The lessons in Practical Life include:
Preliminary Exercises – preparing the fine motor skills for more challenging activities (spooning, pouring, stringing, etc.
Care of the Environment – learning to respect and care for the tools in the space where the child lives and learns (food preparation, sweeping, dusting, washing, polishing, etc)
Care of the Person – learning the basics of self care skills (hand washing, nose blowing, dressing, nutrition, etc.)
Grace and Courtesy – learning social skills (walking carefully, communication, manners, table setting, hosting a guest)
The materials and activities at theToddler and Primary level are iconic Montessori. They allow children to pursue their natural tendency to classify sensorial impressions and sort by size, shape, color, touch, sound, and weight. The sensorial materials isolate specific qualities, have a built in control of error, allow for repetition, and make abstract qualities concrete. Sensorial activities lay a foundation for math, geometry, geography, botany, art, and music.
Beginning Primary math activities include 1 to 10 (sequences, quantity, numeral names, combinations of ten, basic arithmetic), teens, tens, introduction to the decimal system, and the operations of addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. Children explore fractional equivalences and the fractional names with manipulative materials. They use a wide variety of two and three-dimensional geometry materials and learn the basics of geometric nomenclature. They see and explore binomial and trinomial patterns in certain materials and gain a visual and tactile impression for later work when they will use such patterns to explore the concepts of squaring, square root, cubing, and cube root during the elementary years. The emphasis is always on examining patterns and sequences and the connections between arithmetic and geometry in order to help children develop their mathematical minds from an early age.
An introduction to mathematics at the Toddler level is given through simple counting exercises such as counting the plates when setting the table, counting the children as they line up, and through counting songs and rhymes.
At the Primary level, children’s mathematical sense is built on the strong foundation of the sensorial materials where many fundamental concepts, such as length, volume, gradation, sequencing, grouping and so on, have been already experienced via the senses. These activities make the abstract concepts of mathematics concrete for hands on learning. Each activity isolates a particular concept and integrates with other activities to form a strong foundation for further exploration.
Toddler and Primary children are immersed in language the moment they enter the classroom. Spoken language is encouraged as children communicate with each other individually, in small groups, and in large groups. A library of books is available for enjoyment and information. Stories are read and told individually, in small and large groups.
At the Primary level phonemic awareness is taught through hands on activities and games, the alphabet is learned with fun and interesting sorting and matching works, handwriting is practiced through tracing shapes, sandpaper letters, and using chalkboards, moveable alphabet letters are used for writing words, and labels are used all over for word recognition. Reading for four or five year olds in a Montessori program usually follows an immersion in writing activities, mostly done using the moveable alphabets. The children spontaneously synthesize all of the phonemes they have learned and the sight words they have been given and often discover that one day they can now read. In addition to a wide range of suitable fiction and non-fiction books in each classroom, there are vocabulary cards in relation to every subject area (nomenclature of everyday objects, geometry, science, world cultures, etc.). Enrichment of vocabulary across the curriculum is a constant focus in the Primary classroom. Another daily occurrence is reading aloud to the children as a group. Introductory activities in areas of grammar, syntax and word study form a part of the early language work. Dr. Maria Montessori described the five to seven year olds as “word lovers,” such was their great interest in language at this age. The concepts of noun, verb, preposition, subject, direct object, etc. are introduced in playful activities using a miniature environment and a variety of movement games.
Toddler and Primary level sensorial exploration and experimentation are key tools as children learn about the natural world. For example, sand and water tables allow for open-ended work while other activities isolate individual concepts such as sink and float, magnets, botany, etc. Care for plants and animals overlap with practical life activities and teach science as well as responsibility.
At the Primary level basic skills of science, such as measuring, comparing, classifying, and keen observing, are carefully prepared and practiced. This work is accompanied by extensive classified nomenclature. For example, Primary age children learn the scientific nomenclature of the parts of a flower, such as the calyx and corolla. Classification systems such as living/non-living, and vertebrate/invertebrate are also taught. Children study the basic characteristics and nomenclature of plants and animals. They learn to name common domestic and wild plants and animals, and they work with materials to learn fundamental classifications such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Children are also introduced to some basic concepts of physical science, such as floating/sinking, magnetic/non-magnetic. Non-fiction books related to science are read aloud to the children, and they have classroom responsibilities for the care of indoor plants, as well as feeding the birds outside. The children also plant, tend to, and harvest their own classroom gardens.
Young children, Toddler and Primary Students, have a natural urge to partake in the activities of daily living and be a participating member of family life. Simple chores adults may take for granted fascinate the child, engaging them in the meaningful learning of life skills. Practical life activities help children develop and coordinate movement, awareness of the environment, orderly thought patterns, independent work habits, and responsibility.
History and Cultural Studies
The Toddler and Primary students celebrate diversity of our world through language, music, art, traditions, food, stories, and history. A variety of cultural themes are integrated into all curriculum areas. Peace education is an integral part of the Montessori classroom and begins with respect for, understanding, and acceptance of differences as well as the celebration of the unifying aspects that connect us all.
History is the central organizing discipline during the Montessori Elementary years. Every subject is encountered in relation to its historical origins and evolution. We strive through a sequence of inspiring tales to help students see where they fit into the great chain of history from the beginning of time. In particular, our interdisciplinary approach to the history of the universe, planet earth, and the contributions of the great civilizations gives our students a deep awareness of the grandeur of the human endeavor. Humans are seen as adaptive, inventive, and resourceful. A sense of gratitude for the contributions of all our ancestors is fostered.
We appeal to the emerging reasoning mind and powerful imagination of this developmental plane by telling great stories framed in the form of fables, but with rich scientific and historical content. Students use concrete organizational frameworks as an aid to understanding relationships and sequences over time. These include timelines of the development of life on Earth and the progress of the early humans and their civilizations, as well as charts illustrating key scientific or historical principles. We also use core classification materials that guide the research of any culture or civilization in any time or place. These materials focus on how different people throughout history fulfilled their fundamental needs. These would include their types of food, shelter, clothing, artistic expression, religion, government, and education.
At the Toddler and Primary levels informal and formal music education occurs through singing, listening to music, introduction of instruments, introduction of musical notation, and exploration of sound.
A range of art materials and activities are available to students in the classroom. Art activities in the Toddler and Primary classroom are chosen by the child from the art shelf according to interest. There is a progression in the artwork as the child’s skills develop. Cutting exercises move from very simple to quite complex exercises. Pasting work is followed later by collage. Coloring with various media (crayons, pastels, charcoal) is available. Painting on an easel, watercolor, and clay work are presented. Handwork, including sewing and embroidery, is taught. Seasonal inspirations using different media are a prominent feature in our primary classrooms.
At all levels, care of the body is equally as important as challenging the mind. At the Toddler and Primary levels movement is built into all Montessori activities allowing the child to develop gross motor as well as fine motor skills. Yoga and other types of more formal exercise are built into daily group times. There are at least two periods of gross motor activity time each day with activities that include running, skipping, swinging, navigating an obstacle course, ball play, group games, sledding in the winter, and activities using other props such as parachutes and ribbons.
Universal Values and Global Perspective
Montessori deliberately teaches children not only appropriate patterns of polite behavior, but seeks to instill basic universal values within the core of the child’s personality. These values include self-respect, acceptance of the uniqueness and dignity of each person we meet, kindness, peacefulness, compassion, empathy, honor, individual responsibility, and the courage to speak from our hearts. The Montessori philosophy is international in its heritage and consciously seeks to promote a global perspective.
These materials help the child learn about the facts of the material world.. Working with the sensorial, language and cultural materials related to geography is an important part of the work of a Montessori Primary classroom. The very young children are introduced early to a sandpaper globe where they can have a visual and tactile experience of the Earth. Other sensorial materials and puzzle maps are used by the children to explore the continents of our world, the countries of each continent, and the states of our own country. They also create key land and water forms such as lake, island, and peninsula. Geography vocabulary is given both orally and with prepared nomenclature cards that are used by the children as an integrated part of their language work. The children are introduced to the diversity of international cultures by means of stories, songs, celebrations, pictures, and artifacts.