You could travel to a Montessori school anywhere in the world and you will see Montessori students working at floor mats as well as at child-size tables. The purpose of the floor mats and tables is to define the student’s workspace and to reinforce Montessori's principle of "freedom within limits". There is such an element of respect with having that defined workspace and it is something that the students take very seriously.
The Montessori preschool students are shown how to walk around the mats, how to place their work on the mats and how to respect one another’s personal workspace. They also learn that it is never okay to disturb a classmate’s work or join a classmate’s work unless permission is given by that student.
The Importance of the Work Mat in the Montessori Prepared EnvironmentI always love the first few days of school when I present to my group how to roll and unroll a mat. I present with silence and preciseness and the students watch very intently. I show them how we carefully take a floor mat from the basket, hold it with two hands and set it down on the carpet. Once the mat is on the carpet, we carefully unroll it (despite many children wanting to flap it out in midair)! I then demonstrate how to walk around it (heel to toe), being careful not to step on the mat.
When I show them how to roll it up again, I pay great attention to keeping the sides even as I roll. I then admire my tightly rolled mat and use two hands to return it to the basket. I always choose a few returning Montessori students to go through the steps while the remainder of the group patiently watches and anxiously awaits their turn. We talk about the importance of placing our work on the floor mat (not our bodies) and the importance of walking around the mats (not on them).
Although Jordan enjoys the process of rolling and unrolling, he stills struggles with remembering to get a mat before choosing a work. He either forgets the mat altogether and simply places his work on the carpet itself, or he forgets to carry his work and mat separately. He often has a mat in one hand and his work in the other and is wandering around in search for the perfect spot on the carpet. I simply approach him and provide him with a reminder, “Jordan, remember first we put a floor mat on the carpet and then we choose our work.” I then place his work back on the shelf and say, “Once you have unrolled your mat, you may go and find your work.” I know with reminders and role-playing, Jordan will eventually understand the importance of having that defined space, but it will likely take some time.
Related NAMC blogs:
- Encouraging Motor Skills in the Montessori Classroom – Part 1 of 2
- Montessori Insights and Reflections of a Preschool Student’s First Year
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, October 18, 2010.