Within the Montessori classroom, there are endless ways to work with the materials. Some of these ways are set out in the curriculum taught in the teacher training program, whereas others are improvised to match an interest on the part of the child. Several lessons with the colour tablets illustrate this.
Once the child is able to match the colour tablets (there are two of each colour), we try matching at a distance. This involves setting one set of colour tablets up all mixed up at our table, and the other set (the same colours) at a distant table. I set one colour tablet in front of the child and without saying the name of the colour, I ask the child to get the same colour from the other table – without taking the colour tablet along. At times, the child will come back for another look before finding the match. When the child comes back, I ask the child to put the tablet next to the one he/she was matching to and ask if it matches. It is important that the child decides if they match – I do not correct. This work builds the child’s working memory. There is often a distraction (conversation, interesting work to watch, etc.) along the way, which adds to the challenge.
Another lesson – and probably the most fun lesson from the child’s point of view – is matching to the environment (shown below). This activity involves setting one colour tablet in front of the child and asking him to find something in the environment that is the same colour and bring it to the table. There are usually some very interesting choices of items!
To see if the child knows the names of all 11 colours, I ask the child to hand me the colours that he/she knows and tell me the name as he/she does so. If there are a few yet to learn, we do a 3-period lesson to help the child to learn the names of each colour.
Another way to work with these is labeling. Checking that the child knows the name of each colour, we set up a row of colours in front of the child. Often, I will select only one colour starting with each sound to make this work easier. This time, however, the child was very interested in using all of the colours, so we went ahead and used the entire set. Using the writing box (a narrow box with strips of paper, a pencil, and scissors), I write the name of one colour, cut the label, and place the label in front of the child. This work involves the child sounding out the name and then placing the label it in front of the colour to which it corresponds. This particular time, she was unsure about several labels that started with the same sound (green/grey, blue/black, and pink/purple), so I suggested that she set them aside for now. When all the others were done, she took these out and carefully sounded them out to match them to the appropriate colour. She was happy to bring these labels home to show to her family.
The point of sharing these lessons is to show how the same material can be used to match exactly where each child is in terms of language, working memory, and reading. In a number of cases, one child will watch the other working with a material and then ask to do the same thing, so my challenge is to refine the lesson to meet each child’s interest and ability.