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Dear Maria: Structure

Is there any structure in a Montessori School?

At Rogers Park Montessori School, our teachers are fully trained in the Montessori Method. They know the value that structure and routine bring to children’s education. It is a common misperception that the Montessori environment is “unorganized” or “unstructured”, however, an Accredited Montessori School classroom is far from unstructured. Many adults attended a more traditional school, experienced a teacher behind a desk, students in rows, and the class doing the same thing at the same time. A first-time visitor to Rogers Park Montessori School may not see the underlying structure. Through observation, the quiet hum of students working alongside one another demonstrates an internal discipline we work hard to cultivate.

“We instill Dr. Montessori’s concept of Grace and Courtesy from the very beginning of preschool. It is the first thing presented each year, and is modeled continuously, “ comments Jenny Toledo, Children’s House Head Teacher. “Younger children replicate what their older peers are doing, and develop an intrinsic motivation to participate productively, rather than a participation based on a fear of rules of punishments.”

“Students hold themselves accountable to the highest standards. As teachers, we adults are here for the initial presentation of an individual work or group activity, but it is the children who maintain the environment,“ Jenny adds. “They realize that behaviors have natural consequences that are obvious but without guilt. A work may fall and spill if they are not caring for it the way they were shown. They realize this and spend time picking it up, just as they have seen modeled over and over again by their peers. Since the adult is out of the situation and no blame is given, or taken, students do not feel guilt, embarrassment, or shame.”

“The classroom is entirely prepared and directed, but in an unfamiliar way for some adults,” explains Julianna Smith, Elementary Head Teacher in the 6-9 year-old program. “Everything has a purpose and order. Materials are organized on shelves from left to right in order of sequence in the Montessori curriculum, from simple to more complex. Each classroom has its own rules, and each child has their own job. Material and lessons are presented in the same manner by teachers, who constantly and quietly note the works and progress of each student, and when they find a student has mastered that skill and is ready to move on, the teacher will gently guide them to new works.”

The students learn quickly and easily to rely on the structure of time as well. For some classrooms, when the teacher sings a particular song, it’s time to put away what they are working on and come to circle. Students join in the song as they proceed, and the teacher allows the song to be sung over and over until the last child, without pressure, has successfully returned a complex work to its place and order is retained in the classroom.

“Everything in the Montessori classroom works to build a set of expectations. We begin our students’ day with a short morning meeting to look at the day’s schedule, and a personal check-in with their teacher to plan their individual work time,” Julianna says. “At the end of work time, each student has a job, and those jobs return the classroom to its original state when they walked in at 8:30 this morning. One student may collect all the pencils, one may push in chairs, another may check the order of materials. This gives the students ownership over the prepared environment and instills a sense of order and structure adding to their successes.”

Students have flexibility to choose their work, explore creativity in their work, learn responsibility to work at their ability level, and use materials with care to accomplish tasks. This nurtures and expands their ability to manage their time, care for their environment, respect others, and choose meaningful work, which evolve into lifelong skills.

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