The room and the materials, the children and the teacher are all part of the experience. It should be organized and beautiful – a comfortable, engaging place for children and teachers
The layout and the furnishings, including the sinks and bathroom, are child size to allow even the smallest children to be independent – taking care of themselves and the room.
The materials and activities in the environment are designed so that, after an initial lesson, a child can choose to work alone. Many of the materials are self-correcting. If the graduated cylinders are not ordered correctly, there will be an empty space at the end. If the number rods are not counted accurately, the last rod and its number won’t match. Children can work out the problem on their own.
The materials are organized into categories: Practical Life, Sensorial, Art, Music, Geography, Number Work, Writing and Reading. Science and Nature activities are also available and vary during the course of the year.
Each class has children of mixed ages – from 2 years, 9 months to 6 years old. The new children can learn by watching older children, while older children can teach and be models for the younger children. The children will always be at different stages of maturity and composure; allowing everyone to experience the give and take of life in a diverse group. This also allows the children and the teacher to be together for at least three years. They not only get to know each other, but each child also gets to experience the cycle which will play out throughout their lives:
- being new and vulnerable but curious about the work and the other children.
- being comfortable with many activities, but still needing energy and support to continue with new work and to work out the details of social life.
- being experienced and confident enough to have used the full range of the materials and activities and to be a relaxed, skillful friend.
- being secure enough to start the cycle over again (with a little hand holding and encouragement).
The teacher, in addition to setting up the environment to be rich and engaging, must be observant. The teacher uses those observations to know which activities to present to individual children or small groups, to know when to interrupt, when to stand back, when to offer help, when to let mistakes play out, when to encourage, when to insist, when to help settle disagreements and when to let children settle disagreements themselves. Much of the teaching is done by showing rather than saying.