The Montessori Classroom
The Montessori classroom centers around the idea that children are intrinsically motivated to gain independence and connect to their world through the process of learning. The classroom consists of educational materials that provide opportunities for purposeful and fulfilling work. All materials have a specific goal and aim, and are self-correcting so children are guided through the learning process. This allows children to feel they have ownership over their academic achievements and discoveries.
The four areas of the Montessori classroom are as follows:
The practical life area is the foundation for learning in a Montessori classroom. Through the practice and mastery of everyday activities like zippering, buttoning, pouring, slicing food, using a spoon, or carrying a tray, children become independent and refine fine and gross motor coordination. More involved activities such as polishing, flower arrangement, cloth washing, and table scrubbing help children understand sequence and lengthen concentration. All of these activities build a sense of order in the child, while building confidence in their ability to complete purposeful and useful work.
The sensorial area of the classroom arrives from the idea that nothing exists in the intellect unless it is first experienced through the senses. This area is meant to train and refine those senses, and therefore sharpen their ability to connect with the world around them. Each material in the sensorial area has only one differentiating factor, so the child is able to distinguish sound, texture, color, shape, size, height, smell, taste, temperature, and weight.
The math area of the Montessori classroom begins with basic number recognition and counting exercises, and can take a child through math concepts normally introduced in elementary school. Mathematical concepts are introduced by manipulating specially designed materials. The materials are presented sequentially moving from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. Math in the primary classroom is grouped in five categories which include: matching quantity and symbol 1-9, teen and ten numbers, introduction to the decimal system (place value), operations of addition, multiplication, subtraction, division and parallel activities such as time, money and fractions.
The Montessori classroom introduces language sequentially, starting with spoken language. Spoken language in the classroom consists of vocabulary enrichment, story time, and rhyming games. During this phase, students are also introduced to written language through phonemic awareness and letter recognition. Children play sound games to distinguish beginning, middle and end sounds of a word. Memorization of sound symbols begins through the use of sand paper letters and work with the movable alphabet. Children then move to handwriting, which includes work with metal insets, writing on chalkboards and paper, spelling, and creative writing.
After work with spoken and written language, children are prepared to begin reading. Through reading work they begin to understand phonograms, puzzle words and start to gain fluency and refined comprehension. Finally, total reading takes place with an introduction to the parts of speech, and word studies such as synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, homographs, irregular plural words, compound words, prefixes and suffixes.
Mixed Age Setting
The Montessori classroom is unique in that it uses a mixed age setting. The age groupings are according to a child's natural developmental stages; Montessori considers the ages from 3 to 6 years to be a period during which children are consciously absorbing the world around them.
A mixed age setting has the benefit of mirroring a community in which members can be recognized for contributing their unique gifts, while not feeling the pressure of direct comparison. A further benefit is that children are given ample opportunity to teach their peers, thereby increasing self confidence, and solidifying their own learning process.
As a result of working together for three years, students and teachers are able to create a strong and lasting bond. This in turn gives the teacher the added benefit of truly understanding their children's unique learning styles, strengths, and challenges.