The first few years I was blogging (starting way back when we were still etching our posts on the walls of caves back in 2006) I was completely against technology and preschoolers. I believed it had no place at all for kids this age. Then someone gave us a LeapFrog alphabet toy and after playing with it a few days, Mordecai has suddenly learned his letters and sounds. Another friend gave us some LeapFrog videos her kids had outgrown (a video! for kids! even worse…) and after just watching it a few times he had them all down solidly. It’s hard to argue with success like that, you know? So slowly, bit by bit, technology began to edge its way into our home.
Chuck and I are huge fans of the traditional Montessori method. We love the simple approach of teaching things step-by-step, giving children real tools to work with (not toy tools) and creating a prepared environment. We love the method so much so, that thirteen years ago when we found an ad on Craigslist about a woman selling all of her Montessori supplies after closing down her school, we bought the whole lot. All of my children (except for Keziah, Ezra, and Boaz who were adopted as teens) have benefitted from that purchase. They have learned the alphabet with sandpaper letters and learned to count with spindles.
Now Apollo is four years old and in the pre-reading stage. He knows all the letters of the alphabet (and the sounds) and can scratch out a pretty good approximation of his name on a piece of paper. He knows that reading is really just combining letter sounds and is getting very close to making the leap into reading. Apollo can count to twenty (and beyond with help). The relatively big age gap between Apollo and Tucker (4.5 years) means all of our preschool materials have long since been given away or packed away.
I have recently set up a “school table” for Apollo where I can spread out a variety of learning activities for him to do. He loves having the prepared environment and I love that he has something constructive to occupy him. I have also found that combining Montessori and technology has been easy and seamless. Putting the sandpaper letters out with the LeapReader means the materials are self-correcting (something Maria Montessori considered essential).
Here is Hezekiah using. the sandpaper letters back in 2007! Hezekiah went on to learn to read independently at the age of four years old.
When Maria Montessori was doing her original work, the idea giving kids hands-on activities was absolutely cutting edge. At that time kids were taught everything (including reading) by rote memory. Many people doubted her method could work. Technology for kids has been a bit like that for me. Over they years, I have come around to see its value (especially our technologically driven culture).
Apollo, like most four-year-olds, loves hands-on activities. He can’t resist his little table set up with learning activities. I’ve found, for us, the answer is balance: some hands-on activities, some Montessori activities, and some LeapFrog activities. They now go hand-in-hand in our house.
You can read more of my thoughts in this Mercury News article I was interviewed for recently.