To some, one of the most surprising differences between a Montessori classroom for ages 2-5 and a Kindergarten classroom for ages 4-5 is that the Montessori classroom has many breakable items: ceramic jugs for pouring rice, glasses for pouring from jug to 3 glasses, glass vases – and many more items. Why are breakable items used for young children?
To answer this, I will give you an example of a very dear friend of mine who excitedly told me that she found amazing sunglasses for her 2-year-old daughter. These sunglasses could be bent every which way and would not break! When I looked askance at the sunglasses, she asked me what was wrong. Giving a child sunglasses that can be twisted and used roughly teaches a child that sunglasses can be twisted and used roughly. The next time that child picks up a real pair of sunglasses, the child will have learned to be very rough with them – and may break them.
This exact principle applies within a Montessori classroom. Surround the child with real – and at times, breakable – materials, and the child will learn to hold the items with care. We show a child how to hold materials with two hands, carry a tray level with two hands, pour with a jug, etc. When we hold and use items with care, the child learns to do so. A Montessori teacher will not say “this is breakable, be careful” because there is no need to do so. A broken item is a learning experience, resulting in that set of materials being taken off the shelf. That is the consequence of the breakage – there is no reprimand, just the feeling that something must be taken away until it is repaired.
Do many items get broken? Surprisingly not. In seven years of operating my school, only one glass item was broken – and I did it. I was hurriedly vacuuming and bumped the vacuum into a wall shelf and knocked down a butterfly-shaped glass dish with a lid, breaking the glass lid. Hmmm…should have spent more time with breakable items as a child, I suppose…