It was through objective observation that Dr. Maria Montessori developed educational philosophies and practices. It is no surprise then, that as parents and educators, it is through observation that we make informed decisions as to how to guide the children in our care. Over my years of observation in many different Montessori elementary classrooms, I find that the moments that attest to the culture of the classroom community the most are ones of personal victory: the child who enjoys a silent fist pump after completing a political map of Europe, the child who throws his hands up in the air after playing a tune on the tonebars for the first time, or the child who whispers “Yes!” after completing a long division problem. Typically, these moments are personal expressions of the satisfaction of completing a challenging task unaided.
These moments speak to the culture of the classroom environment because there is a deep well of preparation that must have taken place in order to make these achievements possible:
– The physical environment must have been prepared in such a way that developmentally appropriate activities are not only present but so enticing that the child is enthused and excited to engage fully in his work. This is why we take such care to select and maintain beautiful Montessori materials and keep our environments tidy.
– The emotional environment must be one in which the child feels not only safe to explore, but also safe to fail…over and over again, if need be! This requires both trust in the child and patience from the adult. Here’s another place where observation is helpful. Observations can help answer questions that will guide future lessons or conversations: Is the child not ready for this activity yet? Is there a particular skill where he needs some extra support or guidance? Is it simply a matter of allowing for as much repetition as necessary? We have to carefully provide only the appropriate type and quantity of support in order for the child to find success
– Additionally, especially in the elementary and adolescent years, children are working in very social environments. The children must learn how to support and respect one another in order to feel emotionally safe. The teachers must have given grace and courtesy lessons, modeled positive social behaviors, and found that delicate balance between a child’s freedom and responsibility when allowing natural consequences to consistently support a healthy classroom community.
– The child’s concentration must be protected in such a way that she is able to work with the minimal amount of interruption. We particularly treasure our three-hour work periods in the morning, in which we are able to call children to lessons when they are available, rather than interrupting their work because it is time to move on to another subject.
Dr. Maria Montessori writes about the importance of the prepared environment, a sense of safety, and allowing for uninterrupted concentration in The Absorbent Mind. “The child whose attention has once been held by a chosen object, while he concentrates his whole self on the repetition of the exercise, is a delivered soul in the sense of the spiritual safety of which we speak. From this moment there is no need to worry about him – except to prepare an environment which satisfies his needs, and to remove obstacles which may bar his way to perfection.”
So, the next time you visit a Montessori classroom or observe a child at work, be on the look-out for these little moments of personal victory. These sweet expressions of personal accomplishment and pride not only warm the heart, but also speak volumes about the culture of their learning environment.
Written By: Ms. Christina, CMS Elementary Directress