Our Montessori environment
We have created a Montessori environment to enhance our Early Years provision and to support children throughout the school who learn best using this approach. The Montessori classroom is referred to as the prepared environment. It is a meaningfully structured learning space where everything has a purpose and a place. Furniture is light and child-sized, learning materials are designed to fit in children’s hands, and everything is designed to be open and accessible.
Any observer to our setting is likely to be struck by the clean, ordered nature of the environment. The setting is a calm but busy environment where the children are involved in small group or individual activities.
Our Montessori environment
The classroom is neutral, open plan and has a distinct sense of order and harmony. Everything has a purpose and a place. Children are able to engage in their own learning, progress at their own pace and discover learning outcomes through repetition and practice. Learning in the Montessori environment is largely active, individually paced, often self correcting and tailored to the needs and interests of each individual child.
All materials and resources are carefully selected and presented in our Montessori environment
This approach seeks to guide and facilitate learning rather than control the pace of learning at a level consistent with external expectations. The pace of learning in a Montessori environment is more suited to an individual child’s learning needs rather than that of their peer group because children have their own individual work schedules.
The materials are all carefully designed to teach specific concepts alongside a sequential series of context free carefully thought out activities to accompany the materials. Children move on only when they are ready and have mastered a specific skill or have the relevant level of understanding.
The practical life area with materials carefully placed and beautifully arranged to encourage respect, a sense or order and routine
The Montessori approach always begins with concrete examples to illuminate abstract concepts before gradually building to a deep and permanent understanding of what most adults often take for granted.
There is also strong physical dimension that encourage dexterity, balance and appreciation of shapes, colours and sizes. It is also an environment free from tests, benchmarks and competitive pressures.
One of the key principles that underpin the Montessori environment is that children are not constrained to a schedule. The Montessori approach recognises that the stronger the desire a child has to engage in an activity, the greater the results. It recognises that when a child is curious, this was when they are most sensitive to acquiring new learning. The role of the adult therefore, is to create an environment and stimulate this curiosity.
Natural materials are intrinsically tactile and invite children to develop their pincer grip as indirect preparation for writing
Direct and Indirect Learning
Montessori was a great believer in indirect preparation. This means that many of the activities, whilst having an obvious or direct learning outcome, are also designed to indirectly lead to desired learning outcomes and preparation for future learning.
For example, the practical life activities of transferring materials from one container to another is not only directly teaching a fine motor skill such as using tweezers but it is also indirectly teaching children to focus, concentrate and track left to right and develop a pincer grip i.e. indirect preparation for both reading and writing.
Likewise, the insets for design are probably one of the most useful pieces of Montessori equipment for indirect preparation. These 10 metal insets and frames to encourage pre-writing skills and prepare the hand for writing.
The multi-sensory use of the templates and insets involves hearing and saying the name of the shape, tracing the inner and out edges of the shape with their writing fingers, positioning and holding first the template and then the inset steadily whilst tracing them with the choice of coloured pencils and finally filling in the outlines with ever closer parallel lines.
These materials provide indirect preparation for writing
The majority of practical life and sensorial activities are specifically designed for indirect preparation for reading, writing and mathematics.
This is why the resources are arranged so specifically and in an ordered way.
Everything has its place. Children learn to place the materials back in the correct place because it has a specific location. Not only are children learning respect and order, the way resources are arranged left to right, further aids left to right tracking.
Children begin with practical life activities as these provide indirect preparation for the next area of learning.
The purpose and aim of practical life is to help the child gain control in the coordination of their movement, and help the child to gain independence. Practical life exercises also aid the growth and development of the child's intellect and concentration and will in turn also help the child develop in an orderly way of thinking.
Materials used to support practical life skills. The pouring activity aids left to right eye tracking, fine motor skills and concentration
Likewise, the materials and activities in the sensorial area provide indirect preparation for learning in mathematics and so on.
Montessori saw the importance of the manipulation of objects to aid the child in better understanding their environment. Through the child’s work with sensorial material, the child is helped to make abstractions. They are helped in making distinctions in their environment, and the child is given the knowledge not through word of mouth, but through their own experiences.
Sensorial Exercises were designed by Montessori to cover every quality that can be perceived by the senses such as size, shape, composition, texture, loudness or softness, matching, weight, temperature, etc.
In the Visual Sense Exercises, the child learns how to visually discriminate differences between similar objects and differing objects.
In the tactile sense exercises, the child learns through his sense of touch. In the baric sense exercises, the child learns to feel the difference of pressure or weight of different objects. This sense is heightened through the use of a blindfold or of closing your eyes.
In the thermic sense exercises, the child works to refine his sense of temperature.
In the auditory sense exercises, the child discriminates between different sounds. In doing these different exercises, the child will refine and make them more sensitive to the sounds in his environment.
The three period lesson
The three period lesson is a strategy used by an adult to help the child acquire language and name to a concept or object. The teaching strategy is as follows and can be applied to a number of concepts or objects such as colours, heavy/light, long/short. It can even be used to teach sight vocabulary.
The three period lesson may only last a few minutes and may need to be repeated on a daily basis until the child has mastered associating language with a concept or object.
Montessori was a great believer in indirect preparation. By this we mean that she found clever ways in which children can learn how to do things without even realising that that is what they are doing. Many of the practical life and sensorial exercises were designed with this in mind. When the child is ready, we begin to teach the phonetic sounds of the letters; then we move on to word building and recognition, and then book reading. Montessori found that writing comes as part of the child’s natural desire to express his or her new knowledge and nearly always precedes reading. This is why we teach writing alongside reading using the Large Moveable Alphabet.
Children use the Large Moveable Alphabet to form words using the letters and sounds they have been introduced to as part of our reading programme.
Children then progress from word building to simple captions using an article.
Soon children can progress from word building, caption building to writing simple sentences using the Large Moveable Alphabet.
Writing is simultaneously taught alongside reading. Pre-prepared phrase and sentence strips aid this process where children match them to pictures or objects.
All writing starts with the Large Moveable Alphabet as many children have not yet fully refined their fine motor skills needed to use a pencil. There are a number of practical life activities designed to aid the pincer grip needed for writing and children are only encouraged to write using an implement when they are ready to do so using the words, captions, phrases and sentences they are already familiar with.
Children are introduced to the tactile sandpaper letters and the sand the sand tray as a pre-cursor forming letters on paper.
Montessori believed that children have mathematical minds and she revolutionised the way in which mathematics is taught. She developed a wonderful set of materials, many of which have now been copied by educators throughout the world. The mathematical concept is presented firstly in a very concrete form followed by the abstract written version. The materials for mathematics introduce the concept of quantity and the symbols 1 through to 10.
The knobbed cylinders has many learning benefits including developing pre-numeracy skills including order, sequencing and size.
The pink tower aims to refine a child's visual sense by discriminating differences in dimension. As a child starts taking each cube (starting with the smallest) to a mat, they can feel the weight and progression of its size.
The pink tower is the iconic Montessori material
The spindle box is a wooden box with ten compartments numbered 0 to 9 along the back and 45 wooden spindles. There are 45 spindles. The sum of the numbers 1 to 9 is 45, so there is the exact amount of spindles for the exercise. If a mistake is made, the child will find that they have either too few or too many spindles when he comes to the last compartment.
The spindle box is a tactile piece of equipment with inbuilt control of error design to develop the concept of number
The long rods are used to develop visual discrimination of size in one dimension and to develop co-ordination and motor control. They offer pre-maths experience of comparison and the opportunity to use the vocabulary of length.
The long rods are used to develop visual discrimination and the concept of quantity and size.
Then, using a variety of beads and symbol cards, the child becomes familiar with the numbers as a decimal system by means including concrete experiences with the operation of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. These operations not only teach the child to calculate, but they provide a deep understanding of how numbers function.
The Seguin board
Seguin Boards are used in the Montessori method of education to learn the "ten" numbers from 10 to 99.
Wooden place value cards, tens rods and ones are also used to support children's understanding of place value..
In the Montessori setting, work is assessed mostly through observation, as the child interacts in the prepared environment and materials. Many of the materials have inherent checks, referred to as ‘control of error’ so by observing a child working with a material, a trained guide can observe if the child has understood the concept.
All the materials have a pre-determined set of activities. Once a child has demonstrated mastery, they are able to move onto the next activity or material.
Montessori practitioners do not correct work and hand it back. A child's work is not formally graded. The adult assesses what the child has learned and then guides them into new areas of discovery.
Children also learn to develop their own internal sense evaluating their work rather than relying on an adult to tell them what they have achieved. Much of the equipment is designed to be self-correcting leaving the child free of adult direction and instruction.
Interleaved learning (opportunities for children to repeat and go over work already learnt) is inherently built into the Montessori approach. This gives children opportunity to reinforce learning.