When you visit a Montessori classroom to find out if it’s right for your child, one thing you might notice is that the classroom is organized a bit differently than other classrooms. There’s a good reason for that.
The layout of the Montessori classroom isn’t random or accidental. Classroom objects are deliberately placed in different areas that correspond with the five curriculum areas that will be addressed in the classroom. Take a look at the five areas that you’ll find in a Montessori classroom.
The Language Area
In the language area of the classroom, your child will begin learning about letters, phonics sounds, and reading. Here, you might find sandpaper letters that your child can trace with their fingertips to familiarize themselves with the ABCs.
The language area is also where you’ll find storybooks, the movable alphabet, paper and writing implements, and other objects that your child will use to learn about language and develop early literacy skills.
The Sensorial Area
In the sensorial area of the classroom, your child will learn to notice details like color, shape, texture, smell, sound, weight and temperature. In other words, they’ll use their five senses to learn important details about their world.
It’s in the sensorial area that you might find items like knobless cylinders and smelling bottles. There may be color tablets that your child can look at to learn to distinguish between different colors and shades. Your child will be encouraged to manipulate the items in the sensorial area to learn to heighten their senses.
Thermic tablets are a good example of a sensorial area activity. This is a collection of tablets that have naturally have different temperatures, like felt, marble, wood, iron and cork. Your child will learn how to touch each tablet with the inside of their wrist to feel the difference in temperature. They may wear a blindfold to see if they can distinguish between the different materials by touch alone.
The Math Area
In the mathematics area, your child will learn skills that will help them master math courses later on. Montessori materials are meant to be self-correcting, which helps your child become an independent learner. They can see for themselves if they made a mistake, and then correct it.
A good example of this is the Number Rods. The Number Rods introduce the child to quantity 1-10 and their corresponding number names. Through exploration with the material, the child also develops concepts in sequence of number, combinations of 10 and basic arithmetic. The material consists of 10 wooden rods, divided into units by alternating colors of red and blue, progressing in 10 equal steps from 10 cm to 1 meter. The materials in the math area are meant to appear throughout a child’s education, introducing different concepts at different times.
The Number Rods is just one of many materials that you’ll find in the math area, but it’s a good example of how mathematics learning works in a Montessori classroom.
The Cultural Studies Area
The cultural studies area is where your children will learn about the greater world around them. This area contains items pertaining to geography, history, science, art and music. In many classrooms, this is also where you’ll find items related to botany and zoology.
That means that you’ll see a great diversity of items in this area. There may be maps, globes and flags. There may be instruments, art work and art supplies. You may also find classroom plants in this area.
Your child will learn to appreciate their own and other cultures in this area of the classroom. They’ll be encouraged to express themselves through music, art and dance. This helps your child develop their social and emotional skills as well as cognitive skills.
The Practical Life Area
In the Montessori philosophy, independence is valued, and it’s important for children to practice daily practical skills that are useful in life outside of the classroom. That’s the focus of the practical life skills area of the classroom.
Here you might find items that your child can use to care for their classroom, take care of themselves, and practice manners and social graces. For example, small children will learn how to roll and unroll mats, sharpen pencils and tie shoes. You may see child-sized brooms and feather dusters so that children can practice cleaning up the classroom.
There may be child-sized tables and chairs and maybe even a selection of plates and cutlery. Your child will practice setting the table and sitting down with classmates to eat. Your child’s teacher will help guide the class in learning about manners, like saying “please” and “thank you” or shaking hands.
Understanding the layout of the Montessori classroom can help you understand the philosophy behind the Montessori teaching method and what your child will be doing in the classroom. Ask the teacher to point out the various zones and show you what kind of activities your child will be doing in those areas.