Montessori schools use specific learning materials, but what are they? Many of these materials are somewhat of a mystery, and the first time I walked into a Montessori environment, I was speechless! I gazed around at the calm, organized environment and wondered at the beautiful learning materials. They were displayed so neatly and uncluttered on low shelves, and so inviting that I could instantly imagine how enticing they would be for a child: an array of brightly colored objects; solid geometric forms, knobbed puzzle maps, colored beads, and various specialized rods and blocks. Many of these are made of smooth polished wood. Others are made of metal, wicker, and fabric.
The learning materials are not the method itself, but rather tools that Montessori classrooms use to stimulate the child into logical thought and discovery. They are provocative and simple, each carefully designed to appeal to children at a given level of development. Each has a specific place on the shelves, they are always arranged in sequence, from the most simple to the most complex, and from the most concrete to those that are the most abstract. I like the way this signals to the child a sense of progression in their learning.
Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor, and scientist observed that children learn most effectively through direct experience and the process of investigation and discovery. This led her to design a number of multi-sensory, sequential and self-correcting materials for mathematics, sensory development, language, science, history, and geography. The materials facilitate learning which builds from the concrete and sensorial to the abstract in constructing the child’s knowledge. Working with these materials and techniques forms a pattern that children carry over naturally to reading, writing, and mathematics. Each skill is designed to interlock with each other.
What's so special about the Montessori material?
The Mixed Age Classroom
One of the hallmarks of the Montessori method is that children of mixed ages work together in the same class. In the Children's House children from 2 1/2 - 6 years of age work together. Because the work is individual, children progress at their own pace; there is cooperation rather than competition between the ages. "Our schools show that children of different ages help one another. The younger ones see what the older ones are doing and ask for explanations. (lessons). These are readily given, and the instruction is really valuable, for the mind of a five-year-old is so much nearer than our mind to a child of three and the little ones learn easily what we should find it hard to import." Because there is a wide range of ages, no one, least of all the children expect to be at the same level as everyone else.