Hello again! On Monday, I began a two-part series (does this make it a mini-series? A duology?) on the Montessori classroom. If you missed it, I encourage you to check it out. As promised, I’m back today to shift focus from Montessori classrooms in general to the Elementary ones in particular. It’s not that I want to leave out Infant and Early Childhood rooms (honest!), but since I’m an Upper El teacher, I can speak about Elementary rooms in greater detail.
So. I’ll start by saying that Elementary and Middle School classrooms are a little different from rooms designed for younger children. (I’m sure you already knew this, but it bears repeating.) One of the major changes that Elementary students face, academically speaking, is that they are shifting from the concrete to the abstract. They still can (and often do) work with material, but Elementary-age children work towards holding more information in their heads. Therefore, you’ll see fewer materials in those rooms.
If the school has the funding, you’ll probably also find technology in Elementary classrooms. (Note: Some schools use iPads in the younger rooms. Mine is one of them.) My Upper Elementary class is lucky enough to have three computers and an iPad. This allows me to teach computer skills. Students use the computers for everything from researching to typing to writing emails to authors they admire. Our Middle School classroom also has computers and iPads. Last year, they even got a Smart Board! For many of our students, this is the first time they’ve used technology for anything more than entertainment, and those other uses are the kind we emphasize.
Additionally, practical life in elementary classrooms tends to appear less on shelves and more in the form of projects, both in and out of doors. Gardening, cooking, sewing, budgeting, trip planning and woodworking are all great examples of Upper Elementary/Middle School practical life. These kinds of projects often incorporate a number of different skills. Cooking, for example, involves reading (and reading comprehension), following directions and math. Advanced practical life is also has multiple steps. Instead of sanding a block of wood in the manner of their younger counterparts, Upper El students will sand wood they’ll later paint and use as for the stage needed for the upcoming all-school musical.
I want to end by saying that the Montessori classroom is a shared space. It belongs to everyone–not just the teacher–with all that that entails. Putting work away improperly (or not at all), leaving work on the carpet and chatting to your friend while others are working are all things that affect everyone in the room. The classroom is a community and communities require both compromise and tolerance. Sharing the classroom is a practical life work all its own! More than that, though, our classrooms are second homes. With that in mind, can you doubt the role they play in Montessori education?