Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Montessori Circle Time Routines for the First Day: Shelves, Mats, Tables and Work

Circle Time on the First Day – Establishing Routines Part 2

NAMC montessori circle time routines first day shelves tables mats work

This is the second of a two-part series on Circle Time on the first day of the school year. Part 1 is about greeting and getting acquainted on the first day.

Orientation to Open and Closed Shelves

I might then explain to the young students that there are many special ‘works’ in the Montessori classroom, but there are some very important rules that they need to remember about these works. I would then physically show them the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ shelves so that they know exactly which shelves I’m referring to. This year I have done something a little different and instead of writing the word, ‘closed’ on the shelves that house the Montessori learning material, I have placed a visual sign showing a picture of a teacher working with a child. I feel it is a softer, more subtle way to remind the children that the ‘works’ on those shelves are special. I plan to show the children the sign at circle time and explain that if they see this sign on a shelf, it means that the works on that shelf require a special lesson and they must be done with the Montessori teacher.

There are only a few shelves that require this sign at the beginning of the school year; all of the other shelves are “open” and include entry item activities that do not require a formal presentation, and that the Montessori preschool students may use whenever they wish. The returning students are usually the first ones to receive lessons from the closed shelves, as they may already be familiar with the material. I also remind my Montessori students that each work is for one person at a time, so students may have to wait their turn if the work they wish to do is being used by a classmate. I explain that it is important to be patient and to wait until the work is returned to the shelf in the same manner in which it was found.

Montessori Circle Time Routines for the First Day: Shelves, Mats, Tables and Work

Orientation to Work Mats

Once we have discussed the “open” shelves that the students may choose work from, I will explain that I would like to show them how we do our work in our Montessori classroom. I always invite the returning Montessori students to help me demonstrate, and thank them each time for their assistance.

I might say something along the following lines:

Marisa, would you please show our new friends where we keep our floor mats? Thank-you Marisa, and would you please show our friends how we place the mat on the floor and carefully unroll it?

Johnny, would you please show our new friends how we carefully choose a work from the shelf and place it on the floor mat? Thank-you Johnny, and I appreciate that you remembered that your work goes on the mat and your body sits on the floor, not on the mat.

Kriya, would you please show our friends how we walk around the work mat and how careful we are to never step on the mats? Thank-you, Kriya, for being so careful as you walked around the mat, and not on it. Would anyone else like a turn to walk AROUND the work mat?

Maya, would you please show our friends how we tidy up our work, and how we always remember to put our work back in the same spot where we found it on the shelf? Thank-you Maya, and would you also show our friends how we roll up our mat slowly and carefully and place it back in the basket so it looks straight and tall like all of the other mats?

After the work mat demonstrations, I usually notice that my students are a little restless, so I like to refocus them by performing another song and/or finger play. I try and keep these simple and use songs or finger plays that most of the students already know (Itsy Bitsy Spider, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, Open Shut Them, etc.)

NAMC montessori circle time routines first day shelves tables mats work girl with tray

Orientation to Work Tables

Next I demonstrate in the same manner as above how we work at a table by choosing an activity, carefully carrying the work tray to a table, remembering that each work is for one person only, how to tidy our work so it looks just how we found it, how to tuck our chair when we are finished and how to put the work tray back in the same place it was found. The older Montessori students love helping with the demonstrations and it really builds their confidence and make them feel very grown up. The pride on their faces as they are showing the younger children how to do things is so endearing!

Preparing for Work

After the table demonstration, I would thank all of the students for sitting so patiently and would tell them that it is almost time for them to choose some work in the classroom. I would end with another short finger play and remind them that in our Montessori classroom we use walking feet and soft, inside voices. I might then ask them to politely raise their hand if they are ready and then call them one by one (beginning with the returning children) to quietly find a work on the shelf.

Learning the Montessori preschool classroom routine does not happen overnight, so the Montessori teacher’s role in the first few weeks is to reinforce the rules and routines during ‘work time’ and at circle time whenever possible.

It is also important that the Montessori teacher provides a great deal of encouragement and reminders, and be consistent with reinforcing the routine and modeling the behavior you want your Montessori preschool students to emulate. Circle time for the first week should be kept very simple because the shorter you can keep it, the greater your chance of having a successful circle time. It is especially challenging for the new Montessori students to sit still for any great length of time, so the shorter the circle time, the better! Once your Montessori preschool students have a better understanding of the routine and are able to sit a little longer, you can enrich your circle time in so many ways, from calendar time, props, sharing time, show and tell, sound of the week, material presentations, role-playing, story time, music and movement etc. My next blog will touch on enriching a circle time.
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 7, 2010.


  1. Thank you for posting these first day entries. I am sure they will be very helpful as I begin my first year's first days :)

  2. I am new to Montessori teaching (I worked in Traditional Ed for a while and have begun my exciting journey as Montessori teacher) and find your posts and pictures VERY helpful.


Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

NAMC has been providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe for more than 25 years. Since beginning in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 160 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method.