Dr Maria Montessori was able to identify “sensitive periods” during a child’s life during which time a child is sensitive to the development of certain skills. She observed that a child learns each skill best in isolation of other skills with real-life applications and with increasing difficulty and repetition. She also advocated “following the child”; that is, giving the right lesson at the right time and allowing the child to participate in his/her own progress. Maria Montessori developed a continuum of lessons (organized in a spiral fashion from level to level) and specific learning materials tailored to the basic philosophy and instruction that she advocated.
The Montessori curriculum is an integrated approach where diverse concepts are presented across the curriculum and in different ways as the children progress through the grades. Children have repeated opportunities within different contexts to practice skills being learned. This approach also emphasizes the interconnectedness of disciplines. TMS uses as its curricular base, the Montessori Scope and Sequence from The Montessori Foundation written by Tim Seldin. This curriculum meets the requirements of the Pennsylvania Academic Standards.
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Practical Life exercises are crucial components of the overall development of young children in preparation for what is to come. These exercises depend on the child’s “sensitive period” for order, movement, purposeful activity and social relations. Practical Life allows a child to realize that he/she is part of a community and that his/her actions affect the functioning of the whole. Through the use of the real-life objects such as glass pitchers and plates for eating, tools, pruning shears, etc, children develop self-esteem, inner discipline, confidence and control of movement. Lessons in Grace and Courtesy serve to establish a social conscience and an understanding of the functioning of a healthy community.
The Sensorial segment of the Montessori curriculum builds on the Practical Life curriculum. It capitalizes on the young children’s “sensitive periods” for development and refinement of the senses and development of fine motor skills. The Sensorial curriculum offers the child this experience in the context of a variety of “work” to be repeated as often as the child desires, resulting in sensory data that will play an important role in what comes next in the child’s development. As with the Practical Life curriculum, lessons are varied to meet the needs of the child and the classroom. The purpose is not to master these works for their own sake but rather for the developmental benefits they offer.
Children’s House students develop control of movement, fine motor skills and eye/hand coordination that are provided in the “Practical Life” curriculum. Elementary Art builds on this foundation and strikes a balance between skill instruction and free exploration. Art recognizes a child’s natural desire for self-expression and the need to build a child’s art vocabulary. Awareness of artists and their techniques and knowledge of the various forms of art expression, from architecture to painting to sculpture to computer graphics, are important components of the program.
Through artistic adventures, children become aware of and develop a respect for the contributions of the arts and artists to societies and cultures, past and present. They gain a lasting appreciation of art from the vantage points of participant and audience. They gain insight into art as a method of expressing opinions, perceptions, feeling and history. Finally, they begin to realize the connections between art and daily life in areas such as math, nature, cooking and sports.
The study of culture in a Montessori classroom integrates traditional subjects of science, history, economics, civics and geography. We begin with sharing different story myths from various world cultures as well as scientific theories about the origin of our universe. We study the solar system, our planet, components of our physical world, geology and history, and geography. As we move through history, we begin studies of the five Kingdoms, from the first forms of life on earth (bacteria) to the most complex-celled animals (humans). We explore basic human needs and how those needs led to the development of language, math and inventions and then to settlements and cultures.
Specific skills are developed through culture studies. Geography study helps children develop spatial awareness and orientation skills. History study builds in the child a clear sense of time passage which is the foundation of a well-developed historical perspective. Science allows children to look at phenomena with a curiosity and a theory, then through observation and research to test for validity. This pursuit has merit for children today as they learn to differentiate between theory and fact, and maintain a healthy interest in figuring out how and why things work.
Early literacy learning is presented from concrete to abstract in a spiral fashion, and at the child’s individual pace. Listening to stories begins the awareness that spoken words have a written representation; that we read from left to right, top to bottom; that words convey meaning and that there is a structure to our language.
Children’s House students begin learning letters by their sound, not by the name of the letter. They move on to forming words with the “moveable alphabet” and then to forming simple sentences, reading these as well as creating them. The child begins to write “stories” with a pencil and learn proper letter formation. Once the child can easily identify/decode simple words and “read” his/her created sentences, he/she jumps into phonetic readers and then into books carefully chosen for their literary value. Once decoding becomes facile, the focus changes to developing comprehension and inference skills, and children then begin to read in many subject areas.
Through applying grammar, sentence analysis, and spelling instruction in an inquiry-based research curriculum, Elementary students are able to express themselves clearly, creatively and correctly in writing. Practical applications in the forms of a published poetry magazine, a self-made book for their Reading Buddies and the Upper El newspaper give the students a reason for writing and taking pride in their work. Students begin honing “public speaking” skills as they explain to other children how to complete a work or share what they are learning. In Lower Elementary, students begin to deliver oral reports to their peers and share first drafts of written pieces with their classmates in order to receive helpful feedback. The finale of this process is the written speech that each sixth grader delivers at graduation.
Mathematics leads to the discovery of natural laws and patterns that ultimately have the power to control the environment. Maria Montessori identified a specific “sensitive period” during the years 3-6 for the development of concepts such as quantity, size, counting and measurement. As in all Montessori curriculum areas, mathematics instruction proceeds from concrete to abstract as the children move through Children’s House and Elementary. The Montessori process uses specific materials to aid in the child’s development of an awareness of mathematics and mathematical thinking.
The child’s ability to think at a high level of abstraction rarely fully develops until early adolescence, and is aided by real life experiences and extensive practice. Knowledge is displayed through performance and being able to explain process and concept. Children apply their knowledge to a variety of tasks such as graphing the daily temperature, cooking, and computing the height of a tree to measuring the school building. These experiences contribute to an understanding of mathematical concepts through practical applications.
Children’s House students develop control of movement, listening skills, and singing. Elementary music builds on the foundation provided in Children’s House, and seeks to strike a balance between skill development and free exploration. Besides encouraging a natural desire for self-expression, it also seeks to build a child’s musical vocabulary and awareness of all kinds of musical expression. Music has the potential to develop the intellect and social skills that contribute to cognitive functioning. TMS encourages each child to “find and nourish the artist within him/herself”.
Elementary physical education (PE) builds on balance and motor skills that were developed and practiced in Children’s House. PE helps build a love for physical activity, a healthy interest in keeping fit, and an appreciation of the emotional well being that regular physical activity can provide. It also gives children the necessary experience with basic tenets of good sportsmanship. Competition is kept to a healthy level, with an emphasis on team play and cooperation. The program emphasizes physical activity, maintenance of a positive attitude, development of good sportsmanship and movement competency as a means of achieving wellness for life.
The Montessori science curriculum seeks to cultivate children’s natural curiosity and allows them to discover answers to their “why” questions. Science study concentrates on process: hypothesis, procedure, observation, data analysis and conclusion. This teaches the thinking behind using a logical method of discovery or testing, and to use data to evaluate results in order to arrive at a thoughtful conclusion.
Each child attains a basic knowledge of zoology, botany, matter, energy, earth science, astronomy, human development and personal health. Hands-on experience with the natural world and with scientific materials and apparatus help to promote learning such things as animal classification, chemical processes, earth forces, botanical components and rock types. Sustainable science is a large part of the curriculum in learning about plants and water systems. The Montessori curriculum encourages respect for our world and an understanding of our place in the natural order of things. The ultimate goal is the development of an ecological view of life and a feeling of responsibility for the earth.
Foreign language instruction fits the overall aims of Montessori pedagogy. Its study is but one way to humanize another culture. In grades 1-3, the aim is to expose children to the sounds of Spanish in an effort to give them a degree of comfort listening to it, repeating and speaking it in simple words and sentences. In grades 4-6, we aim to build a vocabulary and grammar base so that students can begin to manipulate and use the language. In addition, students begin to read and write Spanish, both in class and at home, and become better prepared for foreign language study in Middle School.