Learning from the Montessori Method
I am not a Montessori teacher*, but I get lots of inspiration from the Montessori method for my Mandarin Chinese classes. The Montessori method provides lots of wisdom, especially for classes for younger students. One aspect of the Montessori method that is particularly inspiring is the emphasis on placing trust in children. One challenge for Mandarin Chinese teachers is that materials for our classes are sometimes hard to find. We often find ourselves using precious space in our luggage to bring materials back from China/Taiwan. It can be hard to trust kids to be careful, but it is worth it!
Montessori and Using “Real” Objects
For a unit on Chinese porcelain, students make their own sculptures and they also get to look at porcelain that I have brought back from China. Any trip to Lakeshore Learning demonstrates that there are plenty of teaching materials out there for young kids made of plastic or wood. Many parents and teachers would rather get a root canal than give kids something that is breakable. Letting children play with the real thing might seem risky, but I have had the best results with the rowdiest groups of kids. The Montessori method encourages teachers to give students objects made of breakable materials. Montessori teachers believe that this helps teach children how to handle things with care. It also teaches them how to clean up after themselves if something breaks. Additionally, children who get used to tossing around plastic cups and trays are more careless when they finally encounter their adult versions.
Risky, but Worth It
Before letting young students touch and play with something like porcelain that I have brought back from China, we talk about how to handle these objects with care (mostly in English). It is certainly an exercise in trust, but it pays off. Even the most rambunctious (or perhaps especially the most rambunctious) kids react with care and reverence when they finally have the chance to handle something like that. The chance to touch something that is usually off-limits can instantly focus a child. This does not mean that the kids might not break something that I have carefully brought back from China. If they do, we will just have to clean up the mess and plan to bring more stuff back from China for next time.
*I used to work at a Mandarin immersion Montessori school