The Primary Classrooms have a cycle of sequentially more difficult materials, allowing children to grow at their own pace. This independently-motivated learning fosters a strong sense of joy and individual accomplishment as children begin to question and integrate their purpose and place in the family, school, the culture and the world.
The most important elements for very young children in an environment prepared especially for them are safety and simplicity, a place to concentrate, and compassionate adults. Their classroom reflects a slower pace, a place to foster their growing language abilities, and preparation for socializing as an individual within a group.
Safety: From the first day of school we give children the words to use to resolve conflicts and then consistently ask them to “use their words.” In a child’s world frustration can be quickly, easily, but ineffectively, expressed in pre-verbal expressions of hitting, biting, crying, grabbing. A teacher intervenes primarily to model patience, use of correct words, and proper tones of voice.
Concentration: This simple, yet increasingly scarce attribute is a hallmark of our classrooms and lays the foundation for a child’s character and behavior. Overdone praise, unasked-for help, or even a look may be enough to interrupt a child’s concentration and may even destroy the meaningful activity at hand. This can happen even if the child merely becomes aware of being watched.
Simplicity: Wood, cloth, and natural materials are used as much as possible in the classroom. Our materials and their place in the overall layout of our classrooms add another layer of learning about beauty, colors, weight, and textures.
Adults: Our roles are to prepare the environment and to present lessons to support the ever-expansive mind and person of the child. We speak softly, model careful words, take a slower pace, and give simple directions. In other words, we are consciously slowing down the hectic world to a child’s pace. Teachers constantly refine approaches to meet the needs of the individual child by adjusting the environment, keeping careful records, reading new research, making new materials, reflecting and stepping back as a trained observer, and being respectful of all efforts and achievements.
Why do we call the materials and selections of those materials “works?”
Maria Montessori observed that young children love to emulate the adult world they observe. One advantage of young children being asked to “choose a work” is that they have the experience that work is enjoyable. One objective of our environment is to set a child on the paths of responsibility for self, successful use of time, accountability to others, etc. All of these are necessary practices for the increased academic expectations of middle school, high school, and college, and the workplace values of the adult world.
Categories of Works
Through the use of small-scaled materials in pouring, folding, sweeping, sorting, and other “everyday exercises”, the child develops small and large muscle coordination. A full cycle of completed work creates a sense of real purpose and deepening concentration, leading to an increased sense of accomplishment and independence. As children imitate the actions and uses of materials found at home, their verbal and expressive skills deepen.
These exercises deepen the powers of observation and concentration, refining the senses necessary to making decisions, correcting errors, and engaging the world. Color, size, shape, sound, weight, touch, taste, and smell are all explored. Children gain an increased sense of mastery over their bodies and a sense of well-being while refining skills of discernment. These materials also introduce the child to units of ten in self-correcting patterns as a precursor to numbers and math.
These are materials to explore the universe and our world. Through geography, art, music, drama, ritual, nature, science, peoples, etc. children begin to connect to the realms outside themselves. As children acquire an understanding of how the world operates, they adapt to their own place and time and begin to gain a working knowledge of themselves in relation to the whole. Cultural activities and comparisons aid children in developing an understanding of the complexities, struggles, and triumphs throughout all of life.
Math & Language
These materials provide the means to develop and refine a child’s fundamental academic skills. As a child holds, manipulates, invents, and explores, that which was once mysterious and subtle becomes real and concrete. These materials are highly sequential and increase in difficulty. A child masters one level of understanding before moving on.
In Math, a child is initially presented with concrete materials which help build a strong foundation for later abstraction. Zero is introduced and the extensive counting of items leads to combining numbers in sets for adding and subtracting. Multiplication and division at ages 5 and 6 lead directly to algebra, geometry, and fractions in elementary.
Language activities include extensive preparation for and development of reading and writing skills. The Montessori Method uses tactile, auditory, and verbal exercises which gradually incorporate the phonetic system for sounding and naming letters. Songs, other languages, and poetry are additional avenues toward creating our own voices. The most important goal is to foster a predisposition for reading through joyful experiences.