What is a Montessori environment? Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work. The children's innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving them opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the guidance of a trained adult. Through their work, the children develop concentration and joyful self-discipline. Within a framework of order, the children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities.
In a Montessori classroom the place of the traditional teacher is held by a fully trained Montessori director. Montessori directors typically have a normal teacher qualification as well as an additional one-year full-time Montessori teacher education diploma. The director is a guide or facilitator whose task it is to support the young child in his or her process of self-development. The director is foremost an observer, unobtrusively yet carefully monitoring each child's development, recognising and interpreting each child's needs. The director provides a link between the child and the prepared environment, introducing the child to each piece of equipment when he or she is ready in a precise, clear and enticing way.
In each classroom (except the Parent Toddler Programme) there is a three year age range. Through the presence of a mixed age group, the older children can validate their learning by becoming the ‘experts’ in the room. Peer teaching can occur with the older children sharing their knowledge and skills and taking on the role of the care takers of the classroom.
The mixed age group also fosters and provides many opportunities for social development. Over the three year period, the child builds on prior learning and skills, refining these as well as applying them to different situations. Cooperation, not competition, is modelled from within the group and takes place naturally and occurs because of respect for each individual.
Through years of observation around the world, Montessori came to understand that children, when left in freedom, displayed a distinct work cycle which was so predictable it could even be graphed. This cycle, with two peaks and one valley, lasted approximately three hours. In our classrooms, we aim for children to have three hours of open, uninterrupted time to choose independent work, become deeply engaged, and repeat to their own satisfaction.