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The Montessori approach to education is based upon the work of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, and was introduced in the United States in the early 1900’s. The basic principles of this approach address the needs of a child’s development with the use of concrete, hands on materials in a sequence that moves toward greater abstraction. The materials are displayed on shelves in such a way that invites self-discovery and manipulation. These materials are self-correcting and purposeful. Choice in the selection of these materials leads to self-confidence and independent learning. This careful arrangement allows the child to experience mobility within limits so that he/she can learn to control his/her body and to respect the work of others by moving carefully and purposefully. Children are encouraged to work together in multi-age classrooms (two or three grade levels), which enhance their ability to learn from each other.
The Montessori materials are arranged in different areas of the classroom such as sensorial and practical life activities, math, language, and cultural subjects. However, these subjects are presented in an integrated fashion so that the child may see the natural relationships between them.
The primary purpose of the practical life materials is the development of concentration and order. These materials help the child to develop his/her ability to use small tools (tweezers, needles, and thread), and to care for the classroom environment. The sensorial materials are designed to aid the child’s growing perception of his/her surroundings. The materials isolate and refine the sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. These materials also give the child concrete experiences which form building blocks for abstraction in language, math, and cultural subjects as the child grows older.
The Montessori language program begins with the prepared environment. The open, decentralized design encourages children to talk to one another, to work together, and to practice speaking and listening skills. The language lessons, group meetings, and concrete materials are designed to develop skills in all areas of language arts. A literature-based reading program provides the framework for the development of those skills necessary for reading and interpreting print.
Montessori math and geometry materials are designed to enable the child to discover mathematical patterns, shapes, and number relationships through the exploration of a sequence of concrete objects. The initial focus of the lessons is on the process rather than the product of the activity. This discovery approach helps the child to develop an attitude of inquiry and it strengthens the powers of logical thinking and problem solving which are prerequisites for abstract math work. Shelf work and occasionally the math textbooks are used for individual work to strengthen skills.
The cultural subjects include history, physical and life sciences, and geography. The history curriculum begins with the study of time and its representation. The children learn how to create and use timelines as they study various cultures, both ancient and modern. As children study the history of life on earth, they are also introduced to map work and land/water formations. The science curriculum begins in the primary grades with the development and classification of plants and animals. As in other areas of the curriculum, these lessons are presented with an impressionistic style: one that is dramatic and leaves a lasting impression with the child.
The program values the practice of isolation of difficulty in presenting and evaluating any given activity. The teacher presents skills such as penmanship, grammar, and spelling in isolation, so as not to confuse or overwhelm the child. When a child creates an original piece of writing, the teacher may note spelling and penmanship errors, but will only evaluate the piece on its content. Later, those penmanship and spelling errors will be specifically addressed during the penmanship and spelling exercises. As children move into the intermediate grades, they are expected to combine those skills into a finished product, rather than concentrating on one skill at a time. The purpose of this practice is twofold: the children are given the opportunity to perfect one skill at a time and they are also free to express themselves creatively. As children freely choose a task (work) and through self-correcting activities find success, so is their confidence in learning increased. They are drawn to choose more and more challenging activities that lead to mastery of skills.