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.