Montessori Learning Environment 6-12

What are the essential elements of the Montessori 6-12 learning environment?

What is Montessori Cosmic Education?

Essential Elements

In Montessori primary students experience a totally integrated curriculum referred to as cosmic education.

What this results in …

In Montessori primary students are given a totally integrated curriculum referred to as cosmic education. Most of the different subjects are introduced in a series of connected stories that spark the child’s imagination called the Great Lessons.
Montessori cosmic education seeks to expand the child’s knowledge by providing the learner with a coherent whole view rather than a mix of unrelated bits of information: this assists in helping the child to classify new information in a coherent way.
The stories give the child a context for all future learning, and a way of seeing the relevance in the detail of what they learn. Science and social sciences such as anthropology, biology, astronomy, geology, history and chemistry are integrated with mathematics, language, arts, music.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How does the Montessori class respond to the logical reasoning mind of the primary-age child?
Can you explain how the integrated curriculum works and how my child will be guided towards his own personal discovery of discover inter-relatedness of different concepts?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Can I see children doing activities and learning across a wide range of subjects from math and language to sciences and art?

What are Montessori materials?

Essential Elements

The specially-designed Montessori materials enable the learner to literally see and explore abstract concepts and the primary child uses these concrete experiences to develop a deep, abstract understanding of complex concepts.

What this results in …

The classroom has Montessori materials to cater for the children of all age groups in the class.
The children have a wide range of Montessori materials and activities available to them and these materials provide a focus for the children’s exploration and learning.
At any time the majority of children should be actively engaged with Montessori materials and activities, with limited book or worksheet work.
Montessori curriculum provides a scope and sequence – but each child always moves at their own pace.
Children not only select their own work most of the time, but also continue to work with tasks, returning to continue their work over many weeks or months, until finally the work is ‘so easy for them’ that they can teach it to someone else. This is one of many ways that Montessori educators use to confirm that students have reached mastery of skills and concepts.
The New Zealand state primary curriculum is met using a Montessori approach.
NZ state primary assessments are done in such a way that the character of the Montessori programme is not compromised.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How does the Montessori philosophy define the daily activities and routines of the classroom?
Can you describe to me what the Montessori curriculum is and how it supports my child’s learning?
What if my child spends all day with one thing, or is interested in only one thing – how do you get them to engage in other aspects of the curriculum?
Does my child always get to choose what they do, or are they guided?
Can you explain how the NZ state curriculum is met in the Montessori classroom?
What assessments are done to ensure my child is meeting outcomes for his age?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Can I see most of the children learning through exploration with the Montessori materials?

How does Montessori promote my child’s learning?

Essential Elements

Montessori focuses on children’s learning and self discovery, not on teachers’ ‘teaching’ and fostering independence is an important part of Montessori philosophy.

What this results in …

Children work individually or in small, self-selected groups; there will be more group lessons at primary level than in Montessori 3-6 classes, but little whole class instruction.
Children are supported to independently choose their own work or activity.
The children must be able to access all activities independently or with help of a peer, without relying on constant adult assistance or direction.
All activities are limited in number – only one of each activity (including art) so that that children learn the social skills involved in being part of a community such as sharing, turn-taking, negotiation and co-operation.
The child is left to choose their own work but is presented with new work regularly to increase their repertoire of choice and provide more opportunities for them to uncover their interests.
Teachers should not be constantly directing the child’s work – but are actively involved in observing and assessing the child’s choices and ready to step in with new challenges and to guide children when the child is unable to choose for himself.
The Montessori child is put in charge of his/her own learning through his own exploration; this may seem a subtle distinction but it is a key part of the Montessori approach.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

What activities will my child be able to do when they first start in the class? How will they know what they can choose?
How does my child know what to choose each day and how do you guide his choice?
What kind of expectations do you have of children at different ages?
What will you do if my child chooses the same activity day after day?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Are the majority of children making constructive independent choices or are the teachers constantly directing and correcting
Are children being given time to engage, time to observe, time to reflect, time for repose; are the children given the freedom to work things out for themselves?

How is concentration promoted in a Montessori class?

Essential Elements

While primary children are increasingly social and work in groups they still need long uninterrupted work periods to be able to concentrate and become fully engaged with their chosen work.

What this results in …

The class has uninterrupted daily work periods with the three-hour work cycle as ideal.  The work period should be free from interruption for whole group activities.
Within the work period you will see learners doing a range of different activities – the time is not broken up into subjects and students are working alone, in pairs or small groups.
Children are protected from interruptions so that they can concentrate and to become deeply absorbed in their chosen activity or work.
Primary children become deeply engaged in activities for long periods of time and are increasingly able to independently plan their daily and weekly work.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How long is the class work cycle?
Why is a long uninterrupted period of time important for my child’s learning?
Do you have any additional activities happening and how do you ensure this does not interrupt the long work cycle?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Do the children have a long uninterrupted time or are there frequent interruptions for set activities or whole group times?
Are children using strategies to redirect their focus?

Does Montessori happen only at specific times?

Essential Elements

Montessori is a way of being – it does not stop and start at specific times or occur only indoors!

What this results in …

The whole learning environment is available to all children – there should be no restriction by age to certain curriculum areas.
Children have access to quality Montessori environments throughout the day – if the school offers before/after school care or holiday care it should follow same principles as the Montessori classroom.
Outdoor environments are used as rich learning experiences for the children in the same way as indoors – activities are purposeful, real and explorative.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

Can you explain how my child will access the whole indoor and outdoor learning environment?
How will my child integrate with the rest of the state primary school?
How are the children included in wider school activities or the community?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Are children involved in learning indoors and outdoors?
Are all children able to access all areas of the classroom?

How does the learning environment make learning accessible?

Essential Elements

The Montessori environment is orderly and structured to facilitate the child to make choices for their learning.

What this results in …

All the learning activities are set out on shelves, with everything having a specific place so that the children can always find what they need.
All learning materials are attractive so child is enticed to use them – aesthetically pleasing, clean, complete and in good repair. Materials with missing or broken parts are removed from the classroom.
The colour of the furnishings, floors, walls should be soft and muted so that the brightly-coloured Montessori materials attract the children and focus their attention.
Primary children are actively involved in maintaining the order of their classroom environment and making decisions about how the classroom could work for everyone’s benefit.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

Can you explain how the classroom is structured to help my child become independent?
Why is it important that the classroom is orderly and beautiful? How does this help my child’s learning?
My child is very messy at home – how will he/she cope in this orderly environment?
How does the orderly environment promote creativity in my child? Can they still be spontaneous and inventive?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Are the children actively involved in maintaining the order of the classroom, in looking after the learning materials and playing a real role in maintaining the classroom?

Why do primary children do ‘practical life’ activities?

Essential Elements

Practical life is real work and therefore an ‘aid to life’. Primary children have daily opportunities to learn and use practical life skills and to make a real contribution to their community and environment.

What this results in …

Children take the initiative to actively care for each other and their environment.
Practical life materials have an observable application in the classroom; if Montessori children cook  they cook food that can be shared with classmates. Children learn skills that they use daily in their class and home.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How are the children encouraged to care for their class each day?
What kind of cooking and food preparation do the children do?
How are the children involved in taking responsibility for the class and other children?
What outdoor activities are the children involved in each day?
How does doing ‘Practical Life’ prepare my child for academic work?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Can I see children taking real responsibility for their classroom?
Do the children show and sense of ownership for their class and classroom routines?
Are the children working indoors and outdoors?

Why is Montessori described as an ‘education for life’?

Essential Elements

Dr Montessori regarded education as ‘preparation for life’, not merely an academic preparation.

What this results in …

The Montessori environment is rich with learning opportunities for the children to explore their culture and the world.
Social, emotional and spiritual learning experiences are valued as highly as intellectual learning experiences.
Rich cultural experiences including music, art, singing, drama, celebrations from other cultures, plant and animal studies, are a feature of the classroom.
The children have opportunities to garden, care for animals, observe nature, and interact with their wider community.
In New Zealand Tikanga Māori and Te Reo Māori are incorporated throughout the whole programme and all curriculum areas to reflect the society and time in which the children live.
Montessori communities actively celebrate diversity and consciously seek to promote a global perspective.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How are the cultures of the world celebrated in this class?
How is Te Reo Māori introduced to the children?
What happens in the classroom to promote the development of a peaceful community? Can you show me some examples of how my child will learn about his and other cultures?
How are the rhythms of nature acknowledged in the programme?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

How will this philosophy of education fit with my family’s values and beliefs?
Do I think this style of education will enrich my child’s emotional, spiritual and intellectual experiences?

How does Montessori respond to my child’s curiosity?

Essential Elements

Montessori educators use the interests and discoveries of all students to enrich the classroom curriculum and as a springboard for exploration of other areas.

What this results in …

The learning environment is prepared with each community of children in mind, and the selection of activities available is constantly modified to meet the ever changing needs, interests and abilities of the children.
Children progress at their own pace and select work that captures their interest and attention, while the teacher strives to draw their attention and capture their interest in new challenges.
Montessori students experience self-created challenge – not teacher-imposed work sheets, or whole-class assignments.
Children learn how to research their topic of inquiry and find the information they need using reference books, online resources and experts around them or in the wider community.
Individual planning for each child, based on ongoing and systematic observations by teachers and negotiation and goal setting with the child.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How do you know when my child is ready for new challenges?
If my child shows a special interest in an area of discovery – how will this be responded to?
How do you change the classroom during the year to respond to the needs of the new children that arrive?
Can you tell me what assessment is used to assess my child’s progress and how this will be shared with me?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Do you see children using the Montessori materials to explore?
Do you see teachers inviting children to try new activities?
Do you see the teachers standing back and observing the class; making notes to use in planning for each child?
How will my child receive feedback from you to direct his work?

How are Montessori children given freedom?

Essential Elements

Montessori children enjoy considerable freedom of movement and choice; however their freedom always exists within carefully defined limits on the range of their behaviour.

What this results in …

Children are supported to understand that with the freedom of choice comes a large responsibility to their own learning and to the learning of the group.
Children are free to do anything appropriate to the ground rules of the community but are redirected promptly when needed.
Children have a variety of places to work – indoors, outdoors, at tables, on work mats on the floor.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How do the children help to establish the ground rules of their learning community?
What happens if a child constantly goes beyond the acceptable limits?
How will my child in develop this concept of freedom with responsibility?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Can you see children helping each other to maintain the rules of the classroom?
Are the children beginning to ‘plan’ their day to meet their commitments and responsibilities?

Why is community service an important part of Montessori?

Essential Elements

Montessori’s spiritual perspective leads to the promotion of community service ranging from daily contributions to others within the class or school setting, to community service that allows children and adults to make a difference in the lives of others beyond the school.

What this results in …

Montessori children learn through their experience how to offer and receive help.
Their growing understanding of the needs of others enables children to grow into competent, empathetic world citizens.
Children learn that to help others brings a great feeling of satisfaction and achievement. Sharing what we have with others, whether our time or our resources, benefits both the giver and the receiver. Giving to others, and sharing part of our lives with others, becomes both a joy and a habit for children and they take this sense of service with them into the world.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

What community service programmes have the children in this class been involved in?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

What help do I see children offering to others in the class?

Why is collaboration promoted?

Essential Elements

Dr Montessori observed that competition is an ineffective tool to motivate children to learn and Montessori students learn to collaborate rather than to compete against each other to meet external standards set by an adult.

What this results in …

Student self-assessment in own progress and work is actively encouraged.
Children are confident and seek feedback from their peers and teachers.
All learners compete only against themselves and quickly become unafraid to make mistakes.
Children learn at their own pace and teachers refrain from comparing students with one another.
Children have a great fondness for one another, and are free from one-upmanship and needless interpersonal competition.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How will my child cope when they leave Montessori and move into schools and workplaces where competition is promoted?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Do I see children pleased with the achievements of others and with the skills to give and receive genuine compliments?

How does learning occur beyond the Montessori primary classroom?

For the primary child learning needs to occur beyond the classroom; in Montessori primary learning this is accomplished by ‘going out’ forays into the world in search of knowledge and experiences not available through classroom study alone.

What this results in …

Exploratory trips differ from traditional field trips as they are initiated, planned and executed by the children, not the teacher, and they arise organically from the interest sand work of the children, not from a plan of instruction made by adults.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How have the children in the class been able to initiate their own learning beyond the classroom?
What role do parents take in assisting with this learning?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Do the children look excited  about and involved in their learning?

How is the New Zealand State Primary Curriculum delivered?

Essential Element

The NZ State Curriculum is met using a Montessori approach??

What this results in …

The children are able to progress through the NZ state curriculum which is delivered using the Montessori materials encouraging self-discovery and learning and promoting the curriculum as a coherent whole rather than unrelated learning.
Children are able to move through the curriculum at their own rate rather than at the teacher’s prescribed timetable for the whole class.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

How do you integrate the NZ state curriculum and Montessori as a cohesive whole?

Questions you could ask yourself while you observe the class

Does the amount and level of activity I am seeing the children do in the Montessori primary class compare to the levels I have observed in other state primary classrooms?

Are there Montessori schools for older children?

Essential Element

Montessori learning environments are offered for primary school children in many areas of NZ.  As the number of children entering Montessori primary environments increases, so does the necessity for providing high school environments.

What this results in …

The school provides information about the Montessori high school programmes.

Questions you could ask the Montessori centre staff

How do you support older primary children to transition to high school?
Are there plans to establish a Montessori high school in this area?
How would a Montessori high school build on the primary experience of children in this class?

Why is membership of Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand important?

Essential Element

The Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand has played a key role in supporting the growth of Montessori in NZ since 1982. MANZ provides high quality Montessori professional development and publications for educators and parents. MANZ provides national representation for Montessori in NZ.

What this results in …

A MANZ membership certificate is on display at the centre.
Information from the national association is on display or available to parents, including a monthly newsletter and magazine.
Teachers regularly attend MANZ professional development and conferences.

Questions you could ask the Montessori teachers

Does the Montessori primary school belong to and support the Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand?
What information will I receive from the national association?
Can I see some issues of the national association’s magazine, Montessori Voices?