The Freedom to Interact (Or Not) in the First Plane: 3-6
If you imagine a traditional preschool, you might think about children sitting together at circle time, singing songs all together, listening to stories all together, playing games all together, or exploring the outdoors all together. Indeed, search for "preschool" in your search engine, and you'll find all sorts of choices of pictures of children in groups, happily grinning at the camera.
Montessori classrooms take a little different slant. Yes, you'll find time when children in the Early Childhood classrooms enjoy common activities, working together on small group lessons or sharing birthday celebrations on the ellipse. But more often, you'll observe children working largely independently. This is not from some prohibition around children socializing. Quite the opposite. We understand that the need to interact is an important one, as is the need not to. Rather than requiring group activity, we provide it as an option and support children in interpreting their own boundaries for when and with whom they want to socialize.
As a result, you'll see children observing each other's work, chatting comfortably across a table as they each engage in their own lessons, or choosing a friend or two to engage in a more elaborate material. You'll see children sharing snack together, or serving each other from individual portions of fruits, vegetables or other bites they've prepared. You'll see children with their heads bent over the same book or laughing together as they care for a classroom pet. But you'll also see children working independently, or choosing a quiet space from which to observe the classroom alone. You'll see children politely answering, "No, thank you," when invited to share a snack or enter a game. You'll see children absorbed in their own activities such that they seem blissfully unaware of the busy-ness of the classroom around them.
All of these children are welcome here.
Montessorians understand that children in the First Plane of development have both the need to interact with others and a need for support when they want to be alone. Our classrooms, then, encourage children to observe each other at work, but preserve a limit that protects children from being interrupted while they're working. We believe that a child's attention is a valuable developing skill, and we restrain ourselves and others from disturbing children when they're concentrating. Likewise, we offer lessons in grace and courtesy that model how to ask to participate, how to engage a friend in an activity, and how to decline politely. Even our few full group activities, like time at circle, often allow for children's choice to interact or not. A child might choose to stay at their work, or might choose to come to circle but not to volunteer to participate. By giving children the opportunity to interact when they opt to and protecting them when they opt not to, we help them to develop the ability to regulate these social spaces independently, simultaneously respecting that, just like adults, children need differing levels of social engagement and meaningful opportunities for those engagements to be valuable and fulfilling.