What Does a Montessori Elementary classroom look like?

Written by Sarah Adams, Montessori Teacher and owner of The Prepared Environment (@the_prepared_environment)

Vancouver, Canada

Westside Montessori in Vancouver ( @montessori_elementary )

Westside Montessori in Vancouver (@montessori_elementary)

"Monte-who?"..."Monte-what?"..."What is Montessori, anyways?"  I have been asked these questions many times in my life.  Have you heard about Montessori?  Most people have, even if they don’t know exactly what it is. 

I attended Montessori as a child (from ages 3-12), volunteered in a Montessori school throughout college and university, and have taught in a public Montessori elementary school since 2006.  I have spent most of my life in the Montessori world, however I often find it difficult to explain it in a clear and concise way…just because there is so much to say.

Montessori education is a system created by Dr. Maria Montessori.  Dr. Montessori was an Italian doctor born in 1870.  She challenged gender stereotypes of her time by being one of the first female students to attend medical school and become a doctor.  She developed an educational philosophy and method based on her research and observations and the findings of other revolutionary scientists and researchers.

The first school opened in a low-income district of Rome in 1906 and currently there are over 20,000 Montessori schools world-wide.  The Montessori method was (and still is) dramatically different from the traditional education system. 

It is possible to implement Montessori philosophy in any environment by following the child, learning about their development and needs and respecting the child as an individual that can reach their full potential with a prepared environment.  You might be curious about what an Elementary Montessori class looks like and how it is different from traditional education.

Here are some of the characteristics of a 6-12 Montessori Classroom:

1.    The Montessori classroom is set up to provide children with the right tools and environment so they can meet their full potential, have a love of learning and be a productive member of their community.

2.    The adults see the child as an individual and provide lessons for that child when appropriate.  Children are usually taught new concepts individually or in small groups.

Westside Montessori in Vancouver ( @montessori_elementary )

Westside Montessori in Vancouver (@montessori_elementary)

3.    The Montessori classroom encourages collaboration and not competition.  Children work at their own level, so the focus is on their own improvement instead of trying to keep up with other classmates.  Working with children of different ages helps the students to learn from others and be role models.  

4.    Independence, self-control, confidence and repetition are not only encouraged, but built into all lessons and materials.  Once a child is introduced to a new material, they are encouraged to work through a series of tasks individually (or with a classmate). 

5.    By using the thoughtfully-designed materials, children are able to concretely understand a concept before moving onto abstraction.  Montessori believed that we learn best through hands-on learning.  This is most obvious with the math materials.  The children learn what one, ten, one hundred, one thousand look and feel like through the Golden Bead materials.  They have a concrete understanding of quantity which helps lay the foundation for all future math concepts.

6.    In Montessori classrooms, children are usually grouped with different aged children (typically three grades are in one class).  Classrooms are child-centered, very different compared to the traditional classroom with the teacher at the front and children sitting in rows.  You might see children working on the floor, individually at a table, or with classmates.  There is usually choice in where to work.

Westside Montessori in Vancouver ( @montessori_elementary )

Westside Montessori in Vancouver (@montessori_elementary)

7.    There is an understanding and respect of children's psychological development and sensitive periods.  Montessori teachers learn about developmental stages, Planes of Development and how to prepare the classroom to optimize learning and concentration.

8.     The materials and lessons introduced have a purpose, build upon previous knowledge and usually have some form of control of error (so the child knows on their own if they have done it correctly.)  The materials are ideally made of natural products and are realistic. 

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