Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Montessori Environment: A Whole Classroom of Learning

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

NAMC Montessori environment whole classroom of learning circle time

When I first became a Montessori teacher, I had a group of children that would race through their morning work so they could be the first to proclaim they were “done.” At first, it shocked me. I would look around the classroom and ask, “What do you mean you are done? There is a whole classroom of learning waiting for you!” In reply, they would thrust their work journals toward me and point to all the work they had checked off, as if I had somehow misunderstood.

My students had gotten into the habit of rushing through their work so they could have “free time.” Completing their work was comparable to going through the fast food drive-through. It was something they did on the way to something else. In this case, rather than eating on the go, the students viewed school work as the key to play time.

This particular class was familiar with using work plans to structure their learning. This was a method the previous teacher had initiated and that my assistant requested we continue using. I thought that this may help smooth the transition of having a new teacher for both my assistant and my students, so I agreed, with the caveat that I would use a different strategy if I felt that the work plans were not working. After witnessing the morning rush to check off the mandatory required work, I surmised that we needed a change. In my mind, a Montessori child is never done working; there is always something new to discover —new lessons to learn, new extensions to explore or create, new books to read, new experiments to perform, new research to conduct. There is always something to do!

An Entire Classroom of Work - The Montessori Environment

My Montessori training taught me that children should be so engaged in working that they are never done. Whether they are focusing on a single work for 3 hours or moving and progressing from lesson to lesson, there is always learning taking place.

Sometimes, of course, children need a little guidance to help them find work that is enjoyable and productive. That is where Montessori’s idea of freedom within limits comes in; the teacher sets limits until the children have earned their freedom. This is often in the form of directed choices. So, let’s say Johnny has decided to doodle rather than focus on the lesson you are presenting to the group. After the lesson, you could say to him, “Johnny, you may choose to work with the bead chains or, if you would like to draw, you may trace, color, and label one of the continent pin maps. Which work would you like to choose?” Then lead him to that work so he can get started.

NAMC Montessori environment whole classroom of learning making dough

If a child feels that he is “done” and is looking for work that is more relaxing, direct him to the Practical Life works, which can help children rest and regain their focus. Offer several different types of work in the Practical Life area so there is something that appeals to everyone. Other places children will find restful work is in the classroom library with a good book or in the snack area, making and eating a snack. You can also add curriculum/content-based work to the shelves. Some of those giant floor puzzles of the oceans, solar system, dinosaurs, etc., are great learning tools that kids love.

Another way to support children who rush to complete their work is to provide them open-ended, project-based learning that requires follow-up work. Project-based learning allows children the freedom to create, which is what all budding artists want to do when they draw. They are in the sensitive period of creativity and creation. Just channel that energy into something content based. Are you studying the timeline of life? Get long rolls of butcher paper and let the children make their own timeline. Can they work with a partner or in small groups? Of course! Can it be a whole class project? Sure! Have a group of boys who are into dinosaurs? Have them create a timeline of dinosaurs of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. Studying the oceans? Create a wall mural and invite everyone to add images of sea creatures and plant life.

NAMC Montessori environment whole classroom of learning observing animals

Another idea is to read a higher-level book aloud to the class (I once read the unabridged version of Black Beauty to my Lower Elementary class and they LOVED it!) and invite them to draw pictures about each chapter. Encourage them to add a one or two sentence summary to accompany each picture. When they are done, they will have created a picture book of the story to share with younger children.

Learning is never done. As a Montessori teacher, your ultimate goal is to create an environment where your students go from saying, “I’m finished! Can I draw?” to “It can’t be time to go home; I’m not finished!”
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, November 19, 2013.


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