It is the materials found on the shelves that make a Montessori classroom an exciting place to be! Dr. Montessori believed “the hands were the instrument of the child’s intelligence”, that engaged, busy hands working with purpose and intent aid the child in developing a sense of order, concentration, muscle- coordination, independence and intelligence. For over 100 years, children have been enticed by Montessori activities and materials to become proficient in practical life matters, to awaken their 5 senses, and to understand basic language, math, science, cultural subjects.
Dr. Montessori developed materials that allowed children to learn various concepts and realities by manipulating (or working) with them. The materials progress from simple to complex concepts, each activity or material indirectly prepares the child for future learning. These materials have a control of error quality to them, so the child is able to discover his error and learn from it accordingly.
Montessori materials are multidimensional in that the materials are of purpose and interest to the child at various points in his growth and development. For example, the Number Rods may be used by a 3-year old as he grasps the concept of quantity and yet a 4-year may explore simple addition by combining the Rods. When the same material is used often and at different levels, grasping new concepts is seamless for the child.
Each piece of material has its place on a shelf and the children learn to treat the materials with care and respect. The teacher demonstrates the correct use of each material prior to the child’s experience with it. Some activities are carried out at small tables, other activities lend themselves to the larger space that work rugs laid out on the carpet afford.
Dr. Montessori always referred to the teacher as a “directress”, and thought of her role in a considerably different manner than that of a traditional teacher. Remember, it is the experiences and the materials in the classroom that “teach” the child about the concepts and the realities found in the world around him.
Children who are within a 3 year age span of each other are typical in a Montessori classroom and it's to their benefit for many reasons. Children learn from one another by observing and interacting among each other and we honor that reality. When a younger child looks to an older child as a role model or an older child presents a lesson to a younger child not only is new information shared, social growth and confidence is also fostered and a sense of community is formed.
“Sensitive periods” refer to periods of time when, given ample opportunities, children are absorbed by and focus their attentions and energies on one thing. A natural urge within their Self, directs their intent on mastering a particular matter at this particular time. Dr. Montessori believed a child, while in a “sensitive period” will learn that matter most quickly and easily during that time. And so, we allow the child to follow his urge and to choose a work that is of interest to him.
Classrooms have a place where individual students can experience a quiet moment or two. This area usually contains pillows, flowers or some other item that encourages quiet thought. This area also plays a role in conflict resolution.
A small snack table for 2 may be found in most Montessori classrooms. It provides the opportunity for a child to have a healthy snack if he becomes hungry or a place for 2 classmates to socialize over a small bite to eat.
The classroom environment plays a key role in the education of the young child. Dr. Montessori called the classroom the prepared environment and her theory that a child absorbs knowledge from his environment is central to her educational philosophy. Therefore, the design of the Montessori classroom is meticulously arranged for optimum learning.
The teacher prepares her classroom in a way that is ordered and attractive so as to entice the child to the many activities that are arranged on the shelves. The beautiful Montessori materials are assembled sequentially, the curriculum areas are clearly marked, and the furniture is sized age appropriately. Often fresh flowers and plotted plants adorn the room; it is the children’s house and the young child feels comfortable in it.
At the beginning of the school year it is the teacher’s responsibility to introduce the child to the order of the classroom, to instruct the child on how to work with the materials and maintain the order. The teacher can be heard saying, “We always return our work just the way we found it and make it ready for the next student.” Gradually the child learns to be responsible and skilled in manipulating the materials in the classroom, the student grows more independent and thus the interaction between student and activity becomes a major dynamic of learning; the child learns in profound ways through his own experience of the materials.
The Montessori classroom is multi-aged as Maria Montessori believed that a classroom should mirror a family where younger and older children learn from each other. The curriculum reflects the educational needs of each of the ages and the children learn as they interact with the eight main curriculum areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Art, and Geography.
In summary, the Montessori classroom is a specially prepared environment which is a rich source of purposeful and meaningful learning opportunities. Our classrooms are prepared mindful of the unique, absorbent nature of the young child’s mind.