The education plan envisioned and implemented by Maria Montessori was based on her observation of children in diverse cultures and the required response to their needs. This led her to the conclusion that children have basic behavioral tendencies of exploration, imagination, order, repetition, manipulation, precision and communication. Her educational plan evolved over time to include three essential elements:
A prepared environment: a classroom filled with peace, order and beauty; conducive to both activity and concentration.
“Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants - doing nothing but living and walking about - came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning: would you not think I was romancing? Well this…is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so passes from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love.” Maria Montessori
A prepared adult: a link to the environment for the child; a guide to observe the interest of the child and then to present the materials or activity according to the child’s developmental need.
“ It is necessary for the teacher to guide the child without letting him feel her presence too much, so that she may always be ready to supply the desired help, but may never be the obstacle between the child and his experience.” Maria Montessori
Freedom with responsibility: freedom to allow the child’s discovery of the world; freedom to be in control of one’s self; freedom to make choices; freedom to communicate; freedom to discover the ability to be responsible.
“Freedom is the key to the process of development!” “Free choice is one of the highest of all the mental processes.” Maria Montessori
Montessori referred to learning time frames in a child’s development as “Sensitive Periods”. These are brief periods of tremendous concentration and interest in specific areas when all energy is focused on a subject almost to the exclusion of all others. To take advantage of these periods of learning, Montessori designed materials to delight the senses, to invite exploration and interest, and to spark the child’s imagination.
“The essential thing is to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality!” Maria Montessori
Four major areas comprise the Montessori Method: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, and Math.
Practical Life “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” Maria Montessori
In the Montessori Classroom, Practical Life activities are the first activities introduced to the child. The tasks are familiar ones he sees adults do every day; cleaning, dressing, greeting each other. These real life experiences of cleaning a table, folding a cloth, pouring water, learning to dress oneself, immediately satisfy the child’s inner needs and desires, while also building the vocabulary. Direct aims from these activities are care of self, care of the environment, eye-hand coordination, small/large muscle coordination, and development of social skills. Indirect aims include respect of self and the environment, good hygiene habits, and social grace and courtesy. Practical Life activities allow opportunity for movement, exercise, and body coordination. The child learns order, concentration, discipline, and independence. All this leads the child to responsibility; the trait necessary for living in the great society of the world.
Some activities are:
- Dry pouring - Small muscle development; eye-hand coordination
- Wet pouring - Small muscle development; eye-hand coordination
- Washing a table or chair - Small muscle development; eye-hand coordination; indirect preparation for reading/writing; care of environment
- Folding - Small muscle development; eye-hand coordination;care of environment
- Mixing - Colors Small muscle development; eye-hand coordination; visual discrimination
- Dressing Frames (button, zip, snap, tie, etc) Care of person; small muscle development
- Balance Beam or Walking the Line Body coordination; concentration; sense of balance
- Social exchanges (please, thank you, apologies, greetings) Social Development
Sensorial “The hand is the instrument of the intelligence.” Maria Montessori
Children are sensory learners. Soon after being in a primary Montessori classroom, the teacher will introduce the Sensorial materials. These colorful lessons delight a child’s senses and allow an active learning environment. Some of the sizeable piece equipment (the Red Rods, the Brown Stair, and the Pink Tower) requires carrying and bending motions, thus providing opportunities for large muscle movement. Children are fascinated by the bright, attractive items inviting them to touch, see, hear, taste, and smell. Sensorial is the gateway to the Language and Math program in the classroom; introducing new words later used to explore the outside world, refining small motor skills in preparation for writing, developing eye-hand movement to prepare for reading, and providing indirect exposure to the decimal system necessary for understanding math. The hand explores, communicates to the brain and together gradually form the mental connection between the concrete appearance and the abstract idea. The exciting, attractive materials, with built in variations, motivate the children to repeat lessons over and over introducing them to concepts such as length, width, area, volume, color and sound variation, and textures. The powers of observation, attention, awareness, order, judgment, and concentration are refined.
A short list of lessons:
- The Pink Tower - Three dimensional awareness; indirect introduction to decimal system
- The Brown Stair - Two dimensional awareness; indirect introduction to decimal system
- The Red Rods - Dimensional length; indirect introduction to decimal system
- Sound Cylinders - Auditory discrimination
- Knobbed Cylinders - Size discrimination; three-finger motor refinement in preparation for writing;
indirect introduction to decimal system
- Binomial Cube & Trinomial Cube - Discrimination of size, color, and form; concrete experience of geometric forms; Preparation for algebra
- Geometric Cabinet - Introduction to shapes; abstract representation of form; preparation for metal insets;
preparation for geometry
- Geometric Solids - Visual and tactile discrimination of shapes in their concrete form; develop artistic sense; expand mathematical vocabulary
- Constructive Triangles - Construction of geometric figures; reinforce knowledge of geometric cabinet; preparation for geometry and algebra
- Metal Insets - Develop eye-hand coordination in preparation for writing; increase artistic sense
Language “the more knowledge that is made available to the child, the more he is stimulated to explore language” Maria Montessori
The Montessori Language materials are designed to develop skills such as listening, speaking, writing, and reading.
The first step is to develop the child’s awareness of sounds in language by naming, classifying, sorting, and rhyming. The next progression is the sound to symbol relationship. Then the child begins to analyze the sounds that make up a word and starts to build the word himself. Writing these words then creates the bridge to reading. Now the child is on the journey of discovering how language allows self-expression and is the key to understanding everything in his world.
Some Language Lessons are:
- Classification Cards - Visual discrimination; build vocabulary; increase awareness of sounds; aid in ordering child’s experiences
- Rhyming Cards - Awareness of sound patterns; sound prediction
- Sequencing Cards - Develop logical thinking; visual discrimination
- Sandpaper Letters - Preparation for reading and writing; association of letter sound with name; sensory memory of letter; muscle memory of letter in preparation for writing
- Sound Boxes - Name objects to increase vocabulary; associate beginning sounds-letter to picture
- Moveable Alphabet - The bridge from writing to reading; convey power of symbols to create words; indirectly suggests directionality of print and word spacing
- Nomenclature Cards - Visual discrimination; increase vocabulary; visual word/picture matching; beginning reading
- Metal Insets - Develop eye-hand coordination in preparation for writing; develop muscle memory (straight and circular movements) in preparation for writing; increase artistic sense
" As you prepare your child to read and write, your role will be rather like that of a conductor rehearsing an orchestra for a concert!” Lynne Lawrence, Montessori Read and Write
Mathematics “This system in which a child is constantly moving objects with his hands and actively exercising his senses, also takes into account a child’s special aptitude for mathematics.” Maria Montessori
The Montessori child has been prepared for math through the Sensorial Materials so he has a sensory memory of classification, order, and precision. The Math Program then carries on to establish understanding for basic principles:
recognition of numbers through ten and their quantity relationship; the decimal system; teens and tens; linear and skip counting; numerical patterns; fractions; computations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; introduction to geometry and algebra.
Lessons follow the order of simple to complex, given one concept at a time until the child understands. Each new lesson builds upon the previous one. The mental concepts the child acquires while working with concrete materials organizes his mind for the abstraction of those concepts later. Math provides the child with internal order and reasoning power preparing him to function in his environment.
A list of some Math Lessons:
- Red/Blue Number Rods - Number names and their quantity 1-10; number sequence; quantity relationship between numbers (2 is more than 1, etc)
- Printed Number Tablets - Added to Blue/Red Rods to associate printed number with fixed quantity; used with counting dots to show quantity and illustrate odd/even concept
- Sandpaper Numbers - Sensory association of number name and quantity; trace to develop muscle memory in preparation for writing numbers
- Counting Dots - Used with Printed Number Tablets and Sandpaper Numbers to visualize loose quantity and introduce odd/even concepts
- Spindle Box - Further practice in relationship between numeral (on box compartment) and quantity (number of rods counted); loose counting to a fixed number; introduction of 0
- Bead Material Introduce decimal system, 1, 10, 100, 1000, etc; used with teen and tens boards
to illustrate quantity; used in linear counting; concretely illustrates addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
- Hundreds Board Visual illustration of numbers 1-100, number patterns, and odd/even numbers; introduce counting by 5’s and 10’s
- Decimal System Tablets - Used with bead material to illustrate place value (1, 10, 100, 1000)
- Teen Board - Used with short bead stair to illustrate numbers 11-19 with quantity
- Tens Board - Used with bead material to illustrate numbers to 99 with quantity, emphasizing tens concept
“When the children leave the (math) material, they very easily reach the point where they wish to write out the operation. They thus carry out an abstract mental operation and acquire a kind of natural and spontaneous inclination for mental calculations.” Maria Montessori
Science & Geography
The Montessori classroom offers many opportunities for the young child to explore the world around him. The materials available in the primary curriculum provide a hands on foundation for understanding the world in which he lives. Some areas of study are:
- Living Things & Their Habitat
- The Solar System
- Non-Living Things
- Earth Facts
- The Animal Kingdom
- The United States
- The Human Body
- Insect Study
- Continents & Landmarks
- Sink & float
Art and Music Appreciation
This curriculum includes a study of both classic artists and musicians. Children view the works of famous artists and listen to music composed by classic musicians. Some of those included are:
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Vincent Van Gogh
Of course, individual art and music expression is always encouraged, nurturing the development of “an eye that sees, and a hand that obeys.” Maria Montessori
Items available to the children:
Music for listening, movement, or reflection; Rhythm instruments for exploration Art supplies such as paint, scissors, glue, markers, crayons, & collage materials
The “Sensitive Period” represents a critical point for learning in a child’s development. The sensitive period for language occurs from birth to about age six. Research shows that children in this stage of development have the ability to learn up to five languages at the same time. The evidence also reports that children who are exposed to a second language early in life can achieve higher levels of proficiency in math, science, and music. Some of the basics in the preparatory Spanish Program are:
- Family members
- Days of the Week
- Items in the home
- Months of the Year
- Simple conversational phrases
The habits and skills that a child develops in a Montessori classroom will inspire a life long love of learning.
“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”
“Within the child lies the fate of the future.”