The Montessori environment integrates all aspects the child needs to be successful. Mastery over the environment begins when the child becomes aware of their actions in and on the environment and, for some, this may be their first experience outside of the home. The classroom supports all of what’s to come and is the physical, psychological, and social foundation for growth.
The materials in the classroom become the basis of the child’s activities so they have an opportunity for movement that’s directed by the mind with purpose resulting in concentration, independence, and control and coordination of movement. The child may not do it as well as an adult but the work itself gives satisfaction to the child. The process is the most important aspect of the work, not the product.
When you observe in a Montessori classroom you might not understand what’s happening at first glance. Children are walking around and working with everything from bead stringing (which builds hand eye coordination) to a child memorizing math facts (one of the first abstract experiences with math).
Here are some things to keep in mind when observing a Montessori classroom:
The children are working toward independence, concentration, and coordination and all of the materials meet those needs, depending on where they are developmentally.
The materials are all placed on the shelves from left to right/top to bottom (indirect preparation to reading and writing) and simple (few steps, not easy) to complex (many steps).
The materials are self-correcting. For example, if someone is scrubbing a table and there is water everywhere, the child learns to not use so much water next time; or if they are counting a number of objects and get to the end and don’t have enough or have too many, they learn something was miscounted.
During your visit you may notice:
The activities are self-chosen. On occasion, a child might need some ideas about what they might like to practice next, but they are never forced.
How the children interact with each other. The value of the multiage classroom really shines through with the beautiful things they say to each other or how they assist one another.
The adults sitting and observing, letting the children figure out their own problems. When offering support, do the adults give answers or simply guide them to find the answers for themselves?
Observing can be tricky in a Montessori classroom. Our goal as adults is to be a “fly on the wall.” But the children are curious when we have visitors and may gather around you to ask, “Who are you? Why are you here?” They are adorable and it’s really hard to ignore them. It’s ok to say “hello and my name is ______.” But after that, your line is: “I’m here to observe your classroom, so I’d love to see what you are going to choose next.”
Lastly, please remember that you are only seeing a very small part of our day. Children’s moods change and every day and every hour changes. It’s what makes my job so fun!