Rotating Materials: Themes, Seasons, and Magic

I had a called the other day from a darling teacher who was very uncertain about the online training she received from the North American Montessori Center (NAMC). She felt unprepared and confused about several points and was seeking clarity. I thought I would publish this note because she is not the first teacher to call me with similar questions and from a similar training situation. Let's hope many people can gain something from her courage in directing her questions to a Montessorian with a blogging problem!

One question she had was "What themes should I put out for each season?" She was wondering if she should do shells in the summer and leaves in the fall. Well, sure, if that is what is relevant to the children's lives but the main point is to follow the interests of the child and to keep the classroom alive with magic. Of course, she already knew that the children were more interested in certain things at certain times of the year because they connect with what goes on in their lives outside of school. So the first thing she needed to do was trust her natural instincts.

The next thing to do was get her rotating mojo on! Rather than doing a major classroom overhaul every season, here is an easier approach to rotating materials. 

  • Create a basic room setup that has a complete progression of ALL of the Montessori materials in a limited quantity. The teacher who phoned was wondering when she should put out her polishing work. I said, as soon as the children have had the preliminary exercises and preparatory practical life lessons to prepare them for it. Basically, you should always have the polishing activities out because you would almost always have someone in your class who is able to use them purposefully. You might want to change the objects available for polishing, though. That can renew interest in polishing for children who haven't done it in a while. So this is the principle that holds true throughout the prepared environment. Prepare all of your shelves to include all essential materials. Organize them in sequence and don't free the children to use them until they have received a presentation (remember that sometimes they have watched you give the presentation to their friends several times; they child who won't accept a lesson directly from you can get them indirectly via this route).  See our blog posts on Setting up Language and Sensorial and our downloads on preparing the environment for more information on room setup. Then, mix things up and keep the shelves alive by regularly changing up the parts that can be rotated.
  • Make a list of everything you can rotate. By rotate I mean swap out the contents of an activity but keep the same activity. For example, you don't want to have all of your 3-part cards out on the shelves all the'd need way too many shelves! Instead, have just 2 or 3 baskets/trays/cloth pouches that are always on the shelves exclusively for your 3-part cards. Every week, change the contents of one of the pouches. When you greet the children in the morning, pique their curiosity by saying, "There's something new in one of the 3-part card pouches,... I wonder if you can find it." They don't need a new lesson since they already have received a lesson on how to use 3-part cards and they have already (make sure you don't make me a liar here) received a lesson on the vocabulary included in the 3-part cards. With this framework in mind, here are some ideas for things you are likely to rotate in your room throughout the year:
    • Decorative objects for polishing
    • Fabrics for fabric matching
    • Objects for the progressive exercises (that means blindfolded sorting)
    • Contents of geography folders
    • Contents of the Mystery Bag (do this once-a-week)
    • Sound game objects
    • Vocabulary cards
    • Matching cards
    • Phonetic objects
    • Phonetic reading cards
    • 3-Part reading cards
    • Zoology 3-part cards
    • "Parts of" 3-part cards
    • Classified books
    • Library books
    • Definition cards
    • Art activities
    • Classical, framed pieces of art (just a few around the room...leave lots of white space; change about once-a-month if you can)
    • Food preparation activities (keep these practical life set-ups prepared and on-hand so that when a parent donates a bag of oranges, you are ready to go with orange peeling and orange juicing)
    • Children's clothes for folding
    • Seasonal practical life activities (e.g., removing seeds from a pumpkin and cooking them, removing seeds from a sunflower, shoveling snow, raking leaves, planting bulbs, etc.)
    • Botanical specimens
  • Keep the materials you rotate organized and easy for you to access (but out of the child's sight). This is why we package all of our card materials in those sturdy little reclosable bags; they fit into shoe boxes so you can store and organize them easily. 
  • Rotate something every day. Set a time that works for you each day to swap one or two things in your environment. On Mondays I would go to the library and get 10 new books for the reading corner. On other days, I'd let the children's activity guide what was swapped. If I really hoped Sarah would do some phonetic reading card work and she was utterly disinterested in the cards I had out, I'd swap those. If a garter snake came to visit unexpectedly for the day, I'd put out the reptiles cards.

Did you find this useful? Do you have more to add to this conversation? Please submit a comment so we can all benefit from your wisdom!

July 27, 2015 by Julia Volkman
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asha said:

very informative and systematic. thank you

Rita chakraborty

Rita chakraborty said:

Very informative.I love da idea

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