The Montessori classroom is an attractive environment that enthuses children to work. Walking into the room, one sees a lot of open shelves with the Montessori equipment, books, cultural objects, pictures and plants laid out attractively and orderly.
The available Montessori equipment depends on the age range of the class. These materials are well thought through and are presented in sequence; a previous material slightly hinting towards the more advanced level. Once children are introduced to that level they do not feel hesitant or blocked. To the contrary, they feel they have seen it somewhere before! This is one of the subtle ways, which influence the child’s self esteem.
To give a concrete example. Children’s Houses have a complete set of puzzles of the continents. These are simply called the Puzzle Maps. Each country can be taken out and the map can be reconstructed on a sensorial level. The child gets a feeling for the continent before the names of the countries are introduced. He actually “knows” Africa once he learns the names. So instead of feeling overwhelmed by the amount of countries, he continues with confidence. The hidden step towards the next level is the position of the knobs to hold the puzzle piece. These are not placed centrally as in a normal puzzle, but placed in the position of the capital. As you can see, this has a powerful unspoken message for the child learning topography.
Children are introduced to new concepts from a concrete point of view and move gradually to the abstract level. This is also very visible in the math equipment.
An example in Primary is the Bead Cabinet. It has bead chains, squares and cubes for each number up to and including 10. Let’s take 5 as an example: There is one bead bar of 5, one short chain of 5 bead bars of 5, one square of 5 by 5, one long chain of 25 bead bars of 5, and one cube of 5 by 5 by 5. Initially children use the materials for multiplication; 5 taken 1 time, 5 taken 2 times and so on.
At a later stage the directress shows them that you can fold these chains into squares. The short chains makes one square and the long chain makes 5. When you superimpose these squares one creates a cube! Now you have just read the sensorial introduction to the power of 2 and the power of 3.
The aims behind the equipment are many:
– Visualisation of concepts,
– To help the feeling of “ I can do it”; development of self esteem,
– Helping children to work independently,
– Helping children in working together (Primary),
– Presenting academic topics at the child’s personal level,
– Differentiating per child,
– Stimulating concentration by focusing on one concept at the time,
– Self correction; facilitating a positive attitude towards trying new concepts,
– Stimulating the love of learning!
The directress(or) knows on a daily level, the achievements and interests of the children and consequently knows which step to present next. A detailed record keeping system helps the teacher in guiding the child simultaneously in all areas and subjects.
Research Materials – Library
The amount of material made available to children in Montessori environments gradually increase until a peak is reached in around age 8. Then there is a gradual decrease in the Montessori materials per se, and a corresponding increase in the reference materials. The children are helped to develop a research orientation to their work. As a consequence, books are used as reference rather than as texts. When studying any particular topic or idea, several references are used. This helps in developing the questioning and analytical processes that expand as the research orientation of the children grow.
Advanced materials are available in relation to the integrated subjects of biology, history and the sciences. Children receive presentations as starting points for their studies. Research works are compiled and presented to each other. Thus developing organization and presentation of work, presentation skills and working in a team.
“The world is their classroom”. In Children’s Houses, the world is brought into the classroom by means of cultural objects, pictures, charts and people visiting. They show local costumes, tell about their professions and bring objects that give a feel of their culture.
Primary children are ready to go out! The classroom cannot offer all information anymore, since they are becoming really ‘hungry’ for more knowledge. In order to find more information on their research project, they search for a museum, shop, association or other organisation that can give more knowledge. With the collaboration of the teachers, they organise and make a reservation for a visit. Becoming part of the world out there is the aim of the exercise! Knowledge by itself is not enough, building useful skills and applying the knowledge is what is important
Screen related activity
Screen activity increases with the age of the students. Children can use the internet, once they have developed their research skills with books. The computer is used for word processing and research from the age of approximately ten years old onwards. We all know the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of research. Internet provides the big challenge of focusing on one’s own task. It is easy to swerve off into cyber space and never return to the starting point! Critical thinking, making up one’s own mind and making sound decisions are skills challenged by the myriad of information available on the net. Children need to become mature enough to be able to evaluate their own functioning and are helped to become critical about the information received.
The Middle Years Programme students all conduct screen related research work, still with a daily time limit in order to ensure efficient research and to develop time management.
The Diploma Programme students have a computer available at all times.
Presentations in the Secondary Section are aided with the help of the newest Focus Touch Screens that allow for full large screen manipulation in groups settings.
The integrated curriculum including biology, chemistry and physics requires an interesting set of materials. Primary classrooms have experiment corners with all necessary items to explore the work of the sun, air, water and wind. The use inspirational and scientific charts for geography and biology that stimulate interest and assist concrete understanding of quiet abstract phenomena.
The Secondary section has a separate laboratory used by both the Middle Years Programme and the Diploma Programme.
Cultural and historic objects
The school has a large amount of objects that relate to intercultural studies and appreciation and historic explorations. For example, we have an interesting collection of farming objects such as spinning wheels, tools, cooking utensils, horse chariot and milk carts. We have other collections on varying topics such as a Napoleon collection, old-time school items, evolution in film, photography, needle craft and much more. We have cultural boxes which house items related to different continents and people of the continents such as utensils, artifacts, jewelry, statues and items related to festivals and traditions.
These objects are used in the classrooms when studying specific countries or historic events. They help the children visualise and inspire in continuing research and finding out more. Objects also engage students in a kind of respect of what has been done in the past so that our generation can enjoy the consequences. Beautiful objects enhance intercultural respect and appreciation!