At the beginning, practical life forms the core of the child’s work. This area aids the child’s development in: care of the person care of the environment, control of movement and social relations. This area is the foundation for subsequent academic learning because it provides:
A sense of order; a task’s beginning, middle and end.
A sense of independence – “I can do it by myself.”
A sense of coordination – the child brings his/her muscles under his/her own control.
Most important of all, an ability to concentrate, because learning can only occur when concentration is present.
Tasks are broken down into simple steps so that the children learn to button, tie, zip, buckle, pour, wash tables and chairs, polish silver, brass and wood, wash and hang clothes, sweep the floor, prepare and serve food for themselves and others, all with grace and courtesy. As soon as the child has the basis for integrity given by the exercises of practical life, she/he moves on to the sensorial.
Between birth and six years, the child has a special sensitivity to sensorial impressions. Therefore, Dr. Montessori designed sensorial materials to help the child develop his/her senses and powers of observation. This development of children’s physical senses enhances their readiness for greater intellectual work. The child works with Montessori sensorial materials designed to develop and train his/her sense of:
Taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, etc.
Hearing: pitch, tone, loud and soft, etc.
Sight: many series of blocks for long and short, broad and narrow, small and large, and puzzles with geometric shapes.
Touch: smooth and rough, hot and cold, heavy and light, etc.
Smell: spices, herbs, flower scents, etc.
There are also activities for the development of the sense of balance, and concepts such as shortest to longest, smallest to biggest, smooth to rough, and color tints.
Through the use of these materials, children begin to sharpen their awareness and increase their perception of the world around them.
Concepts in Montessori math are always first presented in concrete, manipulative terms, and only later when the child has understood the meaning and use of symbols by using Montessori materials are more abstract forms introduced. The materials are designed to help child understand basic mathematical concepts, beginning with 1-10 (sandpaper numbers), associating quantity and numerals (spindle boxes) and extending to the concepts of the decimal system and place value, (ten-, teen- and hundred-board). As the child progresses, materials such as the bead stair are used for working with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Children in a Montessori class never sit down to memorize addition and subtraction facts; they don’t simply memorize multiplication tables. Rather, they learn these facts by actually performing the operation with physical materials.
Although language is one of the four basic learning areas in a Montessori class, it spans every other area. Language consists of verbal skills, visual perception, and small muscle coordination. Therefore, language education begins with listening games, training the hand with the metal insets and puzzles, and familiarizing the child with the symbols of the alphabet using the sandpaper letters. The period for writing generally occurs between ages 3-1/2 and 4-1/2, and development in this area leads directly into the period for reading between 4 and 5.
A complete reading system is available to the children. Through the use of these materials, children gain an understanding that separate sounds can be blended together to make words. Even the learning of reading incorporates movement, from the tracing of the sandpaper letters to manipulating the letters of the movable alphabet to form words.
The children are introduced to the three basic elements: land, air and water. At first, the children use large wooden continent puzzle maps simply as puzzles. Gradually, they learn the names of the continents, and then move on to country maps, studying climate, people and products. Culture units then cover food, dress and music from different countries, while typical geography units include world flags, land formations, the globe, beginning mapping (exploration of the neighborhood) and even the solar system. Hands-on projects reinforce geographic concepts, such as actually making island and peninsula land formations out of clay.
Science and Nature
Children learn science and nature through simple experiments with familiar materials, such as sink/float and magnetic/non-magnetic as well as hands-on experiences of gardening, seeds and flowers. The children will also classify living / non-living, plant / animal and vertebrate / invertebrate. Classroom science units cover such topics as minerals, the life cycle of a butterfly, bones and skeletons, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. In addition, the calendar, seasons and telling time will be covered. Throughout the school year science will carry over from the class to the outdoor environment.
Musical games, chants, nursery rhymes, finger plays and songs are used to help the children develop their sense of pitch and rhythm, and improve their coordination, focus, and enjoyment of group activity. Children deepen their understanding of basic musical concepts such as singing in tune, beat, tempo, dynamics and melodic awareness. Some of the skills being introduced in age appropriate ways include matching a pitch with one’s own voice; easiest singing intervals; high-low pitch awareness; moving to a steady beat; responsibility to group activity and sound; learning by repetition; and musical structure.
Children are encouraged to use their imagination through experimentation. From the beginning, work with the Montessori sensorial materials helps to refine the sense of color, balance and design, preparing the child to see harmony in his/her surroundings and using this in artistic expression. The art environment is planned, set up and maintained by the teacher, as are the activities, so that the children can function independently to use their materials and tools, work in their space, and most importantly, create their own unique pieces of art.
Appreciation of drama will be introduced by puppetry and various children’s plays performed throughout the school year. While not all children are willing to perform in plays with an audience, most if not all feel comfortable creating their own puppet shows during class time.
The children will be taught various colors, numbers, short phrases, months, and days of the weeks in Spanish, and Spanish music will be introduced.