The Primary Curriculum
From birth to three years, children mentally absorb the environment as they register sensorial impressions. Montessori called this phase the ”unconscious absorbent mind”. The PGCPS Montessori Program begins with the second stage of the ”absorbent mind”, from three to six years of age.
In this stage of self-formation, the child focuses intensely on the development of coordination, concentration, order, independence, and language. Three to six year olds go through periods where intense power and interest are concentrated on one capacity. Dr. Montessori called these ”Sensitive Periods”. These critical, but transitory, time frames in which children work on one specific area of development to the exclusion of all others is observed and aided by the teacher, as the child ”creates himself”.
The Practical Life Curriculum is an education in movement. The challenge of the child from birth through age six is to complete the formation and refinement of the physical body. Dr. Montessori designed a child-sized environment that gives children the opportunity to engage their whole bodies in exercise which perfects now one movement, now another. The primary classroom has materials for washing, pouring, measuring, sweeping, tying laces, buttoning, table setting, and a host of other real-life, child-sized ”work”.
· These and other activities help children develop coordination of large and small muscles as well as increasingly precise eye-hand coordination.
· Because the practical life exercises are deeply satisfying to them, children repeat the exercises over and over, learning to persist in a task from beginning to end, and building capacity for concentration. “The work is refreshing and not tiring because of the interest which one takes in all his movements. . . . They provide a motive and urge the child on to organize his movements.” (Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child)
· The exercises also help to develop in the very young child a strong and realistic sense of independence and self-reliance. The activities are designed to reflect work children see everyday as part of the daily life in their homes. They develop a growing pride in being able to "do it for myself."
· Part of the practical life curriculum focuses on developing skills that allow children to effectively control and deal with the social environment in which they live. The “ exercises of grace and courtesy” introduce positive human relation skills to the children, and offer opportunities to practice skills in isolation, then apply them in peer interactions. Practical life begins as soon as the young child enters the school and continues throughout the curriculum to more and more advanced tasks appropriate to oldest students.
The Sensorial Curriculum is aimed at the training and sharpening of the senses. “The sensorial materials comprise a series of objects grouped together according to some physical quality which they have, such as color, shape, size, sound, texture, weight, temperature, and so forth.” (Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child) These are exercises in perception, observation, fine discrimination, and classification. Refinement of the sense of sound paves the way for the child’s emergence into language. Sensorial education also builds a foundation for mathematical knowledge and the ability to make precise observations of the natural world in science. Experiences in artistic, architectural and musical appreciation further extend sensorial training.
The sensorial materials are highly interesting to young children and are a major area of concentration, typically between ages three and five years. They play an important role in helping Montessori students to develop their sense of order.
· Sensorial materials provide practice in perceiving patterns and classifying impressions.
· Each group of objects isolates a single quality, but in different degrees, bringing to the child’s awareness contrasts and similarities.
· The exercises contain a control of error which ”makes the child use his reason, critical faculty, and ever increasing capacity for drawing distinctions.” (Discovery of the Child)
Language is developed and reinforced throughout the primary classrooms. Many aspects of the environment create in our young children a spontaneous interest in learning how to read.
Control of the hand in preparation for writing is developed through the practical life curriculum and other specially designed exercises. The children practice making letters from age three or four. Before they are comfortable in their handwriting skills, they spell words, compose sentences and stories, and work on punctuation and capitalization with the moveable alphabets.
Montessori primary teachers begin to teach reading as soon as that interest is first expressed. The children are taught to listen for and recognize the individual phonetic sounds in words. They explore deciphering written words through recognition of patterns. They are also introduced to literature by reading aloud a wide range of classic stories and poetry. Opportunities to practice reading occur across the curriculum.
The study of grammar also begins during this sensitive period for language. Children are introduced to the function of the parts of speech one at a time through games and exercises that introduce one element at a time.
Math concepts are introduced and practiced using hands-on activities. Children receive a solid foundation for understanding mathematical principles, and a structured transition from concrete to abstract reasoning.
Students are typically introduced to numeration at age three. They learn numbers and number symbols one to ten. They are exposed to the place value rules of the decimal numeration system through interaction with manipulative math materials designed by Dr. Montessori. The colorful bead materials invite discovery of mathematical patterns. Children develop the concept of the four basic mathematical operations - addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication - through work with the Montessori math materials. The study of fractions also begins at this level, with very concrete materials. Geometry is introduced with sensorial exploration of plane and solid figures at ages three to six. More advanced study of the nomenclature, characteristics, measurement and drawing of the geometric shapes and concepts continues through age twelve in repeated cycles.
Geography and History are very closely related. One presents the study of the earth on which people live. The other presents the study of people who live on the earth. It would be impossible for a child to fully understand one without also understanding the other. The teacher fuses the two together to provide full understanding of each.
Geography is first presented as an extension of the sensorial and language activities. Specially prepared globes for the very young child isolate single concepts of land and water. Colorful puzzle maps representing the continents, the countries of each continent, and the states of the U. S. are presented to the children at an early age. The children begin to learn the names of given countries, and by age six are normally very familiar with the continents of the globe, the nations of North America, South America, and Europe, along with most of the states of the U.S. They lay the puzzle pieces out and place appropriate name labels on each as a reading and geography exercise.
History is presented to small children through stories of holidays, birthdays and historic events, and through cultural activities. Timelines of transportation, clothing and housing show changes through history. Studies of art, music and customs are an integral part of the history lessons.
Science is woven into sensorial, practical life and language activities. Children learn to observe, identify and classify as they care for classroom plants and animals. Nature walks, opportunities to explore the physical properties of objects such as magnetism and buoyancy, stories, songs, and vocabulary enrichment activities all prepare the children to collect, organize and interpret scientific information.