I remember vividly the first time I set eyes on a Montessori classroom. It was during a tour of the school when I stepped into a primary classroom while the children were quietly working away. I was struck by the quiet hum of lessons and work cycles, but what really stood out to me was the true beauty and visual appeal of the classroom, both in the individual materials placed neatly on the shelves, and as a collective whole. It was so unlike any classroom I had seen before.
My experience was not out of the ordinary; the beauty of Montessori materials is often the first thing a new observer to the Montessori classroom notices and comments on. There are rich blue geometric solids, a wide array of brightly colored materials – including the pink tower and the bead frame – and even more natural wood materials, including chairs and shelves in a warm natural wood hue, as well as trays of the same rich tones. Montessori materials are made from natural materials when possible: brass, wood, wicker, cotton, metal, and glass. All of these materials provide a multi-sensory experience for the child, and part of that is the visual appeal that results in a calm, prepared learning environment. The beauty of the Montessori classroom lies both in its simplicity and its thoughtful set-up; each uncluttered space reflects a tranquil, peaceful invitation for learning.
Above: One Hundred Flowers, by Harold Feinstein – a beautiful book from Lower Elementary Directress Anna Schwind’s personal collection. Books and materials like these, that highlight the beauty and delicacy of the natural world, draw young learners in and encourage them to respect and take awe in the natural world around them.
Real glasses, plates, silverware, and utensils not only encourage real work, they are also beautiful all stacked up neatly on the shelves! Imagine the difference if they were plastic sippy cups instead – not only would they be treated less carefully, they would surely contribute to sensory overload! Yes, sometimes these items break, but if nothing ever broke, how would a child learn to treat things with care? Children in the Montessori classroom treasure their materials and learn to treat them with care, especially after the Directress models handling the materials slowly, carefully, and respectfully, former Primary Directress Robyn Milos says, “As if they were made of gold.”
Surrounding a child with beauty in his daily life has an incredible impact on his absorbent mind:
“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” (The Absorbent Mind, p.56)
While there is artwork hung in a Montessori classroom (at eye-level for the children, not the adults), it is not overwhelming or distracting. There are not brightly colored alphabet charts, big cartoon animal borders, or bulletin boards filled with reminders and charts. Many walls are bare, except for the occasional piece of artwork or class photo. And for good reason; studies conducted in traditional kindergarten classrooms have found that “when kindergartners were taught in a highly decorated classroom, they were more distracted, their gazes more likely to wander off task, and their test scores lower than when they were taught in a room that was comparatively spartan.” The more calm and uncluttered the environment, the better.
Natural light is also ideal in the Montessori environment. Classrooms are flooded with sunlight streaming in from different directions depending on the time of day, supplemented with the warm glow of lamps placed throughout. It truly is a comfortable, appealing place to be.