2017 marks the 110th anniversary of the opening of Dr. Montessori’s first classroom, the Casa dei Bambini, in Rome, Italy. The cornerstone of her program centered around the materials she had available to her students. The aim being to help these poor and often neglected children meet their developmental milestones through work with these materials.
When I give a presentation to a child in my class I often think of the many children over these 110 years that have grown through work with the materials in the Prepared Environment. It’s quite a wonderful thought to know that generations of children have benefitted from the practices that Dr. Montessori put in place over a century ago.
One of the things I love most about the Montessori materials is the hidden lessons that they teach a child; skills and habits that may not be initially apparent. One of the unique qualities that run throughout the Montessori materials is a concept Dr. Montessori called Control of Error.
Control of Error is the quality within the materials that enables a child to complete and correct the task without assistance from a teacher or an older child. It helps a child to find the solution when a problem arises in his or her work; it propels toward completing an activity independently. Control of Error also allows for minimal input from the teacher when a mistake is made. It empowers the child to discover the error on his or her own, rather than discovering the mistake once it is pointed out by a teacher.
A child is exposed to this hidden quality right from the start of their Montessori experience. One of the first materials a child works with in the Prepared Environment is the Pink Tower. Here, a child will build a tower of pink wooden cubes, starting with the largest cube for the base, continuing in an ascending order until it is completed with the smallest cube at the top. The Control of Error allows a child to see visually if a mistake is made and correct it independently.
This concept carries on into many of the Elementary-aged materials also. When using the Racks and Tubes or Test Tube Division material to solve long division equations, elementary children check their work by using inverse operations. If the remainder of beads left at the end of the equation does not match the number left at the end of the inverse operation check, a child can deduce that somewhere along the way an error has been made. The child is motivated to try again, to see if a different result is achieved once the equation is repeated.
The concept of Control of Error built into the materials encourages independence, confidence and allows a child to complete a task from beginning to end. It also helps a child to embrace a mistake as part of the process of learning and motivates to solve the errors on his or her own. In her book From Childhood to Adolescence, Dr. Montessori wrote “children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying ‘Help me to do it alone.’”
The Control of Error within the materials helps us as teachers to do just that. How wonderful to imagine that for over a century, children have had the opportunity to gain independence, confidence and perseverance through work with materials that contain this inherent quality!
Bettina Tioseco is the dynamic Head of Westside Montessori School in Vancouver, Canada. She holds twenty years of Montessori experience, half of which was enriched at International Schools in Shanghai and Beijing. She is a qualified and experienced Early Childhood Educator, Montessori Guide and Elementary School Teacher.
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