The General Principles of a Montessori Environment for ages 3-6 years

Quite often when parents first send their children to a Montessori School for a Casa (Primary) program, they aren’t fully aware of the unique principles of the Montessori environment. They have certain expectations that are formed due to their own personal beliefs, previous experiences, and simply a lack of knowledge of the principles of Montessori and how they apply to the classroom environment. Not all Montessori schools will follow the principles outlined in this article, however you’ll find that most accredited Montessori schools will adhere to most of them (with perhaps the exception of the student/teacher ratio – that is dictated by their local Child/Youth Regulations and license).

We have found it beneficial to outline and discuss these general principles to parents during Parent Education nights. It helps to alleviate anxieties and potential misunderstandings that typically occur during the first few weeks when a child is transitioning into the school. Again, each Montessori school has unique circumstances and it’s up to the school to educate their parents on their principles and expectations.

The following is information we provide to parents on the Parent Education Night of a new school year:

1. 1:30 ratio (10 first years, 10 second years, 10 third years to 1 trained Directress and an assistant). Mixed ages of the children is crucial; they learn from each other, care for each other, and help to eliminate the crutches that would occur if the children were all the same age. The children gain more independence and have less dependence on the Directress. [All new schools here in Ontario/Canada at the 3-6yr age group require a 1:8 ratio. Only the ‘grandfathered’ schools (older schools that opened prior to the new rules) have the ability to maintain a higher ratio. Check your local educational laws for the required ratio for your school district].

2. The classroom is a prepared environment for children ages 2 1/2 to 6 years of age. The classroom contains only materials that respond to the developmental stages of a child from 2 1/2 to 6 years of age. There are no toys as the Montessori materials fulfill the various needs of the children at all stages. The classroom is clean, tidy, and encourages independence.

3. Lessons/presentations are given only when the child is ready. Generally lessons are given individually, however some lessons are given in a small group setting. Before a lesson is given the child must have successfully completed any preparatory lessons. If the concepts of the preceding lessons have not be absorbed than the probability of success will be minimal.

4. The lessons are very purposeful, specifically catering to each stage of the child’s development. The children work according to their choice and capability and no comparisons to children of equal age are made.

5. The Montessori environment contains self-correcting materials. The child’s self-esteem is protected since the adult does not have to do all of the correcting. Self-esteem grows as the children discover they can do things the correct way by themselves.

6. The amount of paper that goes home is not the emphasis and is in no way any indication of the ‘work’ that the children have accomplished. Quite often ‘paper work’ completed by the child will not be seen until late in their second year of the Casa program when their hand is developed enough to successfully print.

7. Children freely choose work in the classroom, responding to internal needs and working individually for the most part. Individual work encourages independence; once a child has been presented with a lesson they are free to use it when they desire (if it’s not being used by another child).

8. The children are encouraged to repeat lessons as many times as the child wishes, so that the concept is completely absorbed. A child will not necessarily receive a new lesson every day, as time and repetition, as well as concentration, observation and discussion, are essential for the complete creation of the child.

9. Children are encouraged to respect the work of others; not touching, distracting, or disturbing other children who are working. Having only one of each lesson in the classroom helps the children respect others work, be patient, and to be proud of their own accomplishments.

10. The children are also expected to respect their environment. They are shown where lessons are found on the shelf and how to replace them in the correct manner. Older children help with replenishing supplies on the shelves and cleaning up at the end of the day.

11. We are careful of how we display the children’s work in the environment.  It can create bad feelings/competition amongst the children, and encourage children to complete work for the sake of praise and recognition from adults and peers. It’s crucial to help children realize that the process is what’s important, not the end product.

12. Work done by the child is for the child and not for the parent. The Montessori environment is created for the child to work according to their inner needs, for the construction of themselves. There is nothing more painful to watch than a child struggling through a page of printing because “mommy told me I had to bring a page home”.

13. Children are encouraged to dress themselves and be responsible for their own belongings. Children need to wear clothing that they can manage in order to allow them to be independent.

14. Asking permission to go to the washroom, to the water fountain, or to repeat a lesson is not necessary. The environment has been created in a safe manner for the children, and they are aware of their own needs.

15. Respect for the child. We will allow them to retain their dignity at all times. Greeting and dismissing the child with a handshake and eye contact encourages the use of grace and courtesy. Showing affection to children is essential to their sense of security and emotional growth. However, as parents you’re asked to allow your child the dignity to walk out of the school (their place of work) on their own two feet.

Although the above principles are outlined using a school setting, they can all be applied to a homeschool setting as well – with the exception of the student/teacher ratio – unless you have a very large family including multiples!  Most families who are introduced to Montessori find they begin to apply the principles within their home life and family expectations, even if they’re not homeschooling their children.

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