Inside a Montessori Classroom
Montessori classrooms are peaceful, happy places designed to meet the developmental needs of each child in every stage of life.
They contain many places for children to learn and play, in many different ways: by themselves, in pairs, in small groups, in large groups, inside, outside, at tables, on the floor. All items in the environment are scaled to the child’s size, including furniture, shelves, utensils, dishware, cleaning implements and the Montessori materials themselves. There is no focal center to the classroom; this reflects that the teacher is not the focus of the children’s attention, but that they are all one community together. Bright and attractive colors, natural materials, fascinating cultural objects and interesting pictures on the wall all offer the children complex sensory and intellectual experiences. When children first enter a Montessori environment, there is an immediate and touching moment when they realize that this place is for them.
In Montessori classrooms, children are taught how to regulate their own social interactions. Through fun role-playing activities and appropriate modeling, the teacher demonstrates the best way to respond to arguments or new situations, giving the child the ability to act confidently and pro-socially when the actual problem arises. The result is a self-regulating classroom, in which natural social tensions are resolved mostly by the children themselves.
Children move freely throughout the environment, choosing activities that interest them, or working with the teacher, individually, or in small groups. Their movement is unrestricted by the teacher unless it endangers themselves, other people, or their surroundings. Outdoor environments are important in Montessori schools, and offer opportunities to engage with the natural world.
The guiding principles of Montessori education are the same across all age levels, and are grounded in over one hundred years of work with children around the world.
Maria Montessori profoundly respected children and the developmental powers that drive them to seek certain experiences. Montessori education reframes the adult/child relationship to place the child at the center of his own learning. In Montessori classrooms, teachers respect children as separate and unique individuals. They guide children to respect the people and objects in their environment, and as the child grows older, to respect and understand the connectedness between all living and non-living things, leading to the adolescent’s profound awareness of the complex web of human existence.
Children’s needs change as they move through stages of development. At each level of Montessori education, this difference is honored through the preparation of the classroom environment. The environment is prepared in every way for optimal development: physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally. By aligning the activities in the environment with what each child needs at any moment, Montessori prepared environments liberate children’s energy for growth and learning.
Montessori classrooms are interactive environments in which hands-on exploration is not only encouraged, it is necessary. By using the mind, the body, and the senses, learning becomes an activity that engages the whole self. Any parent will agree that children do; Montessori environments follow this natural inclination of children towards activity by offering an appropriate variety of objects and activities for meaningful engagement.
One of the most profound differences between Montessori education and conventional education is that, in Montessori, children are given the experience of discovering the answer for themselves. This leads to a much deeper learning experience, and creates a lifelong love of learning as a self-directed process of problem-solving and discovery.
A Montessori-Trained Adult
The trained Montessori teacher links the child to activities and experiences in the prepared environment. Specialized training results in a deep knowledge of child development, the purposes and use of each activity, and an understanding of how to foster and maintain social harmony in the classroom.
Montessori classrooms support the development of imagination and creativity at every stage of learning. The open-ended activities allow children to explore new ideas and relationships, providing a foundation for self-expression and innovation. In the early years, the building blocks of imagination are firmly established through sensory exploration of the world, launching both imagination and creative self-expression.
Freedom of Choice
Maria Montessori recognized that when allowed freedom of choice within clear, firm and reasonable boundaries, children act in positive ways that further their development. Freedom is frequently misunderstood, and many people take it to mean that children can do whatever they want. Montessori believed that freedom without boundaries was abandonment. In Montessori classrooms, expectations are clear, and children experience the natural and logical consequences of their choices. This freedom within limits allows for the natural development of self-regulation within the society of the classroom, as well as mirroring behaviors expected by society in general.
From the moment of birth onwards, humans strive towards independence. Children feel this need very strongly; they want to do things for themselves, and to participate in the world around them. In Montessori classrooms, this natural drive towards independence is fostered through practical, social and intellectual experiences. The child becomes an active agent in her own education, saying, “Help me to do it myself”. We honor this by helping children move to increasingly higher levels of independence and self-reliance.