Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Small Steps

This week's tool card is Small Steps.  It says to break tasks down into small steps to allow children to experience success.  Whether teaching a child to wash their hands, clean their room, or write a story, taking small steps is the best way to get there.

In the Montessori classroom we teach most things to the children in steps.  Guides give lessons by performing the activity once in entirety while the child observes and then allow the child a chance to do it on their own.  As the child gets older, the lessons increase in amount of steps as well as difficulty.  For example, washing dishes in the toddler classroom involves: putting on an apron, dunking the dirty dish into the prepared soapy water bucket, scrubbing, dunking in the rinse water bucket then placing on the drying rack, hanging the apron back up.  It requires six steps that must be performed in a specific order.  As the child grows and moves into the primary classroom they will continue to wash dishes.  The steps required to perform the task are: put on apron, fill pitcher with water, pour water into left basin, fill pitcher again, pour water into right basin, squeeze soap into left basin, dunk dish in soapy water, scrub with sponge, rinse in rinse water, place in drying rack, repeat with all dishes, use towel to dry dishes, stack clean dishes on the clean cart, empty used water from left and then right basin into the discard bucket, pour dirty water out, use towel to clean up work area, take dirty towel to laundry basket, replace towel with a fresh one, return apron to hook.  That is now 20 steps that must be done in a specific order.   By observing the adult, silently performing the activity, the child is able to "learn" what he is supposed to do to complete the job.  Doing this work allows the child to contribute to the classroom community and develop his mathematical mind all while doing what many of us would consider a very remedial task.

Each human being has certain needs that must be met in order for survival.  In order to satisfy these needs we respond with a variety of tendencies.  Maria Montessori recognized these tendencies to be the driving, unconscious, forces that allow the individual to meet his basic needs.

These needs are:
1. Physical - food, shelter, health, safety
2. Psychological - love, security, intellectual nourishment
3. Spiritual - a belief in something , or a sense of self

The human tendencies that she described are the tendencies toward: Exploration, Work,  A Mathematical Mind, Group Orientation, Spirituality.  The tendency toward a mathematical mind is the one that responds to our teaching things in small steps.  Following a logical sequence of actions, (set of small steps) allows the child to develop his mathematical mind and therefor responds to a basic human tendency.

Not only does it make sense to break big jobs or lessons down into small steps, because they seem more easy to manage that way, but now we can see that it is also the most appealing way for a child to go about learning something new.

When you use this tool in the home, you can slowly add more steps as your child matures.  Remember to perform the actions slowly the first time that you model them and then be prepared to re-teach when necessary.

Ah, next week we will focus on controlling our own behavior!

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