As grade school children we are taught the trick of ticking off choices from a word bank to narrow down the answer to more difficult questions. When children learn to move through this or similar processes they begin to understand that if something does not fit they have a made a mistake. Dr. Montessori developed her complete set of materials in this fashion. Thus empowering the child to be in control of their own learning, and negating the need for adult intervention. Which leads us to the “self-correcting materials.”
What are the Montessori self-correcting materials? Materials or lessons designed to be manipulated in a specific way, which cannot be completed if arranged in correctly. I am going to focus on the sensorial materials in this blog, as they are the most common and recognizable. Sensorial materials are exactly what they say. They were created to stimulate the senses, they open doors to both language and math, however they are much more than that. The sensorial materials were created to be both visually striking and aesthetically pleasing. These materials were also created to be delivered in a very specific way, right down to the color of mat they are presented on. The sensorial materials are also some of the most brilliant examples of self-correction in the entire curriculum.
In my blog Teacher, Directress, Guide I give a little information about the intentionality of everything that occurs in a true Montessori environment. The same is true for the Sensorial Materials, I am even intentional with the names I use for each work. There is so much debate over the pink tower and brown stairs. I choose to call these lesson the Tall Tower and the Broad Stairs. The children, even as toddlers, can see or identify the colors, but may not be aware they are tall or broad. The tall tower is a series of ten cubes each 1/10th smaller than the next. This precision and balance is one of the reasons Montessori materials are so expensive. If these blocks are off even by millimeter the balance of the tower will be off as well. This is perhaps the most well-known of the Montessori materials. It also happens to be self-correcting. When constructing the tower the child can immediately identify if a mistake has been made. Because rather than decreasing in size the blocks would alternate large, small, large. This is an important mistake for especially young children to make. As their teacher it is not my job to swoop in and correct their mistake. It is my job to give them the tools and confidence they need to solve the problem independently. Children working through this process will occasionally knock the whole thing over and start again, this is the first way they solve the problem. After working and experimenting the child will eventually realize they only need to deconstruct the tower down to the mistake and try again. This is the true beauty of self-correcting materials. They give the child freedom to make mistakes, and solve them without adult intervention. Is there really any better way to convey independence?