My seven year-old’s elementary classroom at Montessori in Redlands:
A couple of points to note about what Maria Montessori called “the prepared environment”:
No desks. The kids work on the floor, at low tables, in armchairs, wherever they feel comfortable. According to my exasperated son, the two stacked benches (right center, behind the bell table) are “chowkies” (a term unfamiliar to me; Indian English?), benches that they can carry to a quiet place in the classroom to work on.
Music. There’s a stereo in the back corner that’s usually on during the day, playing classical music. The classroom prominently features a table of bells and other instruments. The students spend a lot of time listening to, learning about, and playing music.
Supplies. The low three-shelf case in the foreground holds pencils, colored paper, and other supplies that the students use during the day. Everything is carefully arranged and visible without clutter. The idea is that the kids can get their own supplies to do their work without having to ask permission to use, say, a pair of scissors. (Even younger children, three or four years old, learn how to properly use scissors.)
Child-centric. Everything is at a child’s level; the furniture is scaled appropriately, the windows are set low so that the kids can look out; nothing is placed on high inaccessible shelves.
Lots of natural light from the big windows and clean, simple lines inside the building. Leon Armantrout, one of the founders of the school and the architect of the buildings, made very effective use of inexpensive materials; the exposed rafters and building mechanical equipment look good, I think.
No computers; not exactly true, since there is one (running Ubuntu) off in a corner not visible in this photo, but it’s a rarely used tool and not a focal point, which is as I think it should be.
Early childhood education, like any important topic, inspires partisan zealotry; I am firmly in the Montessori camp.