I have already mentioned that our 5.5 year old son Aadhu goes to a Montessori school, and that we are very happy with his progress. We are also happy with his school: Hymamshu in Malleswaram; their Montessori program is excellent, thanks to their wonderful and committed teachers (their website isn't all that great, though).
A few months into his first year of Montessori, we asked Aadhu what he did at school. "We take the mat from the rack, put it on the floor and sit". "Then?" "We sing songs."
Impatient to get to the really good bits (and totally ignorant about the Montessori terminology), we asked, "Go on. What do you do then? Do you play with toys?"
"Aiyo, no! We don't play. We work."
"Huh, work with what?"
I don't know about what it did to my wife, but that answer certainly gladdened the materials engineer in me!
Take a look at this page on Montessori materials.
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All that preamble is just to let you know that this week marks the centenary of the Montessori system of teaching. Even as I write this, the members of the India Montessori Centre are in a grand conference at the J.N. Tata Auditorium in the IISc campus. Today's Hindu carries an article on the Montessori phenomenon.
JANUARY 6, 1907, The feast of Epiphany: Gathered in a room in a small quarter of San Lorenzo, the hotbed of crime in the city, were dignitaries and the elite of Rome to witness the inauguration of what was to become known as the first House of Children or Casa dei Bambini.
As Medical Officer of Hygiene, Dr. Maria Montessori had been asked to undertake the organisation of infant schools in the model tenements of a building society. Fifty children between the ages of two and six were pulled into the room, frightened and crying miserably.
Dr. Montessori started by reading from the Bible: "... all these are gathered together, they are come to thee; thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise at thy sight. Then shalt thou see, and abound and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee... "
Thirty years later, reflecting on that occasion, she said that she had had a vision and was inspired and felt that the work she was undertaking would one day prove very important.
Maria Montessori provided these children with materials to work with, which we now use today as Sensorial apparatus and tools for the Exercises of Practical Life. In this environment, the children were not imprisoned behind tables and chairs. They were free to move around the classroom and to work with whatever they chose. With these materials they had interesting occupation and no interference from adults. They demonstrated their love of silence, their love of order, their disinterest in rewards and punishments and their love for learning, all of which developed their inner discipline.