Cornerstones of a Montessori Classroom
The Prepared Environment
A “Children’s House” is how Dr. Montessori defined the primary classroom. One cannot help but notice when walking into a Montessori classroom the peaceful atmosphere, beautiful materials on the shelves and the wonderful artwork on the walls. A Montessori classroom is a rich learning environment for young children where specifically designed Montessori materials guide children in their activities. A level of freedom is given to the child along with limits, a concept termed by Montessori as “freedom and responsibility.”
A Montessori Guide
Montessori articulated the need to create an enriching balance between the environment, adult (teacher) and child. This delicate balance allows for an optimal learning experience. The teacher must provide the link between the didactic materials and the child. The Montessori-trained teacher gives both individualized and group lessons where experiences are created for the child so that s/he can discover, practice and process. You will find a Montessori guide quietly moving about in the classroom, careful not to disturb yet stimulate experiences in which children can engage. Montessori felt that theory and instruction alone was insufficient. The teacher had to be able to observe a community of children, individually, and as a whole. Dr. Montessori stated that the teacher needs to “witness the miracle that unfolds before us.”
Mixed Aged Groups
In a Montessori school, children can begin as early as fifteen months in a toddler community. In the primary program children begin at two years, nine months and remain with the same teacher and core group of children until after their sixth birthday. This includes the traditional kindergarten year. Because children have similar characteristics at these ages, they are grouped together to create a small community that resembles family life where individuality as well as cooperation is fostered. The young child of three absorbs much of what s/he sees from older friends. Older children develop a sense of responsibility and confidence, hallmarks of leadership, as they guide their younger peers. In Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, 1914, Montessori described the classroom as “an atmosphere of quiet activity” where there is “an intelligent interest on the part of the older children in the progress of their little companions.”
This mixed age grouping continues in the elementary program where a lower elementary (6-9 year olds) and an upper elementary (9-12 year olds) are offered. Children at this age seek to develop intellectual independence, collaboration and diplomacy. A sense of community is created in this setting out of caring and respect for each other.