I can't believe Jack starts school next week! It seems just two minutes ago he was a baby that relied on me for everything and now all of a sudden he is going to have to be a lot more independent! When a child enters a classroom for the first time, I'm sure it will seem like an incredibly daunting experience. However with a little careful thought, schools and nurseries can turn their teaching space from a worrying adult-dominated place to one that is warm, accessible and ripe with possibilities.
I've been looking into the Montessori method of schooling and have to say it sounds like the perfect way to settle young children into the classroom. Jack will have a brand new teacher and a brand new classroom as he starts school next week and I will be interested to see if our school employs any Montessori methods.
Dr Maria Montessori dedicated her career to revolutionising the way children are taught in classrooms. She believed that the classroom should be a place full of friends, where children feel included. The way furniture is laid out is crucial to achieving this – as The Montessori St. Nicholas Charity points out: “The layout of the classroom encourages exploration, communication and the development of relationships on all levels. Everything reflects a dedication to quality, beauty and to the children's abilities to do things for themselves.”
A first port of call might be a classroom supplier’s website – Hope Education or similar – so you can get an idea of everything you might need to equip your space. Then decide which themes and areas you’d like children to experience, and make your choices according to Dr Montessori’s principles.
Furniture should reflect nature. It should be naturally finished as much as possible, rather than painted or coloured. This will help create a calm, open atmosphere in the room. A child is heavily influenced by his or her environment for sensory development, so keep art and wall displays localised to particular areas.
Furniture should also be kept to a minimum, wherever possible. A feeling of openness in a room will encourage young children to communicate, to wander over and see what others are up to. And it goes without saying that furniture should be scaled to its young users’ sizes. That way a feeling of independence will grow, as children will be able to pull out chairs and reach shelves and cupboards without asking grown-ups for help.
Colour impacts a child’s mood: muted, nature-inspired greens, blues and creams are often found in nursery classrooms where sustained play is common. Bright oranges, reds and harsh strip lighting, on the other hand, are rarely found in such places. Splashes of colour ought to come from children’s art, toys and own clothes.
Finally, everything should have a place. Toys, art equipment and books should be easily accessible – and just as easy to clear away. Once more, this helps children to get into a helpful routine of play-then-tidy-up, eventually without an adult even needing to ask. Children will also feel that the room has been made for them; when they know where all their favourite things are, they feel more at home and more eager to initiate play sessions.
And don’t be afraid to add or remove items or furniture according to your class’s preferences. A new room layout can inspire new ways to play in children, so the occasional change-around can be a really positive thing. The flipside to this is that too much change too often could unsettle young children, so it’s a careful balance.
Need a detailed round up of the Montessori method? Check out this video on tes.co.uk.