Learning to think is not the same thing as learning to memorize. Thinking requires infinitely more effort and involves much more brain activity than reciting something back. Thinking involves inquiry, innovation, creativity, analysis, synthesis, problem solving, persistence, self-confidence, self-motivation, independence and even courage. That is why the emphasis in a Montessori classroom is on children learning rather than teachers teaching. We strive to foster independence and joyful discovery that naturally leads to greater learning and retention.
The world is changing in such a way that more than ever the children of today will need to be able to think for themselves. Rote learning will simply not prepare children for the complexity and fast paced change that tomorrow is sure to bring. We need them to be able to think for themselves.
The entire structure of the Montessori system from the curriculum, to the way the classroom is set up, to the specific ways in which the teacher interacts with children, is designed to prompt and encourage children to think for themselves, to discover, to make mistakes and learn from their own mistakes. The teacher in a Montessori classroom is as much a guide as a teacher, keenly observing each child’s interests, and abilities and prepared and ready to introduce the next series of lessons when a child shows he or she is ready to move onto the next level. Montessori materials are themselves designed to allow a child to recognize when something is not correct, and to correct it themselves.
Within a typical Montessori preschool/kindergarten classroom there well over a hundred different developmentally appropriate learning activities; each one presenting abstract ideas in concrete form. The depth and breadth of the curriculum allows the Montessori teacher to adapt to address the unique needs of the children in his/her class. The Montessori teacher further enhances the environment by bringing in a variety of additional lessons to pique the curiosity of the students in his/her particular class. Learning is individualized so that it fits the pace as well as the interests of each student.
Because there is not a rigid one-size-fits-all lesson plan for each day as there is in a traditional school setting, the Montessori teacher is allowed the freedom to meet the particular needs of his/her students. The emphasis is always on keeping alive the spark of curiosity, supporting and encouraging independence and nurturing each child’s inherent desire to learn. In this way we work every day to support our students on their journey to think for themselves.
You may be interested in reading the following articles and viewing the below TED talk on the topic of independent thinking and preserving and fostering the creativity every child is born with:
Discovering a natural way to learn | Karin Ann | TEDxHongKongED https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVgattQId64
Why Practical Life activities?
Amit has just started school and his parents watch their little boy endearingly as he attacks real-life chores with serious determination. They are so proud to see him carefully spooning dried beans from one dish to another and concentrating hard to pick up the beans he has spilled. However, Emma’s parents watching their five year old following the steps to sew on a button are impatient to see some “real work” being carried out like reading, math or spelling. Even the best-informed Montessori parent may wonder whether the practical life activities may be using up time better spent on academic pursuits. Of course, Emma’s day is not spent solely on practical life activities but this is the area of focus to her parents.
We need to understand why these practical life exercises are so important in the primary Montessori classroom (ages 3-6) and how they relate to the child’s overall development. We should realize that mastery of the task itself is not the primary goal of these exercises.
Practical life activities may well be the most important work in the 3 – 6 classroom.
These activities lead a child to make intelligent choices and become physically and then mentally independent and responsible. The child learns to concentrate, control muscles, move and act with care, focus, analyze logical steps and complete a cycle of activity. This is the foundation for mental and physical work in all other areas, not just in early childhood but also throughout life.
Children follow a sequence of prescribed directions, which include choosing the work on the shelf, finding a space at a table, following steps to complete the task, cleaning up and replacing the work exactly where it belongs on the shelf so it is ready for the next person. It is the small muscle coordination, motor sequencing, inner discipline leading to good social skills and work habits and ultimately self-esteem, which are so important and directly prepare for and support development in math, reading and writing.
Every child instinctively strives to grow and develop skills to the limit of his/her ability. A child’s love of the routines found in practical life activities, stems from a strong biological need to gain coordination. That need is especially strong between the ages of three and six years. At this age, the mind still runs faster than the abilities of the body. An older child may remember the steps needed to thread the needle, knot the thread, choose the button and piece of fabric and sew the button from front to back and then back to front without going around the edge of the button, but this knowledge may not yet match his/her developing physical ability. In this carefully prepared and stimulating environment children can respond to their inner need to work on a wide variety of skills until their physical abilities can keep up with their hands. Children are developing eye-hand coordination, upper body strength, balance and spatial perception. It is no coincidence that these are the basic prerequisites to successfully learn to read and write.
The practical life exercises have precise and orderly movements and are divided into steps, which are completed in a certain sequence that follow a logical progression (essential skills for understanding mathematical concepts). The concentration and inner discipline required to carry out multi-step procedures on their own help to prepare children for all of the complex academic materials they will encounter as they progress through the Montessori curriculum.
One of the greatest driving forces in the maturation of young children is the overwhelming desire to be independent. “I can do it by myself” is a phrase we hear over and over again. These practical life exercises reinforce this sense of self-sufficiency. Children discover they can exert control over their environment and such control carries with it certain responsibilities. What a thrill they feel when they have mastered a useful activity. They feel privileged as they gain the skills to progress to more and more complex tasks as they feel it implies respect for their skill and good judgment.
We can be sure that children of all ages, having experienced a continuous flow of small successes as they accomplish the exercises of practical life, will not only have the skills in place to continue with even more complex tasks, but will be happier, more confident and well-rounded individuals. They will be ready to progress through their school life with pride and the self-esteem to accept challenges, both practical and academic, with optimism and self-confidence.
About the Article’s Author: Joan Starling, Founder, Sammamish Montessori School serving preschool, kindergarten and elementary students in Redmond WA.Joan established The Sammamish Montessori School in 1977. She began her long career in Montessori education more than four decades ago training under two Montessori trainers who were themselves studied directly under Dr. Maria Montessori. One of them, a wise and practical woman, Margaret Homfray, accompanied Dr. Montessori on trips during the 1930s to translate her lectures on her speaking tours. Joan has been a pioneer of Montessori education in the greater Seattle area, establishing what is now one of the oldest Montessori schools on Seattle’s Eastside and one of the largest Montessori schools in the state. Joan’s two daughters (Janet Villella Director and Hilary Prentice, Business Manager) now share the running of the school and are supported by a wonderful group of teachers, assistants and supporting staff from all over the world. Related articles/information: The Importance Of The Hand In Language Development Montessori Scope and Sequence: Practical Life
Developing your child’s independence and self-reliance is one of the most important things we can do for our children. While academic learning is important, it does not, and can not, take the place of the value of self-confidence, self-sufficiency, and the ability to make things happen for oneself. Independence and self-reliance form the foundation that supports all other learning as a key component of honing a child’s executive functioning skills. As Montessori teachers, our goal is to provide an organized environment where everything makes sense for the child, things have a specific place and function, and they can navigate and be successful independently within it. Everything from the room design and layout, furniture, Montessori materials, lessons, classroom and school rules, and teacher-child interactions are carefully planned and intended to support each child’s progression toward self-sufficiency and independence. There is much current research relating to the importance of executive functioning skills as a predictor of a child’s future success in life and encouraging independent learning is the way to support your child’s developing executive functioning.
Characteristics of an independent learner:
- Able to self-monitor/self-examine
- Critical thinker/problem solver
- Comprehension/Understanding without specific instruction
- Able to manage their time effectively
As parents and as educators we have the responsibility to keep our children safe, to nurture them, and to love them. We must provide firm, consistent rules and boundaries, yet we must also allow children the ability to do as much for themselves as is developmentally appropriate. If we intervene and do for children what they are capable of doing themselves, we rob them of vital learning and make them feel as if they are not competent or capable. While the road to independence may not always be easy, over time, children rise to the level of the expectations we have of them.
To aid our collaborative effort as teachers and parents in promoting your child’s independence, we thought it would be a useful tool to have a shared set of benchmarks guiding our expectations of our students both at school and at home:
For more information relating to developing your child’s independence and executive functioning, you may also wish to read the articles listed below:
Sources and additional references:
We wish to give special congratulations to the six past Sammamish Montessori School students, now high school seniors, who have been named as semifinalists in the 65th annual National Merit Scholarship Program.
Aneesha Ramesh (International Community School)
Isha Murali (Nicola Tesla STEM High School)
Sowmya Pratipati (Nicola Tesla STEM High School)
Maneesh Rajagopal (Redmond High School)
Mukil Shanmugam (Redmond High School)
Ananya Srivastava (Redmond High School)
These six students now attend Lake Washington School District and are part of the 47 total LWSD students named as National Merit Semifinalists who all attended Sammamish Montessori School (plus two more were summer school students: congratulations to Max Wang and Sofiya Mitchell). We are so proud of our alumni students and excited to see their future academic achievements and success in life.
According to the College Board, approximately 15,000 semifinalists across the nation had the highest scores on the PSAT taken by 1.8 million juniors this past year. To qualify, each student must submit an application that includes academic transcripts, an essay, and a letter of recommendation. Approximately 7,600 of those finalists are awarded Merit Scholarships, which, in total, are worth about $31 million.
Click here for more information about the National Merit Scholars program and all semifinalists in Washington State.
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was the first woman physician in Italy. She also had a degree in biological anthropology which honed her powers of meticulous observation and formed the basis of her system of education. She was not trained as a teacher, although she did take some education classes so that she could observe the schools of the time. This freed her up to study how children learn, in a detached and rational manner. Her talent was to see children as they really are, not as adults think they are or ought to be.
Her first job was the director of a residential institute for developmentally delayed children who, because of superstition and shame in those days, were ostracized from their families. Believing that these children might be capable of some learning, she developed diagnostic and teaching materials based on the work of Itard and Sequin (researchers and educators) and continued to observe and experiment. Many of these children were eventually able to pass the state exams. Montessori remarked, “If these children are able to do so well, then typical children must surely be capable of achieving so much more.”
In January 1907 Montessori was asked to supervise fifty 3 to 7-year-olds who were running wild in the slums of San Lorenzo, a district of Rome. She was given a room in a tenement building and one unqualified teacher. She provided the children with some toys and her diagnostic materials (the basic sensorial materials) to give them more to play with. In time the children discarded the toys and go the diagnostic materials out of the cupboard on their own. Over time more sensorial materials were added, using what was at hand (the color tablets are based on cards of colored embroidery thread). Montessori taught them life skills, even how to blow their own noses. They were excited to learn and progressed by leaps and bounds, even learning to read and write. Montessori introduced child-sized tables and chairs, which were unknown at that time. This whole phenomenon of children working at their own pace, using materials selected for their abilities and designed to stimulate independent exploration was new. To see children’s natural curiosity satisfied and begin to experience the joy of discovering the world about them sparked worldwide interest.
Montessori noted that many children were frustrated by a lack of proper stimulation and inadequate opportunities to achieve. She observed that children can have long attention spans when not interrupted. They become happier and more self-controlled after a period of time in the orderly environment she had created, working with their hands and making their own discoveries. Here they were introduced to challenging tasks that not only absorbed their energies but also resulted in a sense of achievement.
This led Montessori to develop the planned system of education that bears her name. Many Montessori schools were established during her lifetime and today there are thousands of private Montessori schools in the United States, hundreds of Montessori public school classrooms and countless Montessori schools operating throughout the world.
Principles of Montessori education:
- Movement and cognition are closely entwined; movement can enhance thinking and learning.
- Learning and well-being are improved when children have a sense of control over their lives.
- Children learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.
- Studies have shown that linking rewards to an activity (like gold stars or stickers) negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn. (It shifts the focus from the activity to the reward.)
- Children have a great sense of order and are more secure when there are no surprises.
- Until children develop at their own speed, they are not put in group situations where they could be perceived as fast or slow.
- The environment is conducive to children being able to casually observe lessons being given to the older children; this piques their interest and desire to progress.
- Older children are able to help younger children and this consolidates the older children’s knowledge and fosters kindness and good social skills.
- Older children act as role models for younger children (how to sit, follow directions, stand in line, etc.)
- The work in the classroom is sequential; a child does not progress onto the next step until the first set is fully mastered; in this way a child never encounters work that is too difficult and is never left floundering.
- A child encounters many small successes along the way and these build a child’s self-confidence.
- School should be a happy and positive experience to which a child looks forward with happy anticipation.
- Children who acquire basic skills in a natural way have the advantage of beginning education without drudgery, boredom or discouragement. They gain enthusiasm for learning, which is the key to becoming a truly educated person.
Through keen observation, Montessori found that children have sensitive periods, a window when they are tuned in to certain stimuli. These intense periods, when a child can learn instinctively, happen in the early years when the brain is forming itself. The Montessori system is based on the unique cycle of learning that takes advantage of these sensitive periods.
About the Article’s Author: Joan Starling, Founder, Sammamish Montessori School serving preschool and kindergarten students in Redmond WA. Joan established The Sammamish Montessori School in 1977. She began her long career in Montessori education more than four decades ago training under two Montessori teachers who were themselves trained directly by Dr. Maria Montessori. One of them, a wise and practical woman, Margaret Homfray, when young in the late 1930s, accompanied Dr. Montessori on trips to translate her lectures on her speaking tours. Joan has been a pioneer of Montessori education in the greater Seattle area, establishing one of the oldest Montessori schools on Seattle’s Eastside and now one of the largest Montessori schools in the state. Joan’s two daughters (Janet Villella and Hilary Prentice) now share the running of the school, are active in the Montessori community and are supported by a wonderful group of exceptionally talented, well educated and experienced teachers, assistants and supporting staff from all over the world.
Whether you’re a 30-year old moving into a new country or a 3-year old moving from the Montessori Prep program into the Montessori Early Childhood classroom for preschool-kindergarten (ages 3-6), or simply joining the Montessori Early Childhood classroom (ages 3-6), transitions can be frightening.
Montessori Toddler classrooms are specifically designed environments that cater to the unique needs of toddlers (between the ages of 18 months to 3 years). The Sammamish Montessori School Montessori Prep Program is designed specifically for children ages 2-1/2 to 3 who are still working towards readiness for a Montessori 3-6 Early Childhood classroom.
The unique developmental needs of toddlers include the need to move, the need for routine and order, the need for consistent limits, the need to explore, the need to communicate and be understood, the need to control action and impulse, and the need to master self-care skills. A toddler’s work greatly revolves around his or her body’s physical developmental needs. A toddler’s work is to develop himself, to become stronger, more coordinated and in control. When a child approaches the age of 3, a child may show signs of readiness to move to the Montessori Early Childhood 3-6 years old classroom.
Determining when a child is ready to transition to the Montessori 3-6 classroom from Montessori Prep, or if joining the school close to, but not quite at age 3, requires an understanding of the new environment with its unique characteristics and challenges, an awareness of the child (her needs, strengths and growth areas), as well as timing and adequate preparation. These are the ingredients to successful transitions. Let’s tackle each of these topics as they relate to transitioning into a Montessori Early Childhood (age 3-6) classroom below.
Understanding the Difference Between the Montessori Prep and Montessori 3-6 Classroom
A Montessori 3-6 classroom may have more children, has more materials, and more time for in-classroom independent work compared to the Montessori Prep classroom.
The Montessori 3-6 classroom has a maximum student-to-teacher ratio of 10:1, while the Prep program has a maximum ratio of 7:1. Furthermore, the range of ages of the children within the classroom expands from Toddlers 2.5-3+ years old to Preschool and Kindergarten ages 3-6 years old. Hand in hand with the increase in both the age as well as the age range of the children, the Montessori 3-6 classroom has up to three times the materials a Prep class would have. This allows the students to explore a much wider curriculum and push themselves to learn more advanced skills and concepts.
More time for independent classroom work allows the children to be more self-directed, exploring the topics and materials that most interest them, a key element of the Montessori Method and a key reason why the Montessori Method is so successful at growing independent learners. Maria Montessori once wrote, “To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.” (Montessori et al. 1969)
Awareness of the Child
Now that you know what to expect in a Montessori 3-6 classroom, it’s time to discuss what characteristics tell us a child is ready to make the transition from Toddlerhood to Early Childhood. Children who are ready for the Early Childhood Montessori 3-6 classroom are independent, socially mature, can demonstrate an ability for prolonged concentration and are be able to control movement and impulse.
Independence. Independence requires the child to have developed fine motor skills (e.g. careful use of the hands), self-awareness, as well as concentration and patience. Successfully toileting, putting on clothes, and eating without help from an adult requires the coordination of a series of movements that can be challenging for young children. With constant practice both at home and in school, particularly in the Practical Life section of the classroom, children can learn to master these skills, making them ready for new challenges in the Montessori 3-6 classroom. To help children in preparation for this transition, we must inhibit our own impulse to do things for the child and instead allow the child to do things for his or herself. Independence also means being able to verbally express needs, desires and ideas.
Social maturity. Children who are ready for the Early Childhood classroom have acquired a more complex understanding of socially positive behaviors. They are curious about others and are now more interested in observing them and working together with them. Respect, curiosity, ability to take turns and early signs of cooperation are all good signs that a child is ready for the transition.
Prolonged concentration. Children who are ready for a transition are capable not only for longer durations of concentrated work, they are also more easily able to recover in case of a distraction. For these children, the object of their work has become so compelling that they are able to shut off the sights and sounds of the world around them, focusing intently on the task at hand.
Timing and Preparation
Choosing the right time for a transition is like a Goldilocks problem: You don’t want to do it too late; you don’t want to do it too soon; you want to get it just right. A late transition might lead to boredom and lack of engagement in the Prep class. An early transition might lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed in the new environment, which hinders learning. Work with your child’s teacher and the school director to assess her preparedness for the transition and plan for the availability of space in a Montessori 3-6 classroom. You can also help your child get ready by focusing on improving independence, social maturity, and concentration. These activities (and many others) can help:
- Engage your child in conversations at home. Speak to them like you would an adult; no baby talk.
- Expect and encourage your child to use words. Gradually transition them to using phrases and sentences.
- Support socialization. Create opportunities for them to have unstructured, child-directed playtime with other children.
- Support concentration. Provide them with activities that require them to complete multiple steps. Create unstructured individual playtime where they can self-direct as well as engage uninterrupted for long stretches.
- Provide tools for independence at home (e.g. a step stool, a cup and pitcher, a small broom, low shelves for kitchen items, a clothes dresser). Give them enough time to complete these tasks independently. Do not rush them.
- Support toileting. With this one, practice makes perfect. Stay positive. A few accidents are bound to happen!
- Choose clothes and food the child can independently manage. Example: No shoes with shoelaces.
As a teacher in the Montessori Prep Classroom, parents always ask me “At what age is my child going to be ready to transition into the Montessori 3-6 Early Childhood classroom?” My answer is always ‘it depends’. While most children transition around their 3rd birthday, the precise timing depends on your child’s readiness for the learning environment that lies ahead. We must determine the child’s unique needs and follow the child’s lead. This approach is at the center of the Montessori Method. We prioritize the specific needs of the children we serve, and we must not compare a child too closely with other children.
About the Author: Jaine Yu heads up the Sammamish Montessori School Montessori Prep program. Jaine has earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and a Master’s degree in Education. She holds two American Montessori Society (AMS) teaching credentials – one specializing in Early Childhood (ages 2.5 to 6 years) and one specializing in Infant and Toddler Education (0 to 3 years). For more than a decade, Jaine has been joyfully working with young children, from infancy through kindergarten.
Bibliography: Montessori, M., & Claremont, C. A. 1969. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Dell Pub. Co.
The Dutch biologist Hugo de Vries was one of the first to notice “sensitive periods in development” when he referred to a species of caterpillar. The baby caterpillars have a special sensitivity to light, which when they emerge from their eggs on the trunk of the tree, causes them to be drawn to the tips of the branches where they can eat the new, tender buds. The caterpillars lose this sensitivity when they are bigger and stronger and are able to eat the tougher, older leaves. It is interesting that the disappearnce of this sensitivity is as important as its presence. Montessori pointed out that conditions extremely favorable to development at one stage may become unfavorable at a later one.
Montessori philosophized that similar things happen in childhood and now contemporary research shows that children indeed pass through certain critical periods that are conducive to developing specific skills: windows of opportunity during which the brain is particularly efficient at specific types of learning. That is why at particular times they show intense, overwhelming interest in certain objects and activities, which at a later time, will be quite boring. It is as if a burning passion urges them to focus attention to the exclusion of others. When a sensitive period is at its height, it is as if a spotlight illuminates some things while others are in the shadows. Under this fascination, children will work long periods without fatigue and will not feel tired, but refreshed.
One of the most interesting periods is that for language acquisition. It begins at birth and is intense until about 7 years old. Babies love to hear the human voice and will listen attentively, tuning out other sounds. Montessori teachers are very careful to present materials without talking because children instinctively look at their mouth rather than the demonstration. Abused children who have little communication with adults never develop good vocabularies. Learning a foreign language is much more difficult after age 7 and can be drudgery after 12. By then the sensitive period is well and truly over and the child is embarking on a different kind of learning.
The sensitive period for language has social implications too. The languages of the world can only survive if they are learned by babies and attempts to revive dead languages are not usually successful for this reason.
Another fascinating sensitive period is that of order. This appears about two years of age and lasts until about age four. It is a difficult time for parents who do not understand it and is probably the cause of most temper tantrums. During this period children exhibit a passionate interest in the order of things. Children have a real obsession that everything be kept in its proper place and that everything happens at its proper time. Children drive parents crazy with their love of rituals. Let the furniture be changed around, a new picture appear on the wall, or their place at the table changed and your child will notice immediately, and possibly turn into a tyrant. It is sometimes hard for the adult to fathom out what has caused the child to become so bent out of shape.
Even though adults are distressed by disorder, we are mainly concerned with how it affects our comfort and efficiency; we are not constructing our intelligence by it. A teenager will have already sorted out hundreds of experiences, and filed everything in memory to draw upon to help understand the world. Children start out with a chaos of images but the sorting process is built in and must be completed so that foundation is firm. We can help at home by acknowledging this need and by keeping as much continuity as possible during this time. Even though children are particular about how a placemat should be put in front of them, their ability to keep order is not good. However, they enjoy the process and can help to keep their room in order if given small isolated tasks to accomplish. Keep it simple and fun. In this way, it will become a lifelong habit.
In school, order is important. Everything has its place and because of this sensitive period, children quickly form a memory of the position of the materials in the classroom. They take tremendous delight that things are always in the same place and love to tell you where everything goes. Without this sensitive period for order, it would be quite impossible to give a class of preschool children the freedom of a Montessori classroom.
The sensitive period for justice comes in about six years old and continues intensely for several years. These are the years when every child has to be given exactly the same size scoop of ice cream because otherwise someone will notice instantly and either gloat or feel slighted. Children can be terribly unfair to each other at this stage but have an insatiable need to debate that things be seen to be fair.
There are other sensitive periods but it is useless to try to make up for the sensitive period once it has passed. We have missed the bus. It is possible to learn a foreign language when we are older but it is hard work, not pure delight. It is a joy for the three and four year old to know the names of the geometric shapes they see every day when they are in the sensitive period for enjoying shapes and words, but it is such a chore for the older child to have to learn them.
Children live in the present and are totally engulfed by their sensitive periods. Be reassured that the obsessions of the moment are not permanent, but each one has a purpose and a time and its effects add to the foundations of a lifetime.
Young children go through “sensitive periods” when they are more receptive to learning a particular skill. Sensitive periods do not necessarily come at precisely the same time in each child’s life, but all children experience them. It is important for parents and teachers to be aware of these phases so they may better understand the child. They can then support the child in his/her all-consuming desire to absorb a particular concept or learn and practice a particular skill during these times. Once these sensitive periods are over they will never return. The child will still learn but not with such ease and intensity as before.
The following is a general guide to the times when a young child can best learn specific skills and concepts; they do not always apply to individual children:
- birth to 3 – sensory experiences
- birth to 1-½ – learning through movement
- birth to 7 – development of language
- 1½ to 4 – development of muscular coordination
- 2 to 4 – concern with order in the environment and routines
- 2 to 6 – refinement of senses, development of social skills
- 3 to 6 – sensitivity to adult influences
- 3½ to 4½ – writing
- 4 to 4½ – sense of touch
- 4½ to 5 – reading
I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.
– Plato –
Ah, music! It can do so many things to us. It can inspire us, it can cause us to recall strong feelings or memories, and it can change our emotional state with just a few notes. Music can do all these things, to all different types of people. Song and dance are for everyone, and I think we as a species can agree on one thing: Music matters. It matters to us as adults, but it matters more in the development of young children.
In order to connect music to early childhood development, we need to have a basic understanding of how development happens. Early child development can be described in a list of five domains. Before we dive into them, it is critical we understand that none of these domains should be valued higher than the other; meaning that having better language skills over physical skills will not necessarily be an advantage for a three-year-old. All five domains intertwine and overlap because all are essential for proper brain development. Skills in each of the domains physically change the growing brain and how it works, thus the following skills are all equally important.
- Social/Emotional: Children need emotional safety and security. They need to know that they are loved. They need examples of healthy emotional expression, so they can learn to express emotion themselves without fear of a negative response or rejection. This also ties into self-worth and confidence.
- Communication/Language: Children need to be talked to, from birth, and before if possible. They also need to be listened to; they need to feel heard because when they are talking they are practicing their communication skills, and that is linked to their emotional development.
- Self-Help/Adaptive: Children as young as two-years-old need to be able to do things on their own. They need to feed themselves; they need to hang up their own coats, and they need to put on their own shoes. They need to practice and have real experiences, not just for the sake of practicing, but to boost their confidence. It is essential they learn to be independent in key developmental stages.
- Physical/Motor Skills: Maria Montessori said: “Play is the work of the child”. Play is vital for brain and motor skill development and has been proven to make kids smarter. Play is their work, and we need to let them work.
- Cognitive: This is a child’s ability for critical thinking and problem-solving. Intellectual and mental abilities are learned and nurtured through experience; it is that simple. Young children are little sponges and they soak up everything, and the more they are exposed to, the more they develop.
A key ingredient that is present throughout each domain is experience. Young children need experiences. These experiences need to be real, within the real world for optimal brain development. This is how they are able to master things like walking, talking, counting to 10 and zipping up their jackets. They need to do it, by themselves, because that’s how they learn.
Now the question is, “What does music have to do with any of this?” Well, to start, music is a natural and important occurrence in the growth and development of children. Early exposure to music has been proven to have a positive impact on them; their emotional awareness, sense of self, and physical bodies. We have all seen babies bopping their heads or bodies when there is music on, and every parent has had at some point a young child whose favorite song simply must be played again and again and again. There is a reason for this, and the reason is music is a natural and vital experience we all need.
According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner (1983), “Music intelligence is equal in importance to logical-mathematical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence”. This is because music promotes all of those things. When we are engaged in music, whether listening, moving along with it, singing or playing an instrument, we engage all parts of the brain. Left, right, front and back. That’s because the act of making music is a creative and cognitive skill. The whole brain is working all at once, and the arts is the only skill that does this. Even listening to music can have this effect.
Here’s an example of what music does for us developmentally; Jenny is three-years-old, and she is singing and dancing to her favorite song in the living room. Maybe it’s Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’, and she’s howling it at the top of her lungs. It seems like nothing special is happening, and it may be a little annoying at the onset. However, when we stop to analyze what is happening in Jenny’s brain, we might be amazed.
All of the following skills are happening while Jenny sings and dances, all of which are key developmental skills at this age.
- Fine and Gross Motor Skills; This includes balance, coordination, and rhythm with her body as she’s twirling or swaying. Maybe she is going up on her tippy toes for a moment or moving backward. She is also learning concepts like slow and fast.
- Independent Thought / Self Help; Jeni is the star in her living room, and she is choosing where to put her feet, how to hold her arms, how loud to sing, etc.
- Cognitive Development; She is focusing on two things at once, singing and movement, that is developing her cognitive abilities and using her whole brain.
- Subliminal Mathematics; music is all counting and fractions, so whether she knows it or not, she is learning to keep time / a steady beat because she is experiencing it.
- Language Skills; When she sings along, even if some or all of the words aren’t right, she is still learning and developing those language skills. When the music swells and becomes louder, she is experiencing the concept of loud and soft, and in turn, expressing that herself.
- Emotional Intelligence; She is feeling something, otherwise she wouldn’t be engaged. These emotions could be simple or complex, but they are being felt, and that is what is important.
As we can see, music is an incredibly useful tool for young children’s development. Jenny was experiencing and practicing multiple developmental skills, and all it took was turning on Spotify.
It doesn’t stop at development either. Music touches history, mathematics, and social studies. We use music and sounds in science, in health care through musical therapy, and on it goes. There are countless songs and compositions about geography, cultures, people, emotions, animals and other topics that can be used to accomplished non-musical developmental goals.
Children of all ages also learn vital social skills through music. Using instruments in groups, as well as singing and dancing in groups can help children learn how to work cooperatively, which is a social skill needed well into adulthood. More of these skills include empathy, spatial awareness, independence through solo work, and emotional development. Music has the unique ability to speak for us in ways we didn’t know we needed to be heard, and it does this with children as well as adults. It can provide a deeper connection for children to themselves, their peers and to the world in which they live.
It is crucial to set aside time during the day specifically for musical activities in order for skills to develop in a play-based environment. The combination of play and music serves the expressive, emotional, intellectual, social, and creative developmental needs of all children because all children have musical potential. Music speaks to the development of the whole child, and this is why we need to make time for music, because music matters.
About the Author:
Denise Eileen Baltzer graduated from Northwest University in the Spring of 2014 with a Bachelors of Music Education, with a minor in Music. Her focus has been using music in Early Education and is currently working towards a degree in Child Development. Her goals include using her degrees and skills in assisting young children in their development through music education. Ms. Baltzer works with all Sammamish Montessori School students in groups as part of the Montessori curriculum, during our summer program, and creatively weaves music education into the school’s STEAM Enrichment program. Ms. Baltzer also provides private ukelele instruction to young children.
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Young children love to draw and create, but often get frustrated by their inability to produce something that resembles the vision in their head. Their art becomes representational – a line stands in for an animal, a winding trail across the page reflects the movements of their subject, as though the artwork is a story in motion rather than a snapshot in time. Often the work morphs into something else entirely requiring the attention of an engaged listener to unravel the complexities of what has turned a blank page into something quite extraordinary. What you have just witnessed is the creation of a piece of “Process Art”.
Process art is exactly what you think – it’s all about the process and not the finished product. It doesn’t have to resemble anything you’ve ever seen before. Eyes don’t have to appear in pairs, or the colors constrained inside meandering lines. In fact, it doesn’t have to be recognizable at all. This type of art thrives without boundaries and its only requirement is that the artist is enjoying the creative process.
Process art is developmentally appropriate for preschoolers and kindergarteners who have yet to acquire the fine motor skills and self-awareness to represent objects accurately. At this stage, children enjoy experimenting with art media and found objects to better understand what they are and what they can do. These open-ended activities inspire curiosity and encourage sensory exploration. Research is clear: creativity flourishes when it is pursued for its own enjoyment.
This type of art is also rich in concrete, developmentally appropriate skills:
- coordination and fine motor control
- spacial reasoning
- sensory exploration
- cognitive development through planning, comparison and problem-solving
- social and emotional maturation through increased focus, collaboration with others and feeling pride and success.
How can you encourage process art at home with your child?
- Provide time and opportunities to create at home by offering a variety of tools and materials such as colored paper, recyclables, scissors, glue, tape, paint, yarn, crayons, clay etc.
- Forget about getting it right! The freedom to make mistakes, express themselves and take risks are the priorities. Refrain from assigning meaning to the art which robs the child of the opportunity to evaluate his or her own work.
- Let the work be child-driven without a finished form in mind. Exploration and discovery guide this artform with originality and free thinking, not imitation, being the goal.
Let your child play, learn, experiment, grow. Sit back. Your kid has got this!
Article by Virginia Ward, STEAM Teacher at Sammamish Montessori School, BA. Ed./Special Ed., BA Anthropology, MPA. Virginia brings decades of experience teaching in countries all over the globe, harnesses her degrees in Primary and Special Education and Anthropology, and taps into her amazing creativity, humor and excitement for life to help STEAM students to explore arts, science, math and more.
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