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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Misuse of Materials

This is a biggie for me!  My Montessori trainer was who many would consider  “old school”.  Any and all misuse of material was to be stopped immediately with, “Dear, you may not play with the materials.  I will put them away for you.”

So what is misuse versus exploration? 

That may be up to interpretation, BUT a rule of thumb could be: if the way the child is using the material no longer satisfies the aims for that material, you must stop it.

Some choice examples I have personally encountered are hammering on the musical bells with the narrowest prism from the broad stairs, making the farm animals ride the roof of the barn, scribbling instead of carefully drawing the metal insets, using a red rod as a pretend rifle (that one almost sent me through the roof!), turning the binomial cube box into a pretend garage.

Misuse of materials can also correlate to the handling and physical use, if the child is being rough or destructive, it is best to redirect them in a way that better suits their energy or interest level and put the work away yourself.  So if a child is banging the cubes of the pink tower together, he may be showing you he needs some large motor activity like digging outside.  Focus the energy and use those muscles!

I'm using this picture because it is hilarious!  This young friend happens to my daughter three years ago.  She has hogged three rugs and hunkered down in her work avoidance claiming to be "tired" (she's not, her teacher swears!)  Could it be a misuse of the rugs...I'll let you decide! :)
But is it misuse??? 

Could the child have been shown the material by another child and is mimicking the lesson you may not have known happened?  Or if the child got the lesson from the teacher, was he truly ready to receive it?  Check your album!  All lessons have an age range for presentation.  Just because a child may have a fleeting interest in a work on the shelf, doesn’t mean he is ready for it.  Follow your album!

Back to school means making those expectations for material use and misuse very clear!  If you do, your classroom life will be so much easier! 


  1. This is an interesting article to contemplate. :) I like to set up my homeschool classroom as a work area and not a play area. We have play areas in other parts of the house and that helps to keep our work area "sacred."

  2. For us, it made sense to have a space were each kid has his or her own sensory soothing stuff available as needed, in our peace corner. Everything else on the shelves is shared equally and misuse of materials results in the activity being picked up right away, and the child is directed to choose another activity. Again, we are responding to the specific needs of our kids in a way that makes sense for us. In general, there is thin line between exploring and misuse, but I think regardless the child is communicating something through the behavior.