Saturday, August 16, 2008

Classroom Basics

The Montessori Classroom, often referred to as The Prepared Environment, deals with six basic components:

1. The Concept of Freedom
Freedom according to Montessori consists of "not doing what one pleases and what circumstances invite you to but in being able to do what is right and proper."

2. Structure and Order
The most important feature of the Montessori prepared environment is its sense of order, "a place for everything and everything in its place."

3. Reality and Nature
The objects used in the environment are "real". The silver to be polished is tarnished. The tables and chairs to be washed are dirty. The food to be prepared is real. The use of plants and animals in the classroom provide initial contact with nature.

4. Beauty and Atmosphere
Beauty according to Montessori encourages a positive and spontaneous response to live. The atmosphere of the room is warm and inviting.

5. The Montessori Materials
The materials were created by Maria Montessori to encourage, increase and organize the child’s experiences. They are divided into four classroom areas:

Practical Life

The exercises in this area include many of the tasks that we as adults perform daily to maintain our comfort level in our physical environment. This includes all of the skills necessary to groom, dress and feed ourselves while maintaining a tidy living and working environment; as well as interpersonal skills such as observing without disturbing, interrupting politely, waiting ones turn, etc. The child performs these actions in order to satisfy a need within him; that of exercising his will to carry out a specific action. This leads the child to greater control over both his body and his mind.

Sensorial

If we closely observe young children we will find that they are not only interested in objects as a whole, but also in their qualities and features. Are they rough? Smooth? Soft, or hard? They take in these impressions through their senses and these impressions are what direct the child to make their own individual and unique connection to the world around them. Maria Montessori was aware of the tendency of the child's mind to draw from natural objects their intangible essence and in this way build up a store of abstract ideas in their mind. This helps the child’s mind to make order out of the chaos of sensorial impressions that he has been bombarded with. Dr. Montessori realized the need to develop each of the senses to keener power of observations and perceptions. Therefore, she deliberately set out to make these abstractions more easily and more accurately. Each of the sensorial materials is designed to help the child's mind focus on some particular quality.

Math

The Math materials give us a concrete form of introducing the child to what to them is an abstract concept. We use Math Beads to teach linear counting as well as skip counting. Dr Montessori demonstrated that if a child has access to mathematical equipment in his early years, he can easily and joyfully assimilate many facts and skills of arithmetic. Dr. Montessori observed that children who are interested in counting also like to touch or move items as they enumerate them. With this knowledge she designed concrete materials to represent all types of quantities. In a Montessori classroom the child not only sees the symbol for 1 and 1000, they can also hold the quantity in their hands.

Language

Language in the Montessori classroom includes both the spoken and the written word. The ability to write comes in two parts. The child must memorize the shapes of letters and their corresponding. He must develop the muscular skill necessary to hold a pencil with control. The activities in the practical life and sensorial areas of the classroom were devised to help in the development of the child’s fine motor skills both directly and indirectly. Dr. Montessori believed that the child has a unique and natural sensitivity to language during the first few years of life. The child from 3-5 years of age has a unique fascination with words which enables them to begin reading and writing before an age at which it is traditionally taught. The individual presentation of the language materials in the Montessori classroom allows the teacher to take advantage of these periods of interest.

6. Development of the Community Life
The spontaneous creation of community in children is one of the most remarkable outcomes of the Montessori approach. This development is helped by the sense of ownership and responsibility the children feel toward the prepared. The children feel a responsibility to each other as well as they grow together in this atmosphere.