Monday, September 3, 2012

How Rugs & Place Mats Can Teach Children Order & Personal Space

In educational settings where children are learning with individual & small-group based material, particularly in Montessori learning environments, you may find children utilizing small roll-up rugs, carpets and sometimes placemats.  So what do we use them for?  Here are some benefits I have seen while working in Montessori settings for ages 1.5 through 6:

Help keep the Learning Environment Tidy by Defining Personal Space
Offering roll-up rugs for the floors and placemats on the tables for children to place their work on can help the room stay neat and tidy.  This also helps a young child define personal space as other children learn not to grab from other's work space or walk on someone's rug.  I've also seen less children tripping or getting hurt as they begin to recognize where it is safe to walk, instead walking through an obstacle of scattered toys and materials on the floor.  Once a storage location in the room is determined, the child is taught to return the rug or placemat just the way they found it (after given a lesson on how to do so).  We keep our rugs in a floor basket and  placemats in a basket on a shelf that the children can reach.  The placemats and rugs below were rolled by ages 1.5-2.5.  We just started the school year two weeks ago and our students have adapted quite well to this approach.  

Placemats are offered to children to place their work on when they choose to work at a table.

Small roll-up rugs are offered for children to place their work on if they choose to work on the floor.

Build Fine Motor Skills
Lessons are given to the children on how to carry mats and rugs, how to roll them out, roll them back up, and return them to the bin.  When lessons are given carefully and thoughtfully, you give the child time to process and notice details.  This can really be a challenge for young children and it is okay if they do not perfect it right away.  Just let them do it the best they can at first and don't discourage them or point it out so much if they aren't rolling them perfectly.  Lessons during circle times or small groups may need to be given multiple times throughout the school year to help remind children the best way to care for them.  Your students will have plenty of opportunities to practice throughout the day as they choose different material to work with.  If you are interested in how a lesson like this might be presented, I found this video where a woman is showing a student how to roll a rug.  It's a little bigger than the kind of rugs we use in our room, but it gives the child time to notice the woman's careful finger work:

There are some additional details you can point out when rolling a rug, for example, take note of what happens when a rug is not rolled evenly.  Sometimes you can simply pat either end of the rolled up rug if it is not too uneven.  

Learn to Create Order & Build Organizational Skills
In our Montessori Studio, the teachers show the children lessons on a variety of work material that they may take from the shelves and bring to their table mat or rug to work on.  They begin to learn order as we typically show them how to lay out material from left to right, or by taking out the items that we will be using first.  For example, if there are matching cards, they might be shown to place the first set of cards, one at a time from left to right, in a straight order.  When the children are shown how to carefully utilize the work from left to right or by placing the work in the order that you would use the material, they are learning organization and order, which will also begin to help them when it comes to reading and writing (as in most countries we learn to read and write from left to right).

A child using a placemat to keep her work on at the table

A child using a rug to lay out matching cards from (her) left to right

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to comment & ask questions!