One child is carefully rolling up a carpet while another is busily counting wooden dowels. In the bathroom, another child sings a song softly while washing her hands. The Montessori preschool-age classroom is quiet, but busy, as children engage in a wide range of activities.
What is it about the Montessori classroom that’s so special? This carefully prepared environment is quiet, calm, beautiful and loved by children. However, it’s very distinct from what most modern preschool and daycare centers offer for children around this age. With no bright, buzzing, blinking, plastic toys to be seen, the Montessori classroom focuses on helping children develop important life skills.
While both conventional daycares and the Montessori classroom allow children to engage in play, the Montessori method offers many advantages. With a carefully thought out curriculum that follows the interests and needs of each individual child, the Montessori classroom allows children to have fun while learning.
When it comes to readiness for school after the preschool level, Montessori students gain many advantages such as:
Fine Motor Control
Through a variety of activities, children develop the strength and fine motor control in their hands that they’ll need for writing. Montessori materials include cylinders, blocks, metal insets and other pre-writing activities that are both fun and very effective in preparing children for the next steps in their academic lives. Practical life activities such as learning to sew, transferring beans and pouring water also help develop fine motor control.
One of the most famous Montessori quotes says: “These very children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying: ‘Help me to do it alone!'”
Children want to achieve independence. The Montessori classroom encourages this desire by allowing children the opportunity to work on their own. After a child knows how to work with an activity or material, they can work with it over and over again on their own. This process encourages children to be active learners. They choose which activities to complete and the teacher, who notices the children’s interests, guide them to ever more challenging work. Rather than always relying on the teacher or other children to choose work for them, the children are motivated by their own interests and desire to learn.
Children also develop independence by working on practical life activities. These activities allow children to practice practical skills such as dressing, washing, cleaning and food preparation. Then, in the real world, they are more confident when performing tasks related to the activities they’ve practiced.
The Montessori classroom isn’t full of noise or many bright colored posters, carpets and toys, like many early childhood play areas. Instead, the Montessori classroom is calm and neutral, allowing children to concentrate on the materials and activities provided. This, along with the intriguing and engaging materials help children slowly build their concentration. At first, children may only work on one material for a few minutes at a time. But thanks to the guidance of teachers and the environment which is conducive to working, children learn to concentrate for longer periods of time.
Building Literacy Skills
Many academic areas are covered in the Montessori classroom, even for preschoolers. One of the most important areas is language. Literacy skills are established in the classroom, even for children who don’t yet read. Specially designed activities are available that help students develop visual discrimination skills. For example, a child might match pictures, make pairs of letters or even match an object to an image.
The, when they’re ready, children are introduced to the letter sounds and many also learn to read! Most Montessori classrooms also feature a reading area and story time is often a part of the daily schedule.
Children also get a strong base for later math in the preschool classroom. Starting with the “sensorial” area, children learn about quantities by ordering blocks and rods from small to large and short to long. Then, children learn to associate quantities with numbers. The concept of zero is also introduced. By the time children start manipulating numbers and counting, they have an excellent understanding of the quantities each number represents. When they’re ready, students may even begin to perform addition, subtraction or multiplication. The decimal system is also presented to children in a concrete way, allowing them to touch and see exactly what one, ten, one hundred and one thousand look like.
Emotional and Social Skills
The Montessori curriculum is very complete, and even includes emotional and social skills. During circle time and throughout the day, children have the chance to work on social skills like taking turns, greeting one another, talking about feelings and more. These skills are very important for children as they head into the older grades as the more emotionally and socially mature they are, the more they’ll be able to focus on academics.
While daycares may or may not have staff trained in early childhood development, Montessori classrooms are led by experienced teachers or guides. Montessori teachers are trained not only in the curriculum, but also in early childhood development and the Montessori method. In their work in the classroom, teachers observe children carefully and guide each child individually on their learning journey.
Personal and Classroom Habits
Routines in the Montessori classroom are essential. Each child learns how to set up and clean-up activities independently. They also learn basic self-care habits like using the bathroom, washing hands, dressing, and folding clothes. In addition, they learn how to plan their day and use their time wisely, thanks to the independence students exercise. By the time children leave the preschool classroom, they have developed excellent habits and routines that will serve them their whole lives!
Children who are given the gift of a Montessori education develop a love for learning at an early age. Then, if transitioned to traditional schools, they take the routines, motivation for learning and other skills they’ve developed along with them and excel. The advantages offered by the Montessori classroom are many, and go beyond preparing children for continuing their education. A Montessori preschool prepares children for life!