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A beginners Guide

No two Montessori schools look exactly the same Hopes & Dreams Montessori Kindergarten Each will be responding to the needs of individual children and to difference in the society and culture they are part of; teachers will also bring in their own special skills and interests.

On a first visit to a Montessori school parents usually recognize some well-known pieces of equipment like the Pink Tower but what they are really looking for is more elusive: the essence of Montessori which lies in Children’s freedom to learn and develop.

There are a few outwardly attractive Montessori schools with the most expensive equipment where the philosophy has been pushed to the back of the shelf. There are others with a set of Knobbed cylinders and a pink Tower with a few blocks missing which operate like playgrounds but use the name Montessori as an attraction to middle class parents. There are others in remote parts, making their own materials and mending old ones in a church hall, where the spirit of Maria Montessori’s teaching shines like a beacon in everything they do.

In a true Montessori classroom the child’s freedom, dignity and independence are of paramount importance: in many ways what the staff of a school should not be doing is almost as important as what they should. Your first impression should be of a classroom where all is orderly, clean and inviting, with all the activities displayed so the children can reach them. Although some children will work in small groups, occasionally with a teacher, you should see most children working alone for most of the session.

Montessori believed that three hours were necessary for the child’s ‘work cycle’ a period of self-directed activity when concentration was at its peak. Because sessions are shorter in present- day Montessori schools most aim for toot two and a half hours.

There should be a general atmosphere of children doing things for themselves carefully and competently- carrying furniture, setting tables, pouring drinks and washing their hands- and following activities which absorb and interest them.

Montessori teachers are frequently referred to as directresses because it is a better summing up of what they do- they direct the child towards learning opportunities rather than teach. The staff in a Montessori school should be calm and unhurried and should move around the room discreetly and quietly.

They should be responsive to the needs of individual children who should not have to wait until they become bored or upset before they get attention vigilance is maintained in a low-key so the children do not feel as if they are being ‘policed’

The teachers Montessori school are pleasant and polite, firm without anger and be able to deal with misdemeanor with sympathy and assistance rather than with punishment. All children should be shown respect, never humiliated or laughed at, and their remarks should be listened to seriously and answered thoughtfully and courteously.

By necessity this is just a sample of the things which go on in a Montessori classroom. The range of activities will vary hopes n dreams stafffrom term to term and each piece of equipment has a teaching purpose and a story to tell of its own. Deciding whether a nursery will suit your child does not, however, come down to a check list. What you are looking for and should find in a good Montessori school is a place where your child feels stimulated. Safe and at peace.

Click here to see the Hnd Montessori Staff.

Children gain physical impression of size and quantity long before they begin to manipulate numbers by handling number rods, counting our beads, counting spindles into boxes and arranging coloured counters in patterns- odd and even numbers.

Numbers are built up using glass or wooden beads and their sandpaper symbols traced with the fingers. Pie-shaped frames with insect pieces give concrete grounding in fractions which the child can refer back for years to come.

Writing often comes before reading in a Montessori classroom with children building up their first words phonetically using cardboard letters.

The reading programme progresses through three levels: pink, blue and green- reading materials are colour coded for each level. Inside a small pink box a child finds a tiny to dog. She takes it out, says the word, listens to the sounds in it and then seeks the letters which make those sounds to build the word.

Writing skills are learned by colouring intricate shapes drawn with insets, and sandpaper letters are experienced by touch as by sight and sound. A wide range of story and reference picture books are always available in the classroom.

Painting and drawing should be freely available in a Montessori School but children are less likely to take part in large group craft activities heavily planned and dictated by the teacher.

Children begin with globes and then study maps using jigsaws. They can trace and colour the shapes of each continent as well as placing them in the right place in the puzzle. They go on to name and put the shapes onto blank maps of the world and to recognize flags.

Looking at countries individually they will use picture cards of mothers and babies, families and their daily lives and handle and examine artefacts from other cultures- a Japanese fan, chopstick, a sari or an African drum. Many schools have cultural boxes, one for each country filled with all the exotica teachers can find to bring new places alive. On festival days schools may celebrate with tastes of exotic foods, learn songs from other countries or invite a guest or parent to show and tell about special costumes and celebrations.

The land forms teach geographical features. They are a set of models showing islands, bays, capes, peninsulars and isthmuses and lakes for children to fill with water and perhaps float a little boat or put an animal on the land. Many classrooms now have wonderful scale models of the planets and the solar system and take-apart model of the earth which reveals its layers and core.

A beginners Guide to the Montessori ClassroomScience materials give opportunities to experiment with magnets, light, air and even build simple circuit boards to light a tiny bulb. Most classrooms have a nature table or pets corner and in many areas of the cultural curriculum children use classification cards for naming,matching or identifying anything and everything from leaf shapes to different kinds of stone to different stages of a tadpole’s metamorphosis into a frog. The breadth of children’s knowledge of their world when they leave Montessori school can be quite astounding.

The very first activities children take part in, in a Montessori classroom develop their ability to look after themselves and their surroundings. They can practice dressing skills on a specially made frames buckles. They use little jugs filled with beans or rice and then water to practice pouring: they spoon, scoop, or use droppers, tweezers and even chopsticks to transfer from one bowl to another. Other activities use scaled down versions of real equipment: brushes and brooms, wash-up bowls and cloths, show cleaning and polishing kits, even a tiny safe iron and iron board.

There are also varied opportunities for paring socks, folding & sorting clothes, setting a table, plaiting and sewing- even packing a tiny suitcase. One mother of a Montessori child discovered exactly what her daughter was capable of when they both went to help at a jumble sale. Her little girl set to work pairing shoes, folding clothes and attempting to impose order on the huge piles of jumble.

That’s an example of the confidence as well as the competence which children gain through practical life activities. Their added purpose is that children who whirl on real tasks, which involve the hand and the mind together develop a great capacity to concentrate, check is the best possible preparation for the intellectual work to come.

One of the first pieces of sensorial apparatus children use when they come into the nursery is a set of solid geometric forms called the geometric solids which they explore with their hands, matching identical ones and sorting into sets according to their geometric properties. At first they are presented in baskets, each basket having one type of solid: semi regular solids curved surface solids and so on.

As they get older, children become fascinated with words and are given the names: pyramid, dodecahedron, ellipsoid. Another piece of material uses flat geometric shapes- circle, square, triangle, rectangle, rhombus which are fitted into spaces on a tray, rather like a jigsaw puzzle.

On the sensorial shelves there will be specially designed materials to encourage development of the senses, such as a tower of pink blocks; sets of cylinders with knobs which have to be fitted into the right holes in a block: rough and smooth tablets in boxes; smelling bottles; fabrics to sort by touch; puzzle blocks called the binomial and trinomial cubes which are interesting in themselves but later turn out to be a physical illustration of mathematical formulae.

Each of these is used to stimulate and refine one of the ten sensory areas and each will be presented to the child to be used in an exact way to aid his development. The sensorial materials also prepare the child for reading and writing.

Some materials, like the cylinders of the geometric insets which are held by their little knobs between finger and thumb, prepare the muscles of the hand for writing, others prepare the ear for hearing fine differences in sound (to prepare for among other things, distinguishing between letter sounds) by listening both to silence and to sound boxes and as musical notes with the bells.

Sorting tablets according so subtle difference in shade and colour sharpens the child’s perception of slight difference, another prerequisite for recognizing letter and number shapes. If each step is taught by itself, one step at as time, the child will gradually, at her pace and in her particular learning style, intergrate the different skills and will emerge, often seemingly effortlessly, as a competent reader and writer. Teachers are aware of how much has to happen to enable this, and that only the child, through active manipulation of the materials, can make it happen.

Children aren’t born with an innate knowledge of why we shake hands, or kiss, or rub noses depending on our culture and in the Montessori classroom they learn appropriate greetings. As they become aware of other cultures they are encouraged to celebrate differences and value them equally.

During circle time children are shown how to move quietly and carefully around the classroom, push in chairs, wait patiently before politely gaining someone’s attention and are reminded how important it is to allow others to work undisturbed. These ground rules in the classroom give every child total security. Children also learn to notice if somebody needs help and that nobody is too small to be useful.

Being outdoors is very important. Children develop gross motor skills as they climb jump and swing and also social skills as they take turns on equipment and play hide and seek.

Montessori believed strongly that children should be in touch with the substance of their world, encouraging work with clay, gardening and growing activities and even building little houses. Contrary to the belief that a sandpit has no place in a Montessori nursery, it has been suggested that Maria Montessori invented the idea.