The Montessori Classroom: What’s Inside and Why
When you visit Montessori schools, there are certain commonalities that you can’t dismiss. Clean, organized classrooms. Students moving around the room purposefully. Children working diligently on a project. Multiple grade levels of students learning together. So, is there a purpose to what you see? As is the case with all things Montessori, there is an educational philosophy behind what’s happening in real time and the learning environment in which things occur. Here’s the “why” behind some common Montessori questions.
Q: Why are preschoolers cleaning windows?
This activity is an example of practical life activities that are central to Montessori education. Children of all ages participate in the care of their classroom through activities like doing dishes, caring for the plants, baking, setting the tables for lunch, sweeping the floors and, yes, washing windows. It is purposeful work that reinforces important life habits such as concentration and finishing a task from beginning to end.
Q: Why is the furniture right sized for the students?
Having a prepared environment is key to a successful Montessori classroom. This philosophy includes having serene décor and items, including the furniture, sized appropriately for the students. This allows students to move things independently, promoting success and problem solving.
Q: Why are students so engaged in their learning?
Students tend to become very connected to their learning because of the Montessori work cycle. It is a three-hour (two hours for younger learners) period in which children can explore and work without interruption, giving students the freedom to work toward mastery of a subject at their own pace.
Q: Why is my child working with younger/older kids?
Muti-age groupings are another core tenant of Montessori education. Classrooms are constructed around three-year groupings of students (ages 0-3, 3-6, and then by grades as students get older). This is key to student development—academically, socially and emotionally. The younger students learn from the older ones, while older children learn leadership skills. And, the cycle continues as students move from classroom to classroom.
Q: Why is it so calm and quiet?
The stress-free nature of Montessori has academic and emotional benefits and can be credited to two primary philosophies: ground rules and freedom within limits. General ground rules often cited inside a Montessori learning community are respect oneself, respect one another, respect the environment. Freedom within limits works well because students understand expectations and enjoy freedom, so they follow the rules in order to enjoy the benefits. The common understanding among the classroom community creates a sense of safety and calm.
The Modern Marvels of Montessori
In 1907, when Maria Montessori developed her educational approach, terms like executive functioning and empathy weren’t the buzz words they are today. For the everyday person, the idea of developing a love of lifelong learning was impractical; developing skills in a trade that could support a family was the important thing.
Fast forward 116 years, and society is extremely aware and in support of these educational philosophies that have been cornerstones of Montessori education all this time. So, what are these buzz words all about and why do they matter?
Executive Functioning: This blanket term encapsulates the mental processes that enable people to plan, focus our attention, remember and juggle multiple tasks. The independence model and freedom without limits constructs infused into Montessori education naturally grow executive function skills in students. Even as adults, strong executive functioning abilities come in handy while managing a household, work, and of course, kids!
Empathy: Defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, empathy is nurtured in environments of common understanding and respect. These elements are essential in a Montessori classroom. Students of different ages and abilities work together with the same ground rules, giving them the foundations of safety and mutual respect on which to build empathy.
Mutual Respect: The idea that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities is not a new concept for Montessori education. Students have always been taught to show compassion to everyone in their classroom and school communities.
Lifelong Learning: Montessori students have the freedom and time to delve into subjects during their two- or three-hour work cycles, which deepens their engagement with the subject matter. Also, because they are able to choose their projects, they feel more connected to what they are learning, making them want to continue their exploration outside of the classroom. Continuing to learn allows us to develop new skills, become more empathetic and give back more to the world in which we live.
– Tali Benjamin