From her recent post on EAA-Talk, Elise Huneke-Stone, Director of Elementary Training at Montessori Northwest, shares her thoughts on how to keep the teacher's and children's specimens and sharing from overwhelming the prepared environment.
In the elementary practice classroom at the training center, I've instituted a practice borrowed from my tenure in the classroom for displaying specimens. In each 'area,' (math, history, geometry, language, etc.) there is a large tray on the top of a shelf. I use identical big rattan serving trays. That's the "sharing tray" where the children or I can display specimens or artifacts or things brought from home or even their work as relates to that aspect of Cosmic Education. I keep a general supply of small baskets and book stands to group or display things. Children (and students in the training) are encouraged to write a little display card and/or share with the group in a gathering.
There are two trays for biology (one for botany, one for zoology) because that's where the most specimens showed up! Additionally, I have a little extra biology display space that's teacher-managed: A series of 5-6 crocheted doilies across the top of the biology shelves, each housing one particular specimen or small collection (e.g., 3 sand dollars). Most of these specimens rotate, either seasonally or more often.
This way of preparing the environment has had so many benefits: reducing clutter, increasing order, controlling my own collector impulses, keeping things fresh for the children through rotation of objects, making it easier for the children to clean and put things back, etc. There was the added benefit of the grace and courtesy that was possible when the children were involved. The child who brought the artifact or specimen shared with the group how it was to be treated, handled, observed, etc. Additionally, the rule was that if the tray was full and you wanted to bring something new, you had to make space for your object by politely informing someone else that it was time for their object to go home. The process became entirely managed by the children.
One other thought: My favorite book as a child was Little Men by Louisa May Alcott. It's the story of Jo from Little Women all grown up and running a boarding school for boys (and a few girls). In it there's a description of the "natural history museum" that the children built in an old barn, with a glass-doored curio cabinet with many drawers for the housing and display of their treasures. I'm still searching for that cabinet, decades later.
There is nothing like a single isolated rock, shell, branch, feather, leaf, or bone to spark the imagination of the elementary children...
Get more great insights from Elise by attending our upcoming Elementary Workshop: Stories & Self-Construction, October 10-12. Click here to learn more and sign up.