The classroom environment is set up by a trained Montessori teacher to offer all children the opportunity to choose the work which best suits their personal needs. Here, you will see the different curriculum areas, or environments, found in a typical Montessori classroom.
The items found on the shelves in the classroom are “materials” rather than “toys”. The children “work with the materials” rather than “play with the toys”. This allows the children to gain the most benefit from the environment by giving them a sense of worth – the same sense of worth adults experience as they go to their jobs.
Maria Montessori was an extraordinary innovator in the education field. Her ideas about the education of the young are interesting and unique because she was not a typical teacher. Her higher
studies eventually led her to become the first woman doctor in Italy. Previous to that, she had studied to be an engineer. All of this scientific training taught her to observe the world around her.
Through her observations of young children, she developed new ideas and methods for teaching children.
Montessori saw that children have an Absorbent Mind. Before the age of three years, the child learns simply by existing in his environment. From the moment of birth, the child has a psychic nature that allows him to be a creator and director of his own education. Through his absorption of knowledge he is creating various powers: motor, language, sensory, control, etc. After the age of three the child works on developing those powers. In The Absorbent Mind, Montessori notes, "The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child." We do this by providing a safe, child-oriented environment, including child-sized materials and furniture. We step back and observe the child and manipulate the environment to fit his needs. We follow the child and provide opportunities for him to explore in what he seems to be most interested.
These instances are what Montessori calls sensitive periods.These sensitive periods are a period of time in which the child is most ready to learn something or develop one of his "powers". Teachers need to seize these windows of opportunity, because once that window closes, the child will never again learn that skill as easily. Later on, it can still be learned, but the child will have to work harder; it won't be absorbed as quickly. This is why children exposed to second languages in preschool learn them more easily than adults do in high school and college. We want to give the child as much power as possible.
Practical Life is the foundation of the entire Montessori curriculum, as its direct aims are coordination, confidence, independence, concentration, and order. These five attributes are internalized and benefit the child throughout his life. Math has a definite order. Manipulation of the materials requires coordination. Knowledge is absorbed as the child concentrates. Finally, the child must have confidence in his ability to work independently.
One of the foundations of mathematics is the concept of sets. Things are classified and have a definite order. All parts of the sensorial curriculum have classification activities: rough/smooth, light/heavy, light/dark, loud/soft, etc. Practical life activities are done in a definite order, which is internalized. Many pre-reading activities also include matching, sorting, and sequencing activities.
Maria Montessori was a unique educator because she went beyond traditional ideas and was a pioneer in many respects. She became the first woman engineer in Italy. Later, she became the first woman doctor in Italy. This scientific training taught her to closely observe the world around her. These observations were then utilized with young children, for whom she developed new ideas and methods for teaching. One of her unique areas of instruction is in the Sensorial area.
Sensorial education has a great deal of importance in the Montessori curriculum. First, it provides us the opportunity to see if there are any deficiencies in vision, hearing, etc. The earlier these problems are addressed, the more successful the child will be in overcoming his difficulties.
Sensorial education is also very important because it helps to fine-tune the various senses to aid in future professions. Montessori talks about the importance of a cook being able to smell the difference between fresh and tainted food, or a doctor being able to hear the slightest irregularity in a heartbeat.
Sensorial education helps refine the senses so that the child can better appreciate the world around him. He learns different colors, sounds, tastes, textures, etc. It increases his desire to explore his world and allows him to constructively categorize all that he encounters.
An interesting aspect of this curriculum is that Montessori went deeper than the well-known five senses. Activities for auditory, gustatory (taste), and olfactory (smell) senses all exist. But visual is divided into three sub-areas: size, color, and form. When we look at things, we need to take all three factors into account. Montessori teaches to isolate each sense or each aspect of the sense, in order to truly refine it. She also extends the tactile sense. Tactile activities are done primarily with just the fingers. Stereognostic uses full arm movement and the entire hand. Baric is developing a sense of weight. Thermic is developing a sense of temperature.
Sensorial education provides an indirect foundation for other curriculum areas. The Montessori bells are used for auditory discrimination, but also later can be used for musical interest. The red rods are used before the number rods. The monomial and trinomial cubes are physical representations of algebraic equations. The color boxes provide a foundation for art. All of the activities introduce language to describe the world (e.g. thick/thin, names of colors, light/dark, silence/sound, rough/smooth., etc.). Sensorial education is the foundation of the Montessori curriculum because it has an effect on the whole person.
Another one of Montessori's observations was how children need to physically learn everything. She found movement extremely important. Children must walk back and forth carrying only one thing at a time. Adults find this tedious and time-consuming. However, children find the movement quite satisfying. They seem to crave it. Teachers have many times witnessed a child setting up her rug in the opposite corner of the room from the shelf upon which lies the materials she needs. She may walk as many as forty times to get out and put away her work (e.g. pink tower and brown prisms). But she is content to do so.
Children also learn physically by manipulating with their hands. The hand is the passageway to the mind. This is why everything is taught concretely before abstractly. Children learn length and thickness by carrying and feeling objects of various lengths and widths with their hands. The sandpaper letters allow the child to not only see the differences in the formations of the letters, but also feel them. The desire to feel everything starts in infancy: babies put everything in their mouths to learn about it. By preschool, they just want to touch everything.
Scholarship program available to Primary (3 - 6) and Elementary (6 - 12) aged children. All information is provided to FAST and kept confidential to Independent School Management FAST advisors. Opens Jan. 1st for the following Fall school year. Closes April 30th.
"The child is truly a miraculous being, and this should be felt deeply by the educator."
Dr. Maria Montessori
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