by Erin Campbell, PhD
This final article examines the concept of order – order in environment and mind. Montessori classrooms are orderly and organized in terms of spatial layout, and also in
terms of where objects are located on the shelves. In addition, each kind of work has its own organization – a specific set of steps to go through to work with any Montessori material. Furthermore, there is order across the curriculum. Each lesson and material was designed with all topics in mind, across the ages of the children. Yet, there is a sense in which Montessori education is disorderly in that there is no set daily schedule,
allowing for a degree of choice and control. (Freedom of choice was discussed in a previous article.)
Research suggests that this blend of order and freedom of choice is optimal for children’s development. Results from one study found that predictable family routines (i.e. dinnertime, bedtime, weekends, etc.) were related to a child’s overall academic achievement. Moreover, routines such as dinnertime often involve specific steps such as setting the table, sitting down, serving the food, discussing the day, etc. These routines are analogous to routines children go through when working with the Montessori materials. This orderliness and routine in environment has been shown to enhance not only academic achievement, but self-regulation and other social behaviors. On the other hand, studies have found that less organized environments are associated with negative outcomes such as poor cognitive competence and less adequate language.
Montessori teachers organize their classrooms in a logical way – each subject area is in a designated part of the classroom. Thus, a 3-6 classroom will have areas for Practical Life, Sensorial Materials, Math, Geography, Language, etc. Elementary classrooms also have distinct areas for Science, Language, Geography, Math, etc. Teachers rotate what is available based on where children are in the sequences of materials and what interests them. This physical order is also apparent in the materials. Teachers present the materials methodically and the materials are kept orderly. As the child works with a specific material, she will find all the pieces present, and nothing will be broken or missing. Thus, she can carry out the activity uninterrupted in an orderly manner. Studies of human memory have shown that when information is presented in an organized way, instead of randomly, people learn it better.
The order across the materials in the curriculum is evident as the same materials repeat the same patterns and colors at higher levels and across classrooms, leading to a depth of order that is extraordinary. For example, in the math curriculum, the color green is used to represent units, blue represents tens, and red represents hundreds. This continuity is invaluable as children gain an understanding of place value in the many different mathematical operations.
In summary, Montessori education is very ordered, from classroom layout to the manipulation of each material, to the coherent organization of the curriculum. Research
suggests that order in the environment positively impacts order in the mind. As Paula Polk Lillard explains, “The underlying structure and order of the universe must be
reflected in the classroom if the child is to internalize it, and thus build his own mental order and intelligence. Through this internalized order, the child learns to trust his environment and his power to interact with it in a positive way…”