From birth to three years old, the young child unknowingly or unconsciously acquires his basic abilities. He learns to speak, to walk, to gain control of his hands and to master his bodily functions. Once these basic skills are incorporated into his schema, by about three years old, he moves into the next phase of the absorbent mind, which Dr. Montessori called the Conscious Absorbent Mind. During this phase, the child is concerned with self-construction and forming a basis for the human personality. This is a self-centered time of development. This is the most active time for brain development; dendrites in the brain continue to form. The child’s mathematical mind compels him to perfect in himself that which is now there. His fundamental task during this phase is freedom; freedom to move purposefully, freedom to choose and freedom to concentrate. His mantra is “Let Me Do It Myself!"
Dr. Montessori recognized that isolating and addressing difficulties was the key in developing a child’s feeling of success in learning. For example, in writing, a child faces several challenges. The child must first develop the pincer grip, a fine motor skill or muscle strength, to hold the pencil. He/She also must learn directionality of reading and writing English (left to right with a return sweep to reach the next line). And, the child must understand how the letter is formed through learning the strokes of the pencil (counter-clockwise, such as the cursive “l”, “d”, etc.) and developing that muscle memory. With this in mind, Dr. Montessori “re-invented” the classroom and developed a child-centered model for individualized, active learning within the framework of an integrated curriculum. She called this “the prepared environment.” The “prepared environment” is carefully planned so that the “materials for development” are scientifically arranged and the child can spontaneously explore and progress at his or her own individual pace.
The Practical Life area is essential for a strong Montessori educational foundation. In this area a child is learning control of movement (fine motor skills), concentration span, self-confidence and a love of learning. The Practical Life activities consist of familiar objects that a child would normally see every day. The activities are designed for children to feel comfortable and be able to master with purposeful attempts. Practical Life activities fall into four main categories: care of self, grace and courtesy, control of movement and care of the environment. The goal of these activities is not only to help children build self-confidence in their working abilities, but to expose the children to fundamental work that builds up their concentration span with activities they will encounter through adulthood.
The Sensorial area of the classroom helps children become more aware of details that are often overlooked. Each activity focuses on one quality such as color, weight, shape, size, texture, sound or smell. These activities develop the child’s senses of perception and discrimination for exploring and noticing small differences in patterns as well as fine motor function development in the hands. The Sensorial area of the classroom builds the child’s concentration for a broadened awakening of the senses and perception for distinguishing different qualities and patterns.
The Language area of the Montessori classroom encourages development of early-literacy skills through the use of phonetic sounds. In the Language area children are exposed to various types of phonetic awareness activities to build a strong literary foundation. Montessori Language activities are designed to improve a child’s vocabulary, listening skills for common sounds, and differentiating between objects and pictures. Language activities include learning the shapes and sounds of letters, practicing fine motor skills by writing, vocabulary development, matching words and pictures, reading development with word lists, practicing parts of grammar (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.), creating sentences and reading silently.
The Math area of the Montessori classroom encompasses the use of concrete materials for the recognition of numbers and the recognition of quantity as well. Through these activities, children learn exactly how much a symbolic number stands for (i.e. the number 5 means counting the correct number of objects to make the number 5). Mathematics activities are divided into six categories that include: counting and the decimal system, memory work, concrete abstraction, arithmetic tables and geometry. Children are introduced to more complex mathematical procedures and concepts as they are individually ready. Often times a child will complete a mathematical activity a few times until he feels ready to attempt a concept that is more difficult.
The Culture area of the classroom encompasses a variety of subjects that are supplementary to the Montessori method. Cultural subjects include: Geography, Foreign Languages, Science, Botany, Zoology, and Art & Music. Studying these subjects provide children an opportunity to explore their curiosity of different and worldly ideas. Studying Geography and Foreign Languages allows the children the opportunity to understand their own culture as well as many others. The children can relate and understand cultural diversity and ultimately come to appreciate differences between humankind. Further, they develop a deeper and more literary understanding of language. Science in the Montessori classroom allows the children to observe and work with hands-on experiments that will cultivate a lifelong interest in nature and discovering more about our unique world. Through the study of Botany, the children learn about plants (what they look like, how to take care of them, how they grow, etc.) so that they may appreciate nature in a more organic way. The study of Zoology shows children animals from all around the world (where they live, their unique Eco-systems, what they eat, how they grow, etc.). Lastly, the study of Art & Music allows the children a very unique opportunity to express themselves. Children have an expressive and uninhibited experience of moving, dancing and singing among their school peers. Culture activities facilitate children's cognitive, social and emotional development in a constructive way.