Montessori education works perfectly for preschoolers. It works perfectly for other ages as well, but it’s easiest to find materials for home use at the preschool level. And, according to Maria Montessori, the years before age 6 are the most important:
…the most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed.
Here are my suggestions for setting up a Montessori preschool classroom or space at home. You could set up an entire classroom or even one or two shelves in a room, depending on whether you have a homeschool, home day care, or just want to give your child some Montessori-oriented activities at home.
1. Read about Montessori education. While the books by Maria Montessori are wonderful, I think the best books to read first about using Montessori at home are How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin and Teach Me to Do It Myself by Maja Pitamic. UPDATE: Be sure to add John Bowman’s eBook Montessori at Home: The Complete Guide to Doing Montessori Early Learning Activities at Home.
2. Purchase or make low shelves and a child-sized table and chairs. At the preschool level, it’s important that everything possible is child-sized.
3. Purchase or make materials. In our homeschool classroom, we had beautiful Nienhuis Montessori materials. That was because I had owned a Montessori preschool in the 1980s that I closed when my son was 3½. There was a Montessori teacher shortage at the time, and I had to close the school or teach and direct the school myself, something which didn’t allow enough time for my family. I compressed my classroom into the smaller space available for our homeschool and waited until my children were past their preschool years to sell the materials from the school. (Note: In the photo, my son wasn’t in preschool any longer, but the classroom was still set up primarily as a Montessori preschool classroom for the benefit of my daughter, who was 1½. She no longer put objects in her mouth, so I didn’t have to set up the classroom as a toddler room.)
Without accessible materials from a Montessori school, I probably would have made many of the materials myself or found inexpensive versions. Luckily, there are many options today to find inexpensive Montessori materials through online stores and websites. UPDATE: Links to resources to download free Montessori materials, buy Montessori materials online, or make your own are in How to Set Up a Montessori Homeschool Classroom.
It’s important to emphasize practical-life, or daily living, activities as the most important activities for preschoolers at the start of a school year. The first Montessori school I taught at only had preliminary and practical-life activities on the shelves for the first few weeks of school. The thought was that the skills gained from practical-life activities were essential before the children even began working with Montessori materials in other areas. Here’s the link to an article I published on Montessori Practical Life Activities.
4. Group your materials together in the appropriate curriculum areas – practical life, sensorial, language, math, and cultural. If you have shelves for more than practical-life activities initially, you can still organize the materials you do have (even if they’re not actual Montessori materials) in curriculum areas on the shelves. Whenever you can, put each activity on a tray.
5. Using your available resources, make your classroom area as attractive and orderly as possible. Avoid clutter. Have a place for everything and everything in its place. Here’s a helpful article from North American Montessori Center on Montessori at Home: The Prepared Environment. UPDATE: Montessori Print Shop has a very helpful page photos titled Use Montessori at Home. I also have a post called How to Start Using Montessori at Home.
Your classroom or space within a room can be simple or elaborate. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. I’ll give some links to examples of Montessori homeschool classrooms. Some are full Montessori classrooms. Don’t be intimidated – just use the classrooms for inspiration and ideas. What’s right for you is what works for you and your family.
Here are some lovely Montessori home spaces and classrooms from:
Counting Coconuts – and here are many photos of Counting Coconuts’ attractive and creative activity trays! UPDATE: On 10/16/2010, Counting Coconuts posted a Classroom Tour with photos and descriptions of a beautiful new classroom in a new home.
UPDATE: For more information on Montessori activities, how to use Montessori education at home, and many more Montessori homeschool classrooms, see How to Set Up a Montessori Homeschool Classroom.
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