If you peer into a classroom at a Montessori school for the first time, you’ll immediately notice many differences from the classroom experience you might remember.
Montessori classrooms are a buzz of activity. Students move freely around the room, and the kids often engage in light chatter, though many are silently engrossed in their work. Everyone is working independently, yet the activity in the classroom looks like a well rehearsed, choreographed routine. Wonder how else Montessori sets itself apart from the rest? Keep reading for the three Montessori differences.
1. Multi-age classrooms
One of the first things you’ll notice when observing a Montessori classroom is the wide range of ages in one room. In the primary classroom, three-year-olds work alongside five- and six-year-old students. This means students stay in the same class for what’s known as the three-year-cycle. You might be wondering: How can this be? How can classroom materials be appropriate for both a three-year old and a five-year-old? How can the teacher meet the needs of such a wide range of children?
Quick answer: The Montessori materials are the magic ingredients that make the three-year cycle work well. It’s also the mixed-age environment that provides an optimal learning environment for all students.
Here are some of the many benefits of the multi-age classroom:
- Teachers can really get to know their students and build strong partnerships with parents to help students learn more effectively.
- Older students build confidence and develop leadership skills as they model for their younger peers.
- Younger students are exposed to challenging work and learn from observing older students.
- All students have time to work and develop at their own pace.
2. Uninterrupted three-hour work cycles
Authentic Montessori schools offer long, uninterrupted periods of work that allow students to fully engage in their self-selected tasks. During this time, the lead teacher gives lessons while the assistant teacher monitors the classroom and assists students with their tasks as needed.
Since there are no timers or buzzers telling the students when to stop and start, students are able to become totally engrossed in their activities and experience regular states of concentrated focus. It’s common to witness a three-year-old spend half an hour carefully lacing up a wooden shoe, for example, or a four-year-old cutting out the shapes of continents and label a map of the world.
Long stretches of uninterrupted, unstructured time help build a child’s ability to focus and concentrate—a key foundation of all learning.
3. Sequenced activities
Parents often ask how children in a Montessori classroom know which activities to choose on their own. The answer: The activities on the shelves are carefully sequenced from simple to complex. The activities also function as mini assessments. If a student is struggling with a particular task, the teacher (who is constantly observing her students) will take note and gently guide the student to a more appropriate activity for that child.
Each activity teaches multiple skills and enables students to problem solve, to use their hands and senses, to repeat an activity and to achieve mastery. By progressing at their own pace through these activities, students build confidence.
While Montessori is just one early childhood education model, it seems to be one that helps instill a lifelong love of learning! What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.