MPA Blog

What Does the Best Learning Environment Look Like?

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If you've ever visited preschools in the hope of choosing the best environment for your child, you will have seen a multitude of options.  But which one is best?  And how are you supposed to know for sure?  

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Looking at the two photos above, most parents are familiar with the second one, which might resemble the preschool classroom of their own childhood.  It's filled with hanging art, colorful bulletin boards, dinosaurs, fun activities, and many bright colors.  

At first glance the second photo looks much more child centered, while the first photo looks very austere. But looks can be deceiving.  Which classroom design leads to greater educational gains?  And in which classroom are children happiest?

Recent research has shown children will likely be more distracted in the second classroom versus the first.  Why?  How well do you concentrate on complex tasks when loud music is playing? Just as auditory noise can be very difficult for adults, visual noise can cause problems for young children.  Visual noise is not something most adults think about, because most of us are adept at screening it out. But young children are not.  Their first years are spent learning to concentrate with competing images all around them.   

Dr. Maria Montessori recognized this.  Her schools were called "children's houses,"  for they resembled homes with furniture, plants, along with an attractive painting or two.  We don't often see homes with bulletin boards, hanging art, or other traditional school fare.  Children were encouraged to think of their classroom as their home away from home.  This helped children feel comfortable, at ease, and able to concentrate more readily.

Meanwhile,  the various tasks children worked on were distilled down to their essence. Unnecessary colors, images, or other bells and whistles often believed necessary to entice children were eliminated.  Instead, Dr. Montessori created beautiful materials, crafted from the finest wood and designs, believing correctly that those materials would call to the children and create interest.  She felt any part of a curriculum not essential to a concept was noise that a child would be forced to wade though.  She observed that a teacher's job was to help a child make sense of a complex society, and this started with the incremental assimilation of the world's information.  The importance of visual decluttering as an aid to learning is just one of the many discoveries attributed to Montessori.  

So, do children really love working in a Montessori classroom, which the first photo pictures?  The answer is an emphatic yes., although happiness is a difficult quality to measure.  Your own child will always remain the best proof.  But if history is of any assistance, there are now millions of families who have experienced Montessori education first hand,  who can verify that their children indeed love going to school.  

As the New Year rings in, be sure to tell your friends about Montessori, or take a tour.  Open admissions for children not already enrolled at Montessori Private Academy begin February 1st!    

New York Times Article

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