"...the function of both directress and environment is to assist the child to reach perfection through his own efforts."
—E.M. Standing, Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work
It's a new year, so let's take a fresh look at the prepared environment and our school routines. Maria Montessori realized the importance of a teacher well-trained and able to observe the children as they grow and learn in the classroom.
It's so easy to overlook some basics during the busy, demanding day-to-day challenges of the school year. Now, before school starts again, is the time to refresh some tired materials and review daily routines.
These activities are frequently changed as children progress through the year. Are children still using all the activities on the shelves? It's normal for them to lose interest as they become proficient in a skill. Check your handbook for new exercises to introduce. Replace or clean tired, worn or unappealing materials such as sponges, silver pieces caked with polish, frayed cloths, or chipped dishes. Beautiful items, well displayed, attract the children and make them feel trusted, helping them gain self-control in the process of normalization.
Look around the classroom for clutter. We all function better when things are orderly and placed with a purpose. Are the displayed works of art in need of being changed? Have certain corners become catchalls for supplies that are better kept in cupboards or drawers? Do the children have special files for their individual work or has it stacked up on top of the coatrack? Are the rugs clean and neatly rolled in their storage rack? Start a wish-list for items you would like to add or replace. Perhaps there are areas of the room that you can reorganize by moving tables or shelves.
As you continue your reorganization, check the materials for missing pieces and cleanliness. Consider the progression of exercises with each material as compared to the children's readiness. Make a list of what new lessons must be incorporated—prepare the exercise and practice giving the lesson as you did during your teacher-training.
Refine the daily schedule. Some basics such as greetings and farewells may have been overlooked as the year progressed. Have you felt pressured to incorporate activities or lessons that aren't necessarily adaptable to Montessori's theory? For example, many primary classes require circle time for all, overlooking the fact that Montessori emphasized the importance of children being free to choose their own interests and move at their own pace. According to Montessori, a child quietly at work or watching from afar needn't join the group. Most importantly, children learn by moving and manipulating objects, not just by listening and sitting uniformly where they often must obey that nonsensical expression, sitting "criss-cross applesauce." (If it's necessary to have children all sit the same way, they might be told to sit "cross-legged.")
Have other traditional kindergarten methods crept into your daily schedule? Montessori stressed the three-hour work period. Has the work period been chopped up with group snack, music time, circle, or recess for all? Children move as they work and are free to do so within the finely-tuned environment.
Have you unconsciously gotten into habits of praising or rewarding children? Are you displaying the children's work in the classroom rather than a few chosen prints of fine art? Be aware of how you might exclaim over children's accomplishments rather than describing what happened or what you see. Do you sometimes use one child's behavior as an example for others to follow? Now is a good time to observe and redirect your attention, finding new ways to communicate to each child individually so their love of learning comes from within.
It's a new year and you've managed to lead the children through interesting times. Be aware of how the children are now working on their own, most of them having accomplished the normalization that Montessori described. And now that you've refreshed yourself with the Montessori basics, you too might feel normalized.
"It is under such conditions of work that liberty leads to a perfecting of activities, and to the attainment of a fine discipline which is in itself the result of that new quality of calmness that has been developed in the child."
—Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook
—Originally Published 2022