Parents entering a Montessori classroom for the first time are often intrigued by the setting of the materials and furniture in the classroom, asking questions like “So, what is your curriculum like?”, “What subjects do you teach?”, “What do the children learn?”
A Montessori curriculum’s core ideas are that the environment is designed to allow the child to learn through his own experiences and the teacher guiding the child’s learning by starting from what the child knows and building up lesson plans from there onwards. The curriculum is prepared in such a way that the child learns from concrete to abstract understanding, simple to complex studies and easy to difficult skills. All the materials in the classroom are created with a specific purpose and have a certain progression with a built-in control of error.
Practical Life Activities
Very young children learn to master the skills required for survival such as concentration, coordination, order and independence in this area. Young citizens of the classroom get acquaint with the house rules of working, respecting others and using materials properly. Through the activities in this area, young children develop fine and gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination, care for the self and the environment, as well as role-play grace and courtesy dialogues or presentations.
Children can be seen carrying trays with all sorts of materials on them for dry or wet pouring exercises, cutting paper activities, folding exercises, washing plates or scrubbing tables. Children also learn to button and lace with the dressing frames as well as looking after plants and pets. The prominent Walking Line that is taped or drawn as a circle in the classroom and the Silence Game are also the hallmark of this areas which gear the young newcomers to the simple rules of ‘no running’ and ‘using indoor voice’ in the classroom.
The children subsequently progress to Sensorial area which exposes them to concrete experiences that will ground their abstract thoughts in the future. Their raw senses are refined enabling children to perceive the physical world knowledgeably and make wise decisions about its qualities. Children see, touch, feel, hear and taste as they build mental categories about old or new sensorial perceptions. Besides, the didactic materials are also built to assist children in preparing them on the mechanism of writing.
The apparatus that arise from this area are the knobbed cylinders, the famous Pink Tower, long rod, broad stairs and the knobless cylinders. Children are then gradually introduced to shades of primary and secondary colours, concepts of shapes, geometry and algebra. More sensorial exploration is offered through touch boards, thermic tablets, baric tablets, sound cylinders, musical bells, gustatory (taste) bottles and olfactory (smelling) bottles.
Numeracy and Arithmetic Activities
Montessori trainees are often impressed by the materials in the numeracy area which are designed by Dr Montessori to present one concept exclusively through each material. The child learns the concept of quantity, counting and number recognition with the number rods, sandpaper numbers, spindle box, counters, short bead stair and Seguin Boards. The Golden Beads exercises present the wonderful world of the decimal system which is usually presented in abstract form for primary school children which could trigger the seed of dislike towards mathematics amongst students.
Only when the child has a complete understanding of the number concepts, he will start embarking on the adventure of arithmetic such as addition and subtraction using boards and tables which will ease the child to perform mathematical operations mentally later. Other complex concepts such as fractions, algebra, geometry and units of measurement would also be presented (sometimes together with the Sensorial materials).
Using the phonics approach to introduce children to the world of English literacy, the materials in this area are essentially tools used to create phonemic awareness for reading and writing as well as to infuse an appreciation for creative writing and the love of reading. You would certainly agree with me that literature forms the pillars of a civilization and language is the bricks that form those pillars.
Children explore letter sounds with the Sandpaper Letters and Large Movable Alphabet, while using Insets for Design to develop the mechanism for writing. The child progresses to reading and writing words with the Pink, Blue and Green series and the Small Movable Alphabet. The rules of grammar are introduced using different colour code cards and objects.
Cultural Studies Activities
“Cultural” is a fascinating area that young children enjoy in discovering. It includes the intricacies of animal and plant life, the knowledge of geography, and the history of people who have shared our planet over time. Children will learn to appreciate life on Earth and are encouraged to wonder more about the world. Children should also be aware of the need for care and protection of environment in order to maintain harmony and balance on this planet. Cultural studies is included in the Montessori teaching method because teachers’ aims in education are to help the child develops his personality, adapt to his own culture and become an independent, useful member of society.
Cosmic Plan aims to help grab the child’s interest and fix his questioning mind on matters that are real and important, so helping the child sees his place and role within both society and the universe. It also empowers the child and ensures his learning experiences are holistic; a true preparation for life and full of the joy of the world. Ideas of the Cosmic Education include respect, responsibility, cause and effect, consequence of one’s own actions and peace.
Art & Craft and Music & Movement are integral components of the Montessori curriculum’s areas. During Art lessons, or at any time of the day, children are allowed free use of painting and modelling materials. Songs or poems are sung with musical instruments like castanets or bells to expose children to rhythm patterns and creative expressions.
Computers and other technology are gradually finding their ways to the Montessori classroom as children today are learning to interface with technology at an increasingly young age. However, for very young children exposure to IT should be restricted and introduced only after they have firm grasp of sensorimotor experience.