At Kingsley, we regularly invite prospective families, current parents, and educators to observe a normal day in our classrooms. Montessori classrooms operate differently than other types of classrooms, and for some adults this flow might be new. There are a few things that you should be prepared for when planning to observe in Montessori classrooms.
The Montessori Classroom Experience
Depending on the time of year that you're planning to visit, the experience could vary considerably. Early in the year, students are being guided by the classroom teachers more, while they develop the skills and routines that will carry them throughout the year. Later on in the year, the students are able to guide themselves through their work block routines; even at the youngest levels, you'll see impressive amounts of independence and choice.
Freedom of Movement and Choice
Montessori classrooms are designed to allow for independent, free movement. Students are expected to select, take out, and set up their work at a designated work area. When they're finished, they take that work back to its designated storage place, and select a new work. This type of freedom requires careful planning of the classroom, and awareness of the adults in the space. For this reason, when visiting a classroom, we generally ask that you remain seated in the same place for the majority of your observation. This allows the students to work around you, without interfering with their routines.
Real World Materials
Most Montessori materials are made with "real world" materials like porcelain or glass, rather than molded plastics. Students learn at an early age how to interact with these types of "real world" materials, along with the dangers of misusing them. Montessori educators are trained observers, and are acutely aware of their students' abilities and behaviors. It may be tempting to "help" a student with a work, especially if they seem to be struggling, but it is best to let the student develop their own strategy to overcome the challenge; if a student needs help, they know that they can ask at any point.
Grace and Courtesy
Depending on the classroom, and the type of work being done, you may be treated to a different type of experience. Part of the Montessori curriculum centers on Grace and Courtesy. If the time is appropriate during your visit, you may be greeted by a student, offered a beverage or a snack, or invited to sit down with the student at a table. The Montessori curriculum encourages students to act respectfully, generously, and thoughtfully. To some, this may seem like very "adult" behavior, and may take you aback. Feel free to accept the offers of a beverage, or to join a student at a table, if you feel comfortable. If not, you can also feel free to politely decline.
Observing: A Sensory Experience
At other times, students may be so concentrated on their work that they pretty much ignore you completely. These are the best times to see the magic of a Montessori classroom in action. Be sure to watch for how the students prepare their work environment; select their work from the proper shelf or storage space; quietly and neatly set up their work; and pack everything away the way they found it afterwards.
Listen for the conversations between students and from students to teachers; the ways that older students in the classroom will help younger students; the individualized lessons and guidance the teachers give, without being forceful or domineering; and the click and thud of real materials being manipulated throughout the classroom.
Observing in a Montessori classroom is a sensory experience. Notice the soft lighting that's used; the emphasis on natural light and nature's beauty; the feeling of natural materials; even the scents of the flowers that are used for the flower arranging work at different times during the year.
Give Yourself the Gift of Time
One hallmark of Montessori philosophy, is "the gift of time." Teachers give students the gift of time to figure out their needs, and to work through challenging circumstances. This allows students to build the foundational skills of order, coordination, concentration, and finally independence. This idea spills over into all aspects of Montessori learning; including the continuing education of teachers and parents. We encourage you to give yourself the gift of time, and allow for the classroom to unfold in front of you.
We encourage parents observing in our classrooms to take notes about what they notice; especially the things that they have questions about or don't understand. After your observation, we're happy to go through what you noticed, explaining anything that confused you and elucidating any of the questions that came up. It's our goal that you'll leave your observation with a new understanding and respect for the Montessori method.