History of Teaching
In a Montessori classroom the child’s freedom, dignity and independence are of paramount importance to allow them to develop as individuals.
There should be a general atmosphere of children doing things for themselves carefully and competently – pouring drinks, washing hands, serving food, carrying their own chairs – and participating in activities that absorb and interest them. With all activities the emphasis is placed on the process being most important rather than the end result being perfect, for this reason the Montessori materials are self-correcting, i.e. the adult doesn’t have to point out a mistake the child can see for themselves and correct it accordingly.
The Montessori curriculum is split into five key areas.
These are the first activities children are introduced to when they join a Montessori nursery; the exercises are designed to help develop the child’s ability to look after themselves, others and their surroundings. Great emphasis is placed on what Montessori referred to as Grace and Courtesy, simple activities designed to equip children with good manners and safe practice within their environment, for example: how to carry a chair safely, how to interrupt a conversation courteously, how to move around the classroom safely.
Practical life exercises allow the children to grow in confidence and help them to become independent. Activities include pouring, transferring using spoons, dressing frames to learn how to fasten their own clothes to name just a few.
The Practical Life activities are split into three basic categories: Manipulative Skills, Self-Development and Care of the Environment. Manipulative skills such as pouring, opening containers, painting and art and craft, sewing, handling books and carrying delicate items are relatively simple tasks that adults commonly do for a young child often to hurry things up or to prevent accidental spillage. Self-Development includes: Grace – which describes how to move about; Courtesy – which introduces how to behave socially and personal care. Care of the Environment includes caring for plants and animals, keeping the classroom tidy etc.
The primary purpose of the sensorial materials is to help the child sort out the many and varied impressions given by the senses. The sensorial activities help the child do this in four ways: they are specially designed to develop, order, broaden and refine sense perception.
The sensorial materials are quite unlike anything else that the child has ever encountered in the way of playthings. Most toys are designed to be attractive to the adults who purchase them. The sensorial materials are specially designed so that children will be attracted to them.
Maria Montessori believed that there are in fact nine senses that needed stimulation: Tactile – the sense of touch, Gustatory – the sense of taste, Auditory – the sense of hearing, Olfactory – the sense of smell, Visual – the sense of sight, Stereognostic – the sense of perceiving shape and form through the muscular and tactile senses, Thermic – the sense of temperature, Baric – the sense of weight and Chromatic – the sense of colour. There is at least one exercise specifically designed to stimulate the above senses.
The Montessori cultural materials provide children with individual activities that gradually help them to acquire more detailed knowledge in the areas of biology, geography, history and science.
In the Montessori classroom children use globes, puzzle maps and flags to underpin activities that build their understanding of other countries, cultures and people. Children are also taught to match, classify and name the elements and species of the natural world using pictures and name cards. Classroom plant growing and caring for animals help to form a bridge between the child’s knowledge of the immediate environment and wider world.
Maria Montessori specifically designed her apparatus for teaching mathematical concepts so that it is more straightforward for a child to bridge the gap from concrete to abstract. They are designed not to "teach maths" but to aid the development of the mathematical mind.
Children gain physical impressions of size and quantity long before they begin to manipulate numbers by using number rods, counting out beads, counting spindles into boxes and arranging coloured counters into patterns to represent odd and even numbers.
It is important that the Mathematics Activities, like all other Montessori activities, are not a teaching syllabus to be followed at a set pace. They are instead to be experienced by the child as a very relaxed form of play – to be pursued or not as the child wishes. There should never be any pressure, no matter how subtle, to move faster or further than the child’s natural inclinations.
Montessori’s language materials are based on a carefully structured phonic approach to writing and reading. Recognised for their excellence, they are used widely in many non-Montessori schools and settings where special help is required. Children learn sensorially by tracing sandpaper letters with their fingers while they are told the sounds. Soon they are writing simple words with moveable letters, matching words with objects and reading their first stories in phonic readers.