The Montessori learning materials are distinct, but it can be hard to translate what your child is learning just by looking. In this guide, we’ll demystify the Children’s House curriculum.
When you tour a Montessori Children’s House, which serves preschoolers and kindergartners, you likely pick up on a few things:
- The guides prepare the whole room on the children’s level
- The materials are beautiful and hands-on
- The child-led approach places an unparalleled level of trust in children to build life skills
In addition to these first impressions, what academics are covered? How do all the distinct materials help your child acquire knowledge? Below, we’ll delve into the five areas of the Early Years Curriculum in Montessori.
First, some key insights:
- The Montessori curriculum is sequential. Children have access to a structured curriculum that is consistent, but they learn at their own pace and readiness. Instead of all students working on the same lessons, children receive individualized or small-group lessons across subjects of their choosing.
- There are no rote memorization drills or performative tactics, which can threaten a child’s curiosity and love of learning.
- Concrete introductions precede abstract concepts. The Montessori materials instill visual, tactile introductions of abstract concepts, sparking hand-brain connections that actually make sense to the child. Instead of repeating 2+2=4 as a rote drill, children feel with their hands how two together with two makes four.
The Five Areas of Montessori Curriculum
Practical Life resembles the everyday activities of real life, like gardening, sewing, polishing, food prep, and self-care skills. This area of the curriculum builds independence, motor skills, and executive functioning. These are key life skills that include mental flexibility, working memory, and critical thinking.
Your child will relish in pride when they successfully button a shirt, thread a needle, or wash their own hands! The gains from these activities are long-lasting. When your child plans and follows through on multi-step processes through Practical Life, they build their capacity for higher thinking. So, when you see your child sweeping or pouring water, it is not an aside from academics—it supports academics.
This traces back to the executive functioning skills embedded in this part of the curriculum. Evidence continues to show that success in academics relies on executive functioning.
Many early childhood programs recognize the value of giving children sensorial experiences. This is often cultivated through “sensory bins” for open-ended and creative play. Sensorial work unfolds differently in Montessori classrooms, where there is an expansive sensory curriculum aimed at refining the child’s senses.
The Montessori sensorial materials are designed to heighten sensory perception, situational awareness, and ability to discern slight differences. These works are so much more than “hands-on” activities. There are materials that specifically activate each of the child’s senses beyond tactile. For example, using the sound cylinders, children use their auditory sense to carefully match the cylinders that sound the same. Or, using the smelling jars, children refine their olfactory sense by matching the bottles that have the same scent.
These activities isolate each of your child’s senses, which is how they can refine each sense. Developing a keen ability to perceive their surroundings helps children academically and throughout life. We rely on our senses every day to interpret information accurately and to more successfully navigate reading, math, and science.
Literacy in Montessori explicitly equips children with a foundation of skills while instilling a genuine love of reading and writing.
- A robust vocabulary is prioritized through both spoken and written activities. The classroom is filled with language-building activities like reading, narrating, singing, poetry, and nomenclature cards, which help children categorize and label more about our world.
- Writing unfolds early in a developmentally appropriate manner. To write, children must have the fine motor strength to properly hold a pencil. However, children are often ready to make words before their hands can take to paper. This can be frustrating when your mind is ahead of your hand! The Montessori moveable alphabet is an exciting material that empowers children to form words while they are still building hand strength. In addition, pre-writing activities like pin punching target fine motor skills to continue building a pincer grip for later handwriting.
- Children in Montessori learn to read with a phonics-based approach. Using the sandpaper letters, children trace the letters while practicing their sounds—not their names. For example, the letter “B” is not introduced as “Bee.” It is practiced for its sound, “Buh.” Evidence shows that having a strong basis of letter sounds first through explicit instruction is ideal.
- Children will go on to learn grammar, parts of speech, and the function of words. If you haven’t yet seen the visual Montessori Grammar Symbols, here’s a related guide.
Introducing math in a visual, tactile way makes arithmetic and problem-solving more accessible to children. Math materials include the number rods (which teach the quantities of 1-10), golden beads (which introduce the decimal system), and short chains (skip counting as preparation for multiplication). Children don’t memorize math in Montessori preschool and kindergarten; they internalize it.
The math materials are presented in sequential order, allowing children to build upon their knowledge with confidence. These early concrete impressions foster a deeper comprehension that children will benefit from as they advance in elementary and beyond.
There is an anecdotal benefit widely shared that children in Montessori love math! It is not common to observe drudgery towards math as is sometimes normalized in conventional circles.
Cultural studies in Montessori are designed to instill a profound appreciation for the world. This area encompasses everything from art, music, geography, geology, anatomy, zoology, botany, and history. Children build a greater sense of awareness of their surroundings, absorbing and categorizing the “what” and the “how.” This part of the curriculum builds scientific thinking. Children engage in more tactile materials in the classroom, and they also engage in hands-on experiences in nature.
Some of the Cultural materials include the continent puzzle maps (in which children learn the countries within each continent), the land and water form trays, (which demonstrate how land and water form in our world), and flower dissection work, (where children examine the parts of a flower).
Montessori children deepen their knowledge with these academic subjects and are often onto third-grade level work by their kindergarten year. However, this progression is not born out of rushed academics; This progression is born out of an authentic learning environment that was designed around their development.
This is why the method of teaching matters. Any school can introduce these subjects, but if the method clashes with the child’s natural energies, it won’t be effective. The Montessori method strikes a brilliant middle ground where children are not overpowered nor underestimated, but empowered.
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