The Five Areas of Montessori
A Montessori education fosters growth by offering the following:
1. Practical Life Exercises. Students gain confidence and independence by learning appropriate behaviour, social skills and self-care.
2. Education of the Senses. Students develop all five senses to improve concentration and enhance future learning.
3. Language Curriculum. Unique Montessori curriculum results in a rich vocabulary and strong literacy skills.
4. Mathematics Curriculum. Montessori materials lead students from a hands-on, concrete understanding of mathematics to an ability to work abstractly.
5. Cultural Studies. An integrated approach to the study of science, social sciences and the arts provides a broad, engaging foundation for pursuing further studies of the world and the students’ place in it.
For further information about these five areas with an emphasis on the pre-school (Casa) classroom, read on.
Practical Life Exercises
Young children have an innate desire to become independent and take care of their personal needs. The Montessori curriculum supports this inner drive by providing the environment and the necessary materials to facilitate the path to independence. For example, exercises are presented in personal hygiene, dressing and care of clothing.
In order to work independently in a mixed age group, children are made aware of the rules of the classroom, how to move and work successfully within it, and how to take care of it. For example, they learn about carrying and handling the many Montessori materials, using floor mats, looking after classroom pets and plants, taking care of books, preparing snacks and tidying up.
Exercises in grace and courtesy are presented individually and in small informal groups. The children learn how to behave in certain situations and acquire the social skills essential for everyday living in society. The children develop a sense of personal dignity, an understanding of their own culture and awareness and respect for people of all ages and traditions. Having the appropriate social and language skills enables a child to engage positively in the classroom community and beyond. Early conflict resolution skills are taught and attention is given to making good choices.
Exercises are designed to teach the child how to ask for something, wait one’s turn, apologize, introduce oneself, offer to help others, make eye contact and shake hands, welcome visitors, work cooperatively, offer refreshments, walk with a partner, behave at the table, and behave in public places.
Education of the Senses
Exercises in this area teach the child to discriminate between the various impressions provided by each of his/her senses. Scientifically designed materials which isolate each sense facilitate the development of the intellect through hands-on exploration. The child learns to separate and classify forms, colours, textures, tastes and smells, while refining the senses and developing skills in thinking, judging, concentrating, comparing and sequencing. The materials offer unlimited opportunities for the development of vocabulary and dexterity that will lead to writing and reading.
Visual – Children learn to discriminate by size, length, dimension, colour, similarity and difference.
Tactile – Children learn to discriminate by touch. They match sandpaper and fabric of varying textures according to their similarities, and they order materials from rough to smooth and learn to contrast and compare.
Auditory – Children continue the process of matching, ordering, contrasting and comparing, this time using various sounds, musical bells and instruments.
Complex (weight, temperature, 3D shapes, smell, taste) – Children explore the above qualities by using appropriately designed materials and exercises to sharpen their senses at a time when they have a particular developmental interest in this work (sensitive period). The sensorial exercises prepare the child for more complex learning in Language, Mathematics and Cultural Studies.
The curriculum is designed to meet the young child’s innate need to acquire language. Significant emphasis is placed on building vocabulary and oral competency. Through the use of the Montessori materials, children acquire a rich vocabulary for labelling, describing, comparing and contrasting their environment and the people in it. Precise terminology is used. Discussion is encouraged, and the children are given the appropriate language to engage in a meaningful exchange as they get on with their work.
Small group activities, including nursery rhymes, storytelling, singing games, poetry, and news, are organized on a daily basis. These are opportunities for the children to enjoy a wide variety of language activities that enrich their oral expression and strengthen their listening skills. In essence, language enrichment is embedded in the Montessori curriculum and is a central point of focus when the teacher is giving a lesson in any of the other curriculum areas.
Written language is introduced to children at about 4 years of age. Skills are taught separately by careful use of Montessori material which facilitate sound/letter recognition, letter formation, pencil control, encoding (making words), decoding (reading words), and word/picture matching.
These exercises, when presented in sequence, lead the child to initial levels of competence in reading and writing skills. Literacy skills develop as the child’s inner drive to learn is engaged during this natural stage of heightened awareness.
Here learning is firmly based on learning through experience. Children use a wide variety of carefully constructed materials to lead them to an understanding of the value and sequence of numbers 1 through 10. They are then introduced to larger amounts and learn to make groups of tens, hundreds and thousands (the decimal system).
Number notation and place value are taught as the child develops an understanding of number concepts. Four- and five-year-olds are introduced to the basic operations (addition, multiplication, subtraction, division) at a concrete level so they experience what these activities really mean. Gradually, they move towards an abstract understanding of the concepts.
Geometry is introduced using materials classified according to qualities, and the child learns to discriminate, classify and name circles, squares, rectangles, and polygons. Fractions are introduced in concrete form and lay the foundation for further work in the elementary level.
The child builds on what he/she already knows and systematically progresses from concrete to abstract; he/she discovers number patterns, sequences and rules by handling the materials. The program is able to meet each child’s individual learning style and pace of development. Children who are not ready to complete the early childhood curriculum by the end of this cycle continue the work at the elementary level using special linkage materials.
The Montessori early childhood program is based on an integrated study of science, the social sciences and the arts. Children are exposed to a rich, stimulating variety of activities based on hands-on learning. In keeping with the Montessori philosophy of education, the children first experience general rules of the universe e.g. the division of land and water. These are gradually broken down into smaller parts: continents/oceans, Provinces and Territories of Canada.
Stories of animals and children from other lands help the children understand fundamental needs and how these are influenced by climate, environment and lifestyle. Work with the culturai materials helps the children become aware of the fact that they are part of the large family of humanity.
Materials are available to help the children label, compare and classify the parts of plants and animals. Particular emphasis is placed on having plants and pets in the classroom and around the school. The children learn how to take care of these so that they thrive.
The Montessori method of education introduces children to a wide variety of subjects including art, music and storytelling in an integrated way. This experience forms the basis for further learning as the children mature through the elementary years and beyond.