“Order is one of the needs of life which, when it is satisfied, produces a real happiness.”
One of my favorite things of the first weeks in our Montessori classroom is the clear establishment of order. I think the idea that external order brings about internal order is by now well accepted and with all the Mary Kondo-ing that happens in my own home, I know as an adult how well I feel when my house is in good order. I hope that for the children coming to our environment it would feel the same.
The children of this age group are primed to respond to order. They crave routine, consistency, repetition, and being shown how to do things in a clear and organized way. They don't like surprise expectations, so we walk them slowly and carefully through the path that satisfies that need.
We start the year by stripping the shelves clear of anything unnecessary for the new children who arrive a full week before returning children. Parents of the new children are surprised at how little is available on the shelves these first days. Few things available makes it easier for the new children see what is available, where to put it away, and avoids the difficulty of having to choose from too much or something that you may not be ready for yet.
Our orientation week is structured simply and the same routine is followed each day. Our short day schedule is as follows:
(Play being used interchangeably for the word "Work").
We focus on establishing relationships between the children and the adults, mentioning each other's name aloud often and facilitating collaborations among the children from the very beginning.
We give a plethora of initial grace and courtesy lessons. Each lesson demonstrated purposefully by the adult, practiced by a handful of children (repetition for the others to watch), and then hopefully acted out in real time in the classroom.
We show things like:
How to enter the classroom
How to wash your hands
How to use the bathroom
How to work at a table
How to work at a rug
How to roll and unroll rugs
How to walk around a rug
How to set up and clean up snack
How to set up and clean up lunch
How to observe a friend working
Aside from these lessons, I am watching for what else is needed to establish the social harmony and independence that will allow the new children to function well once the larger group returns. Whatever is missing becomes the curriculum for the next day.
Many of the materials available are basic exercises for developing independence in the classroom: Using a dustpan, Using a sponge, Using a mop, Using a broom, Spooning, Pouring, Dressing frames. Other materials are transitional toys to support the new children's ability to sustain concentration while choosing their own work for 2 hours (the length of their work period) such as Lego, building blocks, puzzles, and gives me time to observe and respond to the needs of the new children as I learn a little about who they are and what they can do.
The days go by smoothly, safely, predictably with an order that feels supported by the environment around us.