Primary Class Curriculum
Age 2.5—6 Years
Practical Life embodies the practical details of everyday life; they are the ways in which we create, maintain, and enrich our environments and ourselves. This includes such activities as cleaning the house, decorating, brushing teeth, and maintaining social relationships. The Practical Life area of the primary Montessori classroom serves a developmental need for the child. It provides the opportunity for the child to care for herself and for the classroom environment engaging in a broad array of activities such as table washing, polishing, preparing and eating snack, arranging flowers. The 3-6 year old child yearns to participate in the world around him and to learn to "do things for himself." The child is attracted to these activities because they demand collaboration between body and mind. They are attracted to the logical sequence of events involved in the work. Children do this work with great joy, fully engaged in body, mind, and spirit.
Through Practical Life, the child experiences and develops skills needed for independence. The coordination and control needed for the activities helps the child to perfect movement, both fine and gross motor control. By fully engaging in the activity, practical life gives the child the experience of concentration, which is necessary to establish an independent cycle of work in the classroom. Furthermore, the child begins to adapt to their culture, learning skills that are important for their environment and time. Also, the child gains a particular skill necessary for everyday life, such as learning to button. Children come to understand the importance of sequence, logical order, and accuracy which support—important early math skills. Practical life is often the first area presented to a child. It is the foundation for everything to come and is a prerequisite for much of the other work in the classroom.
Senses are the means through which we take in the world. From birth, the normally developing child receives impressions through all of his senses. Through a natural process, a child begins to refine these senses in relationship to the many impressions of the world. During this refinement, the child can explore more deeply, giving her a higher consciousness of her surroundings. The sensorial materials and activities are an aid to the refinement of the senses, helping to clarify the information that the sense organs provide. The child will use the sensorial materials to explore areas such as color, texture, sound, geometric pattern and shape, dimension and size.
The young child has a natural tendency to sort and classify.This is a vital process that allows the child to build his intellect. The sensorial experiences of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting give the child a concrete experience which will aid later abstract thought. The young child makes broad classifications, but through work with the sensorial materials, each child begins to see finer and finer distinctions. Instead of having a vague understanding of the environment, the child absorbs it deeply. The materials aid the child in developing precise and orderly concepts, and in making comparisons and judgments.
The process of abstraction does not occur earlier with a child who works with sensorial materials, but it does make the connections between the concrete world and the abstract concept clearer, because they have a precise picture in their minds. There is long period in which the child is particularly sensitive to refinement of the senses (birth to age 5). During this period, the child is acutely aware of all things sensorial. They want to explore with their senses, using their whole body. This special fascination with the concrete sensorial world diminishes at age 5, as the child moves into a period of greater abstraction using their ability to classify and imagine. The foundations laid with the sensorial work assist in the movement toward abstraction.
Language is meaningful communication-not just the ability to read and write. For the child, whatever form of communication they have is meaningful. Every language experience is a point of contact between people. The child's first personal experience is talking about something meaningful to them. In order to succeed in reading and writing, the child must first become a more skilled talker, able to express what they are thinking and feeling. Facility in writing and reading is based on spoken language.
The Primary Montessori Language curriculum encompasses Spoken Language, Written Language (both self-expression and the mechanics of writing), and Reading. Each of these distinct, yet interrelated areas is supported with a myriad of concrete materials and experiences which are tools the child uses to "teach himself" to read and write. Examples of Spoken Language work include stories, poems, vocabulary enrichment cards, and conversations. Written Language distinguishes the skills of expressive writing and mechanical writing and employs materials and activities such as sandpaper letters, metal insets, and movable alphabets to develop each separate skill.
In the Montessori classroom, reading is not so much taught as discovered. The child's prior work of sound analysis and self-expression through writing leads to the discovery that they can read the words that others have written. Once this "discovery" is made, numerous tools in the form of materials and exercises are available to the child. These include phonetic reading cards, phonogram work, puzzle words and simple books. As the child progresses as a total reader, additional work follows on the Function of Words, grammar and syntax, sentence analysis and word study follows.
Pascal said that it is a human characteristic to be mathematical. The human tendencies of exactness, order, repetition, abstraction etc. are present from birth. These tendencies aid the child in being mathematical. Even if we don't recognize it, the child is experiencing the world in a mathematical way. Just as we want to help the child to refine her senses, we want to assist the child in refining her mathematical mind. Through experiences, observations, and explorations, the child will come to know math. The work already done with the sensorial materials assists the child in perceiving size, quantity, sequence, and pattern. Math is a specific sensorial experience which also contains a spoken and written language component. Montessori math emphasizes the concrete understanding of mathematical concepts in conjunction with the "language" of math. For example, we want the child to not only be able to "count" to a specific number, but to also understand what that number means.
The Math area includes six distinct "groups" of materials that explore the Numbers 1-10, The Decimal System, Teens and Tens, Memorization of math facts, Fractions, and the Passage to Abstraction. A myriad of precise materials are included in each group to provide experience and understanding in each of the areas. The materials contain many "controls of error" to guide the children in accuracy.
Grace and Courtesy Lessons
Grace and Courtesy lessons are designed to give the child the means to practice moving with purpose and control and engaging with real social situations. These lessons promote harmony in the very broadest sense: Grace is harmony between mind and body; courtesy is harmony between oneself and another. The movement aspect of these lessons helps the child gain confidence and competence in the physical environment of the classroom. The social aspect of these lessons focuses on the goal of establishing and maintaining satisfying relationships in the classroom, allowing a means for each individual to be satisfied within the group. Grace and Courtesy lessons are presented so there is an atmosphere of peace and communication in the classroom. During individual lessons a child focuses on one specific way of moving such as how to carry a chair or what to say in a certain specific social situation such as asking another child to join you at the snack table. In this way the child becomes more at ease with herself and with other people. Children also become better aware of ways to effectively communicate their needs. Grace and Courtesy lessons are given in small or large groups, with children role playing in a specific situation.
Creating something can be a mode of self-expression or communication. However, the purpose of early art is the same as practical life; perfection of movement, encouraging independence, and concentration. Particularly at an early age, the child is sensitive to movement, and is keyed into the sensorial aspects of art, such as size, dimension, and shape. The indirect purpose of the work is to learn to manipulate tools, such as scissors, needles and thread, paint brushes, clay and other tools used in various art media. Certain materials also allow the child a means to practice pencil grip. The young child is very enthralled with the process, but has little interest in the result of their work of art. However, we want to prepare them for that moment of consciousness when they are interested in the results (this occurs generally around 4-6 years of age). For these older children art becomes a conscious tool of self-expression. Art is then linked to many other areas of work in the classroom. A child may apply his ability to sew and embroider in order to make and decorate a small cloth bag. Another may write a poem and illustrate it with collage or watercolor. Creative expression and possibility flourishes when children have ample time and practice with a variety of media.
Music is considered part of the sensorial area for the young child. We desire to give the child ever increasing musical impressions at this early age that the child will refine over time. Singing, exposure to a wide range of musical styles through listening, playing of simple percussion instruments and extensive and varied lessons with the Montessori "Bells" are a few examples of music that the child enjoys as a regular part of the classroom environment. We want each child to experience music as a vital part of normal daily life.
Geography and Cultural Studies
Maria Montessori believed that we need to give the whole world to the young child. Geography and Cultural Studies are considered part of the Sensorial and Language areas for the youngest children. An extensive array of exercises with the puzzle maps gives children exposure to and experience with the geography of the world, its oceans, countries in particular continents, and states in our own country of the United State. This work is complimented with stories, songs, artwork and information highlighting life for peoples in all parts of the world.