Montessori Materials

In the Montessori classroom, learning materials are arranged invitingly on low, open shelves. Children may choose whatever materials they would like to use and may work for as long as the material holds their interest. Moreover, the materials are self-correcting (they have ‘control of error’). When a piece does not fit or is left over, the child easily perceives the error. There is no need for adult “correction.” The child is able to solve problems independently, building self-confidence, analytical thinking, and the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment. When they are finished with each material, they return it to the shelf from which it came. The materials themselves invite activity. There include bright arrays of solid geometric forms, knobbed puzzle maps, colored beads, and various specialized rods and blocks. The classroom is set up in subject areas that include:



Practical Life

practical-life-2The practical life area in the Montessori classroom is filled with activities to help the child learn real life skills. These are practical activities such as pouring water or cutting a banana. The practical life materials are very bright and attractive especially to the younger children in the classroom and they have many added benefits that will help in their future endeavors. As an example, there are many works that require the child to use a tool such as tweezers which help to develop her fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. This will eventually aid in her pencil grip for writing. Many of the pouring works give an introduction to mathematical principles as well. A child may have to pour from one large container to two smaller ones introducing the concepts of fractions and dividing. A very popular bonus in this area is that the child learns quite a bit about clean up! When some of the water that a child is pouring spills, she goes to the clean up shelf, gets a sponge and the clean up bucket and takes care of her mess. Clean up is not seen as a chore, rather, as a part of the work (often the most fun part!)   Back to Top


dsc_3060The sensorial area of the Montessori classroom is designed to help the child refine his senses, to organize and make sense of the things that he is taking in about the world through sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Most materials in this section of the classroom isolate one quality such as color, length, texture, sound, etc. The child can now fully concentrate on one concept on a time. For example, the material known as the cube tower is made up of ten cubes of varying sizes. The child constructs a tower with the largest cube on the bottom and the smallest on top. This material isolates the concept of size. The cubes are all the same color and texture; the only difference is their size. Other materials isolate different concepts: color tablets for color, geometry materials for form, red rods for length, and so on. As the child’s exploration continues, the materials interrelate and build upon each other. For example, various relationships can be explored between the cube tower and the broad stairs, which are based on matching precise dimensions.   Back to Top


7-1The Montessori classroom has a wide variety of materials that introduce the basics of math. This allows the child to become familiar with numbers at an early age. The idea of quantity is inherent in all of the math materials. The young child is enabled, through repeated work with the materials; sandpaper numbers, number rods, etc, to learn the names of the numbers as well as to come to totally understand the ‘concept’ of the number. (“If I want 5 and I have 3, I need 2 more.”) The golden beads are used to introduce the decimal system; ones (units), tens (ten bars), hundreds (hundred squares), and thousands (thousand cubes). With the golden beads, he will use the hands on approach to learn operations such as, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  Back to Top


languageMontessori speaks of the development of language – not the teaching of it. Language development follows fixed laws which are the same in all children universally. Each child absorbs the language of his group, whether it is simple or complex, learning all the rules of syntax and grammar. (speaking ‘as if’ one knows the rules. i.e. past tense – I parted my hair – I passted 5 and now I’m six.) Language is, of course, an integral part of any Montessori classroom, through encouragement of self-expression, lessons, and freedom of conversation. Beyond this there are many materials that will encourage writing and spelling. The metal insets are used for strengthening the child’s pencil grip. The sandpaper letters encourage correct formation of each letter. The moveable alphabet enables the child to spell words before, perhaps, his pencil grip is strong enough to actually write on paper. In the Montessori classroom, a child learns to write before she learns to read. In this way, the child feels a bit like she ‘invented’ how to write a word. (Imagine a child saying, “I spelled CAT!” compared to me showing him the written word and telling him that ‘this says cat’.)  Once the child learns all of her sounds and starts putting words together (writing) she very soon realizes that she can also read!    Back to Top


scienceOur first lessons in science help the child to categorize the world around them. We distinguish first between living/non-living, natural/man-made and plant/animal. Then we embark on detailed studies of either plants and insects or animals. During the ‘plant and insect’ year, nothing can substitute for seeing and smelling flowers and watching the daily growth of a flower or plant in the classroom. Having a shelf with beautiful objects from nature is a delight to children. It can have a vase of flowers, leaves, rocks, a colored leaf and a magnifying glass. First we point out, invite to touch, and give the vocabulary for experiences and concepts such as orange, red, small, long, rough, smooth, bumpy, hard, and soft. These are classifications that even the beginning botanist can use. Soon the young child wants to know exact names of everything. Calling it a “flower” is not enough. Knowing the difference between a California Poppy and a Marigold is much more interesting! Later, after exposure has stimulated an interest in plants, we can introduce the botanical names and further classification – such as kinds of leaf margins or flower corollas. During an ‘animal’ year, the nature shelves have collections of shells, found bird’s nests, bones, etc. Children have a chance to compare humans with other animals; the hands, the eyes, mouths, legs, skeletons, etc, focusing attention on the similarities and differences between humans and other animals. Discussing the need of all creatures for food, water, shelter, warmth, protection, shows that we are all part of the same family of life and will often bring up discussions on how to care for this earth.   Back to Top


12-19While the concept of space is not fully developed in young children, we do know that gradually they will begin to make the connection that the maps of the world which they are making represent vast distances. In the meantime, they are learning the names of continents and their shapes and that different people live on these continents; peoples with different ways of dressing, housing themselves, with different languages and customs. We give the child sensorial tools: globes, puzzle maps, land forms, cultural objects, etc. Our study of geography revolves around the needs of man for such basic things as food, housing, a means of transportation, clothing, etc. Lessons center around how people have developed a culture because of where they live. How and why are the people living north of the arctic circle different from those living near the equator? This attitude provides a healthy, non-judgmental, non-ethnocentric, non-nationalistic, basis of exploration of peoples of the world. Of course, we always include national songs, some language, dances, instrumental music, costumes, flags, foods, etc.   Back to Top


9-2We provide the child the means for the natural development of art by sequentially providing the best quality art tools that will train the hand and the eye. Once the child has mastered basic skills, he is free to be creative with the tools that he has acquired. He puts known things together in a new way. The child is always given room to vary from what we show them. One of the important elements of the learning process is the ability to express what one has begun to understand through art or music. Children can often be seen creating original artworks connected to concepts they have been learning (Native American art, making South American maracas, drawing pictures of science experiments, etc.) In addition, everywhere in the prepared environment, the child is exposed to a variety of color, form, beauty, etc. helping him to develop his awareness, aesthetic sense, and artistic appreciation.   Back to Top


10-1Dr. Shinichi Suzuki says, “What does not exist in the cultural environment will not develop in the child.” The Montessori classroom surrounds the child with musical experiences. Lots of singing gives practice in language, new words, poetry, and historical and other cultural information. Folk, ethnic, and classical music played on real instruments, experimentation with good percussion instruments (we sort them by the sound that they make!), are all a part of the daily life of every child in our classrooms. Children learn that music is produced by human beings using various muscles of the mouth, hands and feet. They are given the experience of matching the Montessori bells using only their ears, thereby heightening their sense of pitch. Theory lessons are also given and by the kindergarten year, all children have had lessons in reading rhythms.

Diana C. Zegers
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Montessori Terminology