The practical life curriculum is, in many ways, the foundation of the Montessori method, providing practical experience in those activities that are required to enable us to care for ourselves, others, and our environment, and to be good stewards of the Earth. The activities forming the practical life curriculum also prepare the children for concurrent or later work in mathematics, reading, writing, and socialization. The need to make choices and use coordinated movements to accomplish a task leads the child toward self-regulation and self-control. The ultimate lesson is concentration, because without it, nothing else is possible.
At the primary level, the practical life curriculum focuses on physical skills, including gross and fine motor development, and activities that promote order, concentration, control and independence. Sorting, pouring, cleaning, and preparing simple foods are some of these activities. The child is taught many different aspects of the fundamental tasks of caring for him-or herself, caring for the environment, socializing with others (manners, grace and courtesy), and nutrition and food preparation.
The sensorial curriculum is the key to knowledge in the Montessori classroom. It builds on the foundation of the practical life curriculum, and prepares children to move into academic work by developing observation and problem-solving skills. The sensorial materials are designed to develop skills that help young children learn how to think, reason, observe, compare, make decisions, and better appreciate their world. Students learn to distinguish and differentiate sounds, colors, shapes and sizes, weight, temperature, and texture, and begin to explore letter formation.
The cultural curriculum includes the study and exploration of the areas of history, geography, physical sciences, botany, and zoology.
The young child is introduced to these studies through age-appropriate materials and activities designed to spark interest in the world and its diverse people, animals, and plants. In addition to learning about the world we live in, the curriculum strives to foster and nurture the young child’s curiosity, encourage exploration, and develop observation skills. History includes study of cultures and traditions, celebrations, famous people, and introduction of concepts of time and the calendar. These areas of inquiry are tied into geography studies, including planets, the globe and the continents. As the focus moves from one continent to another during the year, the students are able to connect their knowledge of the physical location and features of each continent with the culture, food, and celebrations of its people.
During the primary years, the children also explore the areas of physical science (the elements, the seasons, magnetism, and the physical properties of matter), botany (plant care, seeds and growth, and life cycles), and zoology (animal care, habitats, and ecology). These subjects are not taught in the abstract – not only are field trips plentiful, but many classrooms have animals that the children care for, and in the spring, seeds are planted and gardens tended with much enthusiasm and delight.
Children are learning language long before entering the classroom. Using their own tools of hearing, vision and speech, children absorb information about the languages used around them. During the first two years of primary, children prepare themselves for language study by working with materials that refine auditory, oral, visual, and sensory/motor skills, all of which are necessary for reading and writing. Language spans every other area as an integrated source of preparation for further learning.
Specific preparatory activities in the auditory area include conversation, identifying sounds, storytelling, poetry (rhymes and fingerplays), auditory discrimination, and listening skills. Visual preparation includes pattern recognition, matching and sorting activities. Materials that improve motor skills, such as eye-to-hand coordination, strengthening of the hand, and manuscript and cursive writing, are also utilized. Analysis (in preparation for reading) begins with phonogram sounds and blends, and moves to reading words using phonics and contextual clues. Other areas addressed include vocabulary of objects, attributes and actions; the function of words (progressing to the introduction of nouns and verbs); and beginning writing.
Maria Montessori proposed that logical thought stems from the human mind’s ability to organize and categorize information. The other powers of the mind, such as memory, imagination, and abstraction, develop from the power of order. This is the basis for including math in the curriculum for 3 – 6 year olds. The purpose of the math curriculum is to help children develop their thought processes, not to teach math facts. With hands-on materials, students make discoveries as they move from the concrete tot he abstract through manipulation, experimentation, and invention. Concepts introduced and explored include counting, visual recognition of quantity and symbol, the decimal system and the concept of 10, visual recognition of 1 to 1000, and concrete manipulation of counting materials from 1 – 1000, and an introduction of the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) using concrete, manipulative materials.