When one first observes a Montessori classroom, one might be struck by the independent and concentrated activity of the children in it. The children choose activities from the shelves, work purposefully with them, clean them up and then, put them back where they found them. Children work individually or in small groups. There is a hum of activity as the children interact with each other and with the adults. Children are learning by doing. They are using the materials to learn about the qualities of the world and to acquire basic concepts. They are shown how to use the materials, but are then free to explore, to make mistakes and to repeat activities as their interest guides them. One observes children helping children and children acting independently with focussed attention and joy.
This way of learning is due in part to the non-traditional role of the Montessori teacher or guide. There is one Montessori trained teacher who gives presentations to individual children or small groups and an assistant who observes and guides the children as necessary. The Montessori teacher moves about throughout the classroom at the level of the children giving new presentations, reinforcing previous concepts and directing children as needed.
The Montessori classroom is a carefully prepared learning environment with a full range of Montessori materials suited to the developmental needs of the children within it. Overall, it is an orderly environment with furniture and equipment sized for the specific age group. The materials must be clean and in very good condition in order to attract the children. The Montessori materials provide a springboard from which the children abstract basic concepts. They have ample time to pursue projects which interest them. This feeds their natural curiosity, intrinsic motivation and love of learning. In the Infant/toddler community (15 months - 3 years) there are activities to promote motor control and coordination, the development and enrichment of language and to support the child's natural urge for independence. The Children's House (ages 3-6 years) is organized into the areas Practical Life, Sensorial, Language and Mathematics. It also provides extension of the sensorial and language activities into the areas of Geography, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Art and Music. At the Elementary level (ages 6-12 years) the teacher gives presentations in small groups and the children pursue work in a research style of learning. At this age, the presentations are designed to spark the children's imagination and natural desire to learn about the world around them and their place in it. The work includes geography, biology, history, language, mathematics, science, art and music. Children are encouraged to extend their exploration of these areas beyond the classroom, by making trips to community resources such as, libraries, museums, science centres, etc.
The uninterrupted work cycle allows the children ample time to choose activities and to repeat them as long as they wish. The lack of interruptions facilitates the development of extended concentration and focussed attention. Children have time to complete long activities and to become deeply engaged.
The Montessori program runs consistently five days per week for children aged 3-12 years. Children aged 0-3 years attend a minimum of four consecutive days per week. This consistency is important for the young child who responds to routine and order by feeling secure and safe.
Socially, the Montessori environment is a community of children. This community consists of a mixed age group. These groupings will be 15 months to 2.5 or 3 years for the Infant Community; 3-6 years for the Children's House and 6-9 years, 9-12 years or 6-12 years for the Elementary Level. The span of ages within the group creates a learning environment which contains a great range in the type and complexity of activities being taught and being learned. Younger children observe the work of older children and older children spontaneously care for and help younger ones. This reduces competition in the learning process and instead nurtures a collaborative learning environment.
Large class sizes facilitate the social development within the community by increasing the number of children and the number of opportunities for social interaction. It also increases the dynamic of the learning atmosphere because there will be more activities underway and greater variation in those activities. This dynamic spurs interest and spontaneous choices amongst the children.