“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” – Maria Montessori
The practical application of the Montessori approach of sensory-based and self-directed learning for children is the most important thread that runs through the Toddler and Primary programs.
Characteristics of the Montessori Prepared Environment
Freedom to choose activities according to the child’s inner needs.
Freedom to explore with the learning materials.
Freedom to communicate.
Freedom to achieve individual potential.
Lessons are introduced to the children based on the Guide’s observations for readiness. After the materials have been introduced, the child may choose the lesson independently as often as he/she likes, allowing repetition and mastery. This provides the opportunity for choice, problem solving, cooperation and independence. Montessori students are also given lessons on Grace and Courtesy to support their place in society. Respect for each other and the environment is apparent throughout the classroom community by both Guides and students. Montessori has been said to be a “Peace Education”.
The three years spent in a Montessori Primary Class
First year: 3-4 year old
The child is involved with practical life and sensorial. In languagethe child begins with sound games, object naming, clarity of sounds, this helps the child to know the sounds of letters, which in turn helps him/her to write words and consequently read. In mathematics the child begins with counting and making numbers in units, and understanding the structure of family of numbers. The work done in practical life enable the child to become independent with daily chores like pouring water for drinking, knowing how to clean, how to dress, and this instils a sense of confidence in the child.
Through activities in the sensorial section, the basics understanding of dimension, gradation, pairing, sorting through tasting, smelling and seeing are refined. Each of the two areas are indirect preparation for the child to enter into more challenging works related to language and mathematics, science, culture and so on as these two areas develop the child's hand-eye coordination, building wrist and pincer movements, whole body balance, ability to apply herself to a task for a continuous period, which is a sign of concentration that is most essential for learning.
Second year: 4-5 years old
The child in the second year of primary does advanced practical life and advanced sensorial like concepts of geometry. In language we can see beginning of writing using Movable Alphabets, and later paper and pencil. The child also starts writing words with double letter sounds (th, ph, sh, a_e, oo, ai etc) like thumb, dolphin. Most children start learning names of countries, capitals, definitions of parts of animals or plants or objects etc. The child starts writing more and more words through pronouncing their syllables, and starts expressing thoughts through writing simple sentences, and can even punctuate the sentences. In mathematics the child moves towards the decimal system and is prepared to do operations exercises of addition, subtraction etc.The understanding of progression of numbers, either through linear counting or through skip counting is strengthened.
Third year: 5-6 years old
The child continues a variety of practical life and advanced sensorial work, example knowing capital, flag, vegetation, animals found, monuments, local festival etc of countries. In language the child develops 'total reading' which means understanding not only how to write words and sentences, but also understanding the structure of a sentence (the subject, verb, adjective, adverb, article, proposition, conjunction, and how and where it is used in a sentence). In mathematics we present more nuanced concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and do operations exercises that may require carry over processes like 2356+3817, or do these operations in 1,000,000, or operations in fractions such as 1/3+1/3+1/3=1. All this advanced work is made possible by maintaining a consistent method at school and home during the three years.
It is in the third year of primary class where the child makes the most of the work done at school, as every concept becomes crystal clear to him/her so much so that he/she starts to move into the realm of abstraction, a higher intellectual stage. To explain the importance of allowing the child to complete the three years (3-6 years old) cycle, there is a wonderful analogy given by a Montessori teacher of that of 'baking a cake': The first step is to gather all of your ingredients. This is like the first year where the student is getting to know the classroom, learning to be part of a larger community, getting to know the materials. The second year is like mixing the batter, everything begins to come together. The child is making connections across the curriculum, seeing the connections between the long rods & number rods, using their new writing skills to label the geography maps.
When you have your cake batter, it is all mixed & tastes delicious. You may be tempted to think it's done. But, if you scoop the batter up in your hand, it just pours through your fingers. The final year of the cycle is like baking your cake. You put it in the oven & leave it there for a bit. While it's in there, something amazing happens. Everything solidifies, just as everything comes together in the third year. When your cake is done, you can cut a slice & hold it in your hand and it stands alone. It has become something different from the batter. So with the third year student; everything comes together and now the child can stand on his/her own knowledge and abilities. The child who leaves in the second year leaves at that point is unfinished, just like the cake batter. You may believe he has everything he needs, but the knowledge has not seeped into him/her to make the smooth and effortless advancement that happen with the child who has completed the three year cycle at a Montessori school.