Montessori Materials: What are they?!

Last week, across the globe, Montessorians celebrated the life of Maria Montessori, who revolutionized the future of education. In honor of her work that we so deeply admire and treasure, we would like to share with you a deeper understanding of some of the material that is used in Montessori schools around the world. These unique materials and the training we have gone through as teachers make the Montessori method come alive at West Side Montessori!!! 

Maria Montessori 
Practical Life:
The practical life area is an integral part of our classroom. It provides the child with the means to learn everyday living skills which provide many benefits to the child, such as; order, concentration, coordination, and independence. The practical life area revolves around four areas; Care of Self, Care of the Environment, Grace and Courtesy, and Movement of Objects. 

Audrey is pouring water with a funnel. This is a higher level pouring work.  Audrey has to concentrate and have control of her body so as not to pour the water too fast. Notice, she is also pouring left to right. All Practical Life materials are presented left to right to prepare the child for reading later in their journey in a Children’s House Classroom.

Jacqueline is doing one of the favorite works in Poplar Room, pin pushing. Pin pushing is found all over the classroom, it strengthens the child's hand for writing and is a precursor for using scissors.  Children love to trace animals, shapes, or countries from our continent maps and pin push them out. 
Classroom pets help stimulate learning and provide the child with a sense of responsibility. In this picture, Natalie is helping to feed Dwight, one of our guinea pigs.  As children enter the classroom, they often check to see what the animals need for the day. Water? Food? Is the area around their habitat clean? They love to care for the birds, snail, and pigs that call the Poplar Room home. 


The sensorial area in a Montessori classroom focuses on lessons and activities that help bring order to the child's many senses. The lessons and activities provided in the sensorial area of the classroom help children clarify, classify, and understand the world around them. 

Jacob is working with the red knobless cylinders, which is one of four sets each varying in height, diameter, or both. He takes all of the cylinders out of the box and puts them in order according to the size of the cylinder's diameter (thickest to thinnest). He then begins forming the tower as pictured here. Jacob loves this work and chooses it often. This work is good for developing a child’s visual perception of dimension. It also provides experiences in comparison, grading, and seriation – indirect preparation for mathematics. 
Louise is working on the large rectangle box. She is matching black lines on triangles to create four-sided shapes. These constructionist boxes teach pre-geometry skills, showing how different planes figures with straight lines are composed of various triangles. Louise is learning names such as;  trapezoid, rhombus, parallelogram, as well as, square, rectangle, and triangle. 
Paige is working on the trinomial cube. In this work, blocks are coded by size and color to represent the equation of (a+b+c)3. This 3-dimensional puzzle teaches Paige to look for patterns and spatial relationships as she builds the cube. The lid of the box provides assistance to her, as it displays the pattern the blocks take on as the cube is built. Before using this cube, Paige has already mastered the binomial cube (a+b)2, which works in much the same way. 

Nayla is working with some of the geometric solids. These three-dimensional shapes help develop a child’s stereognostic sense, which is their ability to perceive and understand both the form and nature of objects through touch. By working with these materials, children become aware of how shapes form the basis for everyday objects. This knowledge provides the foundation for future work in geometry, which falls into the Mathematics curriculum for older Montessori students.


The Language Area permeates all areas of the Montessori classroom. The Montessori language materials isolate elements of language and offer 'keys' to the children in the exploration of language. It provides the child with many forms of language to help satisfy his desire to clearly communicate and more fully adapt to his culture. 

Everett is working with the sandpaper letters. The Sandpaper Letters are one of Maria Montessori's most brilliant materials. Tracing the letters gives children the foundation for beautiful penmanship. While working with the Sandpaper Letters, Everett is learning how the sound he hears is written. Montessori emphasized that writing comes first, then reading.
Later, by blending these sounds together, Everett will begin to spell, then read phonetic words without laborious effort which you see Christian doing here using the movable alphabet:  

The moveable alphabet is another brilliant Montessori material which recognizes that most children will be able to start spelling out words long before they have the fine motor skills to write them. Writing your own words with an alphabet that can be manipulated is a key part of the Montessori method of learning to read and write – it is thought of as the “bridge” between the two skills.

Once a child becomes successful with pre-writing focused practical life activities, has begun the process of learning letter sounds, and has shown the desire to write, it is appropriate to introduce writing. Here are a couple of works that introduce a child to writing. 

Callie is working with the sand tray. Callie spends a lot of time in the practical life and sensorial areas of the classroom strengthening the muscles in her hand and her pincer grasp. This work satisfies her inner desire to draw without having the frustration of trying to hold a pencil when her little hand isn’t ready to do so. Later, Callie will begin forming numbers and letters in the sand. 

Harrison is working with the metal insets. Harrison completes this work by holding a colored pencil to carefully trace shapes. He starts with tracing the frame and once developmentally ready he will trace the inset. This work helps a child develop the fine motor control needed to write small letters. Creating patterns and designs is a secondary goal, but also increases a child’s ability to manipulate a pencil! Harrison is tracing a rectangle in order to make flags of each country in Africa. Harrison has completed 17 flags already and is determined to do all of them!


The exercises in the math area offer the children the 'keys' that they will need to send them on the road to further exploration and maturation of the mathematical mind. 

One of the most popular and exciting parts of our math curriculum is our bead cabinet. It holds chains of beads in different lengths and colors and works on a whole host of different math skills. At its basic level, children are tasked with counting these beads, with chains as long as 1,000 units long. But these chains also work on skip counting and are designed to illustrate in concrete terms the concepts of both squaring and cubing of numbers. 

Gigi (left) is exploring the idea of squaring, as she bends each chain into a square shape. While Gigi is using the bead chains sensorially, Grant (right) is working on the cubing chain of seven as he counts the units in the chain, and marks every seventh bead with a marker that has the corresponding number printed on it. 
 Edward (left) and Carson (right) are working with the Montessori Golden Bead Materials, more commonly known as “The Bank.”

Students are able to use the bank materials once they have mastered the concepts of place value, and have solidified the connection between different places and their concrete partner:  single golden beads for ones, ten bars for tens, flat squares for hundreds, and cubes for thousands. They then use these materials along with numeral cards to compose numbers of increasing complexity. When children are able to successfully compose numbers into the thousands place, they can then use these materials to create and solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems.
Cultural Subjects: 
The Cultural curriculum refers to an integrated study that includes History, Biology, Geography, and Physical Science, as well as the Arts. Incorporating Cultural lessons into a student’s educational experience enables them to enrich their understanding of the world and their place in it.  

Connor is working with the Montessori Land and Water Forms. They Introduce the child to a concrete experience of common topographical features on the Earth, as a part of our larger curriculum in Geography and the Cultural Subjects. Connor expressed that he could not remember the names of the landforms and Natalie walked over to the shelf, retrieved a land and water form book, and taught him the names all by herself—another beautiful aspect of Montessori.
William has worked a lot with the Continent Map of the world. He is now taking his knowledge of the continents and learning about different animals that live on each continent. William matches the animals to the white control board as shown here and then transfers the animals to an enlarged continent map.  This work allows us to see a variety of animals from all over the world and helps to give the child insight into the bigger world around them. 
Arjan is painting the map of Europe. Starting with the map of the world and progressing through continents and then countries, the puzzle maps showcase the difference between land and water, and help to develop an appreciation for spatial awareness. Also, Maria Montessori placed each peg of the puzzle piece on the capital of each country...She was brilliant!!! 


We hope you enjoyed a little insight into the Montessori materials. These materials are what makes a Montessori classroom what it is today. It is crazy to think that children over 100 years ago were using the same materials. It just proves that Maria Montessori was one amazing woman whose legacy continues to thrive at West Side Montessori.

Written by the teachers of the Poplar Room: Amy Wagner and Torey Bonde