(A note from the author: This post is part of a series that addresses common misconceptions about Montessori theory in general, as well as Catholic Montessori theory in particular. Read the other posts here and here.)
Often parents first learn about Montessori through an Atrium being offered in their parish. Typically, the Atrium is presented as part of the CCD/Religious Education program. An Open House is held, where the parents walk through the dedicated space and view the hands-on religious materials which the children will use to learn about the Catholic Faith.
If under the guidance of a properly-trained catechist, over time these children slowly develop a certain peacefulness (called “normalization” in Montessori terminology) while working in the Atrium. Parents who come to observe the Atrium commonly remark, “My child is so different in the Atrium than at home!”
The Prepared Environment
There are two main reasons for this observable difference in behavior.
First, the Atrium is a carefully prepared environment for the children. All the materials found in the Atrium have a specific purpose and are to be used in a specific way. The trained catechist invites the children for a presentation on each material, to explain the purpose and demonstrate the proper usage. Then, the children are invited to use that material whenever available, indicated by being in its place on the shelf.
The expectations for behavior are very clear in an Atrium:
* You must receive a presentation before being allowed to use a material.
* You may use a material whenever it is available on the shelf.
* You may use it for as long as you like.
* You must return it to its place when finished, ready for the next child to use.
The Prepared Adult
Second, the catechist is trained on how to interact with the children. Properly structured catechist training programs will have a Montessori component, where the catechists learn the Montessori principles upon which the Atrium is based. With this knowledge, a catechist’s interactions with the children are rooted in a proper understanding of the children’s Plane of Development.
Over time, being treated according to their God-given nature, the children become more peaceful, more normalized, and this is what their parents notice.
Why So Different at Home?
It’s quite simple – most parents are unaware of their child’s physical and psychological needs, since they are unacquainted with the Planes of Development.
Most homes are arranged for the convenience of the parents, with little thought given to the needs of children. For instance, plates and cups are commonly kept in high cabinets above the countertops: completely out of the reach of small children. Thus, small children are totally dependent upon their parents to simply get water to drink. This conventional arrangement also negatively impacts small children’s psychological development, as they are striving for greater independence at this stage.
In contrast, a Montessori-influenced home environment keeps the plates and cups in a low cabinet within easy reach of the small children, who can independently help themselves to a drink when thirsty.
Bringing the two environments together
When parents gain a better understanding of Montessori principles, they learn how to set up their homes in a way that supports their children’s development. More importantly, they can raise their children in ways to bring about that natural peacefulness that God intends.