Montessori stated that children have a natural tendency to learning, that stages of learning exist for which there should be corresponding educational environments and appropriately trained teachers to "prepare the environment". The child learns independently using the components of the environment: the teacher guides and observes the child who chooses his activities. The teacher is the link between the child and the environment. The learning environment cultivates individualization, freedom of choice, concentration, independence, problem solving abilities, social interaction, interdisciplinary breadth, and competency in basic skills.
(2 to 14 months)
The Nido is an Italian word meaning "nest". The Nido protects and provides learning experiences for babies from two to fourteen A Montessori infant environment can be considered an adapting continuum between two basic needs of the developing infant. At one pole is the bonded relationship between adult and child, while at the other is support for a growing sense of self and independence. The prepared environment is characterized by order, simplicity and beauty which meet the needs of the child.
The Nido is divided into five areas: movement, eating, sleeping, physical care, and outside. The focus of the infant environment is on fostering basic trust in the child. Foremost in the environment is the adult whose caring, respectful response to the infant's needs, both physical and psychological, conveys the message of unconditional love and acceptance.
(14 to 36 months)
The toddler classroom offers very young children a unique year of self development in a tender atmosphere of special understanding, respect, and support. They are unique in that they provide a very specific structure which fulfills the social, physical, emotional, and psychological needs of each child.
In these environments, there is space for movement, space for individual work, and space for group activities. The eating area and the sleeping area are separate from the other areas. Everything in the environment is proportionate to the child's size and is designed to be safe and aesthetically pleasing for children. The toddler classroom is simpler an slower paced than the early childhood (three to six year old) classroom.
Toddlers are given opportunities to work in the development of language skill, art, music sensorial, and practical life. The practical life area is particularly emphasized as the activities in this area give children the chance to develop skills to care for themselves and their environment in the following areas: control of movement, and grace and courtesy Practical life activities are simple and can be accomplished by each child. They offer repetitive cycle, which helps the child establish patterns of order and sequencing. Due the fact that these are very real activities, each child becomes grounded in reality, building the child's self esteem is the ultimate goal and this is accomplished through! repeated successes with these activities .
Through song and dance, and freedom of choice, the toddlers have access to a variety of large muscle activities that offer them opportunities to jump, climb, balance, crawl, or skip. These exercises as well as creative art activities, are offered for each child to choose. This freedom in a safe space is crucial to the toddler program. however, it is always tempered by two important limits that will be beneficial for a lifetime, respect for others and respect for the environent.
Early Childhood Classroom
(3 to 6 years)
The Montessori classroom is a "living room" for children. Children choose their activities from open shelves with self correcting materials and work in distinct work areas - on tables or on rugs on the floor. Over a period of time, the children develop into a "normalized community" working with high concentration and few interruptions. The classroom includes the following components:
The practical life exercises enhance the development of task organization and cognitive order through care of self, care of the environment, exercises of grace and courtesy, and refinement of physical movement and coordination. The sensorial materials enable the child to order, classify, seriate, and describe sensory impressions in relation, length, width, temperature, mass, color, etc. The Montessori math materials, through concrete manipulative materials, allows the child to internalize the concepts of number, symbol, sequence, operations, and memorization of basic facts.
The language work includes oral language development, written expression, reading, the study of grammar, creative dramatics, and children's literature. Basic skills in writing and reading are developed through the use of sandpaper letters (loose alphabet letters), and various presentations allowing children to effortlessly link sounds and symbols and to express their thoughts in writing.
The child is also presented with geography, history, life sciences, music, art, and movement education.
Virtually every environment will also have an elliptical line on the floor. This is generally used for "walking on the line" activities that help children develop gracefulness and for the "silence game" where children can practice sitting without making a sound. The line is also frequently used for a large group meeting area. It is here, or in some other designated area, where the class meets as a whole. Often a class will have on or two large group meetings each day. One will usually serve as an opening meeting and precede a more individualized work period, and another will serve as a closing or transitional group time preceding the next activity (i.e., time out doors, lunch, dismissal, etc.) The group meetings may be used for large group presentations of materials, movement, and music activities, group celebrations, snacks, games, and discussions.
Primary School Classes
(6 to 12 years)
Dr Maria Montessori observed and described four planes of development in a human’s life and it is the second plane from approximately 6-12 years which spans primary education. While nature has made the first stage of life from 0-6 years a period for the child’s absorption of his/her own environment, it is the second stage of development that nature has made the period of acquiring knowledge of the wider world. Children of this age want to know about everything and the reason for everything, not merely that things exist.
In response to this insatiable curiosity, Dr Montessori decided that they must be given the Universe ‘for it is an imposing reality, and an answer to all questions’. Out of this idea came the telling of the Five Great Stories as the basis of her innovative approach to stimulating enthusiasm, excitement and the maintenance of the child’s natural love of learning throughout the primary years of education. Not only would these stories achieve that but they would introduce the whole realm of human knowledge and achievement to children, and inspire them to discover more in areas of their own interest.
The first Great Story is called The Story of the Universe and begins with the ‘Big Bang’ and the formation of the Solar System and our planet Earth. The basic laws of physics which order the Universe are demonstrated through experiments that the child may repeat. Thus the fields of astronomy, physics, geology, chemistry and so on are introduced to children aged six! They will hear these stories every year through primary school, gaining more understanding as their intellects develop. The second Great Story is called The Coming of Life and by means of a beautifully illustrated time-line the children learn about the amazing development of life from single-celled organisms to complex creatures, finishing with the arrival of the greatest animal of all, the human. The fields of biology, zoology and botany have now become accessible to the enquiring child. The third Great Story is called The Story of Humans and it takes the child through our human history from cave dwelling times to the present, inspiring gratitude for those who have gone before us and stimulating research into the amazing achievements of humankind - early civilizations, major discoveries and life-changing inventions. The fourth Great Story is called The Story of Language and in it the children learn of the origins of speech, alphabets and writing and the crucial ability, unique to humans, to record thinking and knowledge for future generations. Finally there is The Story of Number where the history and significance of mathematics is explored.
Through these stories, the inter-relatedness of everything in the universe and on Earth becomes apparent. The children discover that every single thing has a purpose and follows rules of nature in order to fulfil that purpose – the sun, rocks, water, the wind, each plant, each animal and of course each person has an important role to play for the continuing harmony of life on our planet. Dr Montessori called this ‘Cosmic Education’ which suggests the breadth of the education and its ultimate significance to each child’s sense of purpose in life as they discover their own talents and passions, and potential area of contribution to the world around them. In this way they may find fulfilling careers and deep personal satisfaction, contributing as positive and happy individuals to their families and society.
Cosmic Education has another equally important aspect which is addressed in the area of study called The Fundamental Needs of Humans. In Montessori Education, 6-12 year olds learn that people everywhere have the same fundamental requirements. We all require food, shelter, clothing, communication, transport and defence and this has ever been the case in all societies from earliest human times. They learn that the differences in how people meet these needs are due entirely to the local geography and resources available to them. Then, after these very basic needs have been met, all societies have found the further need to develop philosophy/religion, the creative arts and mores of social acceptance. Thus children in Montessori classrooms learn that what unites people across the globe is far more important than what divides people. The differences in clothing, housing, methods of travel and communication, expression through the creative arts, religious observances and so on are colourful and fascinating variations that simply reflect the incredible diversity of the planet and its human inhabitants. Cosmic education is therefore a pathway between people to mutual understanding, respect and peace. It is no wonder that Dr Montessori was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Great Stories and The Fundamental Needs of Humans form the underlying base and structure of Montessori primary education from Grade 1 to Grade 6. As well, the children study Maths, Geometry, English, Science, Geography, History, Biology, Art and Music, although here at Karingal Primary School, the latter two subjects and Physical Education are taught by specialist teachers.
As in Montessori pre-schools, the children continue to be educated in classrooms having a three year range of ages, that is, 6-9 year olds and 9-12 year olds. This age range is crucial to self-development in terms of leadership, role-modelling, respect for different abilities, opinions and personalities, social skills, a sense of fairness, compassion and desire to assist others.
The Prepared Environment, loved and familiar from the 3-6 year old Montessori classroom, continues to promote independence, self-confidence and respect for oneself, others and the environment. It continues to engage and stimulate learning through the primary years with its unique and beautiful Montessori equipment until the children reach the level of abstract understanding that negates the need for concrete representation of concepts. The newly introduced Great Stories bring awe and wonder to the 6-12 year old enquiring mind, stirring the imagination and reasoning powers that children of this age possess.