When you walk into a Montessori classroom, the noise levels might surprise you. I’m often asked how it's possible that a room full of three and four-year olds is so quiet and peaceful. In a classroom of 18 students you will probably find close to 18 different activities going on at once -and all with a happy hum. Each child is doing what they need and want to do as they are led by their developmental growth. As a result, they are happy, busy, and focused.
What makes the Montessori approach so different from other more traditional approaches is the enormous amount of trust teachers place in their students. Montessori teachers try not to be the center of attention in the classroom. Their role relies on the preparation, organization, and procurement of diverse materials to meet the needs and interests of each one of their students. Fostering independence within the classroom is the teacher’s primary goal, and is given the utmost respect. Students are given choices and are able to select between a variety of carefully planned works. The classroom becomes a laboratory for children to explore and observe, while the teachers remain alert to the direction each child is heading.
It takes a tremendous amount of faith to follow the child, but the result is that each child, with careful guidance, gravitates toward the work that most calls out to them. As Maria Montessori said, “This is our mission; to cast a ray of light and then move on.”
In addition, Montessori teachers demonstrate quiet, calming behavior by presenting each lesson using careful, soothing, and exact language so as not to confuse or distract the children. Often times there is little to no language at all. It is amazing to watch a teacher demonstrate the simple “work” of pouring lentils into a glass bowl with only the clear sound of the beans falling over each other into the vessel. Its simplicity and peacefulness can be captivating.
The teachers serve as role models and their precise demonstrations exemplify the proper way to complete a work as well as uphold Maria Montessori’s quest to bring peace into our world. Independence is built through the child's movements and interactions around the classroom, and it is the teacher’s job to strategically guide graciousness, courtesy, and respect of themselves, their environment, and their community.
Maria Howard is the Director of the Early Childhood Program at The Caedmon School. She is certified from The Center for Montessori Teacher Education and has worked as a head Montessori teacher in the Los Angeles area and at The Caedmon School.