Montessori pedagogy is designed to aid the child’s prevailing learning sensitivities. Dr. Maria Montessori observed that children pass through phases of heightened sensitivity towards a specific skill and she termed it as “Sensitive Period“. During a Sensitive Period, the child will have limitless energy and enthusiasm for the task at hand and he works with tremendous focus resulting in the mastery of that task. When one of these sensitive period is exhausted, another is kindled. Childhood thus passes from one conquest to another which constitutes the joy of learning.
The time at which a sensitive period appears and its duration are unique to each child. Though adults have no direct influence on the different sensitive periods experienced by the child, they do have the ability to recognize it and provide the right guidance. The flexibility of the Montessori method provides the most favorable conditions to take full advantage of these sensitive periods.
The Montessori materials are a significant component of the prepared environment. Children can choose the material they like and can continue working with it till their interest lasts. The materials are mostly self-correcting and this enables the kids to correct their mistakes without help from the adult. This helps them develop concentration and confidence.
Montessori curriculum is divided into 6 areas of learning:
1. Exercises of Practical Life
Exercises of Practical Life
Children who are in the 2.5 to 3 years of age enjoy helping adults in their daily activities. They also try to do their routine activities like washing up and getting dressed on their own. When a child is encouraged to do so, the child develops self-esteem and independence. Dr. Montessori recognized the child’s need for order, repetition, and succession in movements. Therefore she began using what she called “Practical Life Exercises” to allow the child to practice and master activities of daily life. EPL activities resembles the daily activities and all materials are child sized, real and functional.
The direct aim of Montessori Practical Life activities is to help develop social skills and independence. Indirect aim is to develop fine motor skills, concentration, and gracefulness. EPL activities can be categorized into four different groups:
1. Preliminary Exercises – the child learns all the basic movements such as pouring, folding etc
2. Applied Exercises – the child learns to take care of themselves (washing hands, dressing etc) and the care of the environment (dusting a table).
3. Grace and Courtesy Exercises – the children work on the social interactions between people (Greeting each other, apologizing etc).
4. Control of Movement Exercises – the child learns to refine his coordination through movements (walking on the line).
Parents who are not familiar with Montessori education may feel that the EPL activities are a waste of time. They feel that learning academic skills like reading or maths is more important. But all learning requires a person to have concentration, ability to follow steps and the will to complete the task. This is precisely the intent of the Practical Life activities. Through the Practical Life work, children learn to calmly go about their work and to take pleasure and satisfaction from their efforts.
Maria Montessori considered the child as a “sensorial explorer” and realised that a child between two to six years passes through the ‘sensitive period for the refinement of senses’. Sensorial activities encourage a child to learn by using visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, baric, thermic and stereognostic senses. Each of the sensorial material isolates only one quality and the abstract concepts are made into concrete materials. They have a control of error, which helps the child to make the corrections himself. The Sensorial activities prepare the child indirectly for future learning.
Montessori classroom is designed in such a way that all activities gear themselves naturally towards the development of skills required for reading and writing. Precise names are used for all of the objects and apparatus. Vocabulary classification and matching exercises develop visual perception and enrich vocabulary development. Narration of stories, name lessons, picture cards and rhymes helps to improve pronunciation and vocabulary. Sand paper letters and movable alphabets prepare the child for reading and writing. Language development is also encouraged in the classroom because of the freedom of conversation allowed to the children.
Writing is a complete act that requires manual dexterity along with the ability to express thoughts using alphabets. Dr. Montessori realized the great importance of indirect preparation for reading and writing. The child needs to be prepared physically and intellectually before learning to read and write. When all of the components of language come together and the child realizes he can write is what Montessori called an “explosive phenomenon”. The child starts writing words and sentences without going through the traditional way of writing alphabets repeatedly and mindlessly.
‘Great creations come from the mathematical mind, so we must always consider all that is mathematical as a means of mental development. It is certain that mathematics organises the abstract path of the mind, so we must offer it at an early age, in a clear and very accessible manner, as a stimulus to the child whose mind is yet to be organised.’ – Dr. Maria Montessori
Dr. Montessori recognized that children are born with a particular kind of mind, one that is naturally inclined towards order. This is what gives humans the ability to make judgments and to calculate. Dr. Montessori called this the ‘Mathematical mind’ – a term borrowed from the French physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal. Montessori felt that, if we are to support development, then we must offer mathematics at an early age.
The Montessori math curriculum is one of the best examples of the unique beauty of Montessori materials. For example, The Decimal system is introduced in the form of the Golden Bead material – where golden beads represents units, bar of 10 beads represent tens, square of 100 beads represent hundreds and cube of 1000 beads represent thousands. When a child of four handles the material in a series of different activities, he can understand without being told the differences between one, ten, one hundred and one thousand.
The child is free to explore the math materials at his own pace without any pressure. The materials are designed with their own ‘control of error’ so the child is able to assess his own progress. He is introduced to the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in group activities where he is given an actual concrete experience of the meaning of these functions.
The Cultural area of the Montessori classroom covers a variety of subjects like Geography, History, Science, Botany and Zoology. Arts, crafts and Music are also considered a part of the Cultural Area of the classroom.