The Harmonious Classroom

Visitors to Boulder Montessori School are sometimes surprised to see preschool students independently engaged in an array of fascinating activities.

In bright and inviting multi-age classrooms, visitors observe children ages 2 ½ to 6 years old calmly at work throughout the classroom, sitting at tables or on rugs on the floor, intently focused on exploring uniquely crafted learning materials, quietly returning their project (or “work,” in Montessori terminology) to its proper place and choosing new materials, and collaborating in groups on projects. Supporting the self-directed activity of students is one of the key goals of Boulder Montessori School in providing a traditional Montessori education.

Teachers and teaching assistants in the classroom initially guide new students towards independence by engaging them in practical self-care skills. The clean, well-prepared classroom environment is carefully arranged to support children as they develop independence. For example, each child has the freedom to enjoy a snack in the classroom’s thoughtfully designed eating area when he is hungry, but setting the table and serving the food before eating – and cleaning up afterwards –  is an integral learning process. To make this educational exercise possible for small hands, dishes and glasses are left in a location easily accessible under a shelf, placed at a child’s height, which holds food. For washing up, tubs of water for soaping and rinsing are positioned nearby, as are aprons that keep children’s clothing dry. The furniture, dishes, utensils, and kitchen tools are all child-sized. Patience is developed as he waits for a place to open up at the snack table; he practices social skills and table manners as he eats with friends; fine motor coordination is refined as he fastidiously washes the breakable dishes and glass cups; and concentration, self-control, organization, and respect for the classroom environment are cultivated at every step.

Dressing and undressing, maintaining personal cleanliness and hygiene, and cleaning up a spill or mess are all accomplishments that are grasped in small steps. Each success adds to the child’s confidence and interest in gaining new skills. Tactics that help a child succeed include color-coding each part of an activity or “work” to keep them together more easily, placing everything needed for the activity together in a box or tray, and providing components that are correctly sized for children’s hands.

Clothes Washing
Clothes washing activity – red elements provide cues for children that these items belong together

Setting the Stage for Independent Learning

Teachers give lessons for a new activity or “work” by showing a child the whole process, from taking the “work” to a table or rug on the floor, demonstrating each step of the activity, and finally to cleaning up and returning the “work” to its place on the shelf. The lesson is given with a minimum of conversation so that the child’s attention can be focused on observing each sequential task. Lessons are chosen by the teacher to match the child’s ability to concentrate; therefore, early lessons are simpler and shorter.

As the child becomes proficient at an activity, teachers step back to leave the child free to select her “work” of choice, remaining in the background in case the student needs assistance. Moreover, children learn to be mindful of their classmates who may be waiting to enjoy that “work.” The students also participate in caring for the classroom environment by organizing and returning “works” to their proper place on the shelves while contributing to a respectful classroom community when they clean up after themselves and take responsibility for their own belongings.


Montessori materials are innovatively designed to enable the child to see and correct her mistakes without needing help. As often as possible, the activity itself has clues to let the child know she has made an error. An example is the cylinder block, which has cylinders that only fit in one hole. A leftover cylinder cues the child to try again to find the right matches. Problem solving in simple tasks of self-care and other beginning works like cylinder blocks prepares her for logic, problem solving, and decision-making in more advanced contexts.

On the Path to Independent Problem-Solving

In Boulder Montessori School classrooms students are not only presented with opportunities for problem solving through academic learning and the use of Montessori materials, but often in social contexts with their peers. To facilitate harmony in the class, the teacher presents brief lessons in good manners and ways to treat each other with kindness. Students then apply the skills they have practiced in these lessons to classroom social situations, such as, wanting to do an activity that someone else is using or disturbing a friend who is busy.

One frequent activity for social learning is “News” time when children gather to talk about a favorite item from home. The teacher supports each child in his confidence to speak to a group and patience giving other children turns talking. Handling a friend’s treasured item with care helps foster his awareness of other students’ needs and feelings.

Conversation Skills
Learning conversational skills at “News” time

These and other lessons in courtesy become guidelines for behavior. In the mixed ages of each classroom, the older students also act as teachers to younger children. They model the pro-social behaviors they have learned in their daily interactions with each other. As they grow, each student develops empathy as he notices children who need help with a zipper or sounding out a word. At a pace unique to each child, every positive interaction builds self-confidence and the potential for future leadership.

Future posts this month will discuss how children in Boulder Montessori School’s classrooms develop social connections with others and how they explore creative thinking and expression.

-Written by Patty West; edited by Dana L.

-Photos by Oliver McBryan

Boulder Montessori School is a nonprofit, nondenominational independent school founded in 1973 offering outstanding toddler, preschool, and summer programs serving children 18 months to six years old. One of the leading and longest-serving Montessori preschools in Boulder, it is nationally accredited by the American Montessori Society (AMS) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Boulder Montessori School’s dedicated, highly qualified teachers are all American Montessori Society (AMS) or Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) certified.

Applications are accepted year-round, a variety of scheduling options and lunch from the on-site kitchen are offered, and scholarships and full-day summer programs are available.

Address: 3300 Redstone Rd.
Boulder, CO 80305


Phone: (303) 494-5814