The short description of this resource is that it is essentially a pretend 'laptop'.
A simple but beautiful wooden shell houses a chalkboard interior. The internal chalkboards are arranged to represent the laptop 'screen' and the 'keyboard'. A set of coloured chalk rests in the spot where a laptop 'trackpad' would be. Like a real laptop it folds open and closed. When closed it is slim and light (like the best laptops should be!) so it is easy and convenient to store. The edges are rounded which adds both a sense of realism and safety.
The laptop measures 28cm by 19cm. When closed it is only 2cm 'tall'.
A child can use it like a regular chalkboard - writing, drawing and designing - and the laptop design simply adds a unique 'point of interest'.
An interesting exercise is to help a child to actually create a realistic 'keyboard' by copying out the letters of the alphabet in the 'QWERTY' format onto the lower chalkboard.
If your child is interested in computers, but you don't quite feel ready to take the plunge of providing a real one, this might be a great scaffolding tool for you!
To understand why this particular item has found its way onto our shelves please read below…
Maria Montessori told us that…
"There is in the child a special kind of sensitivity which leads him to absorb everything about him, and it is this work of observing and absorbing that alone enables him to adapt himself to life. He does it in virtue of an unconscious power that exists in childhood….The first period of the child’s life is one of adaptation. It is the child’s special adaptability that makes the land into which he is born the only one in which he will ever want to live."
The Absorbent Mind, p. 57
There is no doubt that digital technology has become a part of our cultural landscape. Yet the Montessori philosophy emphasises the importance of connecting the child with real, physical, tactile experiences during the early childhood years. Many children in Montessori pre-schools are accustomed to digital tools at home and may arrive in the classroom expecting a similar bounty of tablets and computers. They will soon discover that very few Montessori environments provide digital tools in early childhood. Where they are offered it is done with careful consideration and limitations.
So children are absorbing the idea that computers are part of life and they are seeking opportunities to imitate the use of these tools. Yet the Montessori philosophy suggests that we should not necessarily offer this in the early years and that it certainly shouldn't be available in an unlimited format. Do we ignore the child's desire to absorb part of his or her culture? Or do we give in and crumble to the pressure by providing free access to computers or tablets? I’ve found a middle ground – the chalkboard laptop!
It mimics the dimensions of a laptop, and allows the child to somewhat satisfy that natural inclination towards the tools that mum and dad use. Yet it still provides a physical, tactile experiences! The child who draws or writes with the chalk is still exercising fine motor control, refining gross motor movements and building a 'muscular memory' of the shapes being created.
I can't take full credit for thinking of this balanced solution – the children at my pre-school inspired me! I have observed multiple children in my Montessori classroom spontaneously creating their own digital devices. I have seen children trace the rectangular Inset for Design…and then draw numerals on it to turn it into a mobile phone! I have watched children fold a piece of paper in half, write letters on the bottom half and proceed to “type” on their “laptop”! I have similarly noticed two boys, in particular, who regularly approach our reading corner, where two little wicker chairs are furnished with a pair of pillows each to make a comfortable space for reading. These young men, however, like to pick up the pillows and place one on their lap with the other standing behind (scaffolded by the little table between the chairs). Each sits and happily works away on his soft, cushiony laptop computer!
Dr Montessori told us that “Imitation is the first instinct of the awakening mind.” She also instructed us to “Respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.” So my responsibility as a Montessori educator is to respect the child who is clearly wishing to imitate an aspect of adult life and to engage in a form of activity that represents this. I don't have to obey the child by simply providing a laptop on demand, but I do need to value the needs of the child and find a way to follow them in a healthy, holistic manner. For me, the Chalkboard Laptop is a tool to achieve this.