How is language encouraged in a Montessori prepared environment?
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In the words of Maria Montessori, “for thousands of years, the child has been passing like an unknown being in the midst of humanity; and yet he possesses mental instincts which make us recognize him as a bond between successive generations in the development of civilisation. ” (pg 298, The discovery of the child) These instincts are the work of the child’s unconscious absorbent mind, that soaks up language from the day he is born. These instincts are not present in animals, and this power of language forms a key difference between humans and animals.
Hence the development of a common “speech” enables humans to establish themselves as groups and sustain societies. Development “A civilization is generally defined as an advanced state of human society containing highly developed forms of government, culture, industry, and common social norms. ” (Internet source). Montessori believed that language was of utmost importance in order to guide human beings towards development of cohesive societies; as it is through the complex mechanisms of expression that people of different castes and races can establish harmony around them.
How does language develop in a baby? From the moment a child is born, he starts communicating with his environment. At birth, he makes his presence felt by crying and gaining attention towards his needs of hunger, sleep, urine or stool. During the first 4 months a child becomes aware of sounds around him as he turns his eyes and head to the side where he hears a sound. He recognizes human lips as the source of sound and stares closely towards them. At about 6 months, he has spontaneously progressed towards producing syllabic sounds such as “ba-ba and ma-ma”.
When the child turns approximately 10 months, he begins to understand that words spoken from the lips have a well defined “purpose”. Gradually, he begins to understand the meanings of these spoken words, and although he is not yet ready to talk, he understands everything he is hearing in his environment. This power to unconsciously absorb and learn make human beings as the most superior beings. By the tender age of 12-18 months, the child says his first words, and begins to understand that everything around him has a name.
he is able to express his needs by “one-word sentences” such as “water”, to say that “I want to drink water”; or “sleepy”, to express “I am ready to go to bed”. The child’s speech progresses gradually and by 21 months he talks with small phrases, such as “going park”, “drink milk”, etc. Montessori noted that this was the phase of “explosive epoch” where the child could join words to express his thoughts. By this time, the mental structures and language mechanisms of expression peculiar to the race or social class are established in the child.
Language in a Montessori prepared environment Montessori believed that language development in a classroom has four significant areas of learning. These are Listening, Speaking, Writing and Reading. She designed the materials in the classroom to aid learning on all these areas simultaneously. I have further discussed some examples of how language is incorporated in the Montessori environment. Montessori designed the practical life exercises to improve the child’s fine motor skills. One of the major outcomes of this development is improved “pencil grip”.
By repeating exercises with knobs, boxes, boards of different sizes, the children develop a stronger grip of all objects and are empowered to control pressure and posture while holding a pencil. This is of most importance when the child begins writing in a Montessori classroom. Another activity designed to enhance the motor skills, is the “pouring and transferring”, which improves the muscle movements required towards a desired pencil grip. Simultaneously the teacher is providing clear and concise guidance to the child as she demonstrates the activity and speaks the correct language.
The child instantaneously listens to the words and starts building his vocabulary database. In some cases, the child may or may not be ready to speak yet, but his little mind has acquired the words and its meaning are stored, to be used whenever the tongue is ready to speak them. When the child shows signs that he is ready, the teacher encourages him to repeat the words that he has been hearing over a period of time while performing an exercise. The Montessori environment provides the child different ways of expressing his thoughts and opinions, even before he has mastered the art of language.
By exposing the children to sensorial materials, Montessori provided them freedom of exploration, thought and expression. Children refine their auditory and visual senses as they touch and feel materials. Lets’ consider the sandpaper alphabets that children trace in order to develop their awareness of letter formations and shapes. This activity is aimed towards improved writing and reading simply by developing a recognition of differences in finger movements for each alphabet. The teacher also uses art as a creative form of expression and language development in a Montessori classroom.
For example, the sand tray provides children the opportunity to experiment with different movements and directions of the hand. They have the freedom to explore various new shapes, lines, curves etc, that form the basis of alphabets and numbers at later stages of development. The Montessori classroom has children from different age groups. This helps the young children in further language development as they are allowed to freely interact and exchange ideas with one another. This positive reinforcement encourages speech. The Montessori teacher engages in open ended conversations, encouraging the child to express his opinions using his speech.
The child discovers that his ideas can be expressed using words and develops a question and answer pattern. The grace and courtesy exercises teach children about social etiquette. The children are introduced to rich vocabulary which forms part of daily interactions in social encounters. Vocabulary is also further enhanced by way of formal lessons on various topics. For example, children are shown cards with pictures and names of objects they see around themselves, in park, at home, at school, at the farm etc. The children learn that all things they have seen have a name and this helps them express their thoughts in a clearer manner.
Children are also introduced to culture related aspects, hence giving them a wealth of experiences to think and talk about. In a Montessori classroom, books are also widely used to develop positive language reinforcements. Factual books related to the child’s developmental experiences are read to enhance vocabulary. Often songs and poems are used to stimulate the child’s thoughts and provide effective communication. When the child begins writing, he discovers that he can convert all his thoughts into words and is able to process his language further.
When he begins reading, he is ready to hear others and interpret thoughts. As the child reads, he explores various sound combinations and analyses different stories and sentences. This progress makes him write and talk much effectively. The teacher plays a vital role in language development as she engages in a two-way communication with the child. She must exhibit patience while the child struggles to express his opinions, allowing him to do so freely without any predisposed judgments. She must have a great love and desire for becoming friendly to the child and act as a facilitator, not an authoritarian.
In summary, the importance of language is best explained by an analogy as given by Montessori. She discusses that while an animal born in any country would have the same behaviour as its species all over the world, each child’s language and mannerisms are different from that of another, as an outcome of the place where he takes birth and is raised. The child if born in Germany, will learn the nuances and meanings of German simply from his mother’s words. “By merely living and without any conscious effort the individual abstracts from the environment even a complex cultural achievement like language.” (Internet source)
1. Montessori, Maria The absorbent mind
Kala Kshetra Publications 2006
2. Montessori, Maria The Discovery of the Child Kala Kshetra Publications
3. Internet https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-a-civilization-definition-common-elements.htmlhttps://schoolworkhelper.net/dr-montessori-language-the-absorbent-mind/http://little-kidsville.blogspot.in/2010/06/essay-on-montessori-language.html