The Prepared Environment
The Montessori classroom is a “prepared environment’ which possesses a certain order. Montessori disposes the child to develop her senses and intelligence at her own speed, according to the child’s own capacities, in a non-competitive atmosphere. Dr. Montessori recommended large groupings of children because she observed that children learn better from one another than they do from adults. Therefore, she developed special teaching materials and a planned environment that allowed children to develop individually through spontaneous interaction with their environment.
The prepared environment includes:
For young children there is something special about the tasks that an adult considers ordinary—washing dishes, paring vegetables, polishing shoes, etc. These activities are exciting to children because they allow them to imitate adults. Imitation is one of the strongest urges during the children’s early years.
In this area of the classroom, children perfect their coordination and become absorbed in an activity. They gradually lengthen their span of concentration. They also learn to pay attention to details as they follow a regular sequence of actions. Finally, they learn good working habits as they finish each task and put away the materials before beginning another activity.
The Sensorial Materials in the Montessori classroom help children to distinguish, to categorize, and to relate new information to what they already know. Dr. Montessori believed that this process is the beginning of conscious knowledge.
Dr. Montessori demonstrated that if children have access to mathematical equipment in their early years, they could easily and joyfully assimilate many facts and skills of arithmetic. On the other hand, these same facts and skills may require long hours of drudgery and drill if they are introduced to them at a later age in an abstract form. Dr. Montessori designed concrete mathematical materials after she observed that combining this equipment, separating it, sharing it, counting it, and comparing it, children can demonstrate to themselves the basic operations of mathematics.
Children in a Montessori class never sit down to memorize addition and subtraction facts. They never simply memorize multiplication tables; rather, they learn these facts by actually performing the operations with concrete materials.
When the children want to do arithmetic, they are given a sheet of paper containing simple problems. They work the problems with appropriate materials and record their results. Similar operations can be performed with a variety of materials. This variety maintains children’s interest while giving them many opportunities for the necessary repetition. As they commit the addition facts and multiplication tables to memory, they gain a real understanding of what each operation means. In a Montessori classroom, there are many materials that can be used for counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.
The individual presentation of language materials in a Montessori classroom allows the teacher to take advantage of each child’s greatest period of interest. Reading instruction begins on the day when the children want to know what a word says or when a child shows an interest in using Sandpaper Letters. In order to simplify the child’s first experience with letters, the children are first introduced to the phonetic sounds of the alphabet, rather than the names of the letters. After a child has begun to successfully sound out phonetic words, she may be introduced to books, which emphasize a phonetic approach to reading and writing. The construction of words with the moveable alphabet is a favorite exercise for children of this age.
Gradually, the children begin to learn the irregular (non-phonetic) words, and words with two and three syllables, by doing a variety of reading exercises. Proceeding at their own pace, the children are encouraged to read from a variety of books about things which are of interest to them. The children’s interest in reading is never stifled by monotony; rather, it is cultivated as their most important key to future learning. They are encouraged to explore books for answers to their own questions, whether they are about frogs, rockets, stars or fire engines.
In a Montessori class, the children are introduced to grammar by games that show them that nouns are the names of things, adjectives describe nouns, and that verbs are action words.
The large wooden puzzle maps are among the most popular activities in the classroom. At first, the children use the maps simply as puzzles. As the children become more familiar with the puzzle maps they are introduced to the concepts of landmasses, oceans, peninsulas, islands, etc. They also begin to learn about weather and climate. Additional activities help to reinforce these concepts. The older children use the puzzle maps to learn the names of the continents, countries, and states (of the United States).
Montessori offers the children a concrete presentation of history by letting them work with Time Lines. Time Lines are very long strips of paper that can be unrolled and stretched along the floor of the classroom. The line is marked off in segments that represent constructive periods of history.
As an introduction to the idea of history, the children begin by making a time line of their own lives, starting with their baby pictures.
Cultural Awareness Program
The children gain an awareness of the world around them by exploring other countries, their customs, food, music, climate, language and animals. This helps raise their consciousness about other people, to gain an understanding and tolerance and, therefore, compassion for all the people in the world. A multicultural perspective is brought to the classroom on a daily basis through respect for individuality and diversity.
Art experiences for the Toddlers consist of experimentation with various developmentally appropriate mediums (chalk, watercolor, tempera, playdough, clay, collage, etc.) The purpose is to expose the child to sensory experiences through art by hand and with tools. Art activities are authentic and representational of the child’s perception and expression rather than the pre-ordained, superficial aspects of generating a product. Authentic art experiences emphasize the process, value and originality, allowing the child to preserve ownership of her work. (Hint: few make it home to the ‘fridge!)
Art projects are natural extensions of the early childhood classroom work. The primary classroom has an open-ended art area with different papers, drawing materials, and mediums including chalk, crayon, marker, watercolors, collage and clay. All of these projects reinforce and expand academic and artistic skills. Creativity is not curtailed by an imposed curriculum but rather compliments the child’s sensory explorations with each medium.
At Maria Montessori Schools, each class enjoys time singing and dancing with Ms. Fisher. Playing and listening to her wide range of musical instruments delights us all. Music extends into our classrooms through tapes, games, and musical instrument studies. The music program offers each child the opportunity to sing, dance, play simple musical instruments and learn chants and rhymes. The curriculum, which is based on the multi-sensory approach, is structured to emphasize both the acquisition of the basic skills and an appreciation of music and movement. The songs are centered around the natural pitch of a child’s voice and are generally simple melodies to give the children the rewarding experience of being able to sing along.