A Child-Centered Community
Children want to learn; they want to be independent; and they have an effortless ability to absorb knowledge from surroundings.
The guiding principle for guides in all levels of Montessori is this: instead of pouring information into a child, he or she draws out that which is already there.
Dr. Montessori didn’t associate a disciplined child with his or her ability to be silent and immobile. Self-discipline happens when a child is absorbed in her work, especially when that work is purposeful and the child can see direct relevance to her environment. The use of materials involves movement and touching; however, all activity in the classroom is guided by the principles of respect for the teacher, the work of others, and the materials themselves. The beauty and order of the materials help to remind the child to return them to their place neatly and carefully. They are designed to meet the specific needs of each age and are inviting but not over-stimulating. The child has the opportunity to choose from a variety of sequentially-designed materials with the child himself as the main guide. The guide or director observes the children and is trained to see signs of readiness for the next lesson. The mixed age environment permits younger children a varied picture of what is to come, and the older children reinforce their own knowledge by helping the younger ones. Mixing ages also accommodates the many different levels of ability and paces of the children in each level.
Characteristics of a Primary Child
“Normalization” is a Montessori term that describes the process that takes place in Montessori classrooms around the world, in which young children, who typically have a short attention span, learn to focus their intelligence, concentrate their energies for long periods of time, and take tremendous satisfaction from their work.
Maria Montessori based her educational philosophy on the inherent characteristics of the child between the age of three and six. Her curriculum and classroom is based on the fact that children this age demonstrate:
- A love of order
- A love of work
- Profound spontaneous concentration
- Attachment to reality
- Love of silence and of working alone
- Sublimation of the possessive instinct
- Independence and initiative
- Spontaneous self-discipline
- The power to act from real choice and not just from idle curiosity.
“Many people struggle with change; they are reluctant to let go of the processes that they know and are comfortable with. Montessori kids don’t see it as a struggle. They see it as a freedom when they find something new to supersede what they have already learned and to think differently.”
“A 2006 study of 112 students in a Montessori school and conventional public schools in Milwaukee found that the Montessori students performed significantly better on both cognitive and social measures….The young Montessori students interacted more positively on the playground and were more likely to deploy reasoning in social negotiations, often with appeals to abstract values such as justice and fairness.”
The Montessori curriculum fosters and supports the child’s growth in the following ways:
Social: Grace and courtesy lessons help with the development of compassion, respect and helpfulness. Children become cooperative members of the classroom community.
Emotional: Children gain a sense of competence and experience self-respect as they master new skills. They make choices and practice appropriate and effective communication.
Physical: Specially designed materials and lessons help children develop fine and large motor control, and coordination.
Intellectual: Lessons and materials promote independence, concentration, and academic development. Children work with lessons that include Language, Mathematics, Geography, Science and Art.
Lessons are primarily presented through the use of Montessori materials and exercises. The curriculum is inter-disciplinary; no subject is taught in isolation. Montessori materials provide sequential learning; the lessons and materials build in sequence to provide an extraordinary foundation. Learning is purposeful and joyful.
Practical Life: Independence, concentration, coordination and social skills are learned and refined through the exercises of Practical Life. Whether it is preparing snack or arranging flowers, children feel a sense of accomplishment and joy.
Sensorial: Primary age children are sensorial learners. Lessons in this area are designed to foster and support the refinement of the senses. Through exploration of the Sensorial materials, children categorize and organize the qualities of the world around them.
Language: The Language program focuses on spoken language, writing and reading. Starting with cursive sandpaper ltters and phonetic sounds, children experience a wide range of lessons that prepare them for creative writing and reading phonetically and in some cases fluently.
Mathematics: The decimal bead material gives children a strong foundation and a deep understanding of the four operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. They are then presented with lessons that help them to memorize simple math facts. Children experience geometry through several Sensorial materials.
Cultural: The concepts of earth, water, continents and countries are explored in this area. Children learn an extensive vocabulary for botany, zoology and cultural concepts.
Primary Spanish Program: Maria Montessori’s term “sowing the seeds of interest” could well be used to describe the overall goal for the primary Spanish program. This means creating enjoyment, awareness and an eagerness to learn more. The primary program focuses on developing listening and speaking skills. Early exposure to other languages creates a facility for understanding and speaking, as well as greater ease in later study. It also creates an early consciousness of culture – the richness of our many ways of being human.
Maria Montessori’s observations of children led her to compare the young mind to a sponge; this is most often seen by the way a child picks up her native language. Dr. Montessori reasoned that a classroom which tapped this characteristic would invite children to read, write and calculate as naturally as they learn to walk and talk. She called the classroom the “prepared environment.”
- The materials in a Montessori classroom beckon the child to use his senses to discover the world.
- The room is designed to allow children to have control over their environment: materials are arranged on low shelves within reach, tables and chairs are child-sized and moveable, and work is done on mats on the floor, where children are most comfortable.
- The materials allow the child to focus his concentration and reinforce his learning through using his hands.
- The use of materials involves movement and touching; however, all activity in the classroom is guided by the principles of respect for the teacher, the work of others, and the materials themselves.
- The beauty and order of the materials help to remind the child to return them to their place neatly and carefully.
- They are designed to meet the specific needs of each age and are inviting but not over-stimulating.
- The child has the opportunity to choose from a variety of sequentially-designed and self-correcting materials with the child himself as the main guide.
- Children learn best by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation.
Half-Day and Full-Day Primary Program
The school day for children 2 ½ to 5 years begins at 8:30am and ends at 11:30am. When a primary child turns five, they are ready to stay for the entire school day until 3pm. That is when they move from the half-day to full-day program. They have the same teacher, remain in the same classroom but now are ready to handle a longer academic day. The five-year-old child is emotionally, physically and intellectually ready for the additional lessons that take place in the afternoon. The full-day program runs 8:30am-3:00pm.
Many working parents do choose the traditional school day and have a caregiver pick up their child after the half-day ends at 11:30am or the full-day ends at 3pm instead of enrolling in the all-day program.
All Day Primary Program
Arbor’s all-day primary program serves 2 ½ to 6 years old children. The program is geared toward parents who require childcare after the traditional school day ends. The all-day class provides the convenience of having the child in the same environment all day long instead of hiring a nanny or placing the child in another after-school program. Children may arrive as early as 7:30am and stay as long as 6:00pm.
Children in the all-day class experience the same nurturing adults and familiar home-like atmosphere as the traditional programs. After a morning of purposeful work, the all-day children share in a community lunch (provided by the family) and afternoon playtime. After lunch, the younger children rest in a quiet area of the classroom while the five and six year old children continue Montessori work in all four areas of the curriculum. After their rest period, the younger children rejoin the classroom. The core school day ends at 3:30pm, and children may be picked up at any time between 3:30 to 6:00pm.
What Comes Next:
Children’s developmental characteristics change as they come to the end of their stay in the Primary classroom. They are now ready to continue their exploration in the elementary environment that supports their natural tendency and enthusiasm for larger concepts and abstract thinking.