Trial and Error in the Classroom and at Home

I get lots of questions from parents and teachers all around the world. Many times, the questions are related to Montessori theory or lessons, and there’s a definitive answer that can be given. But other times, the question is more of a, “Should I try this with my class?” “Would such-and-such material help my child?” and the only answer I can give is, “Maybe. You’ll have to try it and find out”.

Truth is, most of us can’t know definitively what will happen when we introduce a new work or material. The child may love it exactly the way it is, or it may need to be tweaked before it can be used properly. Or it may end up being used differently than we originally intended.

This applies to our classroom/home set-ups too: where should the shelves and tables go, how should the work be arranged, what tray would work best with which work? There are some general guidelines (I’ll get into those in a future post), but there’s lots of room for customization and personalization.

When I was a 3-6 assistant, the teacher in the classroom often made changes to the room. This drove me crazy! (It didn’t bother the kids at all). It took me awhile to figure out that she was watching the children as they worked and making changes based on her observations.

That’s the key: observation. Only by watching the children very carefully can you know whether or not work needs to be changed or moved. Sometimes there’s a practical reason: water work needs to be next to the sink. Other times it’s aesthetic: this tray matches this bowl and sponge, so they look nice together. Sometimes it’s procedural: the child needs more items to do the work than I first thought. You’ll only know if you watch.

I see this all the time at my house. My 6-year-old son is my guinea pig for the work I make. Oftentimes I end up changing materials before I sell them (or even after) based on his experience and comments. And boy, does he love catching errors I make! He considers himself my assistant, which is probably fair.

The Montessori method came about through Dr. Montessori’s astute observations of children and how they learn, so it’s only fitting that we continue that tradition today. Taking notes or keeping track of work with a chart or list is a fantastic way to insure that we won’t miss something important. I have often seen one Montessori teacher ask another to observe a child for a few minutes and offer advice. Fresh eyes can see things we miss. At home, a spouse or friend can become that neutral observer.

So, the next time you wonder if the children are ready for something new, or if they need a different approach to a subject, or if the tall shelf needs to be moved to a different corner? Try it! Observe carefully, then make more changes as necessary based on your observations.