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Continuing my multi-post series on what makes an activity Montessori, here’s a reminder of the eight qualities of a Montessori activity.

Montessori activities:

are child-led
isolate concepts
have a control of error
are close-ended
activate the senses
are hands-on
aid in independence
foster concentration

Today, I will be writing about the control of error. What is control of error and why is it necessary? Control of error is whatever part of the activity that allows a child to see when they have correctly completed the activity. This is important because it aids independence and gives a child immediate feedback on their work.  It also promotes problem-solving as the child can see mistakes and correct them themselves. Additionally, it increases self-discipline. In my experience, Montessori activities have either an implicit control of error or an explicit control of error.

Implicit control of error is something innate about the activity which makes it clear to the child without any extra checking that they have completed the activity correctly. This is usually a visual control. When color matching, for example, it is usually clear to the child when they have matched the color incorrectly. It is visually obvious when a blue item is placed in a group of red ones that it doesn’t belong there. When matching 3d figures to images, it is quite clear when the match isn’t correct.

For those activities that don’t have implicit control of error, never fear! You can add control of error. This is what I call explicit control of error.

Explicit control of error is something added to an activity to help a child check if they are correct. The best example in traditional Montessori material is the sound boxes. This material contains wooden cylinders with red and blue lids. Each blue cylinder has a different material inside that makes a different noise when shaken. Each red cylinder has a matching material to a blue one. To aid the child when they have matched all the cylinders, there are often colored marking on the bottom of the cylinders so they can check if they have matched them correctly. These markings are not part of the activity but add an explicit control of error to help the child check and refine their work. Many other traditional materials have an added control of error like this.

There are easy, quick ways to add this aspect to activities at home without changing the activity but providing an important quality and helping your child learn.

For matching or sorting activities that may not have an implicit control of error, such as many more abstract activities for older toddlers and preschool-aged children might be working on , you can easily add an explicit control of error with colored stickers. Let’s take a sorting activity as an example: you have 10 cards with images of animals. You want your child to sort them into their habitats: land and water. By adding a blue sticker on the back of the cards with water animals and a green sticker on the back of the cards with land animals, you can help your child check their work and correct any misplaced animals without your assistance.

Another example is counting/1-to-1 correspondence activities.  When you offer manipulatives to use in laying out quantities, only offer the correct amount! So if you want your child to count and lay out manipulatives as  1, and then 1-2, and then 1-2-3 and then 1-2-3-4, you would only offer them 10 manipulatives. If they count too many, they won’t have enough to finish the activity. If they count too few, they will have manipulatives left over at the end. They can easily see that something is amiss and move to correct the issue.

When you are creating activities for your child, think about whether the activity has an implicit control of error. If you find it is missing one, that is ok! You can add an explicit control of error to most activities.

Stay tuned, as tomorrow I will discuss a hot topic: close ended vs open ended activties!

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