Introduction: To Set The Stage
The children normally come to school for five days a week. Most Montessori schools do not offer two- or three-day programs, because young children are incredibly responsive to consistency and order in their environment.
When a child comes to school only a few days a week, he never attains that consistency and order. In some schools, two three and four year olds go home at noon, while in many others they stay for the full day.
Basic Structure Of The Curriculum
Yearly Cultural Curriculum
|Astronomy||The Universe. The Solar System|
|Geography||The Earth, Study of the Globe, Continents, Land and Water Formations, Oceans and Zones.|
|Racial Groups||Native American, Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid, Composite Group, Myself, My Family, Children around the World, People around the World|
|Role Models||Famous Personalities from around the World|
|Music Composers||Famous Composers and Music from around the World|
|Human Values||Truth, Right Action, Peace, Love, Non-Violence, Compassion, Self-esteem, Kindness, Respect, Human Differences and Similarities|
|History||Early Life on Earth (Animal and Plant), The Needs of Man, Days of the Week, Months of the Year, Seasons of the Year, Calendar, Early Civilizations, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Modern Ages|
|Human Anatomy||Health and Physical Hygiene, The Food Pyramid, Cleanliness and its importance, Exercise, Parts of the Body, Senses of the Body, Internal Organs, Emotions|
|Biology||Living – Non Living, Animal - Plant|
|Botany||Fruits and Vegetables, The Plant, The Leaf, The Flower, The Root, The Seed, The Stem|
|Zoology||Vertebrate – Invertebrate, The Five Groups of the Vertebrate, The Fish, The Amphibian, The Reptile, The Bird, The Mammal, The Insects|
|Science||Observation Table, Magnifying Glass, Sink and Float, Magnetic – Non Magnetic, Three Forms of Matter: Land – Air – Water, Animal – Plant – Mineral, Weather, Clouds, The Clock|
|Community||My Community, The Farmer, The Policeman, The Dentist, The Fireman, The Veterinarian, The Librarian, The Postman, The Doctor, The Nurse, The Banker|
|Field Trips||Pumpkin Patch, The Police Car/The Dentist come to school, The Fire Department, The Pet Store, The Library, Tide Pools, Picnic|
The Montessori Curriculum Integrates Knowledge
The Montessori curriculum is organized as an inclined spiral plane of integrated studies rather than traditional model in which the curriculum is compartmentalized into separate subjects with topics considered only once at a grade level. Lessons are introduced simply and concretely in the early years and are reintroduced several times over the following years at increasing degrees of abstraction and complexity. The Montessori course of study is an integrated thematic approach that ties the separate disciplines of the physical universe, the world of nature and the human experience. Literature, the arts, history, social issues, civics, economics, science and the sturdy of technology all complement each other in the Montessori curriculum. This integrated approach is one of Montessori's great strengths. As an example, when Elementary Montessori students study Africa, they look at the physical geography, the climate, ecology, natural resources and the ways in which people have adapted to their environment: food, shelter, transportation, clothing, family life and traditional cultures. The might read African folk tales, study great African civilizations and endangered species, create African masks and traditional instruments and make African block print T-shirts in art, learn some Swahili, study dance and music and prepare some typical meals from various African cultures. Guest speakers, performers and friends of the school help to make the curriculum come alive through their memories, talents and personal experience.
The Practical Life
The Sensorial Exercises
A child interacts with the physical world through his senses. From birth, he will look, listen, touch, taste, pick up, manipulate and smell almost anything that comes into her grasp. At first, everything goes into the mouth. Gradually he begins to explore each object's weight, texture, and temperature. He may watch something that catches his attention, such as a butterfly, with infinite patience. The Sensorial curriculum is designed to help the child focus his attention more carefully on the physical world, exploring with each of his senses the subtle variations in the properties of objects.
At first, the child may simply be asked to sort among a prepared series of objects that vary by only one aspect, such as height, length or width. Others challenge him to find identical pairs or focus on very different physical properties, such as aroma, taste, weight, shades of color, temperature or sound. These exercises are essentially puzzles and they tend to fascinate the children because they are just difficult enough to represent a meaningful challenge. Each has a built-in control of error that allows the child who is observant to check his own work. All the Sensorial exercises are essentially lessons in vocabulary, as the children master the names of everything from sophisticated plane and geometric figures to the parts of familiar plants and animals. As the Eskimos demonstrate to us with 26 different words the snow, we observe that as the children learn the correct names for things, the objects themselves take on meaning and reality as the child learns to recognize and name them.
Why is it so important to educate the young child's senses? We certainly don't believe that we can improve a child's hearing or sight through training. However, we can help children pay attention, to focus their awareness and to learn how to observe and consider what comes into their experience. In a way, the Sensorial curriculum accomplishes something like a course in wine tasting or music appreciation; one learns to taste, smell or hear what is experienced with a much deeper awareness and appreciation. These exercises can help the children learn and appreciate their world more fully.
Some people have heard, that in Montessori the children are taught there is only one way to work with each material. In truth, the children explore and discover all sorts of creative work with them. For example, they will construct the Tower horizontally or line up two edges to create a vertical stairway. The children will also build the Pink Tower in various combinations with the Brown Stairs along with some of the other Sensorial materials.
Each set of cylinders is constructed to vary in a regular sequence by either diameter, depth or both. The children remove each cylinder in turn, carefully placing it in order on the table. Once all 10 cylinders have been removed and placed on the table, the children take each in turn and find the hole into which it fits perfectly with the tip of the cylinder flush with the top of the cylinder block. If they've made a mistake, the children can normally see it for themselves because all 10 cylinders will not fit correctly.
The children quickly begin to challenge themselves by attempting to "see" which hole is likely to fit the cylinder in their hand rather than trying to fit each into one hole after the other. After a while, they will begin to do the same exercise with their eyes blindfolded, relying on touch alone. When they are ready for a great challenge, the children will mix the cylinders from two, three or all four blocks together and try to fit them into the corresponding holes.
Normally it is simply a cloth bag or box with a hole for their hands in which they touch and manipulate objects that they cannot see. One activity is to place things that are familiar to the children inside, and challenge them to identify them by touch alone.
The children sit still with their eyes shut and wait to hear the teacher whisper their name. When they hear it softly spoken, they silently rise and join together.
Sometimes the teachers will vary the Silence Game by challenging the children to carry bells across the room without allowing them to ring or they may use the calm atmosphere to introduce the children to guided visualization. At first younger children may not be able to hold the silence for more than 20 or 30 seconds, but gradually their ability to relax, listen and appreciate the perfectly calm environment increases. In many classes the Silence Game is an important daily ritual.
In addition to removing the puzzle pieces and replacing them in their frames as a puzzle, the children learn how to match them against three sets of printed cards that represent the same figures in increasing degrees of abstraction. The first set represents each shape completely colored in on the card in the same size as the piece from the cabinet. The children simply cover each card with the matching puzzle piece.
In the second set, the geometric shapes are printed as outlines drawn with broad lines that leave the inner area white. In the third set, the figures are simply traced with thin lines. As the children gradually begin to recognize the more abstract representations of the three-dimensional objects, they are preparing themselves to recognize the little lines and squiggles of the written word.
Gradually, children learn the names of each of the geometric shapes. Once the children begin to read and can verbally identify the shapes, they will begin to label them with pre-printed name cards. Eventually the children will be able to prepare their own cards from scratch.
As they begin to read, children will learn to match geometric solids to a set of prepared label cards. Eventually, they will be able to prepare their own from scratch. This early introduction to Geometry continues in the Elementary Montessori program. After years of hands-on experience with geometric figures, children normally find it very easy to grasp more advanced concepts, from the definitions of geometric terms to the calculation of area, volume and circumference.
The Montessori Approach To Reading, Composition And Literature
Montessori teaches basic skills phonetically, encouraging children to compose their own stories using the Movable Alphabet. Reading skills normally develop so smoothly in Montessori classrooms that students tend to exhibit a sudden "explosion into reading", which leaved the children and their families beaming with pride.
Many parents find it curious, that Montessori children are not taught the names of letters; instead they learn the sound that we pronounce as we phonetically sound out words, one letter at a time. For a long time, children may not know the names of letters at all, but will call them by the sounds: buh, cuh, aah etc. This eliminates one of the most unnecessary and confusing steps in learning to read: the letter "A" stands for apple. The sound it makes is "aah".
Many Montessori classrooms use Sandpaper Letters that do not follow the traditional circle and line approach of teaching a young child to teach. Both cursive alphabets and D-Nelian letters (a modified form of italic printing that facilitates the jump to cursive) are available and used with excellent results. Another unusual result of the Montessori approach is that young children will often be able to write (encoding language by spelling phonetic words out one sound at a time), weeks or months before they will be able to comfortably read (decoding printed words).
It is not surprising that in the early years, as young children are beginning to compose words, phrases, sentences and stories their spelling can sometimes get a bit creative. For example, the word "phone" is frequently spelled "fon". Montessori teachers deliberately avoid correcting children's spelling during these early years, preferring to encourage them to become more confident in their ability to sound word out rather than risk that they will shut down from frequent correction.
The process of composing words with the Movable Alphabet continues for many years, gradually moving from three-letter words to four- and five-letter words with consonant blends (fl, tr, st etc.) double vowels (oo, ee etc.) silent e's and so on.
Cards with the names of familiar objects are commonly found in most kindergartens. However in Montessori, children take this a bit further, learning the names of and placing the appropriate labels on a bewildering array of geometric shapes, leaf forms, the parts of flowers, countries of the world, land and water forms and much, much more.
Montessori children are known for their incredible vocabularies. Where else would you find four year olds who can identify an isosceles triangle, rectangular prism, the stamen of a flower or Asia?
When Will Children Start To Read?
Command Cards are used with older children to suggest specific challenges in every area of the curriculum. For example, in Geography, a command card might challenge the child to look in the atlas and find the location of the largest inland lake on the Earth.
Phonograms are combinations of vowels in the English Language that form new sounds on their own, such as ee, ai, oa, and ou. Some phonograms, such as "ough", can make more than one sound. For example, ough has one sound in "cough", another in "although" and still another in "through". The children construct words containing phonograms using two Movable Alphabets just as they do with the consonant blends.
Montessori teachers will normally prepare little booklets, each of which contains many examples of one particular consonant blend or phonogram.
Montessori Math Moves From The Concrete To The Abstract
Montessori students use hands-on learning materials that make abstract concepts clear and concrete. They can literally see and explore what is going on. This approach to teaching Mathematics based on the research of Dr. Maria Montessori, offers a clear and logical strategy for helping students understand and develop a sound foundation in mathematics and geometry. The Montessori Math curriculum is based on the European tradition of "Unified Math", which has only recently been recognized by American educators. Unified Math introduces Elementary students to the study of fundamental of algebra, geometry, logic and statistics along with the principles of arithmetic. This study continues over the years, weaving together subjects that traditional schools normally ignore until the Secondary grades.
In operations concerned with measurement, geometry shows them how to perform their calculations. In operations concerned with figures, algebra gives a system of still more abstract symbols by means of which more complicated relationships can be comprehended. The calculations of area and volume, square roots are examples in which algebra, arithmetic and geometry are involved. For Montessori students, arithmetic, algebra and plane and solid geometry have never been arbitrarily separated. Four- and five-year old Montessori children can name geometric forms that most adults would not recognize.
Ten "ten" bead bars naturally equal the quantity of 100. Units of 100 are made-up of 10 "ten" bead bars laid by side and wired together to form a square.
Ten "hundred" squares stacked one on top of the other form a cube containing 1,000 "unit" beads. They are permanently wired together to form the thousand cube.
Using these concrete material even very young children can build and work with great number. In a typical early lesson with the Golden Beads, the teacher might challenge the child to "Bring me 3 thousands, 5 hundreds, 6 tens and 1 unit". While they will also work with prepared problem cards, children often enjoy thinking up numbers for themselves.
In one of the first exercises, the children explore the equivalencies of the decimal system. They learn that 10 "units" can be exchanged at the bank for a "ten" bar and that a "ten" bar can be exchanged for 10 "units". They also find that 10 "tens" can be exchanged for a "hundred" square, 10 "hundreds" for 1 "thousand" and that each can in turn be broken down into its equivalent in smaller quantity.
Using the Golden Bead material, the children can build two or more large numbers and add them together. By going through the steps of addition in this very concrete manner, the children have a clear impression about what addition means. They also come to understand the process of exchanging, as they count the new quantities in each of the columns and trade in groups of 10 "units" for 1 "ten" bar, which they place in "tens" columns: 10 "ten" bars for 1 "hundred" and 10 "hundreds" for 1 "thousand".
Once they understand how to add with the Golden Beads, Montessori children begin to use them to multiply, subtract and divide.
To help the child truly begin to grasp the idea of quantities from 2 though 9, Dr. Montessori prepared a set of colored glass beads, 1 centimeter in diameter, in which each quantity is represented by the appropriate number of individual beads wired together as a bar with a specific, easily recognizable color. In this material the "1" is represented by a single red bead. The "2" by 2 green beads strung together, the "3" by three pink beads and so on up through the 10 Golden Beads that represent a unit of 10.
The children work with the Short Bead Stair for many years, using the material to add and subtract exchange, borrow, explore multiples and for many other arithmetic processes.
Using the Ten Bead Bar and the Short Bead Stair material described above, the children lay out the numbers 11 through 19 concretely.
On the Tens Boards, the numbers 10, 20, 30, 40 through 90 are printed in the nine spaces created by the frames. They use the individual number cards to form numbers in the tens, such as 53, 24, and 79 etc. and use the Golden Bead "tens" and "unit" beads or Short Bead Stair to build their concrete representation along side.
The children lay the chains out, duplicating them by creating a second line of individual “ten” bars. At the far end, they place the "hundred" square or "thousand" cube, as appropriate. When working with the Thousand Chain, they also set out "hundred" squares after every 10"ten" bars along the chain, representing that the next 100 has been crossed.
In another exercise, they work with the number cards printed with the numbers 1 to 100 or 1 to 1,000 counting by tens. The children sort them in order and place them along the chain. They tend to be quite impressed when they first see the Thousand Chain laid out across the classroom floor.
There are two chains for each number: one set representing the squares of the numbers 1 through 10 and the other representing the cubes. Thus, the square of 5 is shown as a chain of "five" bead bars (the square of 5 = 25) and the cube as a chain of 25 "five" bead bars (5 cubed = 125).
The material also includes a set of bead bars connected to show the squares and the cubes of the numbers as actual squares and cubes. The children use the bead chains to skip count, working with number arrows similar to those use with the Hundreds and Thousand Chains.
Naturally children can't depend on the materials forever. Can you see your child at 16 walking in to take the SATs carrying the Golden Beads? Dr. Montessori compared them to an airport runway, which provides a smooth surface on which the plane can roll faster and faster until it is built up enough to speed to fly. The entire purpose of the Montessori Math curriculum is to make the abstract concrete, until the child can close the eyes and visualize mathematical process at work. Step by step, the materials become less concrete and more symbolic.
Montessori uses a wide range of parallel materials and exercises to help the child extend his knowledge and gradually memorize the basic math facts that every one of us is expected to know. As parents, you will eventually begin to hear about materials with odd names like Snake Game, the Addition and Subtraction Strip Boards and the Negative Snake Game. Space doesn't allow us to describe every one of the Montessori Math materials, but your child would probably be delighted to introduce them to you.
When the children have begun to show that they are ready for still more abstract exercises, they are introduced to another series of Math materials at the Second Plane of Abstraction. For example The Bead Frames (or abacus) challenge the child to solve problems in a slightly more abstract process.
The Short Bead Frames allows the child to work with quantities up to 9,999. The Long Bead Frame uses quantities as large as 9,999,999.
History, Geography And International Culture Come Alive In The Montessori Classroom
With this goal in mind, Montessori teaches history and world cultures starting as early as age three. The youngest students work with specially designed maps and begin to learn the names of the world's continents and countries. Physical geography begins in the first grade with a study of the formation of the Earth, the emergence of the oceans and atmosphere and the evolution of life. Students learn about the world's rivers, lakes, deserts, mountain ranges and natural resources.
Elementary students begin to study world cultures in greater depth: the customs, housing, diet, government, industry, the arts, history and dress. They learn to treasure the richness of their own cultural heritage and those of their friends.
The children also study the emergence of human beings during the old and new stone ages, the development of the first civilizations and the universal needs common to all humanity. For older Elementary students, the focus is respectively on early man, ancient civilizations and early American history.
Montessori tries to present a sense of living history at every level through direct hands-on experience. Students build models of ancient tools and structures, prepare their own manuscripts, make ceremonial masks and re-create all sorts of artifacts of the everyday life of historical eras. Experiences such as these make it much easier for Montessori children to appreciate history as it is taught through books. Practical economics is another important element in the Montessori curriculum. Young students learn how to use money and calculate change. Older students compute the cost of a weekly meal for their class, plan a weekly budget, maintain a checkbook, organize and run holiday gift shops, sell produce they have grown, create and sell cookbooks. Students learn to recognize the value of a dollar; how long it takes to earn it, and what it can buy. Citizenship is yet another element that weaves throughout the Elementary curriculum. Students study
As part of the integral studies program, most Montessori Schools introduce a second language to even their youngest children. The primary goal in a Foreign Language program is to develop conversational skills along with a deepening appreciation for the culture of the second language.
Hands-On-Science The Montessori Way
Science is an integral element of the Montessori curriculum. Among other things, it represents a way of life: a clear thinking to gathering information and problem solving. The scope of the Montessori science curriculum includes a sound introduction to botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, geology and astronomy.
Montessori does not separate science from the big picture or the formation or our world. Students consider the formation of the universe, development of the planet Earth, the delicate relations between living things and their physical environment and the balance within the web of live. These great lessons integrate astronomy, the earth sciences and biology with history and geography.
The Montessori approach to science cultivates children’s fascination with the universe and helps them develop a lifelong interest in observing nature and discovering more about the world in which they live. Children are encouraged to observe, analyze, measure, classify, experiment and predict and to do so with a sense of eager curiosity and wonder.
In Montessori science lessons incorporate a balanced, hands-on approach. With encouragement and a solid foundation, even very young children are ready and anxious to investigate their world to wonder at the interdependence of living things, to explore the ways in which the physical universe works, and to project how it all may have come to be.
For example in many Montessori schools, children in the early Elementary grades explore basic atomic theory and the process by which the heavier elements are fused out of hydrogen in the stars. Other students study advanced concepts in biology, including the systems by which scientists classify plants and animals. Some Elementary classes build scale models of the solar system that stretch out a half-mile!
In Montessori, The Arts Are Integrated Into Every Subject
In Montessori schools, the Arts are normally integrated into the rest of the curriculum. They are modes of exploring and expanding lessons that have been introduced in Science, History, Geography, Language Arts and Mathematics.
For example, students might make a replica of a Greek vase, study calligraphy and decorative writing, sculpt dinosaurs for science, create dioramas for history, construct geometric designs and solids for math and express their feelings about a musical composition through painting.
Art and Music History and Appreciation are woven throughout the History and Geography curricula. Traditional folk arts are used to extend the curriculum as well. Students participate in singing, dancing and creative movement with teachers and music specialists. Students' dramatic productions make other times and cultures come alive.
Health, Wellness And Physical Education
Montessori Schools are very interested in helping children develop control of their find and gross motor movements. For young children, programs will typically include dance, balance and coordination exercise, as well as the vigorous free play that is typical on any playground.
With Elementary and older students, the ideal Montessori Health, Physical Education and Athletics program is typically very unlike that of the traditional model of "gym". It challenges each student and adult in the school community to develop a personal program of lifelong exercise, recreation and health management.
Many schools have limited space and facilities, but where funds and facilities are available for older students, the ideal Montessori environment offers a variety of facilities and programs, which can potentially include a room with stationary bikes and other exercise equipment designed for children, an indoor track, a basketball court a room for aerobic dance and perhaps even an indoor pool and tennis courts.
Again ideally, this fitness center would not be reserved for the children alone; school families would be able to use the facilities after hours, on weekends and during school hours when it didn't interfere with student programs.
One important element in the Montessori approach to health and fitness is helping children to understand and appreciate how their bodies work and the care and feeding of a healthy human body. Students typically study diet and nutrition, hygiene, first aid response to illness and injury, stress management and peacefulness and mindfulness in their daily lives.
Daily exercise is an important element of a lifelong program for personal health, but instead of one program for all, students are typically helped to explore many different alternatives.
Students commonly learn and practice daily stretching and exercises for balance and flexibility. Some programs introduce students to yoga, tai chi, chi gon or aerobic dance.
Children learn that cardiovascular exercise can come from vigorous walking, jogging, biking, rowing, aerobic dance etc. through actively playing field sports like soccer or from a wide range of other enjoyable activities such as swimming, golf or tennis. With older students, the goal is to expose skills and helping them to develop a personal program of daily exercise.
We would like to express our thanks to the Montessori Foundation and Mr. Tim Seldin, President.