After I graduated college, my first teaching job was at a Montessori school. The school was very quaint and took children aged 2.9-6.2 years old. I learned so much my first year about how children learn and how to set up an environment where children could successfully choose meaningful activities that would help them develop their gross motor as well as fine motor skills. It also taught me how to set a quiet tone in your classroom.
Now that I have the opportunity to teach kindergarten again, I am so excited to be able to implement some Montessori themed centers in my classroom. However, before I show them to you, let me explain a little bit about the Montessori philosophy. (Please note that I have not gone to school to be certified as a Montessori instructor and am speaking from research and experience gleaned while working under some amazing certified Montessori teachers. )
The Montessori philosophy was started by a woman in Italy name Maria Montessori. She believed that students learn through experience. She said that “learning is not something that needed to be forced but rather, it was something that students do naturally. Throughout the early years of life, children are being shaped and molded by their experiences” and through these beliefs, the Montessori philosophy began to develop. In a Montessori classroom, children work as if it is play and are able to experience learning through all five of their senses. Using hands-on materials, students master complex concepts in concrete ways. Students work on concepts until they master them and in doing so, develop an intrinsic self confidence of knowing that THEY mastered the concept through their own hard work.
As we know, students learn by doing. Also, boys especially need to move to learn. Therefore, taking these philosophies and implementing them in our classrooms, helps our little learners to master skills in a format that they enjoy.
I found this video on youtube that I absolutely loved. In this video, you can watch this four year old boy go throughout his day in a Montessori classroom.
While most of us do not work at Montessori schools, there are so many things that we can incorporate into our daily ins and outs. Some things that Montessori education does really well is instilling intrinsic motivation into students. As opposed to seeking out adults to tell them that they do a good job, Montessori students find joy in completing tasks independently. We can do this in our classrooms by praising the work of a students as opposed to the student. For example, if a student completes a task well, instead of saying “Great job Jackson!” you can say something like, “Jackson, I noticed that you tried your best on this activity. How do you feel about it?” Yes, it takes a while to switch the way our brains think when saying things like that, but the difference is huge. Instead of Jackson needing to seek YOU out to praise him each time, now, he can begin to internalize his efforts on his work. This will help him develop independence and self worth.
Another thing that Montessori classrooms do really well is in setting up their classrooms. Montessori classrooms are made with the child in mind. Everything is made for little hands. The environment is also natural in its scope and style. There are living plants in the room, natural woods and textiles, and they use natural colors. All of these things allow students to feel at home in this environment.
Third, the Montessori classroom is very organized. This is a key to success. In a Montessori classroom, the room is set up into 5 areas:
1. Practical Life
In practical life students master their fine motor skills. Some favorite lessons of young students include: pouring, transferring objects, washing tables, setting the table, washing their hands, practicing buttoning and zipping. All of these activities allow students to develop the skills they will need when it comes time to writing, reading, and math.
In the sensorial area of a classroom, students are able to work on developing their five senses. These activities can include building the pink tower, the brown stairs, the sound box, and more. Students learn vocabulary such as smallest and biggest, thickest and thinest and can apply these words to the activities in this area of the classroom.
The other areas of a Montessori classroom are fairly self explanatory; however, keep in mind that these areas are full of hands on activities.
When the young students first enter the classroom not everything is out for students to use. In fact, each day a lesson is given to the students (normally with as little words as possible) and then placed in the classroom. Students are taught exactly how to use the materials and also where it goes in the classroom. This teaches students how to care for their supplies as well as how to organize the materials in the classroom. Once the lesson has been taught, students are free to practice the lesson as they wish.
So how can we, as non-Montessori teachers, use this method to help us in our classrooms?
One Montessori teacher said it really well. He said, “Education can be compared to finding a golden nugget. If YOU find the golden nugget you will never ever forget where you were and how you found it. However, if someone told you about finding a golden nugget, while you might find it interesting, you will probably forget about it because it wasn’t your discovery. Once one discovery is made, then the next comes and the next comes and we get auto-education.”
We can use this knowledge in a multitude of ways.
1. We can make sure that all of our center activities are child-sized. This will allow students to be successful.
2. We can organize our classrooms into different sections so that students know where things belong.
3. We can make sure that our shelves and walls are not bombarded with information. For me, I use the Montessori philosophy especially in this sense. Whenever I put out a center activity, I make sure that it has its own tray. Also, everything that is needed for the activity is with it. Students will only need to take the tray to wherever they want to work and get started right away. I also allow students to choose where they want to work. This can be the floor, at a table, or on a rug. In the Montessori classroom one of the first lessons students learn is how to unroll their carpets and mats. Students know where they are and how to get them. These mats serve as boundaries. Students work quietly on their mats and roll them up when they finish their activities. This is a great way to teach students organization.
4. We can start with our classrooms fairly bare and bring out materials only after they have been introduced. This will ensure that students know where materials belong and how to use them.
5. We include more hands-on activities that foster independence in our classrooms.
6. We can allow our students to choose what they would like to do.
7. We can allow our students to make discoveries on their own.
8. We can allow our students more practice time.
9. We can create interest in our students.
10. We can be consistent.
Choice is a huge component to the Montessori classroom. Children are allowed to choose what they would like to do throughout their school day in their classrooms. Now, for us, we can not implement this all day long. However, we can allow students to choose during their center times. When you give students a choice as to what they would like to do, they begin to take more ownership of their work and it also increases their engagement levels. If you find that a student is having difficulty making a choice, you can narrow down their choices to two things. Then students still get the power to choose, yet you have molded their choice.
In my classroom, here are some of the “Montessori themed” centers that I will be using at the beginning of the year.
The first item is called “sand paper letters.” In this lesson, you will teach students how to form their letters using the tactile pieces. Students will trace the letters with their pointer finger and then write the letter in the sand box.
By tracing the letter with their pointer finger students are getting ready to use the correct pencil grip! When students trace the letter in the sand box, they are learning and repeating the correct way to form their letters.
This activity will help students learn how to form their letters without the hindrance of a pencil and paper. This is a great way to help your students who need help with their fine motor skills. The tactile aspect of it helps the body develop muscle memory and this will transfer once your young learners are able to manipulate a pencil correctly.
To help develop fine motor skills, I bought this really fun activity, specifically thinking of the boys in my room. This activity will have students use a plastic hammer and nails and a foam board to create shapes and patterns.
Students will need to use their fine motor skills to hold the nail in place and to hammer the nails in.
The best thing about this center is that students will not even realize they are working on their fine motor skills! I know that my boys will LOVE this one.
Another fun activity that I will be using is the Montessori color box lesson along with the movable alphabet. The color box is a box filled with color tablets in different shades. I purchased color box number 3; however, color box number 1 and 2 are great as well. (They include less color tablets)
The color tablet comes in a beautiful wooden box that is easy for students to carry. In my classroom students can choose to work on this natural mat which gives them a non-distracting mat to work with.
Once the students open the box they will see these gorgeous color tablets.
They then will put them in order on their mat. Students love this activity and once they have mastered this skill, they can complete other tasks with the color tablets. This is also a great way for students to learn shades of colors and color families.
If you do not have the color tablet box, you could make this using paint chips!
A fantastic math Montessori activity includes movable numbers and counters. In this activity, students will work on putt ing the movable numbers in order on their mat and then putting the correct number of counters next to each number.
Again, you do not need this number box to use this idea. You could easily print out numbers using a cameo or a cricut and include math counters in your centers!
Lastly, I really love this idea that Montessori schools use when teaching writing. Before students begin putting their thoughts down on paper, they use the movable alphabet to write!
The movable alphabet is housed in a wooden box and includes colored letters that students can manipulate easily. The bottom of each section has the letter written on it so students can clean up their letters quickly. When students write using this tool, they use the letters to write their thoughts without having to worry about a pencil and paper. Students use a mat as their “canvas” and can use cards to help inspire their stories! Even before this, students can use the same tools to work on counting out the numbers of sounds they hear in each word and then using the letters to sound out their words. How much fun would students have using this?! If you have magnetic letters and a placemat, you could EASILY do this in your classroom!
I hope that this post has given you some ideas as to how you can implement some hands on centers in your classroom.
If you are interested in any of these materials, here is where I got them. Click on the pictures to get taken to Amazon!
Small Movable Alphabet
Sand Paper Letters
If you would like to watch more videos on the Montessori philosophy, you can check these out: