Classroom Design & Curriculum
The Montessori classroom, or ‘Prepared Environment’, is composed of four distinct areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, and Language. Each area of the classroom holds specific materials designed to call children into concentration and engagement. These hands-on manipulatives aid children in the process of internalizing knowledge on their paths of self-construction. Specialized materials for art, geography, science, music and cultural studies are integrated into activities throughout the four areas of the classroom.
A Montessori teacher is trained to guide each child through the materials in a progression that matches the child’s age, readiness and interest. Through a series of lessons, the child is introduced to activities, or ‘work,’ as it is called in the Montessori classroom, which supports his or her holistic development. Once a lesson has been given, a child may choose to return to that work at any time; this provides the opportunity to practice, refine and perfect skills according to interest and ability. This self-directed, child-centered approach supports the child’s independence, confidence and joy in learning.
Practical Life encompasses four main areas: Control of Movement, Care of Person, Care of Environment, and Grace and Courtesy. These activities help children master everyday skills while taking care of themselves, each other, and the world around them. The materials provide motives for fine motor development, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to concentrate. They also create a foundation for the children’s later, more complex work. One example of this is the way every Practical Life material is arranged on the tray and is presented in a lesson, following a left-to-right progression of activity. This trains the eyes to move from left to right long before they are required to do so in order to begin reading. Examples of Practical Life activities are: pouring water, the zipper frame, washing a table, and arranging flowers.
Materials in the Sensorial Area help children engage with and explore the world while quantifying and naming isolated qualities, discovering patterns and relationships between things (through matching and grading exercises), and refining their developing senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing). These materials are considered ‘keys to the world’, giving the child the means for growth in perception and understanding that forms the basis for abstraction in thought. Examples of these include the Smelling Jars, Color Tablets, Texture Boards, and the Sound Cylinders. Sensorial Materials also lay the foundation for mathematical concepts. Materials like the Pink Tower, Brown Stairs and Red Rods reflect base ten mathematical principles, familiarizing the child with these concepts before the formal mathematics progression is formally introduced.
The Math Area is where children take flight with the conceptual foundation laid out in the Sensorial Area. The materials give concrete expression to abstract ideas of quantity, length, set, the decimal system, and the different operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). The child has seen the distinctions of distance, dimension, gradation, identity, similarity and sequence in the Sensorial materials, and is now introduced to the functions and operations of numbers. Geometry, algebra and arithmetic are connected in the Montessori method as they are in life. For instance the Golden Bead material highlights the numeric, geometric and dimensional relationships within the decimal system. Through concrete materials the child learns to add, subtract, multiply and divide and gradually comes to understand many abstract mathematical concepts with ease and joy. Children are then also introduced to analysis of shape and fractions.
The Language Area is the least visible and most amorphous area of the classroom, because so much of language development is achieved through the spoken word in songs, stories, conversations, poetry, and language games (e.g. the Sound Game, Animal Riddles, I Spy, Rhyming Words, What Starts with the Sound…?). Language is also an integral part of each other area in the classroom, as we help children to learn the names for all the things they are using and all the component parts. For example, in the Sensorial Area, children learn the names of continents and countries with the Map Puzzles; with the Geometry Cabinet, they learn the names of shapes; and with the Pink Tower, they learn comparative language describing a set (e.g., small, smaller, smallest).
The visible materials for language follow two tracks: strengthening the hand for writing, and isolating and recognizing the component sounds of our language for reading. Materials in the Sensorial and Practical Life areas help children’s hands develop the strength and fine motor coordination to correctly hold and operate a pencil to write. Tracing and shading the contours of metal geometric shapes with colored pencils using the Metal Inset materials further develops and refines the hand for writing and offers a rewarding outlet for artistic expression and fine motor hand movement.
Alongside the progression of materials for the hand, materials for sound recognition and reading allow the child to enter the world of literacy. Sandpaper Letters and the Sound Game are children’s entry points. Once children recognize isolated sounds and associate them with their corresponding symbol, they can begin building words with the Movable Alphabet. Reading begins with short phonetic nouns matched to objects in the Phonetic Object Box. As confidence and ability grows, children are introduced to phonograms (where two letters combine to make a new sound, as in “sh’), action words, and sight words. Once reading and writing are well established, the child is introduced to materials for analyzing grammar.