Maria Montessori was specific in describing the optimal learning environment for a child's growth and development.
Many attribute her for the invention of child sized furniture.
In Dr. Montessori's Handbook, she said that classrooms in early childhood should look like a "little home" that students could manage on their own. Materials should be scaled for the children, so they can receive instruction (and then take initiative) in their use. This would include everything a child would need to learn to become independent (to make their own food, tie their own shoes, clean up after themselves, etc.).
Furniture should be lightweight wood, so the children can move it as they need. Students can work at their tables, or choose to roll out rugs and use floor space.
Shelves containing educational supplies and lessons can help to designate areas (kitchen, living room, study, etc.) Natural and bright lighting should provide ambiance. There should not be distracting clutter (posters, garish rugs, etc.) that competes for the child's attention or overwhelms their senses, but should have tasteful decorations, plants, and art.
Each classroom should also have an outdoor area or garden space, so that children may move in and out of the classroom. Children should be able to learn in the open air, as space (and their self discipline) allows.
In Montessori classrooms, the curriculum (educational supplies) are available to the students (rather than access to all knowledge depending on its disbursement by a teacher, or the learning pace of everyone else in the class). Lessons are laid out in order by small increments in difficulty. You can "read" the shelves like a book, with the most basic lesson in the top left corner. The materials have weight, height, texture, etc. Pieces "fit" together so students "discover" the intellectual concepts that are inherent in the activity (as they perform the experiments or experience the outcomes of their activities). The materials are measurable concrete "proofs" for equations and other academic principles. In this way, we can present geometry, mathematics, geography, geology, botany, zoology, culture, language, art, music, practical life skills, etc. There are NO GAPS in the curriculum (making it quite different from "the open classroom" experiments) and remediation is easily addressed as teachers have the freedom to revisit lesson presentations on an individual basis. Students are also free to practice as much, or as little, as they need in order to master a concept.
Children learn through their senses and experiences. Cortical areas in the brain develop in acuity in direct response to the child's surroundings and activities. We are born primed to adapt to our environment, so the cognitive "platform" that will be used for all future learning is created during critical periods in early childhood.
Classrooms for upper grades continue the commitment to providing a precise developmental match for the student's needs.
As a surgeon and medical doctor, Maria Montessori realized through scientific observation, the interplay between nurture and nature for optimal cognitive and physical growth...and created an educational system and learning environment that supports healthy development.
For more information, see Related Links, below.
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