Step into a Montessori classroom or “environment” as we call it, and you will immediately notice that the space looks very different from other school settings. When a child first enters a Montessori environment, they often react with delight because “this is ‘just right’ for me!” Everything is scaled to the child’s size, including furniture, utensils, cleaning implements, and the Montessori materials themselves. This is the prepared environment: a meticulously arranged space designed to encourage the child’s growth and learning - physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally. By the time the child is Upper Elementary, the environment has grown with them, and the furniture is almost adult-sized.
“Abundant research shows that movement and cognition are closely intertwined. People represent spaces and objects more accurately, make judgments faster and more accurately, remember information better, and show superior social cognition when their movements are aligned with what they are thinking about or learning. Conventional classrooms are not set up to capitalize on the relationship between movement and cognition. In contrast, Montessori has movement at its core.”Angeline Lillard ,
Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius
- Scientifically Designed Montessori Materials
- Complete Set of Montessori Materials in Every Classroom
- Movement is Correlated to Better Learning
- Sequence, Order and Increasing Challenge
- Materials are Interesting and Provide Inherent Learning Opportunities
- Learning to Complete a Cycle of Activity Independently
- Learning Self-Control and Initiative
Beginning in 1907, Maria Montessori and her associates developed and designed these mathematically precise materials based on her observations of the developmental needs of children and their response to the environment. She advocated that children learn from their hands-on experiences.
The resulting full set of Montessori materials is a concrete, physical representation of the concepts and skills that children are naturally motivated to explore, and the physical manipulation of these materials deepens their learning. The materials are designed to offer unlimited opportunities to learn more.
Step into any authentic Montessori classroom in the world, and you will find a three-year age group of children, all of whom are busily challenging themselves, and the full set of these developmentally appropriate didactic materials are in use virtually all of the time.
Each of our classrooms is equipped with a full range of Montessori materials present for a three year multi-aged group of children. All of the materials necessary for the full physical, intellectual, social and creative growth of the child will be available at all times.
The materials available in each environment is designed for the learning of that age group, toddlers typically have many simple Practical Life materials to choose from, and the start of the multi-sensory Sensorial materials, which are particularly of interest to the child age 2-4.5, when the child is keen on learning through touch. The Montessori mathematics materials extend far into the Upper Elementary years, when highly complex abstract concepts can be introduced concretely, and true understanding achieved using these brilliantly conceived three-dimensional materials.
Research continues to show that children - and adults - learn best by doing. Pathways in the brain are formed in the learning process, and related movement is linked to enhanced cognition. The multi-sensory Montessori materials are designed to allow the child to learn specific concepts through manipulation, enabling better learning through self-discovery. The Montessori materials have stood the test of time and continue to effectively meet the needs of children universally and from many different backgrounds.
The materials are displayed neatly and sequentially on the shelves in a way that encourages the child's independent selection. Each child can easily see on the shelf what the next lesson will be, and anticipate the next, more challenging activity. A younger child can also observe what materials his older peers are working with and become excited to one day be able to use them. Children grasp that learning happens gradually, and that over time, the materials become more challenging, and that success comes with perseverance.
The materials are made with natural substances, such as stone, wood, metal, and glass. A wooden tray has weight and a grainy texture, and will emit a loud noise when dropped, or a glass might break. This encourages the child to move with care, developing self-control and fine and gross motor skills. The materials are all real and reflect the objects that children see adults using. The teacher anticipates mishaps, and helps the children with appropriate language and actions to handle mistakes. A spill is usually greeted by appropriate response of children bringing out brooms and mops to help. The young child feels empowered because he is entrusted to use real objects, instead of just toys or replicas. The older child learns to apply this same care in working with the materials in their classroom - a spill on top of a precious project would be upsetting to the group!
Much of the learning that happens in a Montessori classroom occurs between the child’s direct work with the materials. The teacher’s role is to foster the connection between each child and the materials, which are presented sequentially at the developmentally appropriate time. The materials represent concepts and it is through the child's exploration with the material, that he develops understanding and abstraction of these concepts. Each material contains a "control of error" which acts as a guide and allows the child to self-correct as he works.
Children take out materials, work with them, and return the activity to its proper spot when finished. At the end of each day, the teacher carefully checks that each material is reset and complete so that it can be used the next day, without depending on an adult for a part to be replenished or repaired. In this way, the child’s maximum independence is ensured in a properly prepared classroom.
There is intentionally only one of each material in a Montessori environment. In this situation, if an activity is already in use, the child or small group must make a decision: they may wait, or choose to observe, or choose a different material.
The Montessori teacher guides the child at each stage of development with Grace & Courtesy lessons, which are essentially social skills training lessons for each situation, which gain in sophistication as the child matures. The set-up of the Montessori environment is designed to require the child to absorb and apply these important social skills lessons on how to wait and to take turns - in the most natural way. When a child chooses to wait, she is developing self-control by suspending her own desire at that moment in time, and understanding that others have needs too. While waiting for materials that others are using or for future lessons with more challenging work, students learn to delay gratification impulses, a crucial skill needed to develop the brain’s executive functions (ability to self-regulate):
“When there is only one specimen of each object, and if a piece is in use when another child wants it, the latter (if he is normalized) will wait for it to be released. And since this happens every hour of the day for years, the idea of respecting others, and of waiting one's turn, becomes an habitual part of life which always grows more mature. Society does not rest on personal wishes, but on a combination of activities which have to be harmonized.”
Maria Montessori, The Child, Society and the World
This deliberate limitation of available, interesting material is designed into every Montessori environment from infancy to Upper Elementary. In the Elementary Years classroom, children will choose to work together in groups, following up on lessons together. There may be multiple small groups who want to use the same material; who have the same deadline to complete that follow-up work. This sets the stage for appropriate work on negotiation, collaboration and important social skills development, guided by the teacher.