Curriculum ~ Primary
Geography is included in the Montessori primary environment to give the child a simple foundation of understanding the world in which he lives. The concepts of geography are presented starting with the whole and moving to the parts, beginning with the earth as a whole sphere using the Globe of Land and Water and the Globe of Continents. This is followed by parallel presentations in the political, physical and cultural aspects of geography also approached from the whole to the parts. As in all other areas, the child is first given the concrete experience, then the accompanying language orally, and then the same language in writing.
The beginning lessons of geography are sensorial in their nature. It begins with the concrete presentation of constructed land-forms depicting the concept of land and water. This concept of land and water is followed by the relationship of a continent and an ocean. At a later date the child learns the names of the continents and oceans. Thus the child progresses from the concrete representation of land and water to the abstract line on a map which means an island, lake or other form.
The further use of the continent maps, the colored control charts, and later, maps printed in black and white, will take the child to the realm of the abstract. Printed labels of countries and other parts of maps lead to indirect sight reading.
The use of concrete materials in geography should bring the child to a level of understanding which will foster in him a desire to create his own materials of his own making, such as making land forms of clay, making his own maps with watercolor and pin-pricking the continent and country shapes. A full understanding of these concrete materials which then leads to a full understanding of the abstract concepts prepares the child for a life-time of interest in time, space, places and people.
The human tendencies, order, exactness, repetition, and abstraction exist in all human beings. Montessori said this is a propensity for the mind to think mathematically. The goal is to first introduce the concept through the child’s senses then through her intellect. The result will be the abstraction of a concept. The same is true for the math materials, after lots of work with the math materials sensorially the language is than given. We do not want to start with abstraction or symbols. Math materials involve logical sequencing. Math has many concrete materials to encourage exploration and practice. Presentations (lessons) follow the pattern of simple to complex and general to specific. One concept is given at a time and the guide does not move on until the concept is understood. Each new material is built upon the previous isolation of difficulty. The first three groups of math deal with grouping, number and quantity. The first group is focused on the numbers one through ten. The second group is the introduction to the decimal system. While the third group is focused on the teens and tens. A general pattern is followed; the child is first given a concrete experience in quantity so the child can manipulate the objects and count orally. For example the number rods, the child is able to physically manipulate each one and is than able to show what each one is, “this is one”. We then give lots of practice through exercises, next the guide gives the symbol for the spoken language already mastered. Lastly, the child associates the quantity and the symbol together.
The Practical Life curriculum provides the child with the opportunity to learn care of his environment, care of himself, grace and courtesy and control of movement. Practical Life provides “real things”, such as child sized brooms, utensils, containers, scissors and trays for the child to handle, rather than toys. Children want to do what they see adults doing.
The purpose of Practical Life materials is to develop coordination, concentration, order and independence. Coordination is improved and developed through activities such as pouring, spooning, buttoning, cutting and sweeping, which exercise the finger and hand muscles and therefore develop fine motor skills. These same motor skills will be necessary when using writing implements.
Concentration is also developed through the use of Practical Life materials. The classroom is prepared attractively with developmentally appropriate materials that “call” to the child. When the child’s interest in the materials is very high, it leads to greater concentration and increased attention span.
One of the aims of childhood is independence. A common statement made by the 3 to 6 year old is, “I can do it myself.” Practical Life materials contain numerous activities, which have a built in “control of error”, that is, they are self correcting. The entire classroom is child sized so the child can work independently.
Children between the ages of 3 and 6 are very sensitive to order. Everything in the classroom has an exact place. The materials are color coded so the child can easily return them to the shelf. Materials are set up in a definite order from easiest to most difficult. They are placed on shelves from left to right, top to bottom in preparation for reading, which follows the same pattern.
The Practical Life materials, because they develop concentration, coordination, independence and order, lay the foundation for all the other areas of the classroom.
“I learned to read and nobody taught me how.” These are familiar words in the Montessori classroom. The ability to read develops during that long sensitive period for the acquisition of language. A key element to all Montessori classrooms is placing non-readers in with children who are already reading creating that natural lure to emulate their peers.
Montessori educators have long recognized the phonetic approach as the single most effective way to guide children toward reading. While reading requires decoding what others have written, in the Montessori classroom the child first becomes familiar with encoding words, thoughts and ideas that come from within themselves. The Vocabulary Cards and sound games are the first in a series of Montessori works that begin this process. Lessons are given in which the child learns to recognize the beginning, ending, and finally, the middle sound within a word. When introducing the Sandpaper Letters, the young child sees the letter, hears the sound of the letter clearly articulated, and, lastly, feels the letter by tracing it in sandpaper with two fingers of their dominant hand. As the child acquires more knowledge of sounds, the Moveable Alphabet material enables them to compose words and stories on their own. When they begin working with the Moveable Alphabet material the young child is comfortable using a phonetic approach to word building, but their natural curiosity soon has them composing complex words, opening the door for lessons on consonant blends, phonograms and sight words.
It is when this groundwork is laid that reading very naturally follows these word building exercises and the child makes the leap from composing words (encoding) to reading single words, phrases and sentences (decoding). This is known as the “explosion into reading”. As these lessons move forward in the Montessori classroom, the child is becoming a more competent and confident reader. The child enjoys subsequent lessons where they can use their new reading skill to label objects in the classroom, carry out actions read on cards, and begin their journey of reading books.
Young children are innately curious about the world around them and have a strong desire to find about world for themselves. The Science curriculum is an integral part of the Primary Montessori classroom and it helps to cultivate this curiosity. Children begin to understand about their environment first by observing and then experimenting with hands-on activities in the classroom. Some of the Science materials the child works with are magnetism, objects that sink and float, weights, vertebrate and invertebrates, living and non-living, and the classification and care of plants and animals. The child begins to expand his/her knowledge of nature through participating in outdoor activities such as going on nature walks, feeding the birds, planting seeds and flowers, investigating insects and spiders and observing plants and wildlife. As the child continues to ask questions about his/her observations, the desire to find out more information increases. Through the experience of nature studies, the child develops a sense of eager curiosity and the wonder of the world around him/her. This in turns helps him/her develop a lifelong interest and appreciation of nature and the Universe.
The general purpose of the sensorial area is to allow the child the opportunity to interpret the world intelligently. Between three and six years of age, children have a natural inclination to perfect their senses due to a sensitive period for the refinement of senses. This enables children to distinguish and classify his impressions through the mediation of specially designed materials.
The sensorial area may be defined as a series of exercises with scientifically designed objects that are grouped together according to some physical quality they possess, such as color, shape, size, sound, texture, weight, temperature and so forth. The grouping allows children to rediscover their environment by way of their senses in a clear and meaningful way.
There are two outstanding features that define the sensorial material; materialized abstractions and keys to the universe. Materialized abstraction means that abstract concepts are materialized or made concrete. This enables children to come into physical contact with an idea or concept. The key to the universe refers to the essence of the qualities or attributes found in the world and they will be presented to children through sensorial material. The sensorial material gives children the essence of the universal concepts allowing them to apply this understanding to the infinite variety of expressions of these concepts in the world.
Through sensorial material the child starts classifying and categorizing the physical qualities of the world. The sensorial materials make it possible for the child to distinguish and classify. We can thus conclude that order is the basis for the development of intelligence as it empowers the mind with the ability to distinguish. Intelligence, according to Maria Montessori, is to be able to distinguish, classify and catalog external things on the basis of a secure order already established in the mind, this is at once intelligence and culture. The characteristics of development are therefore, orderliness and the power of discrimination or ability to see different and similar.
Writing has two components: the manual skill of holding the pencil and forming letters properly on paper, and the intellectual skill of knowing letter sounds, hearing the sounds that make up the words, and ordering them onto paper. These two skills are taught and practiced separately before the child eventually puts them together into what adults would call writing. Handwriting (the manual, fine motor skill) is practiced indirectly in the numerous works in the classroom that require fine motor skill and hand strength (i.e. sewing, clay, knobbed puzzles, etc.) and is directly addressed with sandpaper letter tracing, metal inset work, chalkboard practice, letter worksheets, etc. At the same time the child is developing using a pencil and forming letters, she is also working on the intellectual skill involved with writing, that is, knowing letter sounds and hearing and distinguishing the sounds that make up words. Phonemic awareness games, sandpaper letters, and the movable alphabet all support this process. Once both skill sets are in place, children usually begin to want to write on paper, and writing becomes a natural expansion of all the work that has gone before. From there, the possibilities are endless, and the classroom continues to support and guide the child in joyful and confident writing.