Monday, November 29, 2010

Setting Up a Library in a Montessori Nursery

I'm trying to learn as much as I can about how to create a Montessori environment for an infant. Of course I'm not going to implement Montessori dogmatically or religiously, but I will try to apply the principles and practices that resonate with me.

I applied a couple different principles as I was organizing "Coconut's" library. First, I purchased only three baskets for all of his books. As the months and years progress, his collection will surely outgrow these three baskets, but we will store the excess books in his closet and rotate them out as needed. This practice of minimizing the materials on the shelf balances simplicity and orderliness with the child's need for new stimulation and challenge. In Montessori home environments, parents do the same thing with toys.

The baskets (which, incidentally, are DVD baskets from Target) will allow us to flip through the books to look at the covers, as opposed to searching for books by looking at their spines (which can be even more difficult with thin children's books). I have always preferred this method of book organization in my classrooms. It's also aligned with the Montessori principle of incorporating hands-on manipulation of objects whenever possible.

Categorization and order are a big part of Montessori materials and environments because Maria Montessori believed that order in the environment helps develop order in the mind. For this reason, I decided to divide the books into three simple categories: fiction, non-fiction, and public library books. Each basket tag is labeled with color-coded masking tape. I also put a small piece of masking tape on each book, which will allow "Coconut" to return his books to the proper basket. An added benefit is that this system will help cultivate his independence; he'll be able to take more responsibility for restoring his own environment, which is another important aspect of the Montessori approach. I decided to put the small piece of tape (which I cut with pinking shears) in the upper left hand corner, since we read from left to right, top to bottom (which is why we organize Montessori materials in sequence on the shelves from left to right and top to bottom).

Further, I purposefully put the books on a low shelf, which means "Coconut" will be able to access them as soon as he is walking. An important part of designing a Montessori environment is to put everything at the child's level as much as possible.

If you're interested in seeing some of the books in his collection so far, you can check out this post.

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Kelsey said...

ooo...I think I see Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day peeking out of a basket! Love that one.

I love the idea of book baskets and rotating books in and out of them. So many people have so much STUFF for their kids, it's overwhelming to me and must be for the kids.

Kate said...

I have what must seem like a stupid question for you...

I really appreciate the Montessori approach and the desire for order. In our house, we will have at least four languages (English, French, Hebrew and Arabic) and given my difficulty in leanring them as an adult, we want to get things started early.

That said, two of those alphabets read from right to left, rather than left to right. Would you order the books left to right since English will likely be their mother tongue? Or right to left since they'll absorb English everywhere else and will have to work for their Hebrew and English (with Mum and Dad/Ima and Abba, of course)?

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Kate! That's exactly the kind of detail-oriented questions that Montessorians would put a lot of thought into! Honestly, I don't think it makes a huge difference either way. In the classroom, all of our materials are sequenced because they follow a three-year curriculum. Those are the materials that we sequence from left to right and top to bottom. In the home, I won't be putting three years of materials on the shelf. Instead, I'll pretty much only be putting the materials he is able to use at the time. I had to make a decision about where to put the tape, so I went ahead and put it in the top left. Honestly, I don't see myself needing to do too much more with the left-to-right-top-to-bottom principle when it comes to organizing the home environment.

With that said, it's so awesome that you're going to introduce your child to four languages! Montessori believed (and other researchers have verified) that children are in a sensitive period for language acquisition when they are young. I simply cannot understand why so many schools wait until high school to start teaching foreign languages!

I wish you the best of luck with everything! Definitely let me know if you have more questions...

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