Montessori presentation of activities – does it really matter?

If you ever have the chance to observe a Montessori environment you will see that there is a lot of effort made in the presentation of activities. The rooms are neat and orderly and you will see work mats, trays and baskets are integral in assisting in presentation of activities to children. Why do we do this and is it important?

Montessori theory holds that a child’s most sensitive period for order is between 18-24 months. Montessori classrooms and homes try to appeal to this sense of order and to the child’s innate appreciation for beautiful things by presenting activities in the most beautiful and neat way possible. Neat shelving holds select activities (possibly life activities such pouring, scooping, cleaning, sweeping) and apparatus (such as cylinders, the pink tower, puzzles) and are directed by the child’s developmental needs and interests at their age ranges (Montessori classrooms have different aged children and at home you might have more than one child). These are presented at their height to make it as accessible as possible so that the child can reach for them and put them away on their own (independence). The ordered presentation of the materials forms one of the key principles of the prepared environment that is so important in facilitating learning.

At the moment Joshua’s interest has turned towards arts and crafts, including painting, drawing and pasting. A number of months ago I presented art activities and while he derived some enjoyment his primary interests at the time lay elsewhere. I believe his current interest has grown from a recent fascination with colours, and a natural extension of this has been to draw and explore mixing paint colours. So how have I gone about both supporting this interest and presenting this activity to him? This was the process I went through:

  1. Buy large art paper, crayons, paints, brushes and bowls from local shops. Some interest is taken in the paints with a few hand paintings made but then rejection of painting activities presented. Paint materials put away.
  2. Try introducing crayons and paper. A few dots and lines made. Paper and crayons made available on work table. Materials abandoned for extended period of time so I assume no interest and put these away. Assuming at this point that Joshua is not interested in art. Period.
  3. Go to toddler group. Notice that the setup is different and Joshua sees other children doing artwork. Interest is sparked and suddenly I cannot keep him away from the painting easel! Will not put on smock there but paints madly until paint goes on pants. Go home and present paints and paper on his easel at home in similar fashion to toddler group and also invest in some paint pots. Cannot stop Joshua painting but he still will not put on smock.
  4. Go to toddler group. Joshua sees crayons and paper presented in a tray. Interest is piqued. Joshua carries tray to table and uses crayons and pencils to draw until all the paper is gone and I have to get more. I am surprised as previously I had not tried pencils but Joshua draws so much and with such vigour that a little friend of his at the group comes over to try his own hand at drawing too.
  5. Get on internet and research crayons and pencils. I decided to invest in some good quality crayon and pencil supplies at this point as the crayons that were initially presented were not great and I notice that Joshua is not making much of a mark with them which discourages him. Present these to Joshua on a tray and present pencils and crayons in accessible basket and jar. Success!

Drawing with crayons

Reaching for crayons

So is presentation important? Yes!

Lessons learned:

  1. Keep the presentation simple.
    Just a few small baskets, trays and a little mat is enough for presenting most activities that you wish to encourage your child to work with. I have bought some cheap small baskets from local places here in Australia such as Ikea, Target and Kmart. These are neat as well as thrifty. Also I have seen presentation of materials in jars and boxes and for a younger child this may prove frustrating to access or distracting so detracts from the purpose of the activity. Just a basket and tray is usually sufficient and accessible. If you wish to invest in some lovely presentation materials I love the ones from Montessori Child, they have a beautiful wooden tray with handles, round basket with handles and first basket that are a worthy investment. A more economical option is the white tray which we have to present activities on too.
  2. Don’t be discouraged if your child does not take to an activity straight away.
    You cannot know if your child will be interested in something or not unless you make it available. I was initially discouraged as it seemed Joshua was not interested in arts however on investing in quality materials and changing the presentation – easy and doable at home – it has encouraged Joshua try new things. If there is still no interest after 3 times presented then I put the materials away and try again in another month. At 20 months old this is a busy time for Joshua and we have respected his areas of interest and tried to provide materials to support these.
  3. Try to provide the best materials possible.
    Initially the crayons I provided had a harder composition which requires a high hand and wrist strength to produce a visible mark on the paper, which can be difficult for younger children. Since investing in some better quality crayons I have observed an increased engagement in the activity which has improved his concentration level. It is well worth investigating online to see what materials are available. We currently use Stockmar stick crayons and Lyra triangular pencils as these came highly recommended. The triangular pencils encourage a good grip for early writers and were obtained from a local shop. There are also Stockmar crayon blocks that are available which are wonderful for getting younger children to grip and draw but we chose to go with the sticks as I am watching Joshua’s developing pencil grip to see how it is progressing. There are various stockists for these materials and depending where you live you might need to source them online. Dragonfly Toys is a wonderful stockist if you are in Australia.
  4. Try to model the use of the materials to your child and enjoy time together creating art!

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5 thoughts on “Montessori presentation of activities – does it really matter?

  1. Great post Irene – I think presentation is everything! Sixtine will say “wow” and run to an activity when it is presented to her. If it is orderly, and pleasant to the eyes, she will use it more carefully than if it is just thrown out on the table! I was telling Beth (another Montessori Mama Blogger) that I had been wanting to buy Stockmar material for Sixtine for a while and still haven’t!

    • It’s well worth investing in beautiful materials and I highly recommend Stockmar! My husband even got excited when he tried the crayon himself. I definitely found presentation invites the child to play and he loves going to his little work table after breakfast each day, sitting down and creating something quietly while I clean up. Glad you enjoyed the post, watch for my next post, I think Sixtine will love it too if she hasn’t tried it out already!

  2. You bet it matters! I have used stockmar in the classroom, but I also have yet to use a set at home. I have these old oil pastels, though, that I’ve had out on my art shelf. They produce vibrant colors on the page and have a nice “drag” on the paper when you draw. My youngest has always gone exclusively for those rather than the regular crayons, so I’m guessing quality really does make a difference! Pinning & sharing this. Wonderful post.

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