Tracey asked a question which relates to discussions friends and I have had over and over this year. She noted the plethora of (Montessori) resources available and inquired where I find the least expensive of these. Indeed there are sites overflowing with resources today. This is in stark contrast to to what was available when I was teaching my first preschooler in the late 80s. At the time, and for quite some time after, I was hungry for resources. When they began trickling out I grabbed all the freebies I could and was suprised to find that they did not appreciably improve our lot.
While we were short on resources at the beginning we were rich with theory. There were books by old school Montessorians and Montessori herself in every library. I couldn't put my hands on knobless cylinders to save my life but I could tell you what their purpose was and make pretty good substitute activities to fill in for those then-elusive materials. In retrospect that was great good fortune. I was forced to read, read, and read some more. If we wanted the method it was ours even if the materials were not available. We knew the principles. The rest was just a means to the ends.
Today the situation is quite the reverse. Materials are readily available in all price ranges. You can acquire both original apparatus and a multitude of "Montessori-inspired" works. Since the term is not copyrighted it can and has been applied to just about any manipulative based learning materials. This muddies the picture considerably. The emphasis is on the trappings versus the theory. This is why you see many homes chock full of hands-on learning tools and yet very few that enjoy the peace and order commonly connected with the method. The stuff itself cannot produce those things. Worse, an abundance of poorly produced materials encourages the polar opposite of what Montessori was striving for. Instead of respect, they invite carelessness. Instead of clarity there is chaos. I know this because we have fallen prey to this as well.
There is no shortage of inspiration in cyber world. The concern is that too many people are satisfied with the outward appearance and are lax to really dissect down to the heart of any given method - Montessori or otherwise. Hence there are blocks and gnomes and printables and you name it cluttering schoolrooms and adding more stress to teacher/moms who have no idea what the big picture is nor where all that stuff fits in, literally or figuratively. There are resources offered that carry a particular label which don't actually reflect the method they are linked with. That isn't helpful and it doesn't bring you closer to a Montessori (nor any other) environment. In fact one would be far closer to realizing the promise of Montessori with a very small number of materials and a good grasp of the overall goals. Once you have that you can improvise nicely and are need very little.
So be wise. Have a good idea what you are looking for and what you plan to do with a given resource before diving in. Don't introduce it to your children until you are prepared to maintain it. (my dear friend Karen has graciously bitten her tongue and not called me on my disaster of a resource room from this summer when we were not vigilant. Wait til you see the after pics Karen! We are getting there!)
We started with Elizabeth Hainstock's books Teaching Montessori in the Home (preschool and school age). They remain my favorite resources because you can cover the lion's share of practical life, sensorial, language and math topics through mid-elementary school with these two little books. They should be used after reading Montessori's original books. I also LOVE the summaries written by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. They are hard to come by but they articulate the method so very well to an audience who had next to no authentic resources at their disposal. A new title by Montessori leader Tim Seldin is How to Raise an Amazing Child. It is a layperson's guide to the method and how to apply the principles at home. Lots of gorgeous photography.
For more indepth, step by step instructions for original materials David Gettman's book is an incredible buy. If you refer to Montessori World's online albums with pictures it is a great help. This is the same material found in the teacher albums for far more.
Montessori Live is a membership site which has a video library you can access online. They have demonstrations of teachers presenting the lessons so you can better visualize how this is done. As you will see in the demos - the emphasis in a Montessori lesson is on brevity, clarity, and being concise. This is a good motto to keep in mind. Show don't tell.
Tracey asked if our kids ever "outgrow" Montessori. It depends upon your definition of the term. Montessori analyzed human growth and development. She took careful notes and made suggestions for each stage. While folks are most familiar with the method as it is applied to early childhood, it is by no means limited to this time of life. Children eventually move beyond manipulatives but they continue to develop independence and take personal responsibility for their education. The method continues to rely on the mentor model and makes limited use of texts in favor of research and experience-based learning. This article explains how Montessori is implemented at the upper levels in some schools.
On the left sidebars are Montessori-inspired curriculum and idea books. Some more purist than others. All affordable. My favorites are there including the books by Labritta Gilbert and the Workjobs books. We first found these at book sales when our big boys were tiny and are using them still. If the original materials are out of your price range go here first.
I have updated my right-hand Montessori sidebar links and have added some wonderful new resources. There are a dizzying number of free ideas linked there. There are also several new teacher training programs included which are especially helpful. There are more resources there than any one family could ever use therefore I share them along with this sage advice:
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Prov 4:7
When you have the understanding of the big picture and the overarching goals then you need little else. Without it, all the getting of resources in the world will only stress both you and your shelving.