How do we keep our classrooms running smoothly and yet create environments that feel consistently exciting and new to children when they are ready for something “else?” Montessori classrooms do not run the same way as traditional preschools that change their focus weekly. We do not put away one unit and replace it with another on our external timetable. We follow the child rotating materials organically with limited time, interest, and shelf space. How can this work realistically in the classroom? That is indeed the challenge and the fun of being a Montessori guide. The key is to providing activities that are done in the same or similar ways and yet vary by the season.
It is recommended to have a rich series of pre-reading activities that change periodically. Many teachers change them monthly and it is logical that they follow the seasons and often honor the holidays celebrated by the families in the classroom. Thus when a child is looking for a classification exercise, he can always find it in the same place on the shelf. Though the tray or basket color might be different as well as the exercise, the skill remains the same. This is also true of matching, patterning, rhyming etc. In this way children know where to go to find these exercises even if they look novel. Although we think of pre-reading activities as mostly for the youngest children, we truly want these activities to span as many different development levels as possible. How can that happen?
Let’s look at a simple tracing activity. I believe there should always be pictures to trace in your classroom. (Find our tracing pictures in our shop here). These might be seasonal or follow a unit of study, but the activity or lesson remains the same. I like to offer three different levels of difficulty of pictures meeting the need of three levels of learners in my classroom. The youngest child might just trace the line while a child with more concentration might trace the line and color in the entire picture. He might even write his name on the back of the paper. An older child might trace, color, cut out the image and paste it onto a Popsicle stick to make a puppet. As his skills mature, he may be ready to trace, color, cut and paste the shape onto a journal paper and write a story about the image. Each of these levels extends the activity, meeting the developmental need of a different kind and level of learner. While the pictures to trace will change over the course of the year based on the season or unit of study, the activities available to do with those pictures will remain the same. Children might experience all of these types of activities within the classroom as their interest and their skills grow and develop over the course of their career in a three year Montessori classroom. Different opportunities invite repetition and creativity as they see one another try new options.
You can also rotate sequencing or life cycle cards. Many of these already follow the seasons. In the fall, children can learn about the Life Cycle of the Pumpkin. On your shelf you might have cards and opportunities to sequence pictures that tell the story of Pumpkin Seeds to Pumpkin Pie. In the winter months, you can swap out cards that sequence getting dressed in winter clothes, or migration and hibernation. Spring is an excellent time to showcase the growth cycle of a bean or another seed.
Like the tracing pictures, you’ll want to have multiple levels of difficulty for this activity. The youngest children might simple hear you tell the story and sequence the cards. Slightly older children might sequence the story themselves and tell the story. Children who already hear component sounds within words are ready to build the parts of the story using the Movable Alphabet. Writing children might draw each of the cards on a half sized journal paper and use their invented spelling to write about each picture making a book of the sequence.
The youngest children may only work with the wooden puzzle learning the names of the parts and then matching to the nomenclature cards. Slightly older children work with the three part cards, coloring and labeling to make their own booklets. Adults may wish to read the definition booklets to the children until such time as they are ready to read them independently. Reading children match the definition label and definition text to the picture part solidifying this knowledge. They can even check their accuracy using the definition booklet.
The materials on our science table (Nature Museums) also naturally change with the seasons. From shells brought home from summer vacations in the later summer to colorful leaves, acorns and pinecones in the fall to interesting flowers and feathers in the spring. This is a great place to view and celebrate nature as we experience it organically. Children can look at these items with a magnifying glass, use them as items to build with the movable alphabet, label them with small label papers written by the children or even draw and write about a favorite item. This is one more place where our classrooms can stay interesting and fresh while still keeping the wonder of life alive for our youngest learners.
Cathie Perolman, M.Ed
Cathie Perolman is a reading specialist, elementary educator, author, consultant, and creator of educational materials for primary and elementary students.
You can see all her original materials for sale in our shop, and read more about her and her life’s work here.