The Montessori curriculum is based upon the teachings and philosophy of education created by Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori became the first woman physician in Italy in 1870. In her medical practice, her clinical observations led her to analyze how children learn, and she concluded that they build themselves from what they find in their environment. In 1906 she began to work with a group of sixty young children of working parents in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. It was there that she founded the first "Children's House." What ultimately became the Montessori method of education developed there, based upon Montessori's scientific observations of these children's almost effortless ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, as well as their tireless interest in manipulating materials. Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do "naturally," by themselves, unassisted by adults. Children at Great Foundations Montessori will experience the same type of loving environment that will help children become independent, self-motivated learners.
Maria Montessori believed that no human being is educated by another person. She must do it herself or it will never be done. A truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years she spends in the classroom because she is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love for knowledge. Dr. Montessori felt, therefore, that the goal of early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a preselected course of studies, but rather to cultivate her own natural desire to learn.
In the Montessori classroom this objective is approached in two ways: first, by allowing each child to experience the excitement of learning by her own choice rather than by being forced; and second, by helping her to perfect all her natural tools for learning, so that her ability will be at a maximum in future learning situations. The Montessori materials have this dual long-range purpose in addition to their immediate purpose of giving specific information to the child.
The Prepared Environment
The use of the materials is based on the young child's unique aptitude for learning which Dr. Montessori identified as the "absorbant mind." In her writings she frequently compared the young mind to a sponge. It literally absorbs information from the environment. The process is particularly evident in the way which a two year-old learns his native language without formal instruction and without the conscious, tedious effort which an adult must make to master a foreign language. Acquiring information in this way is a natural and delightful activity for the young child who employs all his senses to investigate his interesting surroundings.
Since the child retains this ability to learn by absorbing until he is almost seven years-old, Dr. Montessori reasoned that his experience could be enriched by a classroom where he could handle materials which would demonstrate basic educational information to him. Over sixty years of experience have proven her theory that a young child can learn to read, write, and calculate in the same natural way that he learns to walk and talk. In a Montessori classroom the equipment invites him to do this at his own periods of interest and readiness.
Dr. Montessori always emphasized that the hand is the chief teacher of the child. In order to learn there must be concentration, and the best way a child can concentrate is by fixing his attention on some task he is performing with his hands. All the equipment in a Montessori classroom allows the child to reinforce his casual impressions by inviting him to use his hands for learning.
The Montessori Curriculum
The activities of Practical Life instill care for oneself, for others, and for the environment. These exercises include pouring liquids, preparing food, washing dishes, setting a table, and dealing gracefully and courteously with social encounters. Through these tasks and experiences children learn to concentrate, coordinate their movements, and develop fine-motor skills. Practical Life activities are the foundation of all future academic work because they promote concentration and a complete work cycle.
The sensorial materials are designed to enable children to identify and refine information obtained through their senses, and to order and classify sensorial impressions. By seeing, smelling, tasting, listening to, touching, and further exploring the sensorial properties of these materials, children begin to classify and eventually name objects in their environment.
Because the 3-6-year-old child’s mind is absorbent, this is the ideal age to assist the development of brain pathways. Montessori observed that the child of this age was in a “sensitive period” for absorbing language, both spoken and written. The Montessori early childhood classroom is rich in oral language opportunities—listening to stories or reciting poems, singing, and conversing with others. Introduction of the Montessori sandpaper letters connects each spoken sound with its symbol, supporting the development of writing and, eventually, reading.
Young children are intrigued by numbers—knowing how much or how many provides another dimension in understanding the world. The Montessori math materials and lessons help children to develop an understanding of math concepts through the manipulation of concrete materials, building a secure foundation of math principles, skills, and problem-solving abilities.
Science, Geography, Social Studies, Art, and Music
Each of these subjects are incorporated into the early childhood environment. They are presented in sensorial ways with specially designed materials and real-life experiences. In geography, children learn not only about the names of countries but the life of people and their respective cultures. They develop a sense of respect for different cultures, recognizing that we all belong to the family of people. Young children are natural scientists. Watching and caring for classroom animals and plants creates an interest in science lessons and a reverence for life. Art and music give the children an opportunity for creative and joyful self-expression, as well as experiences with great music and works of art.