Dr. Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. He or she must do it by him or herself or it will never be done. A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years he or she spends in the classroom because that person is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Dr. Montessori felt, therefore, that the goal of early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected course of studies, but rather to cultivate the child’s own natural desire to learn.
In the Montessori classroom, this objective is approached in two ways: first, by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning by his or her own choice rather than by being forced; and second, by helping the child perfect his or her natural tools for learning, so that the child’s abilities will be maximized for future learning situations. The Montessori materials have this dual, long-range purpose in addition to their immediate purpose of giving specific information to the child.
For young children there is something special about tasks which an adult considers ordinary – washing dishes, paring vegetables, polishing shoes, etc. They are exciting to children because they allow them to imitate adults. Imitation is one of the strongest urges during children’s early years.
In this area of the classroom, children perfect their coordination and become absorbed in an activity. They gradually lengthen their span of concentration. They also learn to pay attention to details as they follow a regular sequence of actions. Finally, they learn good working habits as they finish each task and put away all the materials before beginning another activity.
The sensorial materials in the Montessori classroom help children to distinguish, to categorize, and to relate new information to what they already know. Dr. Montessori believed that this process is the beginning of conscious knowledge. It is brought about by the intelligence working in a concentrated way on the impressions given by the senses.
Dr. Montessori demonstrated that if children have access to mathematical equipment in their early years, they can easily and joyfully assimilate many facts and skills of arithmetic. On the other hand, these same facts and skills may require long hours of drudgery and drill if they are introduced to them later in the abstract form. Dr. Montessori designed concrete materials to represent all types of quantities, after she observed that children who become interested in counting like to touch or move the items as they enumerate them. By combining this equipment, separating it, sharing it, counting it, and comparing it, they can demonstrate to themselves the basic operation of mathematics.
Children in a Montessori class seldom sit down to memorize addition and subtraction facts; they rarely simply memorize multiplication tables. Rather, they learn these facts by actually performing the operations with concrete materials.
When the children want to do arithmetic, they are given a sheet of paper containing simple problems. They work the problems with appropriate materials and record their results. Similar operations can be performed with a variety of materials. This variety maintains children’s interests while giving them many opportunities for the necessary repetition. As they commit the addition facts and the multiplication tables to memory, they gain a real understanding of what each operation means. In a Montessori classroom there are many materials that can be used for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.
In a Montessori classroom children learn the phonetic sounds of the letters before they learn the alphabetical names in a sequence. The phonetic sounds are given first because these are the sounds they hear in words that they need to be able to read. The children first become aware of these phonetic sounds when the teacher introduces the consonants with the Sandpaper Letters.
The individual presentation of language materials in the Montessori classroom allows the teacher to take advantage of each child’s greatest periods of interest. Reading instruction begins on the day when the children want to know what a word says or when they show an interest in using the Sandpaper Letters. Writing – or the construction of words with the moveable letters – nearly always precedes reading in a Montessori environment.
Gradually the children learn the irregular words, and words with two or three syllables, by doing many reading exercise which offer variety rather than monotonous repetition. Also available in the Montessori classroom are many attractive books using a large number of phonetic words. Proceeding at their own pace, children are encouraged to read about things which interest them. Their skills in phonics give them the means of attacking almost any new word, so that they are not limited to a specific number of words which they have been trained to recognize by sight.
The children’s interest in reading is never stifled by monotony. Rather, it is cultivated as their most important key to future learning. They are encouraged to explore books for answers to their own questions, whether they are about frogs, rockets, stars, or fire engines.
In a Montessori class, the children are introduced to grammar by games which show them that nouns are the names of things, adjectives describe nouns, and verbs are action words. The activity becomes most enjoyable.
The large wooden puzzle maps are among the most popular activities in the classroom. At first the children use the maps simply as puzzles. Gradually they learn the names of many of the countries as well as information about climate and products. The maps illustrate many geographical facts concretely. Children also learn the common land formations such as islands and peninsulas by making them.
Montessori offers the children a concrete presentation of history by letting them work with Time Lines. Time Lines are very long strips of paper which can be unrolled and stretched along the floor of the classroom. The line is marked off in segments which represent consecutive periods of history.
As an introduction to the idea of history, the children begin by making a time line of their own lives, starting with their baby pictures.
CULTURAL AWARENESS PROGRAM
The children gain an awareness of the world around them by exploring other countries, their customs, food, music, climate, language, and animals. This helps to raise their consciousness about other people, to gain an understanding and tolerance and, therefore, compassion for all the people in the world.
COOKING AND NUTRITION
The children study the four basic food groups and learn what their bodies need in order to be healthy. They cook nutritious meals that revolve around their studies of other counties.
ARTS AND CRAFTS
Art in the pre-school environment strives to maintain the great joy the child finds in creating something of his or her own. The children have the freedom to explore their imaginations in a variety of mediums used for expression. The importance of the process is stressed at this time, not the end product. For the Extended Day children, art projects during this time are also integrated with all the other curriculum areas.
SCIENCE AND NATURE
In science the children’s natural curiosity is stimulated through discovery projects and experiments, helping the children draw their own conclusions. The plant and animal kingdoms are studied in an orderly fashion to foster a love and appreciation for all living things.