Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Montessori Prepared Environment: Subject Areas and Classroom Design

NAMC montessori prepared environment subject areas classroom design culture and geographyThis year long series looks at the experiences of teachers, parents, students, and Montessori education itself, as we follow a student through his first year at a Montessori Preschool. The Montessori Insights and Reflections of a Preschool Student’s First Year is a collection of useful stories, tips, and information that has arisen from one real student's Montessori journey, viewed through the eyes of his Montessori Teacher, Bree Von Nes.

Classroom Design

Although each Montessori environment is special and unique, they do resemble one another with respect to how the environment is arranged. Every Montessori preschool classroom is divided into the five main Montessori subject areas: Practical Life, Sensorial Development, Language, Mathematics, and Culture & Sciences, and my classroom is no different. Additionally, there is usually an area set aside for artistic projects and outdoor area for play and further experiential learning.

The Montessori preschool classroom in which I teach is situated in the lower level of a home and is such a bright, beautiful space. There is the cubby area to the right of the main entrance where the children keep their shoes, coats and slippers. A large area rug in the classroom delineates where we have circle time and shelving units around the perimeter of the area rug hold an assortment of sensory manipulatives. These include blocks, puzzles, sorting activities, matching activities, pattern blocks, etc. Each main subject area of our classroom has between two and four special shelves and they are arranged as follows:

The Montessori Prepared Environment: Subject Areas and Classroom Design

Cultural Area
We have two shelves allocated for Culture and Sciences, along with the Montessori geography map stand and land & water forms. There are always flag activities available, Montessori nomenclature activities for vocabulary building, and a variety of other manipulatives to spark an interest in botany, zoology and geography and to help my Montessori preschool students explore and discover the world around them.

Math Area
We have two shelves that house our Montessori Math materials and a separate shelf that holds the Golden Bead Material. The first shelf houses materials and activities to reinforce quantities and numerals 1 to 10 (Large and Small Number Rods, Sandpaper Numbers, Spindle Box, Cards and Counters, Counting Puzzles, Bead Stair 1 to 9, Bead Stair Frame, etc). The other shelving unit holds materials for adding and subtracting as well as the Seguin Boards for teaching and reinforcing teens and counting by tens.

Language Arts Area
Our Montessori classroom has two shelves for the Language Arts materials and a variety of materials to teach and reinforce sounds, writing and reading. There are name tracing cards with tracing paper, “Eye Spy” Tray, Sandpaper Letters, Cornmeal Tray, Language Stepboard, Moveable Alphabet, Wooden Reading Cards, Sight Word Bingo, and a variety of materials for reinforcing phonetic reading.

Practical Life Area
A beautiful dressing frame stands along with three shelves allocated for Practical Life - they are by far the most popular shelves in the whole Montessori preschool classroom. The Practical Life activities help students become responsible members of society. The activities help them learn and express a sense of order, independence, respect for the environment, respect for others, and at the same time, help to refine their concentration and hand-eye coordination. The Montessori Practical Life shelves are full of activities to reinforce pouring, spooning, tonging, dusting, sweeping, napkin folding, mixing colors, making bubbles, folding laundry, hanging clothes, using a screwdriver, locks and keys, screws and bolts, setting a table, using a whisk, etc. I change the activities regularly so there are always new and exciting activities to refine the children’s fine motor skills and promote increased concentration skills.

Sensorial Area
NAMC montessori prepared environment subject areas classroom design binomial cube
The Montessori Sensorial shelf is another popular area of the classroom with so much to explore and discover. Each scientifically designed material isolates a quality found in the world, such as color, size, shape, etc. which focuses the attention on that one aspect. Also available are the Pink Tower, Cylinder Blocks, Color Tablets, Knobless Cylinders, Smelling Bottles, Binomial Cube, Trinomial Cube and much more to explore through the senses!

Reading Area and Book Shelf
As part of the Montessori Language Arts curriculum, I visit the public library and borrow books to stock our Book Shelf every two weeks. We also have a basket in the reading area where I keep books and the children have so much fun reading to one another and on their own. We have a quaint little reading area under the staircase which serves as the perfect, cozy and comfortable space to cuddle up with a good book.

NAMC montessori prepared environment subject areas classroom design boy looking at plants
Science Shelf and Nature Table
This part of the Culture & Science curriculum is where the children can feel like scientists and have plenty of opportunities to try new experiments, explore an assortment of nature items, use a magnifying glass and microscope, work with magnets, and experiment with the sink and float activity. Throughout the year I encourage my Montessori students to bring in new and exciting things for our nature table and we enjoy everything from tadpoles to fungus!

Outdoor Area
The children’s outdoor play area is amazing at our Montessori preschool. Gardening magazines have recognized its beauty with special awards, and the preschool’s owner pays special attention to detail for the students’ learning opportunities. It is a pristine, well maintained park-like space full of beautiful, unique flowers and trees. There is a play center to encourage gross motor skills, a covered sandbox,fruit trees, raspberry bushes, grapevines and a long brick path along which the students can draw using sidewalk chalk. This Montessori outdoor environment fosters respect and appreciation for nature and there are plenty of opportunities for raking, watering, planting, running, jumping, bubble blowing and discovering.

Art Shelf
There is one art shelf in my Montessori preschool classroom and each week the activities change. The Art Shelf provides a variety of open-ended art activities that include; stamping, cutting, modeling dough, collage activities, coloring, tracing, painting, crayon rubbings, etc. We also try to have a couple of structured crafts available as well so that the children can work on following instructions and following steps.

We also have a circular area rug for end of the day story time, a sink for washing dishes, a Peace Table, a lovely little snack table as well as an area where we keep the brooms, dustpans, mops, and dusters. Along the wall in the hallway that leads to the washroom area there are four large whiteboards at a preschooler’s eye level - two for drawing with dry erase markers, one for working with magnets and another one for painting.

I feel very lucky to be teaching in such a gorgeous space that is well equipped with Montessori materials, aesthetically pleasing, and full of opportunities where each child can grow and thrive.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, September 21, 2010.

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