Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mats, Rugs and Carpets...Oh My!

In the Montessori classroom, mats are used to delineate work space. The mat concept reinforces Montessori's theory of "freedom within limits" and teaches children to respect other people's space. Some schools refer to them as rugs, others as carpets. At our school, we use the term "mats". During the first few days of school, the children are shown the proper way to roll a mat, carry a mat, and walk around a mat. We make a maze out of mats and try to walk around them without touching the mats with our feet. Then, we go over some of the classroom guidelines for mat usage:
  • Work either belongs on a table or a mat.

  • We roll up our mat when we are finished, thus completing the work cycle.

  • We sit on the carpet next to the mat so that the work is not interrupted.

  • We walk around our friends' mats, instead of hopping over, to avoid damaging the work.

Typically, children coming from large families embrace the idea of a work space because they are used to defending their work (or toys, or books, or clothes...) at home. It is a relief to them, knowing once their work is on a mat, no one will touch it. Of course, the first six weeks of the year are an adjustment and new children are gently reminded to walk around the mat. Older children are often overheard using the catch-phrase "please do not touch my work" with the younger ones. After a few weeks, they get the idea.

We use one type of mat in three different sizes. The largest mat (29" x 42") is most often used for maps and large floor puzzles. The medium-sized mat (24" x 36") is used for just about everything else. We use a small matching placemat for holding bead cabinet arrows or puzzle pieces. I don't care for the mats from Montessori Services because of the fringe on the sides. I, personally, find them distracting and I wind up finding fringe littered about the classroom throughout the day. The children like this one from Montessori-N-Such:

Eventually, I'd love to get the fancy mat holder too! For now, we've got ours rolled and propped up in a tall basket, which works just fine.

Some Montessori families choose to incorporate mats into their home life. I recommend this idea when the child has difficulty putting activities away after use. Some toys, like blocks and legos, tend to spread throughout the entire room. The mat creates a confined playspace for that particular activity, avoiding lost toys and a messy room. Also, when there are siblings who are constantly taking each other's toys, some mats and a few basic rules can create a peaceful playtime.

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