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Child Development with Montessori and STEM Education
Ever been intrigued by the whirlwind world of child education? It’s amazing how different methodologies, like Montessori and STEM, can shape the future of our kids. But with so many options, which path should you tread? Let’s unravel this, shall we?
Understanding Child Development
What is Child Development?
Simply put, child development is the process where children grow and learn more about their world. From infancy to adolescence, kids go through numerous stages that shape their physical, emotional, and intellectual selves.
Factors Influencing Development
A multitude of factors come into play – from genetics to environment. But education? That’s a game-changer. The schooling system and teaching methods play a pivotal role in this growth process.
Teaching a Child to Read at an Early Age
Did you know that 38% of grade four students have reading abilities below the lowest basic level as determined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)? The NAEP is the only ongoing survey of what students known and tracks their performance in various academic subjects for the United States. In their report, the NAEP found that 38% of grade four students had reading achievement below basic levels, with a basic level reading score being 208.
To put things in perspective, the US reading scale has an upper limit score of 500, with average reading scores for grade 4 (217), grade 8 (264), and grade 12 (291). The grade 4 reading achievement levels are categorized by the NAEP as Advanced (268 score), Proficient (238 score), and Basic (208 score), and the basic reading achievement level is defined as follows by the NAEP:
Fourth-grade students performing at the Basic level should demonstrate an understanding of the overall meaning of what they read. When reading text appropriate for fourth graders, they should be able to make relatively obvious connections between the text and their own experiences and extend the ideas in the text by making simple inferences. 
Unfortunately, over a third of all grade four students read at levels even below basic. Is your child having reading difficulties? Research on Phonemic Awareness have found that early reading helps improves a child’s reading and spelling abilities. In fact, the National Reading Panel has concluded based on their massive review of over 1,900 studies that teaching phonics and phonemic awareness produces better reading results than whole language programs.
There are numerous documented benefits and advantages of teaching children to read early on, and teaching them to reading using phonics and phonemic awareness instructions. It is clear that early language and reading ability development passes great benefits to the child as they progress through school at all grades, and that early language and reading problems can lead to learning problems later on in school. For example, a Swedish study found that children with a history of reading problems at school entry scores significantly below average on reading in grade 4. As well, children that shows very low interest in books and story reading before age 5 also scored similarly low on sentence reading in grade 4.  This is just one of many studies which have similar findings, and this makes it an imperative for parents to begin exposing their children to books and reading at an early age.
So how early?
There’s no set guideline on when you should start teaching your children to read; however, you can start cultivating your child’s love for books and reading as soon as they’re born. Obviously, very young babies would not even know what books are, however, talking to your child and reading to your child will help them develop a keen liking for books and stories. As your child grows and gets older, avoid TV-sitting them, because as they develop a dependency on television as their main source of entertainment, it becomes very difficult to dislodge that need for TV entertainment, and get them to enjoy reading books. Instead, keep age appropriate books all around the house, and read to them often. You’ll find that they’ll start picking up books and pretend to read themselves, although at very early ages, they still cannot read.
People typically think that kindergarten or grade one would be an appropriate time for their children to start reading; however, this is not the best approach as studies have repeatedly found that children with good phonemic awareness before entering kindergarten continues to outperform, and achieve exceptional reading and spelling abilities as they progress through school. On the other hand, children who enter school with reading difficulties may continue to have reading and spelling difficulties.
Origins and Philosophy
Madame Maria Montessori, ever heard of her? She pioneered this revolutionary educational approach. Believing in children’s innate ability to lead their own learning, she designed environments fostering independence and curiosity.
The Montessori Method
Imagine a space where kids decide what to explore. Crazy, right? But it works! Montessori classrooms are filled with materials promoting self-directed learning and cognitive development.
Benefits and Risks
The autonomy! The life skills! Montessori is brilliant for nurturing independent thinkers. But, as with everything, there are risks. Overemphasis on independence might lead to difficulty in structured settings. Balance is key.
7 most popular Montessori toys on Amazon
Montessori toys, known for their educational aspects and their ability to inspire creative, open-ended play, are favored by many parents, educators, and childcare experts. Here are seven of the most popular Montessori toys:
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- Wooden Stacking Toys: These are classic Montessori toys designed to develop a child’s fine motor skills. They usually come in various shapes and colors, allowing the child to sort, stack, and identify different pieces.
- Sensory Balls: These textured balls come in different sizes and materials, helping infants and toddlers improve their tactile senses, hand-eye coordination, and grip strength.
- Sandpaper Letters: This set includes wooden tiles with letters made from sandpaper. Children trace these letters with their fingers to learn letter shapes and sounds, aiding in early literacy skills.
- Wooden Puzzle Maps: These are educational tools that teach geography in an interactive manner. For example, a wooden world map puzzle would have pieces shaped like countries or continents, teaching kids about geography while honing their fine motor skills.
- Beaded Number Rods: These rods help kids understand the concept of numbers and counting. The beads on the rods represent different numbers, and as children play, they begin to grasp numerical order and basic math operations.
- Knobbed Cylinders: These are sets of wooden blocks with varying dimensions. Children are challenged to fit each block into its specific hole, thereby refining their visual perception and hand-eye coordination.
- Practical Life Materials: These can range from basic dressing frames (which help children learn to tie shoelaces, button shirts, and zip up jackets) to child-sized brooms and mops. These toys not only build independence and motor skills but also teach responsibility and daily life skills.
These toys, while simple in design, are effective tools that support the Montessori philosophy of learning through exploration and discovery. They cater to children’s innate curiosity and drive for hands-on experiences.
What is STEM?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Sounds techy, doesn’t it? But at its heart, STEM is about problem-solving and critical thinking.
Why STEM is Important
In this rapidly-evolving digital world, we need thinkers, innovators, and problem-solvers. STEM equips kids with these very skills, preparing them for the future.
Pros and Cons
STEM’s hands-on approach is commendable. Kids actively engage in problem-solving tasks, becoming logical thinkers. But the risks? Overemphasis can overshadow holistic development. It’s not all about coding, after all!
7 most popular stem toys on Amazon
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) toys have gained immense popularity in recent years for their ability to teach kids important skills while providing fun, interactive play. Here are seven of the most popular STEM toys:
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- LEGO Robotics Kits: These kits, like the LEGO Mindstorms series, allow kids to design, build, and program their own robots. They’re excellent for teaching coding, engineering, and problem-solving skills.
- Osmo Kits: These are interactive kits that combine physical pieces with a digital app, allowing kids to learn everything from coding to art to math, all while playing games.
- Snap Circuits: An electronic kit where children can easily snap together various components to create hundreds of different projects, from radios to doorbells, teaching them about circuits and electronics.
- Sphero Robots: These app-controlled spherical robots teach kids about coding through play. They can program the robot to roll around, change colors, navigate mazes, and much more.
- KiwiCo Crates: Subscription boxes that come with hands-on science and art projects. Each box is designed for specific age groups and covers a wide range of STEM topics.
- Gravity Maze Marble Runs: This toy combines logic games with physics as children are tasked to create paths that will successfully carry a marble from its start position to a target tower.
- Botley, the Coding Robot: Aimed at younger children, Botley introduces basic coding concepts without the need for screens or apps. Kids can program Botley to follow sequences of movement, avoid obstacles, and more.
These STEM toys are lauded for their educational value, but they’re also just plain fun! They offer hands-on experiences that can ignite a child’s passion for science, technology, engineering, and math, all while developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Balancing Montessori and STEM
Can Montessori and STEM co-exist? Absolutely! Think of it as a fusion cuisine – taking the best from both worlds. A mix of self-guided learning and structured problem-solving? That’s a winning recipe!
Risks of Overemphasis
But here’s a nugget of wisdom: moderation is essential. Overdoing one approach can eclipse the benefits of the other. The challenge? Finding the sweet spot!
Education is like art, constantly evolving, and there’s no one-size-fits-all. Montessori and STEM have their perks, but it’s all about balance. After all, aren’t our kids worth the best of both worlds?
- What ages is Montessori education ideal for?
- Montessori education can start as early as infancy and continue through high school.
- Is STEM only about technology and gadgets?
- No, STEM emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving, beyond just tech.
- Can a child shift from a Montessori to a traditional school easily?
- Yes, with proper support, children can transition between different educational systems.
- Does STEM education ignore arts and creativity?
- Not necessarily. There’s also STEAM, which includes Arts in the curriculum.
- How can parents ensure a balanced education at home?
- By providing diverse learning opportunities and ensuring a mix of structured and unstructured activities.