One of the most visually intriguing parts of a Montessori classroom are the materials on the shelves. To an outsider, the room is filled with materials and the purpose of each may not be known. However, to the child, the shelves offer a visual sequencing of curriculum and a variety of tools to use on the road to master both content and process.
Sequenced shelves guide choice.
Materials in the classroom are arranged from top to bottom and left to right, increasing in difficulty or sequencing as the child moves towards the bottom right hand corner.
In the classroom, each subject area has concrete materials to introduce the child to study. Many materials have both a direct and indirect purpose. For example, pouring activities on the practical life shelf have a direct aim of teaching a child to pour liquids, allowing them the independence of getting a drink. Indirectly, as the child learns to pour, he learns motor control, the behavior of liquids, and concentration.
Pouring activities in the primary classroom.
Montessori materials build from the primary classroom to the elementary classroom. Pouring in the primary classroom is offered in the elementary classroom as the child pours water to study water forms and landforms. The child is observes how land and water interact, as well as vocabulary such as island, isthmus, peninsula, and so forth. The elementary child moves from the process of making landforms to an abstraction of this activity by completing matching card sets or labeling examples of these landforms on a map.
The elementary child pours water into landforms.
Nueropsychologsist Dr. Steven Hughes, who will be speaking in the Portland, ME area in March, studies why Montessori materials are so effective for so many children. More of your brain is dedicated to controlling the hands than any other part of the body. Therefore, the movement of the hands in conjunction with learning builds and strengthens neural networks. It is these neural networks, formed by hands-on activities, that allow the child to move towards abstraction without frustration.
To learn more about the materials in the classroom, ask your child to give you a lesson! Watch for the deliberate movement as they work, observe how the materials help the child self-correct, and wonder at how much fun learning can be in a Montessori classroom!