The Montessori classroom is a “living room'” for children. Children choose their activities from open shelves with self-correcting materials and within distinct work areas either on tables or 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:
For young children there is something special about tasks which an adult considers ordinary such as washing dishes, paring vegetables, polishing shoes, etc. These activities are exciting to children because they allow them to imitate adults. Imitation is one of the strongest urges during children’s early years.
In this area of the classroom, children perfect their coordination and become absorbed in an activity. They gradually lengthen their span of concentration. They also learn to pay attention to details as they follow a regular sequence of actions. Finally, they learn good working habits as they finish each task and put away all the materials before beginning another activity. These relate new information to what they already know. Dr. Montessori believed that this process is the beginning of conscious knowledge.
These materials help the child to become aware of details by offering him/her, at first, strongly contrasted sensations, such as red and blue. Later he/she is introduced to shades of red and blue and must grade them from darkest to lightest. These materials help the child to truly understand what is red, what is blue. Each of the materials isolates one defining quality such as color with the Color Tablets; sound with the Sound Boxes; thickness with the Brown Stair; length with the Red Rods, etc.
Because the materials differ only in one defining quality the child is able to understand the concept that is being taught much more quickly than if he/she was presented many varying qualities at one time.
This area helps to develop the child’s senses and awareness of the world around her through the use of specialized materials designed to isolate individual qualities such as color, size, shape, weight, texture, and more. This is a very “hands on” area, each activity involving the whole child. “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” – Dr. Maria Montessori.
Dr. Montessori demonstrated that if children have access to mathematical equipment in their early years, they can easily and joyfully assimilate many facts and skills of arithmetic. On the other hand, these same facts and skills may require long hours of drudgery and drill if they are introduced to them later in the abstract form.
Dr. Montessori designed concrete materials to represent all types of quantities, after she observed that children who become interested in counting like to touch or move the items as they enumerate them. By combining this equipment, separating it, sharing it, counting it, and comparing it they can demonstrate to themselves the basic operations of mathematics.
In a Montessori environment, a child not only sees the symbol for 1, 10, or 100, but can also hold each corresponding quantity in his hand. A child does not have to memorize addition or other facts; he/she learns them by performing the operations with concrete materials.
In a Montessori classroom children learn the phonetic sounds of the letters before they learn the alphabetical names in a sequence. The phonetic sounds are given first because these are the sounds they hear in words that they need to be able to read. The children first become aware of these phonetic sounds when the teacher introduces the consonants with the Sandpaper Letter.
The individual presentation of language materials in a Montessori classroom allows the teacher to take advantage of each child’s greatest periods of interest.
Reading instruction begins on the day the child wants to know what a word says or when he shows an interest in using the Sandpaper Letters. Writing, or the construction of words with the movable letters, nearly always precedes reading in a Montessori environment.
Gradually the children learn the irregular words, and words with two or three syllables, by doing many reading exercises which offer variety rather than monotonous repetition. Also available in the Montessori classroom are many attractive books using a large number of phonetic works. The skills in phonics give the child means of attacking almost any new word, so that he is not limited to a specific number of words which he has been trained to recognize by sight.
The large wooden puzzle maps are among the most popular activities in the classroom. The child can put each puzzle piece into place by means of a little knob on its flat, shiny surface. The introductory map of the world has a separate puzzle piece for each continent. After working with the world map, the child can do one of six puzzle maps of continents in which each country is represented by a separate puzzle piece. Finally, there is a map of the United States with a separate piece for each state.
At first the children use the maps simply as puzzles. Gradually they learn the names of many countries as well as information about climate and products. The maps illustrate many geographical facts concretely. Children also learn the common land formations such as islands and peninsulas.
Montessori offers the child a concrete presentation of history working with Time Lines. Time Lines are very long strips of paper, which can be unrolled and stretched along the floor of the classroom. The line is marked off in segments, which represent consecutive Periods of history.
The children gain an awareness of the world around them by exploring other countries, their customs, food, music, climate, language, and animals. This helps to raise consciousness about other people, to gain an understanding of tolerance and compassion for all people.
Science and Nature
The plant and animal kingdoms are studied in an orderly fashion to foster love and appreciation for all living things. In Botany the child learns about flowers, leaves, and trees. These materials help them to become more observant of the characteristics of things, which grow in his own environments. In Zoology the child learns about different animals, how they live, their habitats, etc. The child will be introduced to birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and fishes.