Montessori Monday 1
Rolling a Rug
Children at tables, children standing at counters, children working on the floor…it seems like children can work anywhere they want in a Montessori classroom. To some extent, this is true. Children’s changing bodies and their need for free movement necessitate a classroom environment that lets them stand when they need to stand and sit when they need to sit and, even, lie down when they need to lie down. But it’s not a free-for-all. The Montessori Method includes structures to support children as they organize and manage their work, no matter where they may choose to do it. A perfect example of this is the classroom rule that children use floor mats for their work when they choose to work on the floor. Before retrieving a work from the shelf, children will first collect a mat from the mat basket and lay it out in the space where they intend to work, eventually carrying their work from the shelf their rug. Working on a rug protects the child’s work: other children learn the physical boundaries of the rug and learn to walk around it when they cross the classroom, making sure that the many pieces and components of a peer’s work aren’t stepped on or scattered as they move through the classroom. For the other children, this helps to encourage an awareness of other’s bodies and a willingness to change their own direction because of its potential impact on their peers. Walking around another peer’s rug reflects the expectation of grace and courtesy that the classroom is designed to instill.
The rug helps the working child in other ways as well. While it protects his or her work from disruption, it, equally importantly, creates a concrete cognitive space for the working child to direct his or her attention. Montessori is a method that makes concrete practically every skill we intend children to master, including the developing skill of attention and concentration. The rug establishes visual and physical boundaries to the area within which the child will work, allowing him or her to attend to a manageable area rather than the entire floor of the classroom. If you’ve ever asked your child to pick up a room filled with Lego pieces just to find that his or her persistence was quickly overwhelmed by the process, you’ll appreciate the importance of having a limited space within which to explore. The rug also provides a concrete space within which the concepts of the didactic materials will interact. In the layout of materials, this allows children to follow the specific sequence of presentations, many of which are designed to visually reinforce cognitive structures we intend to habitualize in children, like the progression of information from left to right and top to bottom that children will need to understand when they’re learning to read, or the cumulative relationship of the location of numerals to place value in mathematical operations. Without the orderly, manageable space protected by the edges of the rug, these relationships may be more difficult to absorb and the lessons more difficult to complete independently.
In the early days of the school year, you’ll notice teachers reminding children to get a rug before they begin their work on the floor. You may hear language like, “I’ll hold this for you while you get a mat,” or “I think you may have forgotten to put your mat away,” reminding children to prepare their work space and to put it away completely when they’re ready to move on to another activity. You may also see teachers giving precise lessons on how to walk around a rug, or reminding children to navigate around rugs in use as they move through the classroom. These routines are quickly adopted, though, with regular reinforcement and, before long, using the rugs for floor work will be as natural as pushing in their chairs at a table (and there’s a lesson for that, too!)
Catherine McTamaney, Ed.D.
Christopher Academy Alumna