‘I can do it myself!’
This simple realisation gives children confidence and self-esteem. Being able to manage and do things independently, make choices, develop the ability to gauge and assess, all lead to clarity of perception and understanding.
From birth children are striving for independence and we must help them on this path by sharing the skills needed to achieve this end. The Montessori environment provides the opportunity for them to do specific activities that are closely linked to real life. Young children are interested in the ‘process’ required to do the activities and will happily repeat them till they achieve mastery. They value the opportunity to learn how to look after themselves and their environment and the Practical Life activities offered are familiar ones they have seen at home like pouring, sweeping, polishing, spooning and buttoning. These activities help to develop concentration and coordination, social awareness and a sense of order in the environment. The child learns about the limits and possibilities of the material world – how to adapt to the environment and how to be creative in it.
Children connect to ‘real’ activities. In a Montessori House, you see children actually washing, cleaning and cooking rather than pretending to do so.
Looking after ourselves and the well-being of the environment we share, are important considerations. The Exercises of Practical Life develop this awareness and build life skills for independence and purposeful living in the community.
“To teach a child whose senses have been developed is quite a different thing from teaching one who has not had this help.”
– Maria Montessori
In a competitive and materialistic world that places emphasis on consumerism, marks and outcomes, children must be allowed to recognise and appreciate the intangible qualities of life. We have observed that they achieve great development academically, but what sets Montessori education apart is that it also focuses on social and emotional intelligence. Emphasis on the natural world and its wonders helps children be sensitive to the environment and build a harmonious rapport with those around them.
We build a knowledge and understanding of the world through our senses, not just through listening, watching or reading. The quality of learning is directly related to the quality and quantity of the experience the child receives. The Sensorial materials in the environment develop the senses of the young child by isolating a defining quality such as colour, weight, size, shape, texture, sound or smell. Each sensorial discovery or experience is internalised and remains with the child throughout his/her life.
Montessori considered each of the senses and thought how best she could help children bring clarity to, and expand their existing experiences. Many of the exercises in this area are also indirect preparations for later mathematics and language work as they enable the child to classify, put in order, and describe sensory impressions in relation to length, width, temperature, mass and colour. Looking after ourselves and the well-being of the environment we share, are important considerations.
Numbers are the clue to the nature of the universe and the mystery of beauty.
We can’t do without numbers! We need them to unravel the mysteries of the natural world, to manage our daily lives; to be precise or to estimate and approximate.
Maria Montessori’s use of the term, ‘The Mathematical Mind,’ refers to the unique tendencies of the human mind, such as order, exactness, exploration, and orientation. She said:
“In our work, therefore, we have given a name to this part of the mind which is built up by exactitude, we call it the ‘mathematical mind’.”
Montessori designed her math materials to incorporate the natural capabilities of a child’s mathematical mind.
Children not only see and learn the symbol for a number, they hold the quantity in their hand. They evolve from the study of concrete mathematical concepts to understanding them in abstraction. With the help of specific materials, they begin to recognise the shapes, and names of numbers 0 to 9. Quantity is introduced and they relate the written number with its specific physical quantity. Children gradually become familiar with the Decimal System and gain a deeper understanding of how numbers function. Quantities of units, tens, hundreds and thousands are introduced. Having learned mathematical concepts through the use of concrete materials, children are prepared to work in abstraction with concepts such as fractions, key elements of geometry and other mathematical operations.
Using their hands, counting actual objects, feeling shapes and dimensions, all give children a three-dimensional understanding. Montessori fosters computational skills naturally, exposing children to not just basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) but paving the way for a strong foundation for the understanding of algebra, trigonometry and calculus. When they internalise this hands-on understanding and then work with a device or tablet, they have a multidimensional understanding and not just one on a flat screen.
Understanding, using and enjoying language is the critical first step in communication.
According to Montessori, the evolution of language begins with the infant’s innate capacity to absorb fragments of speech that form the basis for further language development. Children first discover that sounds have meaning and then isolate parts of speech. Their acquisition of oral skills occurs naturally. We must provide opportunities for the development of written language and reading.
Experiences gained from the Practical Life and Sensorial activities serve as a preparation for reading and writing. Children are given a phonetic basis for reading. They hear the sound, see the shape and by tracing, develop the muscular memory needed for writing. They are then ready to pursue an interest in words while cultivating writing skills at an individual pace.
Through storytelling, conversation and many other exercises, vocabulary grows. Eventually these preparatory activities culminate in children beginning to write. Montessori refers to ‘explosions’ into writing and reading and when they occur, they bring tremendous joy to both the learner and the educator.
All knowledge is connected and making connections brings added meaning to the excitement of learning and discovery. History, Geography, Science, Maths and Language are intricately woven together, and knowledge therefore becomes one.
Young children eagerly absorb concepts if they are presented in concrete form. One example is an introduction to the Sandpaper Globe, also known as the Land and Water globe, introductory geography material from the Sensorial Curriculum.
The main features of the Sandpaper Globe are the blue water and elevated land formations with a sandy texture. From this beginning, children move on to a Coloured Globe which displays the continents of the world in different colours, with progression to more detailed maps and landforms. Such progression is seen in all areas of learning.
Montessori materials make concepts tangible and serve as touchstones in the child’s memory for years to come.
At Head Start we believe that each child’s creativity is unique unto him/herself. Creativity is not the production of works of art but unity of the entire growing personality. In speaking, reading and writing children must master the symbols and systems invented by others. In expression and application, they should be allowed to use their own ideas, devise their own symbols and have the opportunity for expressing imagination and feeling.
In the Montessori environment, children learn about countries and continents, cities and capitals, traditions and festivals. As they become aware of other cultures, they are encouraged to celebrate differences and value them equally.