As you have no doubt seen, your child has extraordinary powers of mind. The young child possesses a once-in-a-lifetime, sponge-like capacity to take information from the immediate environment. Dr. Montessori called this phenomenon “the absorbent mind,” and the pedagogy she developed is premised on the understanding that, placed in the right environment, young children will learn spontaneously, without external command or pressure. The Children’s House is meticulously prepared with manipulative educational materials that encourage two-to-six year olds to discover and learn at their own pace. The main objective in training a Montessori teacher is to cultivate observational skills so that each child will be appreciated as an individual and matched to the materials to which they will currently respond with the greatest involvement.
We understand the typical age benchmarks for acquiring and demonstrating various skills, but we do not expect each child to learn at a standard pace. Many children will dwell on a given task for a period of time that may seem inexplicably long; part of our job is to appreciate what is sustaining their fascination. Then they may spurt ahead, passing peers who have been progressing more steadily. Our focus is not to hit conventionalized age-defined standards but to maximize each child’s excitement and joy about learning.
Montessori classrooms are also distinctive in their multi-age structure, which elicits leadership from older children and naturally enlists younger children in learning from physically proximate role models. Part of the magic in the Children’s House is seeing an especially shy five-year-old drawn into a leadership role by younger children who, without any external prompting, turn for help to more experienced classmates.
The youngest children fill their days with activities centered on “Practical Life.” They learn to sweep the floor, bake bread, polish silver, and clean the leaves of plants. They experiment with sensorial materials that educate their visual, auditory and tactile senses. They play vocabulary sound games, and sing and dance when children gather for group activities.
As children progress, they become familiar with sounds and symbols that will lay the groundwork for reading and writing. They are introduced to numbers and the decimal system, not through lecture or blackboard illustration but by manipulating ingeniously designed materials which reveal their inner logic as the children solve what appear to them as puzzles about how to fit this with that, how to complete a structure, what fits on top of what. Working with more representative materials, the child learns about land and water forms, geometric figures, the countries of the world, the physiology of animals, and the workings and structure of plants. The child is introduced to the worlds of music and art through deconstructed versions of some of their elementary forms.
During what for many children will be their third year in the school and the equivalent of the traditional kindergarten year, much of the preparatory work of the prior years comes to fruition in forms that adults more readily recognize as processes of learning. Now reading, writing and mathematical understanding emerge, sometimes literally overnight, in qualitative leaps that for some children seem to occur with the blink of an eye.
In addition, the culminating year at our school provides an invaluable opportunity for five- and six-year-olds to develop leadership skills and the self-confidence that comes with guiding others. Our Kindergarteners act as positive peer models for their younger classmates, assuming positions of responsibility that further strengthen their own capabilities and self-esteem.
Beyond the specific skills acquired, and their value for subsequent stages of education, the process has more generalized implications. Once completing the program at the Children’s House, the child is instinctively confident that learning is exciting and boundless. Because so much of what they have learned has been experienced without direct intervention by authoritative adults, but through their seemingly natural encounters with provocative environments, our graduates become ready to continue not only to the next level of education but, we may hope, through a lifetime of exploring the world’s fascinations.
Each area in the Montessori curriculum emphasizes specific skills and taps different facets of children’s natural enthusiasm for learning. The various areas interact, creating a dynamic atmosphere in the classroom.
Practical Life activities are central to the Montessori classroom and they prepare the child for all other areas in our program. The emphasis is on practicing skills, and for us as well as for the child, the process is more important than the product. Our Practical Life exercises give children the opportunity to refine fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, hand strength, balance, concentration and the ability to do things for themselves. The mundane nature of these tasks in the eyes of adults masks their profound fascination for the children, who are developing rhythms, a sense of technique, and habituated understandings of their powers in the world on which they will rely all of their lives. Life exercises include Pouring, Lacing, Scooping, Flower Arranging, Food preparation, Serving, and Table Washing.
For the young child, Montessori activities translate into meaningful experiences. Their joy in washing dishes, preparing vegetables and fruits for snacks, and caring for their environment, is exciting to children because they feel like, indeed actually become, active, contributing members of their community. The classroom functions dynamically because imitation is one of the child’s strongest urges during his or her early years. As the children prepare and serve food to classmates, teachers and guests, they in effect switch sides, enacting conduct that has become familiar from their observation of powerful and loved adults. Enacting the reciprocal in interaction — taking the role toward others that others have taken toward them — is at the dynamic core of Practical Life activities.
Sensorial materials are designed to help children learn about qualities like color, size, shape, length, texture, and sound. Three to six year olds are increasingly able to make finer and finer distinctions among the many stimuli around them. Sensorial activities assist children in refining their discriminations, putting them on the road to becoming good observers of the world. Sensorial materials in the Primary classroom include Knobbed Cylinders, for practice with dimension; Color Tables; Rough and Smooth Boards; Geometric Solids; the Pink Tower; and the Binomial Cube.
Our students work with materials specifically designed to refine their senses of color, weight, shape, texture, size, sound, smell, and taste. Each of the sensory materials affords one or more specific projects. The child does not experience size, texture or color for its own sake, but as a means for accomplishing a task, either one that a teacher has illustrated or one the child innovates. In either case, the child learns the pragmatic value of sensorial awareness and the converse, that what we find fascinating aesthetically and physically has an inner logic that we are in the process of discovering. The child implicitly appreciates that the various senses are powerful resources for solving puzzles, accomplishing projects, achieving ambitions which the materials themselves select, as if they have an inner secret that the child discovers.
The child’s mind is tuned and sophisticated through the manipulation of Montessori sensorial materials. Our materials are designed both aesthetically and with a scientific precision aimed at suggesting to the child particular paths toward development. We believe that the child’s work with sensorial material is the beginning of conscious knowledge, albeit not through language or reflective thought per se. Instead, conscious knowledge is evoked indirectly, though the intelligence that is evoked when working in a concentrated way on the impressions given by the senses. However intelligent a child may be before working with materials, his or her interaction with them produces intelligence.
The Montessori language program directly and indirectly prepares the child for the acquisition of verbal and non-verbal skills. The language program consists of verbal skills, visual perception, and small muscle coordination. A complete reading system is available to the children; through it they gain an understanding that separate sounds can be blended together to make meaningful words. Our children love to read and are quickly ready to expand their knowledge to include sight vocabulary and creative writing.
Although an unusually quiet place compared to other settings in which young children congregate, language pervades the Montessori classroom and crosses all curriculum areas. The very emphasis on silent demonstration tunes the child, by way of juxtaposition, to focus with acuteness on audible language. The young child is introduced to sounds, letters, and the names of things, while the older child may be beginning to read.
Sensorial and language materials overlap. Language materials are often tactile, taking advantage of the three- and four-year-olds’ sensitivity to learning through touch. Writing often comes early to the Montessori child through the use of concrete materials, like the pre-cut letters of the Moveable Alphabet, which allow them to express their knowledge
without needing precise control of a pencil. Language Materials include Sandpaper Letters, Language Objects for initial sounds practice, word and picture Matching Cards, a farm activity to develop vocabulary; and Early Reader books.
In the Montessori classroom, concrete materials are used to introduce abstract mathematical reasoning skills. Children learn how a numeral represents a tangible and visibly discrete amount; as they manipulate objects, they witness operations like addition, subtraction, and multiplication. These exercises cater to children’s developing sense of order, sequence, one-to-one correspondence and directionality. Math activities include Sandpaper Numerals, the Spindle Box for counting, Numerals and Counters, the Ten Board, the Hundred Board, Bead Chains, and Gold Beads to introduce the decimal system.
Many children enter school today knowing how to count, but they may not have an understanding of quantity: they may have merely memorized numbers. When a child indicates that he or she is interested, we begin to demonstrate how to count using concrete, mathematical materials and, later, introducing the abstract symbols for numbers. Our specially designed mathematical materials guide the children step-by-step, and in ways that are for them exciting, to learn the decimal system and the processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Eventually the child will begin to work out math programs on paper, though an abstract process, without using concrete materials as before. At this point, the child can actually visualize consciously that the process of addition is “putting things together” and that subtraction is “taking things away.” With continued practice, abstract understanding begins to take hold and eventually take over. Further on, when our children enter Elementary programs, they will have a thorough understanding of what numbers mean, and on that basis they will be able to comprehend the mathematical facts and abstractions presented to them without fear.
GEOGRAPHY AND CULTURAL STUDIES
Geography is an important part of the Montessori curriculum. Our program begins with the two hemispheres of Earth, and becomes more and more detailed as children learn about continents and then countries. Children love to play with puzzles! We have large, brightly colored wooden geography puzzles; each has a map of a particular continent: children learn to reassemble the pieces, each representing individual countries. The students learn the countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America and Australia. One day at the dinner table your three-year-old may inform you that you live in North America.
Supplementing our geographic materials, our Montessori community is filled with children and families from all over the world. Families are invited to share their customs, lifestyles, music, art and food with the classroom community frequently. On a daily basis, the children are learning about cultural differences and commonalities. They come to share our wonder that so many paths, starting from so many far-flung parts of the globe, converge in our little school.
SCIENCE AND NATURE
The Science and Nature Curriculum is designed not only to help children discover facts but also to honor the sense of wonder they have about the world. Plants and animals abound in our classrooms. Through the care of our menagerie, through puzzles of flowers, leaves and plants, and through simple experiments, our children’s lives become enriched. Our land and water work, introducing the concepts of Lake and Island, is closely connected to the Geography curriculum. Children learn about volcanoes, the layers of the earth, and our solar system.
Perhaps most clearly in the area of science, the power of the Montessori approach is based on an appreciation of the deep and subtle logic that structures play. The children’s activities include Sink or Float, Living or Non-Living, Land and Water Forms, the Structure of the Earth, and Botany. Through exercises in channeled curiosity, the children learn some of the most basic elements of the scientific mind: they learning how to classify things, that they can predict the results of experiments, and that through controlled methods they can test their predictions.
We believe the arts must be as meaningful a part of the curriculum as are mathematics and language. We advocate teaching the arts because they provide children with a sense of civilization, foster creativity, teach effective communication, and provide tools for the critical assessment of what one sees, hears, feels, reads and experiences. We are fortunate that our parents understand this from their own experience. All will enjoy observing their children discovering these eternal truths.
An effective Art Curriculum provides a sequential program of instruction for all the children. Each student deserves to learn about our common artistic heritage, to have the chance to add creative images to the world, and to appreciate how through art one can express ideas and emotions that cannot be grasped by language alone.
Fine motor practice, color work, and imagination all come into play in Art activities. The Art curriculum uses collage and glue, cutting with scissors, hole punching, markers, crayons, paint, and our own play dough. Art activities include an ever-changing selection of creative activities for children. For example we continuously develop new lessons on great artists in which the children’s activities are matched with fine arts prints that are part of our shared aesthetic vocabulary.
GRACE AND COURTESY
In the Montessori classroom, children and adults take care to be gracious toward and courteous of one another. This area of the curriculum encourages respect for oneself, for other members of the community, for the living things in the classroom, and for the environment. Lessons include carrying things carefully and returning them to their place so that others may use them, aspects of grace which, by being made a challenge, are embraced by the children rather than treated as an annoyance or imposition. The care with which language is used in the classroom evokes polite and respectful speech. Courtesy is developed through good table manners, through guidance in how properly to introduce oneself, and by illustrating methods of interrupting politely. Grace and courtesy become appreciated by the children not as burdens but as the foundation of self-confident ways of relating to others. The care taken in making contact with others leads to a self-reflexive awareness of one’s own dignity.
The inclusion of Music Education is an integral part of our curriculum. The music program provides a unique learning experience through which a student’s knowledge continues to broaden in music theory and tactical experiences.
The Dance program teaches students about creative expression and offers them opportunities to express themselves through creative movement. Creative Dance promotes self-expression and understanding of working in a team environment.
Our drama program was established in 1995. Over the years we have introduced the children to a wide range of great literature. All our plays are original school productions, inspired by or adapted from Greek Mythology, from Shakespeare, and from motifs and stories that have been treasured repeatedly and through many cultures, in books, music and on the stage.
Our drama program involves all the children in our school. Everyone participates, learns about literature, and comes to appreciate the transcendent power of teamwork. Our productions are inventive and fun; the emphasis is on what children learn through the rehearsal and practice stages, not on what happens during their one performance. Parents have an opportunity to play important roles in the rehearsal and presentation process, and in responding to their child’s spontaneous rendition of songs and play narratives at home. Everyone revels in each performance night.
Through involvement in the performing arts, your children learn public speaking, expand their vocabulary, and learn to work in a group; they build their literacy, enhance their creativity, develop their self-esteem, and grow in their understanding of self and others. The performance night also builds camaraderie and friendship among parents through their participation and efforts. Not the least of which is how your children love to perform for their parents and friends!
Spanish, French, and Mandarin Languages
An increasing number of people in the world are utilizing Spanish as their first or second language, among them residents of nations south of our borders with whom the next generation is likely to have extensive contact. Everyday our lives are enriched by the many Spanish speaking people we meet in Los Angeles. The objective of our Spanish curriculum is to introduce children to this increasingly present language, as well as to nurture their understanding of language in general.
Our Spanish program also aims at developing communicative skills. We organize program content into two areas, responsive listening and evocative speaking. At each level of learning, the student works towards an increased proficiency in both areas.
Many of our families live everyday in a bilingual world, and all signs indicate that our children will be living in a multi-lingual world. In the same spirit that guides our Spanish program and through a similar pedagogy, we offer Mandarin and French to expose our kids to other cultures and languages.