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.