Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Our Montessori Schoolroom

As my mom says, "There is absolutely nothing about homeschooling that is not personal." It's one of the wonderful things about homeschooling - every family's experience is unique, and that includes the space where they homeschool.

Years before I knew we would be doing it ourselves, one of my favorite things to check out on any homeschooler's blog - Montessori or not - was their schoolroom.  I loved seeing how people organize their space to make it work for their family, and I picked up a lot of ideas along the way.  I have plenty of ideas for changes in our schoolroom over the summer, but overall, it works for us this year!

I feel like I should point out the obvious before going any further - not every homeschool family uses a dedicated schoolroom.  Depending on their style or curriculum, it might be a complete waste of space!  I knew, though, that when we committed to a Montessori-style homeschool, we needed one for my personal sanity, if for no other reason.  There are a lot of materials involved, and I don't do well with clutter and chaos.

The guest bedroom of our house made the most sense for our schoolroom location (If you have ever dreamed of spending the night at school, come for a visit!), and the basic set up was fairly simple.  My husband put together Ikea bookshelves, and I arranged them into different areas within the room.

Although there are some materials that stay available year-around, I generally change the majority of the work on the shelves each month.  In a typical Montessori classroom, work is organized from left to right and top to bottom by difficulty, and I try to follow that when I prepare the shelves for E and W.  After some trial and a lot of error at the beginning of this school year, I realized that C needed his own area of the classroom, which you will see below.

The shape of the room makes it impossible to get a view of the room as a whole, so I've broken it down into the different areas.  I've tried to give a little information on the Montessori curriculum, as well, for those who are interested.  

I will start with my absolute favorite area of any schoolroom - where the math materials are!  Montessori math materials are a dream.  I love how clearly they illustrate math concepts for children, allowing them to use multiple senses for learning, and how cleverly they were designed for continuity and growth in understanding.    

C's artwork hangs above our math shelves.

Like every other area of the classroom, the boys can choose any work on the shelves, and the work covers a variety of different topics.  This month, in math, there are options to work with place value, number sense, adding basic facts, adding and subtracting with exchanging, multiplication, squared numbers, Roman numerals, money, and fractions.

I have set up the math area so that the first shelves are for W's work and the middle and bottom shelves are for E's work, although there are a couple materials on those shelves they both use.  The top of the cases have materials either of them can choose to work with.  I have several worksheets on the shelves right now, as well.  Some of those are control cards for checking work, some are for recording work done with specific materials on the shelves, and a few are honest-to-goodness worksheets I downloaded from Learning Station, Worksheet Fun, or my home state's public education department (they have some great enrichment materials).  When C moves into more traditional Montessori math materials next year, I will likely put the worksheet choices and control cards into folders to make room for more materials on the shelves.

Beside the math materials is our white board.  I have had these magnetic shapes from our Imaginets set on the board for a couple months, and all three boys love to make designs with them.  This may be one of the only days the shapes were just in a jumble!  C also uses them to sort by shape and sort by color.

Our language and spatial/geometric areas are opposite our math area.

E's puffin from our studies of the North American polar region hangs above our language and geometry shelves.
On top of the shelves, I have the pink (CVC words), blue (consonant blends and short vowels), and green (digraphs, including long vowels) Montessori phonic reading materials in hardware storage organizers I picked up at Lowe's.  I added a "yellow" set to the organizer, as well, that has beginning sounds and uppercase and lowercase matching, which C will use when he is ready.  Also on the top of the case are W's Bob Book readers, writing planning worksheets, Explode the Code phonics workbooks for both of my older boys, and a Beyond the Code reading comprehension workbook for E.

On the left side, inside the bookshelves, the top shelf has sight words for W and the moveable alphabet that both he and E use.  The materials on the bottom two shelves are for E.  Most of his Montessori language curriculum focuses on word study (synonyms, homophones, etc.) and grammar, so we make a lot of trips to the library to supplement with great reading options.

We haven't used a spelling curriculum this year, but I will probably add that for E next year.  As it is, we use the Montessori phonics work for spelling practice.

I don't use a separate handwriting curriculum.  W has learned letter formation at preschool and practices writing words in his language work or when he draws.  In the elementary Montessori curriculum, the teacher prints or writes out cards with interesting, factual information for the child to practice handwriting, and this is what I had planned to do with E this year.  Instead, he has completely taken over his own handwriting practice and is constantly finding bits in books or from our biome study cards that he wants to copy down.  It has worked out great for both of us!

The Montessori writing curriculum is based on command or idea cards as prompts, but I have not offered that on the shelves this year.  Instead, I typically suggest one creative writing prompt a month that ties into our biome studies or a holiday.  They may choose to work on at any time during the month, but it does have to be done.  We have all learned a lot by doing our writing this way, but I think it would be nice for them to practice creative writing without having everything turned into a "final product," so I will likely add some writing command cards to the shelves next year.   

The materials for investigating spacial/geometric concepts are on the right side of the case.  I love how these hands-on materials make more complicated concepts simple.  There are a variety of 2-D and 3-D shapes available as well as materials to make different types of shapes, lines, and angles.

Will's lynx from our studies of the North American polar region hangs above our science and social studies shelves.

Our science and social studies shelves are beside our language shelves.  We use the Waseca North America Biome curriculum this year (in addition to some of the traditional Montessori science and social studies work), and the boys are loving it.  It covers the geography, earth science, zoology, and botany of the eight different biome regions that exist in North America.  The shelves look a bit bare right now, but we'll also be making landforms and volcanoes this month, either in our kitchen or (fingers crossed) on the back porch.  As you can tell from the books on top of the shelves, we are also studying constellations.  This was so popular last month, we've decided to spend a bit more time on it.  Reading a clock is considered part of the Montessori social studies curriculum, so I keep that work on these shelves, too.

Our map cabinet is to the left of the science shelves and houses our map puzzles of the world, the continents, and the United States.  The control maps are in the bottom of the cabinet.  I have been placing a different tray from the geometric cabinet on top of the map cabinet each month, just because we have space for it there.  (I keep the geometric cabinet with the remaining trays in the kitchen with markers, colored pencils, and scissors for art.)  The older boys have been through all 6 trays already this year, so I  put the rectangle tray out for C this month.  I am hoping to get another bookshelf this summer and will put the tray on the new case with spacial/geometric materials, then use both sides of the larger bookcase for language materials next year.

The black box beside the map cabinet is W's work box.  Each of the older boys have work boxes where they put finished written work with the day's date.  E has folders for subject area, but W puts all of his work together.  Every two months we go through the boxes and put together a folder for the boys to show their work to their daddy.

A lot of younger children do their Montessori work on the floor, but we have a small work table that E likes to use when he is writing and a larger desk (pictured in the photo at the top of this post) that has also paper and pencil supplies.  The basket holds our work rugs.  The work rugs define space on the floor and help children keep their work organized.

C's shelves hold different "work" for him to choose.  I change his materials out much more often than I do the older boys, keeping things he's interested in and replacing ones he doesn't use.  In comparison with the older boys, most of C's work is homemade or cobbled together from different educational toys we have.  The exception to this are the Montessori cylinder blocks on top of his shelves.  Some mornings C will choose three or four different activities from his shelves or make a job for himself out of his brothers'  work.  Others, he brings in a bucket of cars and plays.  We also have plenty of mornings that I end up turning on PBS Kids for him downstairs.  I just try to follow his lead and keep my own sanity at the same time!

In time, I will turn this into our practical life area.  This year most of the older boys' practical life activities are part of our regular day at home, so I didn't feel we needed an area in our schoolroom.  Next year, though, C will likely be very interested in practical life work, and this will be a good spot for it.

Both of the older boys have done a lot of calendar work in preschool, so our calendar isn't very fancy.  I print a current monthly calendar to keep on the closet doors for important events, the phases of the moon, and so E can find the day's date to write on his work.

I swear this closet feels more organized than it looks in this picture!  The top shelf on the left side holds science materials and our biome curriculum, the second shelf has math materials, the third has language materials, the fourth has sensory and geometric materials, and the bottom shelf is a hodge podge of materials I put on C's shelves.  On the right side, the top shelf holds some of our craft materials, the second shelf holds my Montessori albums/manuals and pacing guides, and the shelving system below holds a lot of different types of materials - some traditional Montessori and some not - that C uses this year or will be ready for next year.

Like I mentioned above, our schoolroom is also our guest bedroom.  This means that in the middle of the bookshelves and workspace is a queen size bed.  I have thought about taking it out to give us more space, but it's nice to have a bed for family who stay overnight.  It's also turned into the perfect spot for some cozy reading.   

Our 10 year old poodle loves Flat Stanley, too. 
Several times a week, all the boys end up cuddled together with a book or two (and maybe a car or iPad, too), usually with our dog right beside them.  Those moments are some of my favorites.

I hope you have enjoyed looking around our schoolroom as much as I've enjoyed checking out other homeschoolers' space over the years!  As you can probably tell, it's one of my favorite places in our home.  If you want to know more about anything you've seen, leave a comment or send me a message. I'm happy to share!


  1. Feeling very shamed right now as I look at the lack of organization in our classroom. Not sure how it gets to this point so was at one time pretty organized. Small space used for many things I guess. Love your have motivated me to straighten up! ~Sarah C.