“Beautifully crafted and begging to be touched, Montessori’s distinctive learning materials are displayed on open, easily accessible shelves. They are arranged (left to right, as we read in Western languages) in order of their sequence in the curriculum, from the simplest to the most complex.” (Lillard, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius.)
The parents of Humboldt Park Montessori School had a lovely evening Thursday night packed into my tiny living room, where our teacher, Krista Keintz, described more of what happens in our classroom. One of the questions asked about our classroom was “Why all the wood?”
I loved Krista’s answer. She gave three reasons:
1. The Montessori materials are designed to be beautiful.
2. There is a weight to wood not found with plastic. This helps solidify in her mind the work the child is doing with her hands.
3. Wood and glass objects have natural consequences. These items dent or break if you drop them so the child learns to carry things carefully. (Self-control is a key characteristic that studies show help people succeed – even financially – later in life.)
If you’ve been in a Montessori classroom you will notice that it looks quite different from a typical classroom. Instead of rows of desks and chairs, classrooms have small tables and chairs and a large amount of floor space where students can work. Each student can choose to work at a table or place a rug on the floor to use as his or her space. Low shelves throughout the classroom hold materials that children can carry to their own space and work with as long as they choose. Each material has a specific purpose so there is a limit to how a material can be used, but it is up to the child to select what they would like to work on and for how long.
In Montessori, the surroundings the child is moving around in are seen as another teacher. When things are ordered and beautiful, Maria Montessori saw that her students were inspired to work and focus.
In a Montessori classroom, students are constantly moving around to get new materials. This keeps energetic little bodies engaged. Studies have shown that students (children and adults) learn much better if they use hands-on objects. Montessori knew this 100 years ago.
Most Montessori materials are also self-correcting, meaning that the child does the work and then doesn’t have to ask a teacher to find out if he did it correctly. This helps him stay focused on the work in front of him and builds his inner confidence as he sees that he can do a work all by himself.