Montessori work mats are a common feature in Montessori classrooms and Montessori homes all over the world. What are they, though? What purpose do work mats serve in Montessori environments?
Let's find out.
What is a work mat in Montessori?
Work mats in Montessori are used for just that; a child's work.
Before removing material from the shelves for an activity, children are asked to lay a mat on the floor where the activity will take place.
Work mats are typically neutral in color, so as to not detract attention from the materials, and are made from natural fibers; usually cotton or wool. Bamboo mats are sometimes used, as well.
There are typically two sizes of work mats in a Montessori environment.
For most activities, a small mat is used. These typically measure 24 x 36 inches.
For activities that require more space, such as math activities, the larger size of mats is used. The usual measurement of the larger work mats is 28 x 42 inches.
The work mats are often stored in a basket or on a rack that is accessible to the children.
What is the purpose of work mats?
Montessori work mats delineate a child's workspace. This means that the work mats “section off” the area in which a child's activity will take place.
The mats are an integral part of Montessori activities. When a child carries their mat to the floor and lays it out, it signifies the beginning of the activity.
When the child rolls the mat back up and returns it to the basket or rack, the activity has officially ended.
The mats also serve as a preparation for reading and writing.
Children are shown to place the materials on the mats from left to right and top to bottom, the same way they will read and write in the future.
Work mats also teach children to respect each other's space and each other's work. Children learn to walk softly around the work areas of their classmates.
Likewise, they feel respected when their own work area is not trampled on.
There are times when children cannot complete their work in one sitting.
Having their work on a mat lets them keep their place in the activity while alerting their classmates to be careful not to disturb the material.
In addition to the purposes stated above, mats also provide a clean area for the materials on the floor, as the floor is often where children in the primary years do much of their work.
Activities with the mat
- Unrolling and rolling the mat
- Walking around the mat
- Practicing sitting beside the mat (and not on it, as children are often inclined to do at first)
- Waling around and between multiple mats
Working with mats is one of the first things children are introduced to when they first enter Montessori school.
Learning how to use mats is an introduction to following steps, as well as an early control of movement activity.
Young children just entering a new and sometimes intimidating learning environment are often excited with these preliminary activities.
The Montessori work mats allow children to experience the confidence that comes with successfully mastering a task early on.
This success and confidence help give them the desire to become active members of their classroom communities.
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