How to Design a Montessori Learning Environment
- May 16, 2023
- Anthony Bowie
Nurture children’s independence and natural motivation by designing a Montessori learning environment equipped to support their learning!
Montessori is an alternative form of education––primarily used with early childhood and elementary students––that is built around supporting children’s natural behaviors and instincts. This learning method is known for its child-centered approach that allows students to independently follow their interests, senses, and natural flow of engagement and concentration.
Montessori educators act as guides in the classroom, presenting children with learning opportunities, academic materials, and practical life exercises to be explored at each child’s own pace. These educators are experts in child development who are focused on a whole-child educational approach, applying the principles of Montessori to help develop children’s academic, social-emotional, and practical life knowledge skills.
When designing a Montessori––or Montessori-inspired––classroom, these characteristics can guide your design choices, helping to support the different skills and activities children will build and participate in each day. Montessori learning environments are unique and engaging, designed to fit the specific needs of each child’s stage of development.
Independence is central to Montessori education, as each student has their own unique needs, interests, and preferred approach to learning. Uninterrupted work periods each day help to nurture children’s independence, promoting lively and purposeful engagement in a variety of different activities that support children’s academic, social, physical, and psychological growth. When children are given the freedom to guide their own learning, they display a distinct work cycle during which they are highly concentrated and engaged, ultimately leading to the development of self-esteem and self-motivation.
Selecting classroom elements that can be easily manipulated by students is one way to ensure their continuous engagement and independence throughout the day. For example, FLEX floor slices and FLEX seat pads can be easily moved by young children to different learning spaces as they follow their motivation to focus on a variety of activities. Teachers can also gently guide students to engage with specific learning materials or activities––while still allowing children to have their independence––by using front-facing shelving like KIO PIC to highlight books for students to choose from.
Community is a foundational principle of the Montessori approach from the classroom level to the global perspective. Children are taught to take responsibility and initiative for their community as a whole, and this begins in the learning environment. The classroom community is child-centered, enabling children to explore and learn how to interact with their space, peers, and teachers in a mindful and responsible way.
This principle can be promoted in classroom design through the creation of spaces that initiate social interactions and encourage collective maintenance of the space. For instance, rather than individual desks, Montessori environments use group tables where students can spread out and collaborate. Play areas are large enough for multiple children to play together, but still self-contained enough to keep them engaged. When it’s time to clean up, the learning environment is designed to naturally encourage children to maintain their spaces, with intuitively organized storage for all materials and toys, such as mobile bin cabinets or even more simple open shelving.
In the Montessori approach, learning is multimodal, happening through movement, touch, sight, and sound. Children are intrinsically motivated or urged to act by their sensory experiences, participating in activities that meet the needs of engagement for a particular sensitivity. Children engage deeply with their sensory motivations through a multimodal process, making the sensory aspects of the learning environment crucial to meeting children’s developmental needs.
In a learning environment catered to children’s senses, it’s important not to overwhelm children with bright colors, clutter, or disruptive toys with batteries or screens. Instead, a Montessori space is designed with simple furnishings made from natural materials like wood, including a variety of comfortable seating options, and minimal decor. To support multimodal learning, different learning zones and activity options should be constantly accessible throughout the learning environment.
Montessori educational environments are carefully prepared for child-centered learning. Learning environment design is centered around order and reality with a focus on beauty and simplicity to meet children’s developmental stages. To accommodate student independence and confidence, furnishings in the space are child-sized and accessible without adult assistance.
Classrooms are prepared to encourage children’s natural interest in practical life skills, such as cleaning activities, which nurture self-control and help children envision themselves as a contributing part of the community. The classroom community also benefits from mixed age classrooms, which enable children in similar developmental stages to cooperate and practice valuable social skills.
Whether you’re creating a Montessori learning environment or taking inspiration from Montessori design to improve student independence in your classroom, MiEN Company can be a valuable partner in the design process. A designed Montessori learning environment supports the development of children’s academic, social-emotional, and practical life knowledge skills as well as nurturing the whole child, offering a unique and personalized learning experience for all!