A Montessori approach to achieve the goals of the national curriculum of England.
A child nearing six or seven years old is passing beyond the stage when movement and exploration through the senses is a basic need in all learning. The child moves to a more cerebral exploration: he or she wants to explore society and the world, to learn what is right and wrong, to think about meaningful role in society. The child wants to know how everything came to be, the history of the universe, the world, humans and why people behave the way they do. The child asks the big questions and wants answers.
That is why from the ages of six to 12, the main academic work can be done. At the primary level, the overarching Montessori curriculum and the use of each material is tightly structured. It includes:
The Montessori learning environment for children in the second plane of development offers new mathematical challenges beyond those found in the Children’s House. Children in the second plane of development do not want to be tied to concrete materials. They strive for the freedom to work at the level of abstraction. While the Montessori mathematics materials are concrete representations of abstract mathematical concepts, in this environment they are used as stepping-stones, as keys only. In the presentation of these materials difficulties are isolated and, in the more complex activities, concepts are synthesised. In this way children are guided towards abstraction, but the actual transition to abstraction itself is achieved by children independently. When children work abstractly without prior concrete experience they can face obstacles to comprehension. The Montessori approach allows children to grasp mathematical concepts by first experiencing and manipulating them in concrete form. Children are given as much time as they need to learn from their successes and their mistakes, while also discovering the rewards of perseverance.
Children of this age love to reach back into history with their imaginations to reconstruct the creation of knowledge systems. Mathematics is a language used to explore and manipulate, to create and measure real objects in a real world. Children learn that mathematics has evolved from a practical need, for example, graphs and fractions as tools for recording and measuring, and algebra for problem solving. Children are encouraged to invent their own problems—especially real-life story problems—for themselves and for their friends, in order to apply and practise their mathematical understanding in practical ways.
When children work with the Montessori mathematics materials, they are presented with concrete images of abstract concepts and processes. Children use the materials to undertake quite complex mathematical processes, for example, long division or square root, much earlier than if the work were introduced using paper and pencil only. As they manipulate the concrete materials, children internalise mathematical concepts, processes and rules embodied in the materials. These are concepts, processes and rules they might otherwise have to learn by rote but without the depth of understanding developed while working with the Montessori materials.
Geometry and measurement
Polygons, angles, lines, equivalence, circles, area, solid geometry
Children first encounter the study of geometry in the Children’s House during the exercises of the senses. In the Children’s House they are given as much language to talk about geometric shapes as possible. This prepares them for the next level of geometry study they encounter in the environment prepared for children in the second plane of development. In this new environment the study of geometry gives children the tools to explore, understand and measure the world.
In the Montessori geometry curriculum children follow the historical development of the discipline of geometry. Because geometry emerged from concrete experience, with abstractions following at a later time, children study geometry by following the same sequence. Students’ initial ideas about shapes and space are based on activity with concrete objects. The work uses the guided discovery approach so that the children discover the relationships, theorems and formulae for themselves.
The field of geometry provides opportunities for both inductive and deductive learning. As the children make their own discoveries, they are interested in learning about the people who first made these discoveries. Throughout the geometry curriculum they are told stories about, and are given opportunities to research, the people behind the geometry we use today. In addition to the enjoyment children exhibit in studying geometry, this work also provides them with a stimulus for intellectual development by giving them experience with logical reasoning, deduction, classification and abstract concepts.
The study of measurement in learning environments prepared for six to twelve year olds also has its origins in the exercises of the senses in the Children’s House, specifically, in the discrimination, judgement and precision children apply as they contrast, compare and grade differences and similarities in, for example, size, shape, volume and mass isolated in the sensorial materials. When children begin the study of measurement in the environment prepared for six to nine year olds, they learn to attach a number of ‘units’ to concrete objects, first non-standard and ancient units of measurement based on the parts of the body, and later the standard units of the International Metric System.
Languages: English, Spanish, Catalan
History of language, grammar and syntax, composition of written language, spoken language, literature, style, interpretive reading, research.
Language is the ability to symbolise in an abstract form objects, ideas, emotions, and events, taking them out of the immediate context, and holding them in the mind. Language work in the Montessori environment prepared for children in the second plane of development is an exploration of a great human achievement that has made possible the creation of culture and the continuation of societies. Children in the second plane of development strive to put language in context, to explore the reasons for a variety of phenomena, and to use language beyond its literal use. The study of language must therefore be presented very imaginatively; it must appeal to imagination and reason, rather than to surface reality alone.
Areas of study in the Montessori language curriculum include:
- spoken and written language
- the history of language (symbols, etymology and spelling)
- the functions of words (grammar)
- effective communication (listening and speaking, reading and writing).
Using stories, pictures, books and technology children trace the development of language through the ages. Presentations, activities and resources help them understand:
- how humans have named everything found or made and that this process continues
- how and why language constantly changes
- how language is used to express the creative impulse of humanity.
Studying the origins and historical development of words fascinates children of this age. This study becomes a foundation for spelling knowledge and contributes to understanding the history of cultures. The learning environment is a place where children continue to learn to read, to write creatively and to perfect the art of handwriting.
History, Geography and Science
Because the Montessori approach integrates the study of history, geography and science, including biology and technology, these subject areas comprise one area of the Cosmic Education curriculum.
The Montessori history curriculum begins with the ‘big picture’, from the development of the universe, the solar system and the earth, to the evolution of life on earth and the coming of human beings, early civilisations and recorded history. The long labour of humans to accomplish all that is here for us to enjoy in the present is revealed to the children. The history curriculum provides a chronological framework that orders the information presented in the companion areas of study: geology, biology and science. In fact, history is considered to be the foundation of the Cosmic Education curriculum. Studies of geography, science and all the related disciplines flow naturally from the study of history. The starting point in any educational discipline extends back in time, and in this way can be linked to any other discipline area, in this interdisciplinary approach.
The Montessori geography curriculum is designed to show how the physical configuration of the earth contributes to the history of all people. The study of physical geography (including geology) is the basis for the study of economic geography, which reveals the interdependence of all nations and people. Geography study comprises several interconnecting areas, including:
- physical geography
- scientific understanding of geological formations/geology
- economic geography
- political geography
- mapping and graphing
The Montessori biology curriculum includes both botany and zoology. In this study children are given the means to classify plants and animals, and to understand the reasons behind the classification. The study of biology reveals that the classification of living things follows the path of evolution. The ultimate aim of this area of the curriculum is to develop an ecological understanding of the web of life, and a sense of responsibility for the natural environment. Learning systems for classifying plant and animal life also provide children with intellectual tools for ordering and relating information.
Science and Technology
In the Cosmic Education curriculum the study of science and technology is interwoven into the study of history, geography and biology.
- When children study geology and geography, they are also discovering how the universe and the earth were formed. During this study children build foundation knowledge in the fields of physics and chemistry.
- When children explore biology, they are also discovering the history of life on earth.
- The history of human progress is a history of scientific discovery and technological development.
All these areas of study are accompanied by relevant demonstrations, including science experiments, and the use of impressionistic charts and time-lines to generate discussion and create mental pictures.
Art appreciation, visual arts, music, drama
The Montessori classroom provides every child with opportunities to build knowledge, understanding and skills in all areas of the arts, including visual art, music, drama and dance. The primary goal of creative arts education is the aesthetic development of the student. In other words, this area of the curriculum nurtures the expression of creative ideas, while at the same time building knowledge and understanding of aesthetics as a discipline recognised in the wider culture to guide the development and execution of creative ideas. As with the exercises of practical life, creative arts activities begin with the music, art, dance and drama that is part of the culture of the country, region or community in which the school is located. Creative arts also become integrated and interrelated with other curricular areas, including language and mathematics, history and geography, as well as biology and the other sciences.
An essential ingredient in the creative process is the ability to concentrate, to immerse oneself in one’s work. Children’s ability to concentrate is strengthened through the use of materials and exercises offered at the moment of interest, a central component of Montessori pedagogy. Opportunities for independent work and repetition during blocks of uninterrupted time enable students to immerse themselves in creative arts projects alongside, or integrated into, their work in other areas of the curriculum.
The Montessori creative arts curriculum, as with other areas of the Montessori curriculum, are not ‘worked through’ in a rigid way. The curriculum is an expansive framework within which key lessons offer knowledge and skills needed for independent work. In creative arts the key lessons enable children to develop knowledge, understanding and appreciation, as well as the development of skills and techniques that enable then to follow their interests independently.
The creative arts curriculum covers a wide variety of strands and topics to enable children to pursue their own interests and abilities at their own pace. A lesson or presentation given at the younger level will be repeated and expanded at the older level, with the expectation that the older children will reach a higher level of achievement. As many of the elements of the content strands are interrelated, more than one area can be combined in a presentation with older children, for example, using household objects to print repeating patterns, using primary and secondary colours. This combines elements and principles of design, repetition, colour, pattern, variety, rhythm, with the technique of printing and the use of the medium of paint.
Personal Development, Health and Physical Education
A key component of the Montessori curriculum, from birth, is a focus on the development and refinement of coordinated movement.
For children from six to twelve years, the Cosmic Education curriculum provides many opportunities for considering ways of improving quality of life for themselves and others in the classroom and wider community in terms of health and lifestyle, personal relationships, values education, social responsibility and social justice. Here are some examples:
- Children move freely around the classroom during the day to complete their work and to care for their environment. They can vary their place of work depending on need e.g. to sit on a chair or on the floor, to stand or walk, to have more or less light, to talk with others or to work quietly.
- Many of the activities and exercises of the curriculum incorporate physical activity, including reading and grammar games.
- The study of biology includes the story of the great river, a story that initiates the study of human physiology and emphasises the interdependence of all the organs of the human body.
- The study of history is organised around an understanding of the fundamental needs of humans, including spiritual needs (personal and artistic expression and religion), as well as material needs (food, clothing, housing, transport and defence, including defence from disease).
The key components of the Montessori PDHPE programme are:
- personal development (incorporating lessons of grace and courtesy)
- health awareness
- physical education