A Trend in Montessori Materials

I guess it’s okay, after over two years of creating and selling Montessori materials, to call myself a bit of an expert in this field. The materials, naturally, have long been one of my favorite areas of Montessori and I like to keep an eye out to see what other Montessori companies are offering.

Lately I see a clear trend towards using “real photographs” in Montessori work. Quite obviously, the internet and digital cameras have given people access to millions of photos, and certainly many traditional Montessori materials (including mine) have been given a new life through the use of high-quality photos.

Overall I think it’s a great trend, and I think that kids the world over are benefiting by having real pictures in the work they do. The only area where I find this to be a concern is regarding nomenclature cards. These would include anything that starts with “Parts of…” and in Montessori, they span everything from geometry concepts to geographic features to plants and animals.

Traditionally, drawings were used for nomenclature cards (see picture). In the early days, this made a lot of sense. For a long time, pictures weren’t readily available to teachers and parents, and even when cameras became widespread, taking and printing up photos would have been cost- and time-prohibitive for individuals.

The internet has changed all that, and now I am asking: Is this a good change? I don’t believe it is, where nomenclature cards are concerned, and here’s why. Drawings for nomenclature cards have traditionally been very simple, and contain only the “parts” that will be named and defined. It’s very easy to isolate the salient part of the drawing, and kids will be very clear as to which name/label refers to which part.

Today’s use of photos for nomenclature cards adds new points of interest – backgrounds, colors, and attributes – that are not related to the actual nomenclature. While they may initially be more appealing to look at, I feel that in the end they stand in the way of the child; they confuse rather than clarify. That’s why you’ll never see me use photos for nomenclature cards.

Why do I use photos for things like “Types of Birds”, then? These kinds of cards should be used, if the teacher or parent is being conscientious, by children who have completely mastered the names and definitions of the “parts”. At this point, they are able to go from a very specific concept of a “bird” to a more general concept of “types of birds”. Photos in this case are not a hindrance to mastery of the material.

With any change, it’s important to make sure that we’re not making a change just for the sake of change, but because it’s actually an improvement. In this case, I don’t think it is.