Here is a link for what I consider to be an amazing web article describing very clearly what the original intentions and outcome goals were for a Montessori classroom in the past.
As I read this article, and studied the photographs, I found myself thinking and wondering the following things…
~ These are wonderful snapshots of normalization. Clearly these people were doing something right/ different if they can capture like, 30 kids in organized yet independent work in a black and white, paper photo…
~ children of the past vs children of today… could it be possible that children of the past possess more self-discipline and self-control than the child of today? My classroom this year has been particularly challenging behaviorally. And I still have yet to figure out why.
~ What is NOT in these photographs : I notice that there are no toddlers/babies! There is never a bunch of chaos on the walls–lots of pictures, yes. But they are all framed artwork fairly neatly placed. There are no deliberate movement apparatuses in the classroom space, such as climbing structures, fidgets on the feet of desks, climbing walls erected, stairs, etcetera.
There is never more than two children seated at a table. The teacher is never a centralized figure. Children are not going crazy, rolling around on the floor, or goofing off in these photos. Each photograph features only one adult, with the exception of Dr. Montessori and Mario.
~ What IS in these photographs: Lots of space to work. Lots of tables to sit at. Work happening outdoors. The children who look super calm and relaxed. Children who always look super focused on their work in every photograph. Every photo features at least six or more children focused at any given time. I see happy, content groups of children. I see my dream version of Montessori classrooms.
I see children who can write and create entire sentences and paragraphs on working rugs with the moveable alphabet, or on chalkboards, in cursive. I have never witnessed the primary children at my job even writing words on a chalkboard at all, let alone sentences.
I believe photo 12/17 says something to the effect of “casa dei bambini montessori is my paradise” in Italian, spelled out with the moveable alphabet. Did a teacher do that on purpose for the photograph, or was that bona fide kids work?
~ Look at how they organized the spaces. They tend to cluster groups of tables together in one area, and then leave a big space for working on the floor. They never allow more than two children at a table, and the children are seated either side by side and still able to concentrate, or they are seated across from each other and justified to the right on the long sides of the table. They don’t need to be as far away from each other as possible on the short sides of the tables in order to concentrate on their own tasks, like my children do. Granted, my kiddos are toddlers. But still.
~ Open air work. I can’t express what a difference it makes if a toddler program (and primary, of course) feature an outdoor work area. Not to be confused with a playground, an outdoor work area is its own work space. Dr. Montessori believed that children ought to work in the open air whenever possible, because fresh air and sunshine bolster the health. Work outdoors was differentiated from just playing outdoors, as you can see by the nature of the work in the photos. An outdoor work space can also provide a much-needed change of scene rather than only being limited to the classroom and the playground.
~ Most of the children are sitting down. This conveys low, calm energy. This conveys children who are capable of displaying self-control and regulation of their energy.
~ class-wide “action” photos were clearly utilized as a form of documentation. I am now inspired to try and take more class-wide, “action” shots of my entire classroom at work. I take a lot of individual photos in order to send them to parents weekly. But now I’m inspired to do class-wide working photos for my own observation and documentation. I almost want to pick a day where I stand in the same spot and take a group photo once every 15 minutes to get an honest assessment of the status of my classroom. Maybe I will do a “class working photo” once every week for my own personal documentation. Same time, same day, from the same spot, once a week.
~ I’m seriously in awe of that decentralized role of the adult. My class pretty much falls apart without me this year, which makes me sad. A lot of the time the children don’t listen to the assistants. Sadly, this year my assistants don’t even follow my directions if I’m not directly present, and it makes me especially disappointed. But it is what it is. There’s always next year.
What is most encouraging part about this article and these photographs is that it is proof that a wonderful, successful Montessori classroom is in fact a possible experience. Normalization is a legitimate possibility to aspire to. On difficult days, it is really inspiring to look over photos and remember that the right circumstances and the right people can converge to create the beautiful normalization we strive for. It may not be a realistic goal with my class this year, but this vision was indeed achieved in the past. And if children could do it then, when people had far less resources available to them, we should be able to pull it off now.