A child is a discoverer. He is an amorphous, splendid being in search of his own proper form.
— Dr. Maria Montessori
Montessori Children Preschool Curriculum
Practical life activities may well be the most important work in the Montessori 3-6 year old class. The young child is attracted to activities that give independence and control over their own life. In the Montessori classroom children practice such activities as pouring, hand washing and polishing. The purpose of these activities is to develop concentration and attention to detail, finishing each task and putting away all materials before going on to another activity. The child may repeat each activity as often as they like, therefore perfecting coordination and extending concentration. Practical life work provides practice in eye-hand coordination, the control of large and small muscles, the ability to walk and to carry objects with control, and to behave with knowledge of good manners. These are the activities that bring the child’s attention to his own progress and development, and that open up a world of important work. The child will learn to look a person in the eye when speaking, to listen patiently, to exhibit thoughtfulness through good manners, enables the child to be welcomed into a social group, to be happy and to make others happy.
They learn to concentrate, to control muscles, to move and act with care, to focus, to analyze logical steps and complete a cycle of activity. The activities of practical life are generally thought of in four main categories, and looking at the child’s life in this way helps to keep a balance in the activities we offer children to master. These areas of practical life depend on the culture in which the child is growing up, and may include, but are not limited to:
- Element of movement—“manipulative materials for development and movement” etc.
- Care of the environment—cleaning, sweeping, washing clothes, gardening, etc.
- The care of the self—dressing, brushing teeth, cooking, setting the table, etc., and,
- Grace and courtesy—walking carefully, carrying things, moving gracefully, offering food, saying “please” and “thank you” and so on.
In the Montessori classroom the purpose of the Sensorial materials is to refine the child’s sense perception by isolating each sense. Activities in this section allow the child to refine each of his senses. He will become a child who can appreciate color or texture differences, organize his thoughts and objects in his environment. The child explores dimension, shape, color, texture, weight, aroma, taste, pitch, and their relationships through a series of exercises called the sensorial materials. These materials isolate various qualities so that the child can experience each one individually. The materials are largely self-correcting so the child can accomplish the exercises alone. Moreover, they are structured, building on what has been previously learned. A sense of order is found in these materials and the child acquires the joy of learning that their environment also has order.
Maria Montessori believed that children take in information through their senses. She stated, “The hand is the instrument of the mind.” In other words, the Sensorial materials allow the children through the use of their hands to make a mental connection between an abstract idea and its concrete representation. Through the use of didactic or hands on learning materials a child is able to refine their sense perception, problem solve and make associations of concepts they have learned and apply them to their environment and the outside world.
The three main aims of the Sensorial materials are to stimulate cognitive development, to develop discrimination of specific qualities, and to develop an ability to make judgments and comparisons. The materials are designed to isolate the sense in order for a child to perceive the single quality within the work. For example, the pink tower is all one color so that the child can discriminate visually the difference in the size of the cubes as they graduate from smallest to biggest.
The Sensorial exercises help the child—through repetition—to discern differences and similarities. Emphasizing one sense at a time, qualities of the materials are simplified and isolated to allow ease in contrasting differences, comparing for similarities or grading sets of a series into a proper order. It is a hand’s on approach for the 3-6 year old child and lays a solid foundation for the mathematical mind, which will progress more effectively is the concrete subconscious impressions made before the abstract concepts are introduced.
The Montessori mathematical materials isolate each concept and introduce it to the child in a concrete form using manipulative equipment. Children first learn to associate each numerical symbol with the proper quantity. The child progresses one step at a time to a more abstract understanding of the concepts of arithmetic. The child first learns to count from 1-10 through the understanding of the concept that those numbers represent a specific amount. Through each material, the child will learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and truly understand what each one means in their deeper sense. Through this method of teaching, Montessori offers the child a strong and solid foundation in the understanding of mathematics.
Dr. Montessori believed that you should introduce math to young children as “materialized abstractions.” This is accomplished with hands on apparatus for math. Dr. Montessori believed that a strong foundation of math at a young age (preschool) prevented children from failing in math later on. “Math phobias” are a common symptom of children who have had little or no introduction to math manipulative during the sensitive period between 3-6 years old. This is in order that the children may acquire a real familiarity with numbers at an age when they have natural interest in sensorial work. And what they learn through the senses at this age is absorbed into the unconscious, it is known perfectly, it is not uncertain and hard to recall as knowledge acquired unwillingly in a later period tends to be. Children will go from a concrete understanding of mathematics to an abstract understanding of mathematics (focus on abstract mathematical concepts) via mathematical (focuses on the areas in real life where mathematics is needed i.e. on problems and situations related to daily life contexts in which mathematics is imbedded).
Each of the separate skills involved in the mastery of reading and writing is pursued by the child at his/her own pace. Exercises include rhyming games, matching objects to pictures, sandpaper letters and language cards. Montessori introduces grammar, geography, geology, biology, art and music to children. At this stage children joyfully absorb many difficult concepts when they meet them in concrete forms. The development of language in early-childhood classrooms is an umbrella for the entire Montessori curriculum. Often teachers and parents consider activities on the shelves of the Language area as the heart of actual language learning. Certainly these activities provide powerful opportunities, but language learning occurs most profoundly in the moment-to-moment life of interactions within the classroom. In fact the language of the caregivers in the first six years of life will literally form the spoken language of the child. Reading aloud to the child gives the message that reading is fun for everyone, and concepts and vocabulary words will be experienced which would never come up in spoken language. The child is taught language through a specific progression of lessons where he first becomes aware of the different sounds in a word. The child then learns the language phonetically until the point where he is taught the different “rules” in a given language and the exceptions to those rules he will need to know in order to spell and read fluently. The sensorial experiences of appropriate materials a child of normal intelligence will quite naturally teach themselves to read and write sometimes as early as three or four years of age.
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