he Montessori curriculum for 2.5-6 year olds uses hands-on materials which are delightful for the children to use. Not only is the curriculum fun, however, it is also very well designed from a pedagogical point of view and brings children to a high level of understanding of the concepts they learn at the school. The Montessori curriculum goes far beyond what one would find in a typical preschool or Kindergarten.
The classroom is filled with learning materials, each designed with a specific purpose and for a specific age group. The guides (teachers) show the materials to the students in small groups or one-on-one. Then, the children are free to use the materials they’ve been shown whenever he likes and as many times as he needs in order to master the skill or the concept behind each material. The materials are very hands-on and invite exploration and repetition in order for the child to grasp the material’s purpose through many trials and errors. That is, the materials are all designed so that the children can manipulate them and work with them independently of the adult once they’ve been shown how. In this way, children teach themselves much of what there is to learn in a Montessori classroom. They thus arrive at the skills and understand the concepts through using their hands and minds in an exploratory and creative way. Therefore the children have a deep understanding of the concepts behind the materials and feel excited about discovering new knowledge. The guides record each child’s progress and note when a child needs a new challenge or more repetition with the material or perhaps even another lesson from the guide.
The materials are thus essentially didactic in nature and have learning objectives but the children enjoy them immensely. This is because the materials are all designed to appeal to young children. For example, there are many materials which involve water, others which involve very small, miniature objects, others which involve animals, and most involve new vocabulary for the child (they love to learn big words!). Many materials have moving parts and involve cause and effect. And many of the materials involve building and stacking. The children’s enjoyment is also due to the fact that the materials are beautiful and well made. Furthermore, the materials are very sensorial. Children love to touch them, look at them, hear the sounds they make, and in some cases even smell them or taste them! Thus the children enjoy the sensorial aspect of working with the materials as well as the satisfaction of figuring them out for themselves.
The materials in the classroom are very inter-related and the curriculum is well designed so that the children use the knowledge they gain when they are 3 and 4 years old to do the work they learn when they are 5 and 6 years old. For example, children learn the phonetic sounds and shapes of the letters when they are 3 and 4, then they learn how to compose words with the letters, then they learn to read and compose whole stories when they are 5 and 6 years old. Also, many of the sensorial materials which teach about dimensions have 10 pieces, which connects to the base 10 system we use in our math program. The math materials are colour coded so that the 10 bars are always gold, the 5 bars blue etc. Another example is that after the children learn about the continents of the globe, they learn to write the names of the continents and to create the flags of different countries from the continents etc. Indeed, much of the work that the children do when they are 3 and 4 years old (such as sewing or watering plants or matching geometrical shapes) prepares their physical coordination or their mental capacity for later work such as reading or math. It is a holistic system of education which brings the children to a high academic level without drilling or rote memorization.
In a Montessori classroom the children move through the curriculum at their own pace. That is, there is a curriculum with an itemized list of progressively more difficult exercises to bring the children towards certain academic goals (e.g. reading) but children work through that curriculum according to their own learning pace and interest. For example, all of our Kindergarten aged children do end up being able to read but they are not taught the same lessons at the same times. The guides (teachers) move through the classroom giving one-on-one or small group lessons rather than whole group lessons. These targeted lessons are very effective at only teaching what each child needs to know, rather than trying to teach a child what he already knows or is not yet ready to learn as happens when large group lessons are given. This individual progression respects children’s different learning paces by allowing children to take more time if they need it to master a concept before moving onto the next one. It also allows the guides to give a lesson to a child when that child is interested in that topic, thereby creating a situation where maximum learning occurs.
The Practical Life area has materials for children to use and exercises for them to practice which imitate real life. It involves exercises in 3 different categories: care of self, care of the environment, and grace and courtesy. Activities in the practical life area include learning to do up zippers, snaps, and bows, beading, pouring water from jugs into glasses, cutting, sweeping, hand washing, washing dishes, saying excuse me when someone is in your way, introducing yourself to a stranger, offering tea to a visitor etc. All of these exercises have purposes behind them e.g. the development of concentration, the improvement of hand eye coordination, the acquisition of independence, social adaptation, and strengthening the hands for later work such as writing.
Activities in the sensorial area are designed to bring greater refinement of the senses. The activities include building a tower with cubes of decreasing size, matching colours, differentiating textures, sounds, and smells, sorting similar objects while blindfolded, and grading shapes (e.g. a set of circles) from the smallest to the largest. Many of the sensorial materials are designed for 2 or more children to play games with. It is a very playful and exploratory area of the curriculum.
The language area prepares children for reading and writing as well as helps them to develop self-expression and new vocabulary. Language activities include vocabulary cards, story-telling, hearing books and poetry read aloud, sound games to learn the phonetic sounds of the letters, letter tracing and writing, combining sounds to make words, and eventually reading and story composition/illustration.
The math program is one of the most interesting aspects of a Montessori program. It is a very concrete program that makes use of beads, squares, cubes, colours, and symbols to teach children the numbers up to 10 000 as well as basic mathematical operations in a very simple and clear progression. It is amazing how much math 5 year old children can learn with the right teaching instruments. And they learn math with such passion and interest - it is very different from how many people feel about learning math!
Singing and listening to music are every day activities in a Montessori program. The program also uses a set of 10 bells that corresponds to the scale from middle to high C on a piano. The children strike them, sing with them, match them, grade them, and create songs with them. Many children become familiar with the note names and placement on the staff. Some children even learn to read a simple line of music and are able to play the corresponding notes on the bells. It is a very joyful part of the program.
Children are very curious about other places and people. Therefore in a Montessori classroom the children learn about the world, its peoples, its animals, and its landscapes. We have simple globes, maps, flag charts, books, games to match the animal to the continent, and land and water forms to teach about physical geography. In Vancouver we have a diversity of cultures and we always encourage our families at the school to share their cultural celebrations with the children (e.g. Chinese New year and Rosh Hashana).
Most children are very excited by different plants and animals. They are connected to the natural world and they notice small details which escape many adults. In a Montessori classroom we help foster this excitement and help the children organize and classify their knowledge about botany/ zoology. We take the children for many walks around the neighbourhood to observe seasonal changes in the natural world around us (e.g. how the chestnut trees sprout flowers which turn into green chestnuts which then ripen into brown chestnuts), we encourage children to bring in natural wonders they find (e.g. a cocoon), and we have materials for them to learn about plants and animals (e.g. sets of classified cards for them to learn the names of different groupings of plants and animals, leaf shapes for them to match, puzzles to show the body parts of the 5 classifications of animals, puzzles to show the different parts of a plant, games to match the animals to their continent, scientific definitions of the parts of a plant ).We also do some planting throughout the year to experiment with growing different types of vegetables and flowers. We use window pots as well as the beds in the garden behind the school. The classroom is filled with plants for the children to take care of as well as fresh flowers for the children to arrange and decorate.
We also make a point of taking nature oriented field trips (e.g. to Camosun Bog and UBC Farm to see the pumpkins etc.)
Our classroom has many open-ended creative art materials for the children to use on a daily basis: colouring, cutting, gluing collages, water colours. We also do many seasonal craft projects. We also have sewing materials such as sewing a button and cross stitching. As well, many Montessori materials involve some design aspect (e.g. making designs with geometric shapes and various colours). The children also do things such as create large, colourful world maps, make flags of different countries, and punch out different shapes using a punching needle. Finally, children are always free to decorate any written work they've done.
At Monkey See Monkey Do Montessori we are lucky to have access to a full sized gymnasium right in our building. We are also lucky to have guides (teachers) who are themselves very active (one is trained as a yoga instructor). We have lots of fun equipment for the children to use in the gym: a mini-trampoline, a small balance beam, tumbling mats, balls, hoops, bean bags, ribbons, jump ropes, hockey sticks, pylons, a parachute, a CD player etc. In the gym, the children have the opportunity to do free play as well as learn group games and individual skills from the guides. The guides teach skills in the areas of gymnastics, sports, yoga, and dance as well as general gross motor skills such as hopping, jumping, moving backwards, skipping etc. The preschool children spend 30 min. per week in the gym and the Kindergarten students spend 2 hours every week in the gym.