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Montessori in a Minute: Classroom Shelves

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

One thing that sets Montessori apart from other teaching styles is that the classroom is a carefully prepared environment with shelves of works laid out in five essential areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Cultural Studies. All Montessori teachers carefully curate the material on their classroom shelves that are sized appropriately and are easy to reach according to the age level of their students.

The shelves and their arrangement are vital to the Montessori curriculum. Each design choice, from furniture arrangement to the activities on the shelves, deliberately creates a calm, clean, and inviting workspace for students.

The Practical Life materials on the shelves rotate regularly based on what’s taught in the classroom, cultural holidays, and the season. The lessons for these materials are given to the whole group so that all children can access them if they choose. One excellent tool in our mixed-aged classrooms is rotating Practical Life materials. The three and four-year-olds are the most drawn to the Practical Life area, but the five-year-olds still enjoy the fun and seasonal works.

The works from all other curriculum areas are laid out in a specific order and do not rotate like Practical Life. Teachers arrange each lesson impeccably to be inviting and clean with each material organized on a tray with everything needed to do the work successfully. These works do not come and go but remain for use as children are ready. The child is welcome to take the materials of their choice from the shelf once they have received lessons on them.

Shelf arrangement is one of the primary mechanisms that gives children freedom within limits in the classroom. Once a child receives a lesson on a material, they can choose any material they have learned on the shelves. They can select the materials they want to focus on and the order in which they will work on activities throughout the day.

This independence puts students in control of their learning. Rather than passively receiving knowledge, children become motivated and cultivate the best learning experience for them. For example, suppose a teacher notices a child gravitating heavily to one area. In that case, the teacher notes the students’ interests and, if necessary, may guide a child to explore other areas to provide balance.

The Value of Montessori Shelves

The Montessori philosophy follows the child’s lead on learning. Students can explore each subject at their own pace by offering them freedom of choice in their work. Even toddlers select and complete their work independently, immersed in each learning experience and discovering new connections guided by self-correcting materials. Rotating the Practical Life work on the shelves injects the classroom with a sense of exploration and ensures that children always have new learning opportunities.

The role of the teacher is to introduce a topic and skill, and then they closely observe each child’s mastery of the material. As students master the materials, their abilities grow, and their interests evolve. The shelves rotate to offer new materials and work, keeping the students stimulated and progressing to the next level.

“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”

― Dr. Maria Montessori

The Montessori in a Minute Series

This “Montessori In A Minute” series regularly explores the unique benefits of Montessori philosophy, its fundamental materials, and areas of the classroom. For all parents at Hudson Montessori School (Jersey City, New Jersey), the school hosts several Parent Education Nights a year to learn about the Montessori method and how the students learn curriculum components using a Montessori framework.

Please contact us to learn more about Hudson Montessori School’s interdisciplinary, theme-based learning approach to education, the Montessori philosophy and methodology, or how the school fosters the love of learning for children aged 2 to eighth grade.

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