Growing Minds and Hearts Community Montessori Innovation Project

A Montessori classroom is a "prepared environment": an uncluttered, well-ordered space that maximizes student independence and facilitates student-led, inquiry-based, collaborative exploration and learning. This is the story of how we used a BVSD Innovation Grant to transform our space to free our students' potential to learn.

Where we started

Community Montessori is located in a building with many wonderful features: we have a great location with a beautiful view of the Flatirons, a huge and shady play field, and, important to a Montessori school, direct access to outdoor environments for every classroom.

But in a solid brick building built in 1949, we were feeling a real space crunch. We know that for students to grow, they need an environment that promotes mindfulness and allows for movement, and for that they need space and order. Space for independent and collaborative work, order to support independent access of the rich variety of materials. At 867square feet, our classrooms are at least 150 square feet smaller than what is recommended for a Montessori environment.

Our challenges played out in several ways:

Students develop independence in work and time management by having direct access to their materials. But that was in tension with the need for more room to work and move.

Even with a layout that balanced floor space and material access, mismatched, plastic furniture created a lack of harmony and peacefulness in the environment

Even natural elements, like plants and basketry, struggled to bring harmony among the random, inappropriate furniture in a too small space.

Our older students had desks to help manage material access, but you can see that they craved alternate ways to move and work.

Plan A

Our planning team of school staff, architects, district staff and community members spent the better part of last year developing a plan to literally knock down walls and expand our Upper Elementary (grades 4 and 5) classrooms to half again their current size, bringing them much closer to the recommended size.

Unfortunately, budget reality stepped in, and the only thing demolished was that plan.

Plan B

We went back to work focussing on our plans to create more beauty and order with well-selected furniture. But as we kept thinking of our children's needs for space and movement, we realized we could create more functional space by making that a priority in choosing seating and storage options.

Peaceful Aesthetic

The aesthetic now is one of natural material, punctuated with the bright colors natural to children's work and materials, such as plants and globes.

Movement and Space

By not thinking of table seating as the default (and floor and stand-up seating as mere add-ons), floor space opens up for movement, collaboration and independent work.

The consistent (and beautiful!) tables can easily be reconfigured to create bigger or smaller work areas as needed, so space isn't taken up with tables that only serve one purpose.

While we have a general aesthetic of natural wood, we have sprinkled that with some other active seating choices to maximize student choice in meeting their movement needs.

Appropriate storage

As students manage their time and work schedules, academic materials are kept where students can easily and independently access them.

A generous use of closed wall cabinets allows us to rotate academic materials so that precious floor space is not wasted on long-term storage.

What do the kids think?

To see how the redisgn is working, we took surveys of both students and staff. Students in grades 1-5 were asked to reflect on their classrooms and their learning. Here is a snapshot of what they said:

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