Primary Children’s House – Preschool and Kindergarten
Akron Montessori School’s Primary Program serves children ages 2½ to 5 in a stimulating prepared environment. It includes both preschool and kindergarten.
“It is a pedagogical method informed by the high concept of Immanuel Kant: “Perfect art returns to nature.”
—Closing sentence of The Montessori Method (1912), by Maria Montessori
The Primary School Child
The most important period of a child’s mental development is from birth to six years of age. Dr. Maria Montessori referred to this time as the period of the “absorbent mind” because during this time the child has a phenomenal capacity for absorbing knowledge, developing vocabulary, and learning various skills. How effectively the child uses this capacity is greatly affected by the environment in which she grows. Most of the learning that the child does during this age requires no conscious effort. For example, reflect, for a moment, on how a child learns to talk. Nobody sits with an infant to teach her to talk. The child just picks it up by listening, imitating, and practicing. The language spoken at home becomes the child’s language. In the course of learning her language, the child, without any coaching from adults, keeps on asking the names of everything she sees around her. Once the names are given they are absorbed by her mind. This is a universal phenomenon. How wonderful it would be if these abilities and interests would last forever! Unfortunately, this is not the case. The child’s ability to acquire knowledge in this manner lasts only until she reaches about six years of age. After that the child starts learning by using her reasoning ability. Often adults must make an effort to get the child to learn skills, like reading, that she would have picked up spontaneously during the early years.
The Prepared Environment
The Montessori classroom is a carefully prepared environment that presents a collection of materials and activities that address the needs of growing young minds. From age 2½ to 6, the child’s most frequently asked questions are “What is this?” or “What is that?” These inquiries set the stage for the elementary years, when the child will begin using his reasoning ability to ask the question “Why?” There are materials used for the physical development of the senses as well as materials that makes it possible for the child to experience, through her senses, abstract concepts in language, math, geometry, geography and biology. The classroom is also furnished with materials and activities that enable the child to practice and master day-to-day activities. The room invites activity. Children from 2½ to 6 years of age work together in the classroom. The prepared environment is designed to allow children to independently choose activities (after the initial presentation) without the help of an adult. The child has complete freedom to work without interruption and also to repeat an activity as often as he or she desires. The adult guide (teacher) in the environment carefully observes the child and presents new materials and activities to the child to guide her through the curriculum. The child learns to stay focused on activities. The nature of the materials ensures that a child can recognize and correct his/her own mistakes and that an activity can be repeated until the child is satisfied.
The Classroom Community
At the same time that he is learning on his own, the child is also encouraged to develop cooperative social skills. The classroom community, which consists of children of different ages and skill levels working in the same room together, promotes this aspect of development. The children are given the opportunity to learn from one another and also to learn to respect each other. They are neither graded nor compared against one another. Each child progresses according to his unique pace and the nature of the environment helps the child to gain self-confidence and achieve a sense of independence.
As both the psychological and educational director of the classroom, the Montessori teacher responds to the needs of the children only after careful observation. She introduces materials in the environment to each child according to his needs and encourages him to repeat the activities to reinforce the knowledge gained. She is trained to recognize when to intervene so that the child’s concentration and involvement with the work are encouraged and not interrupted.
Our Children’s House program for preschool and kindergarten is made up of four major areas: practical life exercises, sensorial activities, language development, and mathematics. Geography, geometry and the sciences are presented to the children as part of language development. Our classrooms are fully equipped with Montessori materials for guiding children in all these areas. A brief description of the major areas of the program follows.
Practical Life Exercises
These exercises link the child’s home environment with the prepared environment of the classroom. They help the child learn controlled, precise fine motor skills and recognize the concepts of order and sequence. The child learns to concentrate and complete the work at her own uninterrupted pace and gains internal satisfaction of achievement. The materials also fulfill specific purposes in the real world for the child as she learns to button a shirt, tie shoe laces, wash her hands, and care for her own clothing and person without any adult help. The child also learns to care for his/her personal environment, in exercises such as dusting, washing and polishing furniture, and cleaning windows with a child-sized window wiper. In addition, practical life centers the child in a social atmosphere where “please” and “thank you” and a polite offer of “Do you need help with your work?” are the mainstays of conversation. The child is treated with respect and is therefore respectful.
These help the child’s development of senses. Colors, shapes, sounds, textures, dimensions, weight, temperature,
tastes, smells, and gradation are some of the aspects of the environment to which the child is exposed. The child’s perception and understanding of these phenomena are enhanced through repeated use of the materials in this area. These activities also enrich the child’s vocabulary as each new experience provides new words.
The preschool child is immersed in the dynamics of his own language. Using sandpaper letters and simple alphabet cutouts, the child is able to effortlessly link sounds of letters with their shapes and written forms at a very young age. Readily available in the room are pictures, labels, and puzzles bearing the names of animals, plants, geometric figures, and countries of the world for the child to work with. These provide the basis for the enrichment of vocabulary. From the very beginning reading and writing are tied to culture.
The Montessori approach to mathematics is special for many reasons. All operations emerge from the concrete manipulation of “materialized abstractions” such as rods, beads, spindles, cubes, and cards. While there is variety, the different materials are highly integrated. By using different materials, the child is presented with several alternative approaches for learning a given concept. Materials are sequenced so that conditions for spontaneous mathematical discovery will always occur. The child usually retains better those concepts that he “figures out” on his own.
In addition to the above areas, our primary program also includes art, music, physical education and Spanish as a foreign language. These areas are integral parts of our main program and are presented through the prepared environment.