A therapist or a parent walks into a Montessori classroom and asks her child to pick a center to start in. The child looks a little confused. The Montessori directress comes over and gently says, “We don’t call them centers. We call them areas. That may be why he is confused.” She then directs the therapist or parent to ask the child which work he wold like to do, or directs him to a particular area. So, what is the difference between a “learning center” and a “Montessori work area?”
Characteristics of learning centers
Centers are found in many “typical” preschool and kindergarten classrooms. They tend to have the following characteristics:
* Centers are often designed for use by one child or a few children at a time.
* Children have a limited time to work before needing to move on to the next one.
* Children are required to move from center to center, hitting all of them, within a day or other prescribed time frame.
* Activity options are limited to just a few, with a small range of difficulty.
* Centers tend to be based on a given theme and dynamic in nature. When the theme changes, so do the activities. Themes often follow the teacher’s agenda or curriculum demands.
* Works in the centers are done in that particular area.
Characteristics of Montessori areas
Montessori areas encompass the entire classroom. While their characteristics are similar, they are markedly different.
* Montessori areas are open to the entire classroom at all times.
* Children can work on an activity as many times as they wish, for as long as they want.
* Children are encouraged to make their way around the entire classroom over the course of a week. However, they are not pushed to hit them all according to a schedule. (This can change once children hit the elementary years.)
* Activities in each area are designed to accommodate all ages and all ability levels in the classroom. They are sequenced in order of difficulty.
* Works tend to be static, staying the same throughout the year. Some thematic activities may infiltrate the areas. Science and social studies are designed to change. As long as there is interest in an activity, it will stay on the shelf. But if children are showing a lack of interest in something, it is usually removed and replaced with something different. Or, it may be re-presented to a child or small group, perhaps with extensions of its original lesson, to renew interest in it.
* Works can be taken pretty much anywhere in the classroom, unless they have certain parameters. For example, water and food works may be required to be done on a hard surface floor, instead of carpeting.
The difference between learning centers and Montessori work areas fundamentally reflect the differences in educational philosophy. The terminology, while on the surface representing the same ideas, should actually be used appropriately to avoid confusion.