Having made several visits to various Montessori material manufacturers over the last month, I have noticed a marked increase in the range of ‘supplementary’ material that is on offer.
Most of these materials are inessential, silly baubles that serve to detract rather than enrich the child’s work. Moreover, they seem to be carelessly made, using uninspiring material. Often times they also convey misleading information.
In addition to the ‘supplementary’ material, there are a host of materials that were previously hand made by the teacher – reading material, nomenclature cards, math charts and so on. Though the store bought materials are ‘shiny’ and so much more convenient for the adult, I couldn’t help but observe that the connection between the hand and the material had been instantly severed.
The teacher made material is a slow cooked meal, while the store bought materials are fast food!
From what little I know of market economics, there is obviously a demand for this supply, which I have observed steadily increase over the last few years. Take it one logical step further and it means that there are many Montessori schools out there that are placing these materials on their shelves and having children work with them.
I am a Montessori purist. I haven’t always been this way, but as my understanding of the child and the method grew and as I gained more experience, I found myself becoming more and more of a purist. The open ended nature of the material and the connections between them are so cohesive that it is only rarely that I find the need to ‘create’ a material. When this happens it is usually in response to an individual child or children rather than to the whole group. These materials rarely, if ever, stay on the shelf through the year. Again, these materials are more often for the elementary aged child.
This is not to say that the method and our understanding does not change. Of course it does and should. Montessori always said that her work had come only so far and it is was now for the others to take it forward. And I believe it has changed. These changes however need to be guided by the deeper principles of child development and need to be well thought out, improvements.
Every material that is added has the potential to take away from another. Also, as Barry Schwartz discovered a complete lack of choice leads to demotivation and reduced involvement, while on the other hand, excessive choice serves to decrease satisfaction and happiness.
There is a golden mean. It serves us well to remember the Montessori principle – ‘give only what is necessary and sufficient’
Here is an article by Angeline Lillard, “How important Are Montessori Materials” that reflects on staying true to the original Montessori material vs adding supplementary materials into the classroom.
Excessive quantity of the educative material; may dissipate the attention, render the exercises with the objects mechanical and cause the child to pass by his psychological moment o f ascent without perceiving it and seizing it. … such objects are then futile.
Over-abundance debilitates and retards progress; this has been proved again and again by my collaborators.
~ Maria Montessori (Advanced Montessori Method I, Kalekshetra 1965)