By Morenike Ololade Taiwo
The Montessori classroom is indeed a child’s world. It is geared to the size, the pace and interests of boys and girls between the ages of three and six. It is designed to put the child at ease by giving him freedom in an environment prepared with attractive materials. These materials are arranged on low shelves within easy reach of even the youngest child.
The tables and chairs in the classroom are movable, permitting a flexible arrangement for several activities. There are small mats that the children can also work with on the floor where they are naturally comfortable.
The Montessori materials in the classroom can be divided into three main groups; practical life activities, which are the beginning activities in the children’s house. The sensorial activities, which can be used by all children in the children’s house, ages three to six. The academic materials which consist of Mathematics and language activities. These sets of activities await the child’s moment of interest in reading, writing, arithmetic and geography.
The Role of the Teacher in the Classroom
There is no front of the room neither the back of the room and a teacher’s desk as a focal point of attention in a Montessori classroom. This is because the stimulation of learning comes from the whole environment; both indoor and outdoor. The teacher is usually referred to as the directress by Dr. Montessori. The role of a Montessori directress differs completely from that of a traditional school teacher. First, a directress is a keen observer of the individual interests and needs of the child. She works daily with the observation notes she had taken of the individual child rather than from a prepared curriculum.
She shows the child the correct use of each of the materials as individually chosen by the child or a particular she had intended to present the lesson to. She watches the progress of the use of materials by each child and keeps a record of his work with the activity. The Montessori directress and guide as she is fondly called is trained to recognise periods of readiness. Her duty sometimes is to divert a child that chooses a material that is more than his ability. At other times she must encourage a hesitant child to work with a material she feels he is ready for. She must refrain from interference whenever a child makes a mistake. If possible, she must not intervene, she should allow the child to discover his own error through further manipulation of the self-correcting material. This is in accordance with Dr. Maria Montessori’s principle that a child learns through mistake and experience.
The Child Behaviour in the Classroom
In a Montessori classroom which is the prepared environment, there is always a busy hum of activities. This is because the use of materials always involves many motions; walking, carrying, placing, pouring, and speaking with the constant use of hands. Activities are guided by the respect for the teacher, respect for other peoples’ work, materials, and body. And the respect for the materials the child is working with. Silence and immobility are not equated with goodness. Self-discipline is acquired in the classroom by the child through absorption in meaningful work. A child’s behavior always become matured when the child becomes vitally interested/engrossed in a particular classroom activity. The teacher usually helps the child that is hesitant or in selective of a material or activity to work with which will fully absorb his attention and help him to normalise in the environment.
Mixed Age Groups in the Classroom
The classroom materials are challenging enough to provoke learning response in the child. They are properly matched to the standard of each individual child which has already been developed in his experience. Each child’s experience is so varied that the most satisfying choice can be made only by the child himself. The Montessori classroom offers the child the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of graded materials. The child grows his interests leads him from simple to complex levels of activities.The mixed class of ages three to six together permits the younger children a graded model for imitation, while the older ones have an opportunity to reinforce their knowledge by helping the younger ones.
Competitive or Non-Competitive Environment
There is no competition in the Montessori classroom. The children get to work individually with their materials, at their own pace. No set times to complete an activity. The child can work with a material or work on an activity if he feels comfortable working with it until he has achieved success. The child relates only with his previous work, and his progress is not compared to the achievement of another child. Dr. Maria Montessori believed that competition in education should be introduced only after the child has gained confidence in the use of the basic skills. She opined that, “never let a child risk failure, until he has a reasonable chance of success.”
Differences in Individual Child Abilities
The use of individual materials permits a varied pace that accommodates many levels of ability in the classroom.A younger or slower child can work for many weeks on the same material until he achieves success with it without retarding the other members of the class. An advanced child in the same classroom can move from one material/activity to another fast, thus avoiding the boredom of waiting for other members of the class to catch up. The child with a high level of ability is constantly challenged by the wide variety of materials in the environment and their many uses.
A well-established fact is that a pre-school child matures at a different rate and period of readiness for academic subjects a great deal different from one another. This is because interest is stimulated because the materials are available for use whenever a child is ready for it. The younger child in a Montessori classroom begins to read and calculate at an unusually early age. However, early learning was not Dr. Maria Montessori’s objective. Her idea was that the learning experience should occur naturally and joyfully at the proper moment for every individual child. She wrote, “it is true, we cannot make a genius, we can only give each individual child the chance to fulfil his potential possibilities to become an independent, secure and balanced human being.”
Morenike Ololade Taiwo is an AMI 3-6 Primary Montessori/Early Childhood Development Educator