As we move past the transitional first days of school and the rhythms of the school year begin to be established, we will begin sending out more details about exactly how Montessori environments work. Each week, you can expect to find a single Montessori material explained in greater detail in your emailbox. By offering you details about how the method works in practice, we hope you'll find your general questions about the Montessori philosophy answered as well.
For example, in these first days of the classrooms, teachers are busy preparing the structures on which students will rely throughout the year. Our hope is to establish routines and habits of mind that allow for increasing independence for the children. Later in the year, you'll see classrooms operating largely independently of the teacher. At this point in the year, though, when observing, you should see lots of interaction between teachers and children and multiple lessons being offered to individual children, pairs and small groups of children to help establish these classroom systems.
One such system is the practice of working on a floor rug. With few exceptions, children work either at tables or on the floor. Using a floor rug provides a clearly defined space for each child's work, preserving both the materials themselves from being trampled and the intellectual space to which the working child must attend. Think about when your child plays with Lego blocks at home. Before long, a simple construction on the floor can turn into a massive area of small pieces. Paying attention to that space is overwhelming. Caring for the blocks or putting them away feels like an impossible task. And stepping on a single block provides its own punishment! For young children, having a concrete edge to their work space allows them to better manage the work itself, focusing on it with more concentration and maintaining the complete cycle of activity on their own.
But the cognitive benefits of working on a rug require the child to first understand how the manage the rug itself. That's why you'll often see teachers offering children lessons in rolling and unrolling rugs, carrying them across the room and walking carefully around them without stepping on them. These are seemingly simple lessons, but they provide a common social norm: when you choose to work on the floor, you work on a rug, and when you see a rug on the floor, you walk carefully around it so as not to disturb anyone's work.
Taking the time to establish these norms early in the year helps to prepare our classroom for the most concentrated work and our classroom community for the kind of interdependence and cohesion we know they're capable of. Children come to understand that their work is worth protecting, in both their attention and their physical space, and to offer the same courtesy to each other as they navigate through the shared classroom.
Finally, rolling and unrolling a rug provides great physical coordination- it's harder than it looks! The child develops the physical capacity to manage the rug in movement, to line up the edges and tightly roll it, and to lay it flat. His or her fine and gross motor skills are strengthened. As with each of the Montessori materials, there are multiple benefits within multiple domains of children's development: physical, cognitive, social and emotional included in the simple act of rolling and unrolling a rug.