This time of the school year is consistently a favourite of mine. Our newest children have become settled and comfortable in their classrooms and meaningful opportunities for learning are in abundance. Much like the changing colours of the autumn leaves, there is real transformation happening in the developing minds of our first year students.
We now prepare to open our doors to our parent community in a very special way. Parent observations allow families new to Montessori an opportunity to witness a glimpse of the magic that takes place in a Montessori environment.
Many parents ask me following their observations how Montessori classrooms achieve such calm and peacefulness. They have witnessed the children working lovingly with the materials and their respect for their work and each other. They wonder how such harmony and focused learning is present so soon after the beginning of the school year.
So, how does a Montessori program accomplish all these things? How do our students achieve a love of work and a peaceful mind?
The answer lies in the Prepared Environment. Dr. Montessori used this term to describe the children’s classroom setting; a space filled with developmentally appropriate materials and activities that serve to help form the physical, intellectual and spiritual identity of the child.
During the Educate for Peace congress in 1937 Dr. Montessori described in one of her speeches the influence the Prepared Environment has on a child: “He becomes an individual who works very hard, who is very observant, who is not destructive. He is incredibly meticulous (much more so than we adults are); he performs tasks scrupulously; he is capable of great concentration; he is able to control the movements of his body; and he is a great lover of silence. He is punctual in obedience; he obeys promptly, and he delights in obeying. He works very well by himself and feels no need to compete with other children. All this is a result of an interchange between the child and his surroundings, between the child and his work.”
The developmentally appropriate Montessori materials draw the child in and allow for concentration as well as the opportunity to extend the time of that concentration. An example of this can be seen in a child working with the cylinder blocks. The initial lesson with this material gives the child practice grading blocks of the same height but differing width. As the subsequent sets of blocks are presented, the child learns how to differentiate between length, height and circumference.
The same material meets the needs of the developing child and holds his or her concentration and interest despite his or her level of experience with it. The satisfaction and accomplishment a child finds through work with the Montessori materials works to still and calm the mind, contributing to the tranquility of the classroom and peacefulness in the mind of the child.
The love of silence that Dr. Montessori mentions is evident not only through the child’s concentration while working with the materials, but also through an activity called The Silence Game. During this game, a group of children sit as quietly as possible and practice stillness. This provides an opportunity to experience silence and to appreciate quieter sounds. The Guide may then transition from this by whispering the name of each of the students, one at a time. As each child’s name is called, the children follow the instructions their teacher has given them for that particular game. Perhaps the children will stand on the line to form an ellipse, or choose a table or floor mat to set their space to begin their work.
Many Montessori guides incorporate mindfulness practices and activities into their weekly routines to contribute to a peaceful learning environment. In our classrooms the children have Yoga instruction with a specialist teacher once a week. In addition to learning yoga poses we teach the children awareness of their bodies through breathing and control of movement. We also practice stillness and recite choral phrases as a calming activity. One of my favourites was a Yoga class where we placed objects on a wooden slab and assigned virtues to them: “a crystal for clear thinking, a stone for stillness and a flower for kindness.”
The calm and peacefulness that is characteristic of the Montessori Prepared Environment is something that I truly appreciate as I begin each new school year. It is an honour as a teacher to help our students develop their concentration and peaceful minds as they begin their educational journey in Montessori. Like the changing of the seasons, I always look forward to witnessing the transformation a new school year can bring.
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