The Montessori Math Curriculum has not changed for more than 100 years, yet it is still the most comprehensive way for a child to learn and understand place value and operations. It is based on the use of self-correcting manipulative materials to introduce and practice the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and complex algorithms. The foundation is laid in the Early Childhood classroom where the child is presented with a simple tray holding a unit bead, a ten bar, a hundred square, and a thousand cube. From there she learns to associate numerals with the abstract concept of numbers and the idea of exchanging from one place value to another. After this concept is mastered, the world of math is opened up to the student and she quickly moves to adding numerals in the thousands. The progress through the materials is directly associated with the development of the child’s understanding of the materials, and once he has mastered the most concrete, he is moved to more abstract materials such as the stamps (tiles stamped with numerals and color coded for place value) and the bead frames (which have the same color coding as the tiles). The Elementary child continues to use these materials to work through more difficult equations, and increasing place value.
When it becomes developmentally appropriate, the child is presented with “big” equations as her focus is drawn to large works. The student primarily does math work at school due to the fact that until she reaches higher levels of Elementary, she requires the manipulative materials to help her “see” the work and integrate the process into memory. The use of materials is also included in fact memorization with bead chains and tiles to assist the child. By providing the concrete foundation for the child’s math education, the Montessori Method ensures the child has a firm understanding of math concepts before he transitions to using a calculator or computer to practice higher math.
The most frequent question parents ask about the Montessori Language Curriculum is “How do you teach them to read?” The first focus in teaching a child how to read in the Montessori Method is teaching him to write. By introducing the child to letter formation and sound early on, he is able to communicate his thoughts with the written word. And while his first efforts are strictly phonetic, he is establishing the connection between the written word and sound which leads to the interpretation of new words. Once that connection is firing too fast for his hand, materials such as the Movable Alphabet are introduced to assist in the formation of words. Object boxes and beautiful pictures inspire the child to increase her vocabulary and delve into exception words that don’t follow phonetic rules. Spelling boxes grouped by rules include word exceptions, giving the child more practice in analyzing language.
Additionally, the Language curriculum is not bound to the shelves that contain Language works. Dr. Montessori believed in giving children names for everything and so the student’s exposure to language spreads across the entire learning environment. A child does not simply learn “triangle”–she learns “acute angled scalene triangle.” She is given names for bodies of water, bodies of land, continents, countries, states, and capitals. She learns the Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, and Species of animals. Language surrounds the child in the Montessori classroom and as she absorbs information she realizes the opportunities to use her language skills to become lost in fiction stories as well.
Dr. Maria Montessori was first and foremost a scientist, and her passion spills over into the Science Curriculum. Students are introduced to science in a “big to small” order, going from large categories or concepts to smaller ones. Dr. Montessori also insisted on giving her students specific names for everything, and so the details of the Science curriculum are present from the first lessons. In the Early Childhood and Lower Elementary, students are first introduced to science by analyzing the difference between Living and Non-Living. Beautiful pictures of real things and animals are used to entice the students with this work, although they quickly move to the next material of Plant or Animal. From this material they learn about the difference between Vertebrate and Invertebrate and are then introduced to the Vertebrate Classification Chart. The students’ work with plants begins with the parts of the plant, the flower, and the leaf, with beautiful puzzles to assemble and label. After these works, more specific lessons on parts are introduced such as root types and parts, types and placement of buds and the cycle of photosynthesis. These are only the first lessons a child will experience with the Zoology and Botany works, and at the same time he will be presented with lessons on his own Place In The Universe, the Formation Of Galaxies, the Solar System and more.
Being a scientist and a Catholic, Dr. Montessori also believed in the scientific theories of the beginnings of the universe and with her son Mario, developed a story titled, “God with No Hands” to explain the concept to the child. The lesson now given is, “The First Great Lesson” and the students are introduced to it as a theory along with cross cultural creation stories and discussion about family beliefs. This lesson of the Universe not only introduces the child to the concept of the vastness of space but also natural laws such as gravity, states of matter, and attraction and repulsion of molecules. These laws are further inspected in lessons about the birth and death of stars, layers of the Earth and the Water Cycle. As the child progresses through the Science Curriculum she becomes more and more aware of the world around her and is inspired to ask questions that often prompt the response “That is a great research question!”
A confident and inquisitive nature is central to the development of a Montessori child. At Compass Star Montessori, threads of practical experience are woven throughout the traditional academic curriculum. Activities such as sewing, cooking and gardening promote self-reliance and respect of the universe, while field trips lead the students through discovery of our world outside the classroom. We also impart respect and discussion of the world’s religions and cultural practices, opening their eyes to the vast diversity in our world. Practical life studies are an important conduit in building an authentic Montessori education and way of life.