“Help me to do it by myself.”
Each age and stage of development has its own needs and abilities. From three to six years old, children have unique mental and physical capacities that aid them in becoming largely physically independent. During the formative years, from birth through age six children have a mind that is equipped to take in all aspects of the world around them without fatigue. Dr. Montessori called this the Absorbent Mind and it is part of why a Montessori education is so important for the very young child. Our environment offers children of this age opportunities to work on the activities that the Absorbent Mind needs in order to make sense of the world and thus reach the goal of physical independence.
As children grow from toddlerhood to childhood they are motivated to do as much as they can for themselves. They naturally strive to do activities to take care of themselves and the world around them independently. The exercises of Practical Life help children fulfill this desire, which is every bit as important developmentally as the acquisition of language or future capacity to reason. These activities are designed not only to support functional independence, but are also structured to give experiences of sensible order and practice in movements the children will use later in life for academic pursuits including reading and writing.
Practical Life exercises include many tasks children see as part of the daily life in their own homes: washing and ironing cloths, doing dishes, arranging flowers and washing tables. Another aspect of Practical Life is the human component of learning to get along with a group. We call these exercises Grace and Courtesy lessons. These lessons help children to know how to act properly in a social setting. Through these and other activities, children develop muscular coordination, enabling movement and the exploration of their surroundings.
Dr. Montessori designed and adapted the Sensorial materials used in the primary classroom. Children at this age are learning about and adapting to their world and need exposure to activities to acquaint them with ideas like ‘large’ and ‘small’ or ‘loud’ and ‘soft’. Dr. Montessori carefully selected each material and connected activity to clearly demonstrate qualities found in the world like color, size, texture, pitch and length. Some children’s toys feature objects that mix qualities e.g. “the big red circle and the small blue triangle” while the sensorial materials isolate each particular quality to a single exercise. The objects to show color are uniform in shape and size and differ only to demonstrate hues. This way the children can gain a clear, concise picture of the world around them at a young age and are equipped with the language to describe it.
The Montessori approach to language in the Primary classroom is multivalent. We provide an experience of rich and precise language through spoken activities, games, stories, songs, poems and conversations. We address each child’s growth towards fluent reading and writing over time from a holistic viewpoint that includes preparation of the mind, hand and eye.
“When the children come into the classroom at around three years of age, they are given in the simplest way possible the opportunity to enrich the language they have acquired during their small lifetime and to use it intelligently, with precision and beauty, becoming aware of its properties not by being taught, but by being allowed to discover and explore these properties themselves. If not harassed, they will learn to write, and as a natural consequence to read, never remembering the day they could not write or read in the same way that they do not remember that once upon a time they could not walk.”
-Dr. Maria Montessori
The mathematics materials developed by Dr. Montessori help the child learn and understand mathematical concepts by working with concrete materials. This work provides the child with solid underpinnings for traditional mathematical principles, providing a structured scope for abstract reasoning. Children are able to build their mathematical abstractions from tangible experiences, which makes them more proficient in the long run.
Geography, History, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Art and Music are presented as extensions of the sensorial and language areas. Children learn about other cultures past and present, and this allows their innate respect and love for their environment to flourish, creating a sense of solidarity with the global human family and the Earth.
Experiences with nature in conjunction with the materials in the environment inspire a reverence for all life. History is presented to the children in part through art and music.