From the International Montessori Index
Q. What materials are used?
A. It is the philosophy and the knowledge of the teacher that is essential in the success of a Montessori class.
One must be wary of the use of the words "Montessori materials" as many people today use the words as a selling point for materials that have no use in the Montessori classroom and can be distracting and impede a child's progress.
The "sensorial," math, and some of the language and cultural materials (metal insets, sandpaper letters, puzzle maps, bells, for example) are professionally manufactured according to traditional standards that have been tested over many years. However even some of these are made by newer companies that do not fully understand the reason for certain details and so produce materials that are not as successful. There is a "materials committee" in Holland that oversees the quality of materials use in AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) school, for example.
Montessori, for very good reasons, make many of their own practical life and language material instead of buying them—as they learn to do in their training, depending on where in the world they live. They gather practical life materials piece by piece. This is an important process that gives a unique quality to each classroom that expresses the culture, and ideas of beauty in each community—instead of all classrooms looking alike with no personal touches.
Materials in the classroom, without being used correctly by a trained teacher, are usually worthless in creating a real Montessori class, but they can help in some ways in non-Montessori situations. For example the math materials have been used to teach a concept sensorially thus helping a child to make the abstraction. Educational materials in the Montessori method serve a very different purpose than in traditional education where the text books are ordered and the teacher learns how to use them. This difference is because in Montessori the child learns from the environment, and it is the teacher's job to put the child in touch with the environment, not to "teach" the child. Thus the creation of the environment, and selection of materials is done mostly by the teacher and is very important.
In Montessori education having too many materials is often worse than not having enough. In this country (USA) there are many materials suppliers, unfortunately, who are not Montessori trained and do not understand the purpose of materials, and who sell items that scatter the child's energy, or waste time, clutter the environment, etc. It is very important to choose carefully when selecting materials for using the Montessori method of education in school or in the home.
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