't think he was ready for it yet. At all.

With a lot of help, he put it together that day, but when it was time to reconfigure his shelves to accommodate all of his new stuff, I almost stored in away with the other toys that are currently out of rotation. With hesitation, I placed it on top of one of his shelves. This is where I keep work that needs to be demonstrated more before it's placed on a shelf. It's where work that he doesn't quite "get" yet lives.

I then forgot about it (or maybe ignored it). It sat for a couple weeks. Then, looking for something to do, I watched Tyler nose around the top of the shelves (he's getting a bit too tall I guess). He quickly spotted the bright, colorful puzzle. With excitement he brought it down and carried it to his rug. I admit that I kinda sighed to myself. He hadn't shown a ton of interest in numbers. He was much more focused on letters. Sometimes, as bright as he is, he has spatial issues when it comes to puzzles. This was probably going to be a lot of me doing the work and Tyler getting frustrated.

Though I had to hand him each puzzle piece in order, he was excited. He had much less trouble fitting the pieces in than I had imagined. Huh. It went on the shelf so he could find it again, even though I knew he would need our help. If he had interest, we would give it a go.

For the next few days I started to give him two number pieces to choose from. "You need number three next. Which one of these is three?" Sometimes he was wrong, but more and more he was correct. Huh. Okay then... I let him figure things out, helping when asked, though pushing his frustration tolerance just a bit.

He quickly showed that he could do 1-3 on his own, then 1-4 and certainly 9-10. He struggled in the middle. As I briefly mentioned in another post, I then made a sturdy guide for him that matched his puzzle for him to reference.

He sort-of used the guide. He needed a bit of assistance at first in learning how to "read" it. Turns out he didn't need it much anyway. It often became a cute little cardboard caterpillar used for pretend play.

Before Ty had been using the puzzle for two weeks, he woke up one morning and completed it for my husband several times, without struggle or the need to fix errors. He was incredibly proud. With a gleam in his eye and constantly looking up and me with a grin that said "Isn't this awesome?!" he showed me too, again and again.

He quickly started naming all of the numbers on the pieces aloud, something he doesn't always do. He can certainly be one to keep his thoughts to himself. Though Ty can count objects to 13 (something he learned naturally), I hadn't worked on number recognition past 1-3. That first day of mastery, he broke apart the puzzle, messed them up, then put them back in the tray in perfect reverse order, 10-1. Each time he put the puzzle together he would lean back, scrunch up his shoulders with pride and joy and gaze at his work.

Boy was I wrong, huh? Though glad that I didn't put the puzzle away completely, I felt just a tiny bit ashamed at the lack of confidence I had in my son's ability. Then again, it seemed like wanting to put that cute little caterpillar together struck a match in him. The fire for wanting to learn his numbers was lit in a way that I hadn't been able to do before. Perhaps now was just the perfect sensitive time. Who knows? Now that he can complete the puzzle with ease, he has much more interest in his sandpaper numeral and peg work. He's shown interest in numbers all over his world and is proud that he can recognize so many of them. The fire has been lit, and it grows.

If I was still laying out the puzzle pieces in a line for him to fit together, or continuing to hand him each one as he went along, he may have thought himself incapable of doing it on his own. If I didn't back off and start to realize that he was a real drive for becoming independent with this activity, I could have squashed it. I could have hampered the learning process...the trial and error that must happen for real learning to take place.

Days later he still gets immense joy in showing us (and anyone else who comes to our home) how he can put together his caterpillar. Before this, and for the last month, his sense of pride came from the his mastery with The Pink Tower. Not only would he eagerly grab it from the shelf to show us while we were working and playing, but he would carry it into whatever room we were in and build it at your feet, looking up with what seemed like happy little sparkles shooting straight out of his little eyes. If you moved rooms before he got more than one block out, he would pick-up and follow you again. At this point we knew to stop (what was so important?), get down on the floor, and watch, matching the anticipation in his face. The feeling of independence of pride when he masters something can't be beat!

You did it, kid. You really did. High-five!

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