The Montessori Classroom
Montessori stated that children have a natural tendency to learning; that stages of learning exist for which there should be corresponding educational environments and appropriately trained teachers to “prepare the environment.” The child learns independently using the components of the environment: the teacher guides and observes the child who chooses his activities. The teacher is the link between the child and the environment. The learning environment cultivates individualization, freedom of choice, concentration, independence, problem solving abilities, social interaction, interdisciplinary breadth and competency in basic skills.
Infants Classroom (2 to 14 months)
The Nido is an Italian word meaning “nest.” The Nido protects and provides learning experiences for babies from two to fourteen months. A Montessori infant environment can be considered an adapting continuum between two basic needs of the developing infant. At one pole is the bonded relationship between adult and child, while at the other is support for a growing sense of self and independence. The prepared environment is characterized by order, simplicity and beauty which meet the needs of the child.
The Nido is divided into five areas: movement, eating, sleeping, physical care and outside. The focus of the infant environment is on fostering basic trust in the child. Foremost in the environment is the adult whose caring, respectful response to the infant’s needs, both physical and psychological, conveys the message of unconditional love and acceptance.
Toddler Classroom (14 to 36 months)
The toddler classroom offers very young children a unique year of self development in a tender atmosphere of special understanding, respect and support. They are unique in that they provide a very specific structure which fulfills the social, physical, emotional and psychological needs of each child.
In these environments, there is space for movement, space for individual work and space for group activities. The eating area and the sleeping area are separate from the other areas. Everything in the environment is proportionate to the child’s size and is designed to be safe and aesthetically pleasing for children. The toddler classroom is simpler an slower paced than the early childhood (three to six year old) classroom.
Toddlers are given opportunities to work in the development of language skill, art, music sensorial and practical life. The practical life area is particularly emphasized as the activities in this area give children the chance to develop skills to care for themselves and their environment in the following areas: control of movement, grace and courtesy. Practical life activities are simple and can be accomplished by each child. They offer repetitive cycle, which helps the child establish patterns of order and sequencing. Due to the fact that these are very real activities, each child becomes grounded in reality, building the child’s self esteem is the ultimate goal and this is accomplished through repeated successes with these activities.
Through song and dance and freedom of choice, the toddlers have access to a variety of large muscle activities that offer them opportunities to jump, climb, balance, crawl or skip. These exercises as well as creative art activities, are offered for each child to choose. This freedom in a safe space is crucial to the toddler program. However, it is always tempered by two important limits that will be beneficial for a lifetime, respect for others and respect for the environment.
Early Childhood Classroom (3 to 6 years)
The Montessori classroom is a “living room” for children. Children choose their activities from open shelves with self-correcting materials and work in distinct work areas – on tables or on rugs on the floor. Over a period of time, the children develop into a “normalized community” working with high concentration and few interruptions. The classroom includes the following components:
The practical life exercises enhance the development of task organization and cognitive order through care of self, care of the environment, exercises of grace and courtesy, and refinement of physical movement and coordination. The sensorial materials enable the child to order, classify, seriate and describe sensory impressions in relation, length, width, temperature, mass, color, etc. The Montessori math materials, through concrete manipulative materials, allows the child to internalize the concepts of number, symbol, sequence, operations and memorization of basic facts.
The language work includes oral language development, written expression, reading, the study of grammar, creative dramatics and children’s literature. Basic skills in writing and reading are developed through the use of sandpaper letters (loose alphabet letters) and various presentations allowing children to effortlessly link sounds and symbols and to express their thoughts in writing.
The child is also presented with geography, history, life sciences, music, art and movement education.
Virtually every environment will also have an elliptical line on the floor. This is generally used for “walking on the line” activities that help children develop gracefulness and for the “silence game” where children can practice sitting without making a sound. The line is also frequently used for a large group meeting area. It is here, or in some other designated area, where the class meets as a whole. Often a class will have one or two large group meetings each day. One will usually serve as an opening meeting and precede a more individualized work period and another will serve as a closing or transitional group time preceding the next activity (i.e., time out doors, lunch, dismissal, etc.) The group meetings may be used for large group presentations of materials, movement, music activities, group celebrations, snacks, games and discussions.
Elementary (6 to 12 years)
The environment builds on the pre-primary experience, reflects a new stage of development and offers the following:
An integration of the arts, sciences, geography, history and language that evokes the imagination and abstraction of the elementary child.
The presentation of knowledge as a part of a large scale narrative which unfolds the origins of the earth, of life, of human communities (agricultural and urban), of empires and of modem history, always in the context of the inter-relatedness of life. The presentation of the formal scientific language of zoology, botany, anthropology, geography, geology, etc., exposes the child to accurate, organized information which reflects the child’s intelligence and interests.
The use of time lines, picture charts and other visual aids provides a linguistic and visual overview of the first principles of zoology, anthropology, geography and geology.
The math curriculum is presented with concrete materials which simultaneously reveal the arithmetic, geometric and algebraic concepts.
Montessori-trained adults are able to integrate the teaching of all subjects, not as isolated disciplines, but as a part of a whole intellectual tradition. The emphasis on open ended research and in-depth study uses primary and secondary sources (books) along with other materials.
“Going out” entails the on-going use of community resources that extend beyond the four walls of the classroom.