Primary Montessori Program
In a mixed age group, older children can validate their learning by becoming the ‘experts’ in the room. Peer teaching occurs when the older children share their knowledge and skills, take on the role of the caretakers of the classroom and provide role models for younger children. Younger children find a group of willing people ready to help them when help is required. They are also further inspired and motivated to learn as they see older children working on the next step in the progression of lessons. Freedom of choice is a central feature of the primary environment.
The primary environment mixes three, four, five and six year old children and offers an ungraded, individualized learning experience structured to each child’s unique learning potential. Activities to promote and refine skills of sensorial discrimination, develop coordination, and invite concentration are presented with varying degrees of challenge. The skills of living and social-emotional development, as well as skills of learning, are encouraged. Enrollment in this program represents a 3 year commitment.
The primary program is prepared to be homelike, welcoming, aesthetically pleasing and orderly so children come to think of the setting as a ‘mini-community’ where they learn skills they can apply at home and in the wider community. Cooperation, rather than competition, is encouraged.
The prepared environment incorporates indoor and outdoor spaces. Both spaces complement each other and are available to the children. Practical life activities are part of both the indoor and outdoor environments. Children may also choose to work with materials in the sensorial, mathematics or language areas in the outside environment as long as they are using the materials for the educational purpose for which they have been designed. In addition the outdoor environment includes gardens (both wild and planted), which children care for, and in which they develop a growing awareness of the importance of the natural environment to the well-being of all living things. Activities in the outdoor environment nurture an appreciation of the natural world and an awareness of its importance to the wellbeing of all living things including themselves.
The ordered primary environment provides children with structure and predictability, and helps them orient themselves both to the physical environment and to the multi-age ‘mini-community’ within the environment. There is a strong emphasis on children developing the independence, cooperation and skills for daily living that enable each one to become a valued and independent member of the primary community.
The resources and activities in the primary environment are designed to:
- develop coordination of movement
- develop independence and the ability to make informed decisions
- lengthen the amount of time a child can engage in deep concentration
- refine the use of the senses and encourage exploration
- build social skills and develop oral communication skills
- develop written communication and the foundations of joyful reading
- develop an understanding of mathematical concepts
The materials are displayed on open shelves, always accessible to the children. The children work with these materials during work sessions that are ideally a minimum of three hours in duration with no fixed breaks. In this way children are able to develop and follow their own natural rhythm of activity and rest without unnecessary interruptions.
For this age group lessons are usually given to individual children. Once children have been given a lesson, the activity is added to their repertoire of possible activities and they are free to choose that activity whenever they wish. Small group activities include games used to extend earlier lessons, and language games. Children are invited to join group activities, but are not always required to participate. Children learn that free choice carries with it responsibilities and consequences, understandings that become increasingly important as they move through the later school years towards adult life.
There is a strong emphasis in the primary environment on the development of independence, cooperation and the skills for daily life that will enable each individual to become a valued and autonomous member of his or her community. For example, in the practical life area, children can choose from activities such as preparing snacks for themselves and others, laying and clearing the table, and cleaning up. They learn, under adult supervision, to use child-sized tools, including knives and glassware, safely and effectively. In the sensorial area children fine-tune perception, discrimination and judgment. In the language and mathematics areas children are introduced to literacy and numeracy skills. As they work through the language activities, children extend emergent and beginning literacy skills leading to fluency in both writing and reading.
Mathematics activities lead children from early counting and matching experiences towards increasing understanding of number patterns, the four operations, number facts and two- and three-dimensional shapes. In general teacher/child ratios are carefully planned so there is just enough support for the children, but not too much interference from adults in the children’s activity. Children are encouraged to be self-reliant, or to solve problems with their peers with as little adult intervention as possible. In this way children develop confidence and self-assurance
Incorporated into the four areas of the primary curriculum are materials, activities and exercises that introduce children to visual arts, music, physical education, science, geography and history. Montessori educators sometimes say that this program is designed to bring the world to the child.