Indirect Preparation

Have you ever wondered why Primary children do spooning? Or why they spend so much time washing a table? And in such a specific way?  What about the red rods? What are the long sticks for?

In a recent Parent Education talk, Primary guide Jennifer Uitenbroek gave a hands-on demonstration of the many ways practical life and sensorial work prepare Primary children for reading, writing and math—long before they approach the sandpaper letters or the bank game.

One of the hidden gems of Montessori education is the “indirect preparation” children receive by working with the practical life and sensorial materials. Indirect preparation is the process by which children engage in satisfying, developmentally appropriate work that also provides the experiential foundation for future learning.

For example, babies scrambling to roll over for the first time are also preparing to sit, crawl, and eventually walk, as well as developing the confidence and persistence to face later challenges.

Part of the genius of Montessori’s design is that every work in the Primary classroom has its part to play in an intricate web of interconnected lessons that anticipate children’s academic, social and spiritual growth. Concrete, sensorial experiences always precede abstract lessons about theory or concepts.

Physical readiness is also key. While we might not typically think about the physicality of reading, writing and math, all of these require some combination of gross and fine motor coordination (for example, the ability to hold a pencil with the proper pressure, proper posture, and coordinated arm movement from the shoulder).

The beauty of Montessori’s system of preparation makes learning appear effortless as children tackle increasingly advanced work.

The following are examples of indirect preparation in action:

  • Work like funnel pouring, flower arranging, folding, dusting, polishing and cloth washing are the first introduced to new Primary children. These activities help get children working and accustomed to the flow of the classroom community. In addition to teaching specific skills of interest, they help children learn to take initiative, complete a work cycle, navigate boundaries, and view themselves as members of the community. The sequencing required for these activities also sets the stage for the logical progression of mathematics and language.
  • Table washing, chalkboard erasing/washing, and window washing are more complicated tasks requiring that multiple steps be remembered and executed with precision. They encourage children to practice tracking from left to right and top to bottom. Repetition brings efficiency of movement and the muscle memory required for reading and writing.
  • Many practical life activities also require skills like walking without spilling or lifting and emptying buckets. These build strength and arm coordination. Carrying trays develops overall balance and grip muscles in the fingers.
  • While squeezing a chamois or sponge, spooning, building the pink tower, or carrying the knob cylinders to a table, children practice the pincer grip necessary to properly hold a pencil.
  • Tracing work with the leaf cabinet, metal insets, and eventually the sandpaper letters and numerals, allows children to refine the proper pressure, firmness of touch and arm movements needed for writing. The roughness boards also give children the experience of different textures and pressures.
  • Use of materials like the pink tower, the red rods, the number rods and the brown stair introduce children visually to math concepts like counting, quantity and size differences, and three-dimensional change.
  • The decanomial table is a visual, hands-on version of the multiplication table and corresponds in color to the bead chains, which are used for counting, skip counting, and introduction to place values.
  • The binomial and trinomial cubes help children learn to rebuild cubes, but they are also concrete, manipulative representations of algebraic expressions to be studied in Elementary.
  • Finally, conversation in the classroom—including the kinds of questions guides ask—prepares children for the kinds of language and questions to be later incorporated into work in all fields, including research and creative writing projects.