The Montessori Classroom contains material geared toward the developmental needs and interest of children birth to age 6 years old. The materials, along with the trained teacher, form the “prepared environment” of the Montessori classroom. The materials stimulate the curiosity of the child and invites them to learn through discovery. With most of the work in a Montessori classroom presented individually, the routine accommodates children of different age levels and various levels of ability.
There is always a busy hum of activity in a Montessori classroom. The children can be seen walking, carrying, pouring, working on the floor or at small tables, speaking to each other and constantly using their hands to manipulate the materials. All this activity is guided by a respect for the children and from the teacher, a respect for other children and a respect for the materials. Dr. Maria Montessori, the founder of this method of education, never equated goodness with silence and immobility. She felt that young children learned by doing, and they acquired self-discipline by learning to concentrate on meaningful work-chosen by the child as directed by their own inner needs. There is no front of the room from which the teacher directs all the children. Rather, the Montessori classroom is a total environment with all the materials on low shelves within easy reach of the children.
The role of the Montessori teacher differs considerably from that of a traditional teacher, as is the course each diploma holder must complete. A Montessori teacher, is, above all, an observer of the individual interest and needs of each child. Their daily work proceeds from these observations, rather than a prepared course of lesson plans. The teacher demonstrates the correct use of the materials as they are needed by the child, and carefully watches and notes each child’s progress. When possible, they refrain from intervening whenever a child makes a mistake, and instead, allow them to discover their own error through the manipulation of the material.
One of the basic Montessori theories is that children should learn to care for themselves and for their environment in order to become independent. Good working habits are constantly fostered. The children are encouraged to work carefully, to finish each task, and to return all materials to their proper place in the classroom. Older children serve as role models, and younger children are eager to “have a lesson” on something with which they have observed another child using.
Dr. Montessori felt that the goal of childhood education should not be to have all the children learn the same facts at the same time from a pre-selected course of studies, but rather to cultivate each child’s own natural desire to learn. In the classroom this objective is approached in two ways: first, by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning through their own efforts, rather than by being told; and second, by helping the child to perfect all their natural tools for lifelong learning. the materials in a Montessori classroom were designed to facilitate this goal.
You may wonder why Montessori introduces geography, reading, mathematics, etc. to children ages three to six. Children at this age joyfully absorb many difficult concepts if they meet them in concrete form. Common stumbling blocks of school can be exciting if they are presented to young children at an age when they enjoy manipulating material. In the Montessori classroom the children can hold “units”, cylinders, fractions, or nouns in their hands. Children can act out verbs, pour water around the three sides of a peninsula, and square numbers. The materials which demonstrate these concepts for them will serve as touchstones in their memories for many years, to clarify these abstract forms whenever they meet them in future learning situations.