Montessori is a scientific method of education, a philosophy of child development, and an approach to children that helps them maximize their potential. Doctor Maria Montessori, who lived from 1870 to 1952 was a brilliant and original educator. Her most important discovery was that children learn in a fundamentally different way than adults. A child, for example, learns her native tongue by hearing and imitating. Anyone who has learned a second language as an adult can appreciate what an enormously complex task it is. The young child, however, has an innate capacity to "absorb" language as well as other types of knowledge spontaneously. When Montessori studied children's innate capacity to absorb knowledge, she discovered that they learned best when they were free to work and play in a carefully prepared, nurturing environment. In time Montessori went on to create schools where teachers and parents worked together to create prepared environments where children worked with specially designed learning materials that optimized their potential. Today, authentic Montessori schools are recognized throughout the world for their superior and innovative approach to education.Montessori Peace Education
We constantly teach peace in our school by example, by helping the children talk with each other through social challenges (mainly on the playground!), by teaching the children about peoples of the world and marveling at our differences and the things we have in common. Our staff share their native languages with the children – such as Chinese and Spanish. The Primary children have weekly language lessons to deepen their understanding of different cultures and the sounds of world languages.The Montessori Teacher
The Montessori curriculum comes alive to the child when a link is established between the child and the prepared environment of the classroom. The Montessori teacher (also called directress or guide) establishes this link. Montessori teachers are required to meet more stringent standards for certification than teachers in other schools and day care centers. These include 400 hours of academic work plus 540 hours of supervised in-classroom student teaching.
Montessori teachers facilitate a structured learning environment and foster an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect that frees the children to learn and grow to their highest potential. A Montessori teacher teaches children not only to be competent learners, but guides them to take their place one day as a caring, responsible and compassionate members of the community.What are sensitive periods?
Montessori identified several sensitive periods for children to develop fine motor, gross motor, sense discrimination, language and such. Nearly all these sensitive periods "dry up" by the age of 4.5 so it is critical that the child do this work to "construct himself". The sensitive period for language is the only one that continues to age 6.0. More than academics or anything on paper, it is a critical time for the child to participate in work that allows him/her to categorize sense information. With this organized in his/her mind, s/he establishes in himself a "mathematical mind" that can easily assimilate and analyze new information. Surely your child cannot describe this to you - how can s/he possibly describe that he is "creating himself" or "organizing his mind"? This work cannot possibly be "taught" him, its necessary for him to experience with his hands so that it is internalized.
No other kinds of work should supersede the work of the sensitive periods. When they start to "dry up" you may find that your child seems to be a bit lost; s/he might start saying "I'm bored" or "I don't know what to do." S/he will be quite sincere, the sensitive periods are powerful urges and it takes a while before willpower kicks in - which is learned. In class, we help children to develop his/her will by:
By allowing your child the opportunity to make choices, within acceptable limits. For example, you would not allow your child to choose shorts in the middle of winter but s/he can choose any of his/her long pants. If this is too difficult, suggest two good choices. By allowing your child time to concentrate on the task at hand – notice if the child is always engaged in a certain kind of movement or experience with his/her senses (is it manual dexterity, sorting activities, or gross motor?). By allowing your child to repeat an (acceptable) activity over and over –it's helpful to think of them as little scientists. Let them get dirty! At this phase they are sensory learners and they learn through their hands.Why is concentration so important in a child this age?
Again, in Montessori's own words:
During our work period the teachers give 1-1 and small group lessons, facilitate choices, and make observations regarding every aspect of development of your child. During this period, we encourage the children to tune in to themselves and make choices that resonate with them as we guide and entice them to work in all areas of the classroom.Process, not Product
Most of the activities in the classroom do not result in a paper output to bring home even when they are developing essential pre-writing, pre-reading, and pre-math skills! Art activities are always introduced and available, but your child may not be choosing it because she is being creative in other ways, such as in the Sensorial Area.
In the Sensorial Area, the children develop their discrimination skills for all of the five senses. Most of the work has the idea of bringing chaos to order, which is an essential life-long project skill.
Taking the Color Box activity as an example, the children begin with pairing the three primary colors and then learn to name them. When this is mastered, they do the same with more color tablets that include the secondary and neutral colors. When this is mastered, they get to explore color gradations with Color Box 3:
You might have noticed that a tablet or two is out of order. In our classroom, we are very friendly with error and even chat about how some of the most important discoveries begin with a mistake (even Christopher Columbus).
Most Montessori materials are didactic in that the children can assess for themselves if they did it correctly. With math, they end up with just the right number of counters or they check there answer with a chart. In case of Color Box 3, a child can stand up and view it from a distance. If a child persists in not discovering an error, we wait until she is 100% comfortable with the process before we arrive and ask for turn where we model the correct outcome (be it ordering or even spelling and math), which gives the child a new challenge. This is the idea behind joyful learning. They know when they get it right – they may jump up and do a victory dance or admire their work with a confident smile.Friendly with Error
Dr. Montessori stressed the importance of developing a life-long love of learning. (It is hard to love something when you are always told that you are doing it wrong!) So in our classroom, we emphasize friendliness with error. After all, it is mistakes that make life interesting and often lead to new discoveries! It is not that we promote sloppy or half-hearted efforts; it is that the work reflects the child's best efforts for that moment in time. When a child learns something new, s/he may not be able to do it consistently. We celebrate the efforts to promote a love of learning and we encourage repetition so that the child can master the challenge. Whenever possible, work has built-in controls of error so that the child can check his/her own work and make corrections. When a child needs help, we may sit with the child and ask to have a turn so the child is able to review the technique.
For example, when a child first begins to write with the Moveable Alphabet, the words are spelled phonemically (the way they sound). At this point in time we want to encourage the child and celebrate this newly developed skill to write (analyze sounds and translate them to symbols). Later on, as the child begins to read (analyze and translate symbols, and then synthesize the sounds into a word), we introduce the child to phonograms and sight words and other challenging aspects of written English.
This is true for mathematics as well. For initial lessons, we focus on the process, that the child understands the steps to undertake. Later on, we introduce ways in which the child can check his/her own work.Fostering Independence and Self Esteem
A child at this age has a silent cry help me do this myself. Thus, it is very important for us as adults to nurture this developmental need. Please be sure that the clothes your child wears to school are ones he can put on himself and manage in the bathroom. For the younger children it is very important that they have pants and skirts with elastic tops and shoes that they can slide into or Velcro.Children helping children....
Dr. Montessori frequently said that, unlike adults who do for children, children know how to help children. I witnessed just that today.
As the afternoon children were getting ready to go out, a 5 year old surprised me by asking for help with his coat's zipper. Just as I looked to see what the problem was, one of his peers popped between us and said, "I'll help." (This was another surprise because, while classmates, they seldom interact with each other. So the helper jumped in front of me and reached for the zipper and then she walked away. "Why didn't she help him?" I thought. Then I noticed he was zipping his zipper himself.
I figured it out - the toggle had been stuck and she just flipped it into position. That was all the help he needed and intuitively she knew it! (Unlike me, who had been preparing to zip his coat for him :).
Small incident? Certainly, but it is precisely the kind of respectful support for learning and growth that Montessori children give to one another that can never quite be duplicated with (even Montessori trained!) adults.Circle Time - a safe place
It is always so humbling to be part of our community of children. I am continually amazed by the conversations we have as a group and the insights the children have. Just this week, out of the blue, they began talking about dead animals that they have seen. At first I tried to direct the conversation to a more pleasant topic, but they were very sincere in their need to communicate so I let the conversation evolve. We don't think of children seeing these things, but their wonderful absorbent minds are taking it all in unfiltered. The conversation was organic and led to talking about the loss of a pet and how much that hurts. Nearly every child spoke up about a loss of a pet or the pet of someone they know. This is what Montessori meant by social cohesion. The children create a society of their own; one in this case where it is safe to express heartfelt thoughts, ideas, and feelings. It's very special and very moving to witness.Giving praise
It seems that balance is a lifelong lesson in all areas of our lives, this one included. It's very important to allow you child that moment of exhilaration when s/he discovers s/he's just accomplished something. In class, we call it the dance of the Pink Tower when a child is really excited and proud of herself. There is such joy! If we show up and start praising, we actually take the moment away from her. Taken to the extreme, we teach the child to look outside himself for praise. However, if a child asks you for it, that's a great time to lavish it on. You can keep it short with meaning –Wow! or you take a moment to help your child internalize it –I saw that you worked on that a long time!How do you handle social challenges and hitting?
Our classroom has a rule that we do not hurt another person's feelings and we do not hurt another person's body. Great, what happens when someone doesn't follow the rules? We gather the children and help them to talk through the difficulty. We remind them of words that they could have used and teach the victim to defend himself by saying You may not _____ .We remind the child that if the other does not respect his wishes that he should tell a teacher.Why all this insistence on having the child hang her coat and change her shoes, etc.?
In Maria Montessori's own words: Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence."Letters as Sounds
In Montessori, we teach letters as sounds not letter names. We introduce the sounds by tracing Sandpaper Letters. Once a child knows sound such as |p|, |o|, |t|, he can write pot, top, even opt with the Moveable Alphabet. When they learn in this way, they write before they can read.
When a child has developed handwriting skills, we teach him to write these words on chalk boards and paper writing lowercase letters. If a child is learning at home the letters as names or writing capital letters, it actually slows this process down because it is confusing. When a child knows letters by name, it actually slows the child's ability to write and sound out letters to read. Today I was working with a child and held up w and asked what sound it makes, he said dddd (as the first sound in the name double-u) and y was wwww (as in the name of the letter Y). So you can see how this would be confusing. Once the child learns the letters as sounds and is comfortable, learning the names are easy with the ABC Song and such.What is the purpose of the grammar symbols?
In the primary classroom, children explore the function of words in a variety of fun ways. Using a set up of farm animals, the children discover that adjectives distinguish nouns (e.g. the sitting cat versus the orange cat) they also discover that action words cannot be fetched but they can be acted out. The grammar symbols helps the children to identify patterns.What is the purpose of the bead chains?
The bead chains comprise a Montessori material that has many wonderful uses. There are two sets, short and long. The short chains represent the square of numbers 1 through 10 (the longest is the 100 chain). The long chains represent the cube of numbers 1 through 10 (the longest is the 1000 chain). The children count the chains and label each element in the chain. Before they do this we show how the chain can be folded to make a square (short chain) or cube (long chain). The children get practice with transitions (e.g. 28, 29, 30), skip counting (e.g. 9, 18, 27...), and the meaning of the square and cube root.What should we do for enrichment at home?
Sometimes parents ask what they can be doing for enrichment with their children especially over the summer - lots of play and family fun together sprinkled with quiet times enjoying each other's company and/or reading together.
Lots of gross motor and heavy work - which might be hiking with a small backpack, biking, or helping with the gardening! Hiking and exploring nature is by far a most wonderful enrichment to a child this age. When a naturalist points out one on the edge of a trail and shares some interesting facts, the children find in fascinating and it makes the natural world exciting!
As always, lots of interactive conversation (e.g. with people, not media!) is key to supporting your child's intellectual development. Also, you can play oral word games (but make them fun!). For example: singular and plural (1 dog, 2 dogs; 1 goose, 3 geese), names of groups (a gaggle of geese, a herd of steer, a colony of ants), compound words (lunch, box - lunchbox), contractions (cannot - can't, have not - haven't), tongue twisters, adjectives (e.g. how many words can we use to describe this frog? green bumpy slimy chubby happy hungry sleepy silent wise frog).
It's best to leave the academics to school because we do not teach in an adult-directed way, our method is child-driven joyful learning. However, if you want to work with letters – please focus on the sounds they make as that will help your child identify phonemes in words to write and sound out to read. In school, we teach lowercase letters and casually introduce uppercase when they are working on sentences or proper names.
As far as numbers go – counting is always good. Count anything – number of telephone poles, number of birds, number of cars, etc. Pay special attention to 13, 14, 15, 16... one of those numbers are often dropped when a child is first learning teens. Again, it is essential that these games are child-initiated and fun!
Sensory games such as listening (e.g. let's be quiet, what do you hear? the clock, a plane, the birds...), or tasting (this lemon is sour, this banana is sweet) or touch (there's temperature - outdoors: the parking lot is hot, the sand feels cool, the water is cold or indoors: wood feels warm, the metal feels cool; and weight; and texture), etc.
If your child reads - write clues on slips of paper and place them throughout the house and have a treasure hunt. For example, the starting clue might be on the kitchen chair with a slip that says your bed and there a slip says in the cookie jar, etc.
Exploring nature - take every opportunity to hike with a naturalist. Eg. AMC camps.
Best of all - have fun!Art and Artists
Art is as open-ended and independent as possible. The whole process, the strokes, the colors are all exploratory. More than representational art, a young child's work is more the expression of emotion. That is why we never display a child's art unless the child requests it. Older children will tend to focus on representational art, which has a different focus entirely. We supply the classroom with a variety of mediums, give a basic introduction, and let them explore!Primary Class Goals