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The Montessori Method
The Montessori method was given to us by Dr. Maria Montessori. What began in a small classroom in a tenement building in the poverty stricken area of San Lorenzo, Italy has spread to over 8000 schools on six different continents. Dr. montessori began her work with the education of children at the turn of the nineteenth century after becoming the first female doctor in Italy. She spent years observing and studying how children work, think and learn. Her first students were children with special needs in the State Orthophrenic School in Rome, Italy. She designed didactic materials to aid these children in their comprehension of concepts. The successes of these children led Dr. Montessori to wonder if other would find success with the materials as well. She began another school for these children and soon discovered that they did indeed succeed remarkably. She hired a teacher to work with the children so that she could be devoted solely to observing the children. Through these observations she revised the materials and the methods used in the classroom. These are the materials that can be found in any Montessori classroom in the world today. Most schools supplement the classroom with materials geared to the needs of their individual students.
The Prepared Environment
The Montessori classroom is warm and inviting - a place of beauty that calls to the children. The materials are designed to be appealing so that a child will want to handle them. The materials and furniture are proportioned to their size. Pictures are hung at their eye level. The classroom belongs to them. All of the materials are arranged on low, open shelves that are easily accessible to the children. Each piece of material teaches one specific concept while at the same time preparing the child for the next lesson. As many of the senses are engaged as possible. The materials are designed to be self-correcting to allow independent learning.
Each lesson is kept in a specific place on the shelves. The materials are arranged in order from the most concrete to the most abstract - the most simple to the most complex. This order gives a sense of predictability to the children. They learn responsibility as they must return material to its proper place.
Children may repeat a lesson as many times as they like which reinforces concepts learned and laeds to novel discoveries that extend the use of the material. These possible extensions are endless.
A Living Classroom
The classroom is prepared especially to be the children's. They feel responsible for maintaining the order and beauty of the room. This builds a strong sense of community. This carries over to all of the lessons as the children are free to interact with one another as they work. All activities are referred to as "work". When children are deeply engaged in an activity it is not a trivial matter to them. By acknowledging their activities as "work" we give credence to their efforts.
Montessori classrooms include children of multiple ages and abilities. A primary class will have 3 to 6 year old children. Each child will have others who are at, below, or above their level of development. This gives children many opportunities to learn from each other as they observe and work other students at these different levels. A student will be interested in the challenging work of a more advanced student gaining understanding in the process. The more advanced student serves as a teacher thus reinforcing understanding of concepts and enhancing self-esteem.
The Practical Life materials aid a child in caring for one's self, caring for the classroom environment and develop fine motor skills. Many materials utilize child-sized real tools to accomplish tasks normally performed by adults. Children become self-confident as they gain personal independence. The ability to focus on a task for an extended period of time is enhanced as a child completes a cycle of activity. This lays the foundation for future learning.
The senses give rise to all that is the intellect. The sensorial materials aid a child in refing the senses and thus bringing order to the mind. This is accomplished through activities involving texture, size, shape, color, weight and smell. New vocabulary is learned as well. The materials are designed with a built-in "Control of Error". A child can easily see a mistake and then experiment until a correction is found. The sensorial materials lay the foundation for the mathematical concepts that will be learned later.
The Math materials isolate one concept at a time. They begin with concrete materials that a child can handle before moving to abstract (pencil and paper) activities that rely solely on the intellect. They progress from simple to complex. The child can properly align the ten red rods (from the Sensorial shelf) according to size and is now introduced to numeration with the rods of the exact same shape but painted in alternating units of red and blue (ten rods representing 1 to 10).
The first set of activities teaches and reinforces numeration from 1 to 10. The next set of lessons focuses on numeration from 11 to 19. Then children begin completeing addition and subtraction problems. The decimal system is introduced next with increasingly larger numbers used in the lessons. Some children continue on to multiplication, division and fractions.
The introductory activities emphasize visual matching and classifying. Books on a variety of topics being studied, as well as storybooks, are always available. The school has a library of over 800 books.
Reading instruction is based on a phonetic approach. The "sound" of a letter is learned with the Sandpaper letters and objects from the Sound Pouches. The "letter sounds" are then combined into three letter phonetic words in a variety of activities.
When ready the child begins reading the first book. The first set of ten books contains short phonetic words that can be easily sounded out. Each succeeding set of books and activities focuses on a specific phonetic combination. Words that must be recognized by sight are learned as well. The movable alphabet is used to first compose words, phrases, sentences and finally paragraphs. This lays the foundation for creative writing and understanding of grammar. Handwriting is introduced with the metal insets, proceeds to pages with dotted lettering and continues to pages without dotting.
Open ended art is available every day in a Montessori classroom. Children may use paper, colored pencils, crayons, markers and glue sticks from the art shelf to complete their own art projects. They paint at the easel as well. Each week a unique project using a variety of media is offered. The pin punching and paper cutting lessons develop fine motor skills. Projects related to topics being studied, holidays or seasonal activities are also provided throughout the year.
Geography is introduced with the globe and the puzzle maps. The names and locations of the continents are learned first, followed by the countries of each continent. The children make their own maps. They trace around the continents or countries, pin punch them out, glue them to a poster board and attach labels. The children learn to recognize the flags of different countries and color paper flags of the different countries. The children also learn the unique characteristics and cultures of different countries. Items from different countries are available for the children to experience. The children learn about land formations by pouring water into a form thus having a concrete example of land and water formations.
The children learn about the lifecycles of plants and animals. They study the types and structures of plants. They repot and water plants in the classroom and outside. They feed the fish in the aquarium. Plant and animal puzzles with accompanying books to make teach the parts of plants and animals. Children learn about the different types of birds, fish, animals, dinosaurs, butterflies, frogs and insects. They study the food groups and how to sort the foods into each group. This includes planning a balanced meal. They learn about the human body and the basic functions of different parts of the body. Children learn about the structure of the Earth, volcanoes, cloud formations, the weather and the solar system. They also learn about concepts such as magnetism and buoyancy. Items to explore such as rocks and shells are offered on a rotating basis throughout the year.