We know that children have to construct understanding; we can’t give it to them. The task of the Montessori teacher is to prepare the environment so that the activities on the shelves beckon and inspire discovery.
LMS classrooms are replete with intriguingly displayed learning materials. In the Children’s House, the Pink Tower sits majestically, with each successive cube precisely centered upon its next largest neighbor; the Broad Stair invites little fingers to ascend and descend its regular steps; sequenced Knobbed Cylinders increase and decrease in diameter as they hide their heights within the sockets.
Montessori teachers learn precise ways to display these attractive materials in what American Montessori Society founder called the “optimal array.” They are also practiced in presenting these materials to highlight the central characteristic that the apparatus is designed to reveal. These lessons are brief, crisp and usually silent. Then the materials go back to the shelf, in their “optimal array,” ready for the real work to begin.
Some children repeat the teacher’s movements exactly, at least at first. Then they start to explore and experiment, and that is when they discover connections between materials and show that they are actually integrating the concepts that these materials are intended to impart.
As they get older, LMS students continue to explore and discover connections among materials and information. History materials relate to grammar and math materials; geography cards connect to biology studies. All the while, though, elementary teachers continue to display and present materials in “optimal arrays” so that the students’ reorganization can be an occasion for discovery.