What is Montessori Preschool? #3

The Montessori Environment: A Community for Children
“The objects that surround children should be attractive and concrete for the child. The children’s house [preschool classroom] should be pleasant and well cared for in all respects. It’s almost possible to say that there is a mathematical relationship between the beauty of what surrounds a child and the child’s activity; They can make many more of their own discoveries in an environment that is attractive than would be possible in one that is ugly and unpleasant” – Maria Montessori

The Montessori preschool environment was created for children of different ages. Children ages 3, 4, and 5 all share the same classroom (referred to as the “environment” within the Montessori system) and each child has the same guide (teacher) during those three years. Having children of different ages in the same learning environment relates to Maria Montessori’s theory of child development which is based in three year cycles.

In the mixed age environment, children learn on their own and in relation to the other children. The youngest children have the opportunity to see what will come next by observing the older children in the environment. The older children have the chance to reinforce their knowledge by sharing it with children who are younger.

Given this constant interaction, each child learns to take on responsibility for him/herself as well as for others. They also learn to get along with children of different ages and abilities, to respect the work and the working space of others, and to treat each other with courtesy and kindness. They learn how to apologize, to greet each other, and to ask for things nicely. They also take on the responsibility of ensuring that their environment is orderly by always putting learning materials away where they belong, ready for the next child to use.

The environment becomes a community where children are treated with respect and dignity, and in doing so, they wish to treat others with the same respect and dignity.

The Prepared Environment. Besides having children at the center of the community, the Montessori preschool system is also a “prepared environment.” Maria Montessori’s concept of the prepared environment is one that facilitates the maximum in independent learning and exploration by the child.

The Montessori preschool environment is a “living classroom” for the child. All the furniture is designed to fit children and the materials are all designed on a scale that fits the size of preschool children. Usually the classroom space is divided into four areas: Practical life, Sensory materials, Mathematics and Language. Although these are the main components of the Montessori curriculum, it’s important to note that no one subject is taught in isolation, the curriculum is interdisciplinary and interactive.

In the prepared environment there are a variety of activities, as well as a lot of simultaneous activity and movement. For example, a 3 year old child can be washing a cloth by hand, while nearby a 4 year old is working on a composition of words and sentences with the letters from the moveable alphabet. All the while, a 5 year old child may be doing multiplication using a counting game designed for this purpose. Even though much of the work at this stage of development is done individually, children also enjoy working on an activity with their friends when they get the chance to work in a group, such as telling a story, singing or dancing.

Maria Montessori wrote that the adults work to perfect the environment while the child works to perfect him or herself. The prepared environment respects and promotes the child’s rhythm of life and his/her work. Children are calmed by being in an appropriate space, built to meet their needs and in harmony with their activity level. In the prepared environment, the child experiences a mix of freedom and discipline in a space designed especially for his or her development.

To see a Montessori preschool in operation, come visit Otoch Paal Community Center in Akumal Pueblo. Otoch Paal welcomes visitors who are interested in seeing how a Montessori center operates. Classes are in session from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Visitors are asked to come between 9 and 10:30 a.m.

How you can help. As a non-profit community-based learning center, Otoch Paal does not generate sufficient funds to pay for all necessary school improvements. Monetary donations and donations in kind are always welcome. Donations can be made directly at the school. Or more information can be found at: http://montessoriaroundtheworld.org/otoch.html

Directions: The school is located near the back of Akumal Pueblo, on the Northern edge of the town. It can be reached by following the Pueblo’s main street (avenida) to the fourth block on the right hand side of the street. After passing the secondary and kindergarten schools (which are on the main street), turn right at the corner where the kindergarten is located and continue to the next corner. Otoch Paal is next to the kindergarten and the entrance is at the far corner.