October 4, 2009

Shade Discrimination

Maria Montessori's used spools of spun silk that had been dyed in varying shades of the primary colors to help students train themselves to discriminate between subtle differences in color. The children would look at each spool and place them in a square matrix pattern with each row consisting of all of the shades of one color in order from darkest to lightest, and the rows ordering the primary colors according to their positions on the color wheel.

I like this concept and think that perhaps just taking the time to evaluate a color for a moment is of value even if the theory that color discrimination is a learned skill with a defined window of opportunity doesn't pan out (I haven't really investigated that theory at all, so I have no idea what subsequent research has yielded). After all, how often do we encourage our children to just sit and consider something as basic as color? Developing an appreciation for the subtle qualities in our world seems to be a forgotten art.

Well, my budget does not allow for a large collection of colored silk spools, but the hardware store has quite a nice collection of free paint swatches. I grabbed a strip of color shades in several colors and cut them up. This seems to do quite nicely.

I was fascinated to watch how Hannah Jane and Hunter reacted to this activity. Hannah Jane caught on to ordering the shades of each color quite nicely, but ordering the colors themselves took some time and thought. I told her there was no wrong order for the colors once their shades were ordered, but that she needed to be able to give me a thoughtful explanation for her final decision. She carefully pondered the order: yellow, orange, green... no red,green, blue. Her logic was that since yellow and red combine to make orange, orange should fall between them and that the same is true of yellow blue and green. So if you considered these colors in a repeating sequence, this must be the order. I like her thinking, and since I don't actually know the color wheel off the top of my head, we went with it!

I handed Hunter just the stack of shades of blue and tried to explain the concept just to see what would happen. He tried, but placed the darkest shade right in the middle of the row. I asked him to point to the darkest blue and he couldn't. After seeing that it wasn't perfectly easy, he grabbed his binoculars and said he'd rather watch birds than play this game which he could, by the way, get perfect if he really wanted to. I accepted his reaction and let him go without a word. I figure once he watches Hannah Jane do it a few times he will have a better grasp of the concepts of light and dark. We'll see. I do love how homeschooling your kids is akin to being a scientist. I get to make little assumptions about how things will go based upon what has happened in the past, and then when they don't work I look back a what I know and don't know and formulate a new approach. What fun!

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