The Primary Environment
Maria Montessori believed that an environment for children should be a “microcosm of society”, hence, the environments she created were multi-aged consisting of a three year age range. She also believed that education should be a “preparation for life”. Her environments reflected this by encouraging independent thinking, problem solving and moments of discovery for each child. She believed that the “teacher” was within each child, and the adult in the environment takes on the role of facilitator or guide. The materials that make up the curriculum are self-correcting so that the child can discover his/her own errors, they also contain a “point of interest”, which engages each child as the activity is explored and worked with. Montessori believed that work should be pleasurable, and that great joy can come from doing one’s own “work.” Hence, you will hear children talking about their “work”, which for them is what we would call “play.”
The foundation for learning in a Montessori classroom begins with three to six year olds working in the Practical Life area.
The refinement of the senses, which is a prerequisite for learning begins in the Practical Life and Sensorial areas. Through exploration, manipulation and discovery in the sequential use of prescribed materials, each child progresses at their own rate.
Visual and auditory discrimination is developed using Practical Life materials that are related to the “real world” and give the child a sense of success and the ability to independently care for himself and his environment.
Social skills are enhanced through lessons of grace and courtesy. The multi-aged groupings of children allows the younger students to look up to and admire the older students, and the older ones become the “teachers” of the younger children.
The Practical Life and Sensorial areas give each child the preparation necessary for success in both Language and Math.
Practical Life – Through this area of the curriculum the young child learns skills necessary for care of self, care of the environment, as well as applying lessons of grace and courtesy in everyday life. The child even more importantly begins to focus and concentrate on the activity he chooses, learns how to work independently and in small groups, begins to coordinate his muscles and movements, and develops an order and sequence in the cycle of work he is attending to. In the Practical Life area, children will develop the ability to concentrate and focus on activities that are developmentally appropriate. Children will work with and complete activities that are both practical and appealing such as pouring, sewing and cooking. They will discover and correct their own mistakes, and be able to complete activities containing a number of sequential steps. Through the use of sequenced hand movements, children will display a refinement of small motor control preparing them for writing. Children will develop a sense of order which prepares them for seeing relationships in Math and Language.
They will visually see the order on each shelf, remembering where to return their material. The child will work in a sequential manner, following the set- up in the environment which progresses from simple to more complex, from concrete to abstract. They will gain self-confidence and independence and are able to take care of themselves and their environment. Children will be able to zip, button, etc. enabling them to put on outer clothing. As well as, prepare and eat their snack when they are hungry, clean the snack table to prepare for the next person, and respect and help each other when it is called for. The completing of the activity, will always include clean up and getting their work ready for the next person.
Sensorial - Through this area of the curriculum the young child learns skills necessary for the refinement of the five senses. The Sensorial area provides opportunity for growth and is rich in perceptual activities that further refine the sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. The Sensorial materials offer concrete experiences with geometric sizes and shapes, along with the proper names that help the child internalize the perception and begin to build the concepts that will be necessary in the academic areas. In the Sensorial area, children will refine visual discrimination and recognize likeness and differences in sizes. For example, through the use of the specialize materials, the children will be able to build “tower of cubes”, and thus recognize and name differences in largest to smallest. Visual discrimination is further enhanced through the children’s work with geometric materials. The children will be able to recognize and name the geometric solids (cylinder, sphere, ovoid) and learn how to create/name triangles, rectangles, hexagons, rhombi and parallelograms.
Children will further refine the tactile and olfactory sense using materials that are concrete. They will work successfully with rough and smooth activities, hard and soft activities and matching smelling activities (spices, fruit extracts, herbs, etc.). Children will refine their auditory sense and be able to hear differences in sounds; match and grade the sound cylinders, match the musical scale by use of Montessori bells and eventually match their voice to the tone of the bells.
Language / Reading - Through this area of the curriculum the young child learns skills necessary for reading and writing. The Language area provides opportunities to hear and use precise vocabulary, and uses concrete materials that are supportive of the spoken language. There are early language activities as well as twenty-six letters of the alphabet and their sounds. Children have the opportunities to go on and express themselves through writing, and later, they begin composing words, sentences and whole stories. Children learn “language” is a way of storing knowledge about the world. In the Language area, children will develop an awareness of phonics and its usefulness to derive meaning from the whole text. They will recognize the sounds of all the letters of the alphabet by learning to identify initial and final sounds in words, going on to develop the ability to differentiate vowel sounds and then gain the skill of blending letters into words and phrases. Materials used to accomplish these goals begin with the use of the Montessori Sandpaper Letters and then the Movable Alphabet. Children will begin to develop a “sight” vocabulary, with concrete materials used to decode labels in classrooms, on signs and posters and recognize “sight” words in pre-primers and primers.
Children will begin to use grammar symbols to learn the use of parts of speech through materials that recognize nouns as names of persons, places or things. There are also activities that recognize verbs as “action” words and articles and adjectives as “helping” words. Children will explore and interact with a variety of written materials in order to become enthusiastic, independent readers. They spend time in the reading area, begin writing in journals and begin composing their own stories in writing.
Mathematics – In Math, manipulatives are the keys to solid learning. Through Piaget’s research, the need for the child’s interaction with concrete materials became clear. Children must have the opportunity to work, to manipulate and to observe the effects of their actions. In the Montessori classroom, many foundations of solid mathematical thinking are laid in the Practical Life and Sensorial areas. Classification, seriation, one-to-one correspondence, patterning, same/different, large, small and a host of other concepts involving shape, time, and measure are found in materials of those two areas. Therefore, the child does not come to the math area without a background on which to build. In the Math area, the child will understand the concepts of sorting and patterning. This is mainly accomplished through their repeated use of the Sensorial materials. Children will develop an understanding of quantity and the relationship/association of quantity and symbol by identifying and writing numerals 0 – 100, understanding one to one correspondence of objects and associating quantity and symbol from 1 – 9000. They will come to understand sets that show greater, less and equal and learn to count to 100.
Children will begin exploring the meaning of addition, multiplication, division and subtraction using the golden bead material of the decimal system. They will explore the concepts of height, length, weight using estimation, common objects and non-standard units. Children will explore the relationship between data and graphs by collecting and organizing data for graphs, constructing and reading graphs horizontally and vertically and interpreting and stating what a graph shows. Children will explore concept of fractions through sharing equal parts of a group or a whole with real life objects and fair shares. They will be introduced to and explore problem solving strategies used to solve mathematical problems with the use of activities involving real objects. Finally, children will use oral and written language skills to clarify, organize and extend mathematical learning.
Sciences – Through this area of the curriculum the young child learns science is a way of making sense of the natural world. The child will become familiar with the natural world through hands-on experiences and concrete materials. Children will become more respectful and aware of the unity, diversity and the fragility o f the world. The Science Area is divided in three categories: Life Science, Physical Science and Geography/History. In the Science area, children will understand the difference between living and non-living things and know that living things have basic needs, go through predictable life- cycles and interact in the environmental systems. They will identify and classify familiar objects as living and non-living, observe and identify the parts, the needs, and the growth of plants, observe and identify animals in their habitat and discuss their basic needs.
Children will understand how sense organs inform them about their environment and enable them to group objects based on information from their senses. They will observe and compare the physical properties of objects (i.e., color, size, shape weight, texture) and come to analyze and compare properties of matter in small and large amounts. In the Geography area, children will understand that the earth if made up of land, air and water. This extends to hands-on experiences with globes, maps, land forms, cultural enrichment and the cosmos. They will use materials that will give them initial impressions of the directions of N,S,E,W. The children will discover cultures through books, food, language, dance, festivals, and observe and identify parts of a flag from many different countries. They will observe and identify the sun, moon and planets.