The Primary program, also referred to as Children’s House, is a classroom community of children from 2 1/2 years of age to 6 years of age who gather and grow together in a prepared environment. This environment is specially designed to appeal to the primary aged child and is filled with developmentally appropriate materials which help the child in his ultimate work of “creating the adult he is to become.”
During the ages of 2 1/2-6 years of age a child is in a distinctive period of learning which Dr. Montessori described as “The Conscious Absorbent Mind.” This plane is of fundamental importance for the formation of the individual. The absorbent mind is characterized by the “Sensitive Periods.” These periods enable the child to absorb new concepts or skills such as language, order, refinement of the senses, movement, and social relations at specific times. The child in this stage wants to be free to work independently within a structured environment doing real activities with an intelligent purpose.
In our Primary Montessori classrooms we have five areas of study:
Practical Life is the cornerstone of the Montessori Method and is the building block for all the other subjects such as Language, Sensorial, Cultural, and Math in the primary level classroom. It consists of simple, daily activities using objects that are familiar and recognizable to the child. Through the materials in the Practical Life area, children are able to explore their natural curiosities. They become independent, self-reliant, and are given the tools necessary to function in society.
The purpose of Practical Life is to provide both physical and developmental skills through direct and indirect aims. The direct aims of this area are to develop coordination, concentration, independence and order through prepared activities that are attractive and draw the attention of the child. In working with these materials the child indirectly obtains emotional enrichment, social skills, physical development of both fine and gross motor, objective and independent judgment and learns natural consequences.
The four main areas of Practical Life are:
- Care of Self
- Care of the Environment
- Grace & Courtesy
- Control of Movement
In our classrooms, we focus on the process and not the product in our Art area. Children are able to use a wide variety of media such as clay, pastels, watercolors and natural materials to express themselves through their art.
“…an inner one, namely, that the child train himself to observe; that he be led to make comparisons between objects, to form judgments, to reason and to decide; and it is in the indefinite repetition of this exercise of attention and of intelligence that a real development ensues.” – Maria Montessori
The three main aims of the Sensorial materials are to stimulate cognitive development, to develop discrimination of specific qualities, and to develop an ability to make judgments and comparisons. The materials are designed to isolate the sense in order for a child to perceive the single quality within the work. For example, the pink tower is all one color so that the child can discriminate visually the difference in the size of the cubes as they graduate from smallest to biggest.
In addition, Maria Montessori included a fifth sense called stereognostic, which is the feeling of form without the visual sense.
“What does not exist in the cultural environment will not develop in the child.” – Maria Montessori
Establishing cultural awareness in the young child aids in their ability to care for others and establishes their sense of place within the world. Therefore, it plays an important role in the Montessori classroom. Cultural development enables the child to make connections between himself and the physical world around him.
The Cultural curriculum includes the following subjects:
Within each of these subjects the child, through the use of didactic materials is exposed to the five animal kingdoms, life cycles, continents, studies of the Earth, space, landforms, and various cultures. In addition, living things such as plants and animals permeate the Montessori environment. The children observe and care for these living organisms. In doing so, they absorb the wonder of the natural world.
Within the Math area there is a sequence of materials and each layer is built upon the previous one. Therefore, it is important to enable the child to set their own pace and for the teacher to observe each step of the way. The children must be able to manipulate the materials through their senses to build a concrete foundation before they can think abstractly.
The introduction to the Math in the Montessori classroom begins with the “basic five” materials. These include the number rods, sandpaper numerals, spindle boxes, smooth numerals and cards and counters. The “basic five” lay the foundation for the remainder of the Math materials in the Primary classroom and are essential in teaching mathematical concepts. Through these materials the child develops a concrete understanding of quantity and the symbols represented for each.
Once a child has mastered the “basic five” and can associate quantity (amount) of numerals 1-10 with their numerals (symbols) other math concepts are introduced.
- Introduction of the decimal system (1, 10, 100, 1000) with the golden bead material
- Concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
- Linear counting up 1000
- Skip counting
Maria Montessori believed that language develops through two internal aids that coincide together and drive the child to act on impulses beginning at infancy through the age of six. She identified these two aids as the “absorbent mind” and “sensitive periods.” The absorbent mind acts as sponge and enables the young child to take in information without effort during a specific time frame. A sensitive period refers to an innate sensibility driving a young child’s development to acquire a specific trait. Once acquired, the sensitive period for that trait ends.
The Montessori environment supports the sensitive period of language through the use of not only the Language materials, but also the materials in the Practical Life, Sensorial and Cultural areas.
The three stages of language development that Maria Montessori identified are:
Stage 1: Pre-reading and Pre-writing
- Visual perception
- Sensorial writing
Stage 2: Developmental Reading and Writing
- Reading program
- Introduction to Grammar
Stage 3: Reading and Writing as a Tool
- Fact finding
- Grammar and word study
- Formal writing