If you are involved in the Montessori world, you have likely heard of Montessori work mats. But what are they, and how do they work?
A Montessori work mat is used to help children sit in one place, but also have the freedom to work or play on the floor. They take the place of desks as they act as a bit of a floor-desk to help the child learn where they feel most comfortable.
There are very good reasons to use a Montessori work mat or rug in your child’s educational environment. They’ve been time-tested and child-approved! You may find that you need your own work mat when you see how well it works for your child.
What is a Montessori Work Mat?
A Montessori work mat is a special place for a child to have guided learning and play. The work mats are used to organize and collect objects into a space where the child can be free to play and learn. It helps them focus on just a few things and gives them ownership of what is in their workspace. (Source)
Children are easily overwhelmed if they have an entire room of toys to choose from. However, if you give them fewer toys and a small space to work in, they won’t be as overwhelmed. They also have specific items to focus on and won’t be distracted as easily.
Montessori work mats help children stay organized. They are usually made of natural fibers and can be rolled up and stored after each session.
What Size is a Montessori Work Mat?
The mats are usually about 2′ by 3′ or 2′ by 4′. Larger games and older children require larger mats, which is why there are two typical size options. The mat shouldn’t be too thick or heavy so children can easily roll it up and take it out by themselves. (Source)
They will not want to use the mat often if it is too cumbersome to remove and roll up. The bigger and stronger the child becomes, the more appropriate it is to have a bigger mat for them. They usually only reach 4 ft in length. (Source)
Another thing to keep in mind with the thickness of the mat is that it should be sufficiently thick to allow the student a sturdy place to work. Make sure the mat is a non-distracting and neutral color to help the child focus on the task while using the work mat.
How Do You Use A Montessori Work Mat?
The idea behind a work rug or mat is to make a place that the student has as their own. They can be taught responsibility and organization by being taught to take out the mat and put it away. When they are very young, the parent or teacher will out the mat and put it away, but the child will eventually learn how to put their work mat away.
A common way of teaching on a work mat is with a 3-period lesson. The 3-period lesson involves introducing a concept like a shape. The teacher then leaves the student to examine and explore the shape on their own while on their work mat. (Source)
Secondly, the teacher would introduce or distinguish the shape from other shapes. For example, the teacher would ask the children to find the triangle among other shapes. Lastly, a teacher would revisit the concept with the child by showing them the triangle again, and seeing if they can remember which one it is.
What Is A Montessori Work Rug?
Usually, when someone says rug they are talking about a large piece of carpet or a woven piece of floor covering that covers a decent portion of the floor. A rug is usually placed in the middle of the room or under pieces of furniture, whereas a mat is a small piece of floor covering used for wiping your feet off.
In the Montessori world, a rug and mat are interchangeable as they have the same purpose. However, work rugs are typically larger than work mats and are used by multiple children at once.
Why Does Montessori Use Mats?
Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori Method, did not like the restrictions that desks and chairs put on children when they were forced to sit and learn. She created a more open and collaborative environment with tables and chairs that were small enough for children, but she allowed children who wanted to work on the floor to work on mats.
The Montessori Method teaches, it does not correct. Children need the liberty to explore and create, as opposed to the rigid structure of a public or private school which has been observed to do just the opposite of helping children learn. Traditional schools often stifle learning through the teaching environment.
While using a work mat, children learn respect, carefulness around the workspace, reading preparation, cleanliness, orderliness, and how to focus on a new task.
There are many options for creative learning on a work mat. Some of the things that you can do on the mat or rug include arts and crafts, puzzles, matching games, and letter games.
How Big Should A Montessori Rug Be?
A Montessori work rug should be small enough for children to carry, but it also needs to be large enough to host multiple children. Most of the time, Montessori work rugs are no longer than 4 feet. However, they can be up to 27″ wide and 43″ long.
Keep in mind that you will likely be moving the rug multiple times a day. It only needs to be large enough for children to have space to play.
Where to Buy a Montessori Work Mat
You can buy a nice neutral-colored rug or mat on Amazon for under $20, although some rugs may cost more. Because the mats are washable, you can always just throw a soiled mat in the washer and air dry it after it’s finished.
For a DIY option, all you really need is some spare fabric, ideally as thick as felt or a rug.