The Montessori Classroom
The materials in the classroom can be divided into three areas: practical life, sensorial exercises and learning materials. Practical life activities such as washing tables, dusting, polishing shoes and silver, folding clothes, buttoning and Zippering promote mastery of the child’s self and his or her environment. The sensorial materials are designed to provide the child with concepts of dimension, color, shape, sound, etc. By the paring of similar objects and the recognition of contrasts, discrimination becomes evident. Examples of sensorial apparatus are sets of cylinders that vary in height and diameter, sandpaper boards that contrast roughness and smoothness, colored tablets that match colors and others that vary in degrees of tint, and wood tablets that differ in weight.
Sensorial education can be defined as trying to educate the senses, not trying to make the child see better, but to help him know what he sees. By giving first strongly contrasted sensation, and then various graded series (i.e., first red and blue, then several shades of blue), we are teaching him what is red and what is blue, and at the same time, he is learning to compare, contrast, and discriminate. The child learns to distinguish different sense impressions and to put them in some sort of order. This is the beginning of conscious knowledge of the environment as opposed to the unconscious knowledge he has already. As the child begins to isolate these qualities mentally, he is gradually building up concepts of abstractions.
The third category can be defined as learning materials. Some examples are the movable alphabet, red and blue counting rods, decimal materials, puzzle maps and biological forms.
Dr. Montessori designed her prepared environment for children of 3 years to 6 years. The child’s main purpose at this stage is “to conduct himself.” Because he is left free to accomplish the task, he is able to develop to his full potential in the prepared environment.