Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their “innocence” and of the greater possibilities of their future. What we desire they desire also.
Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, p. 77.
How do children perceive your Montessori classroom when they first arrive? Try this experiment: Step into the hallway and close the door of your Montessori environment. Get down on your knees, to the level of the eyes of the child, and open the door. What do you see?
This child’s eye view from the doorway of your environment is important. It sets the stage for the entire day.
How to Organize your Entry AreaThe doorway to your Montessori classroom can often be a flurry of activity. It can also become cluttered and messy quickly, even with coat hooks, cubby holes, and other organizational elements. Parents gather around clipboards to sign in, sign up, and check out. Coats fall off hooks, even in the neatest of environments. Rain gear and outdoor footwear are in a jumble, and lunch boxes pile up. To the adult, it may not seem so bad because at our eye level, we see what is on the wall and out the windows. But the child sees legs and clutter.
How can you fix this? For instance, can you move the sign-in table? Could you set up a small table with flowers in the hallway? This shows that the classroom is for children and encourages parents to say good-bye at the threshold rather than inside. If you can’t move these elements to the hallway, can you make them less of a focal point for the child?
The same is true for coats, book bags, and lunch boxes. One-room schoolhouses had a cloakroom, where everyone hung coats and lunchboxes up before entering the classroom. If you don’t have a separate room, how can you separate this area? Maybe you can hang neutral curtains around the entrance area, opening it up when accessing it, but closing it from view during class time. Do you have shelves for outdoor shoes, rain or snow gear, and lunches? Perhaps having a basket on the shelf for each child would keep everything contained and in its place.
Make Your Environment Warm and WelcomingWhen someone, adult or child, walks into your Montessori environment, they should immediately feel as if they are being welcomed into your home. After all, Dr. Montessori called her classroom the Casa dei Bambini, or the home of children. Consider the word "casa" to mean home, rather than house. Even the slight change of wording changes the way we feel about the place. Home suggests a warm, welcoming environment.
Think about the entryway of your own home. What is it about your entry that invites people in and beckons them to stay? Do you have photos of your family in the entry? Did you paint it soft, welcoming colors? Is there a chair or bench for removing or putting on shoes? Perhaps there is a table, with a table lamp and a pretty keepsake, plant, or flowers.
Now, look at your Montessori environment. Is it warm and welcoming? Does it call to the child, “Come work with me?” The area most visited in the 3-6 Early Childhood environment is practical life. With the small, child-size materials neatly and artfully arranged on the shelves, this is probably the most inviting of all places in your Montessori environment. Where is your practical life area in relation to your door? If it is in the back corner, consider moving it to the front. This will help engage the children as soon as they enter the classroom. If they have to go look for the practical life materials, they may lose focus. Engaged children have less separation anxiety, and their parents, too, seem more confident.
We talk a lot about the importance of bending down to meet and talk to children at their level. This is a sign of great respect. In addition, we need to really look through the eyes of the child and plan our environment according to their needs.