INTRODUCTION TO THE MONTESSORI ACADEMIC CURRICULUM
Are you familiar with the Montessori curriculum? Dr Maria Montessori was able to identify “sensitive periods” during a child’s life during which time a child is sensitive to the development of certain skills. She observed that a child learns each skill best in isolation of other skills with real-life applications and with increasing difficulty and repetition. She also advocated “following the child”; that is, giving the right lesson at the right time and allowing the child to participate in his/her own progress. Maria Montessori developed a continuum of lessons (organized in a spiral fashion from level to level) and specific learning materials tailored to the basic philosophy and instruction that she advocated.
The Montessori curriculum is an integrated approach where diverse concepts are presented across the curriculum and in different ways as the children progress through the grades. One outcome of this approach is that children have repeated opportunities within different contexts to practice skills being learned; another is that this approach emphasizes the interconnectedness of disciplines.
TMS uses as its curricular base, the Montessori Scope and Sequence from The Montessori Foundation written by Tim Seldin. This curriculum meets the requirements of the Pennsylvania Academic Standards.
The culture curriculum is a subset of what Maria Montessori called “the Cosmic Curriculum”. The study of culture in a Montessori classroom integrates traditional subjects of science, history, economics, civics and geography. In order to understand why these subjects are taught under the same umbrella, one needs to understand the main concepts of “cosmic education”. Maria Montessori firmly believed that there was a purpose and an order to the universe. It was a “gift” to mankind to be treasured and protected. Each individual’s “cosmic task” is to render service to and protect the environment on which he/she is dependent for existence. She believed that the work of mankind is not accidental, but fulfills a mission which is the completion of the natural scheme.
We begin with sharing different story myths from various world cultures as well as scientific theories about the origin of our universe. We study the solar system, our planet, components of our physical world, geology and history, and geography. As we move through history, we begin studies of the five Kingdoms, from the first forms of life on earth (bacteria) to the most complex-celled animals (humans). We explore basic human needs and how those needs led to the development of language, math and inventions and then to settlements and cultures.
Specific skills are developed through culture studies. Geography study helps children develop spatial awareness and orientation skills. History study builds in the child a clear sense of time passage which is the foundation of a well-developed historical perspective. Science allows children to look at phenomena with a curiosity and a theory, then through observation and research to test for validity. This pursuit has merit for children today as they learn to differentiate between theory and fact, and maintain a healthy interest in figuring out how and why things work.
Elementary Art builds on the foundation provided in the Children’s House Practical Life curriculum. Children’s House students display a reasonable control of movement, fine motor skills and eye/hand coordination. Elementary Art instruction seeks to strike a balance between skill instruction and free exploration and to encourage a child’s natural desire for self-expression. It also seeks to build a child’s art vocabulary; awareness of artists and their techniques and knowledge of the various forms of art expression, from architecture to painting to sculpture to computer graphics.
Through artistic adventures children also become aware of and develop a respect for the contributions of the arts and artists to societies and cultures, past and present. They gain a lasting appreciation of art from the dual vantage points of participant and audience. They gain insight into the way that art is a non-verbal method of expressing opinions, perceptions, feeling and history. Finally, they begin to realize the connections between art and their daily lives in areas such as math, nature, cooking and sports. TMS encourages every child to “find and nourish the artist within him/herself”.
LANGUAGE ARTS CURRICULUM
Just as infants and toddlers spontaneously learn to speak, so they have a natural propensity to learn to read and write. As with all Montessori educational practices, early literacy learning is presented from concrete to abstract, in a spiral fashion and at the child’s individual pace.
Listening to stories begins the awareness that spoken words have a written representation; that we read from left to right, top to bottom; that words convey meaning and that there is a structure to our language. Children’s House students begin learning letters by their sound, not by the name of the letter. They move on to forming words with the “moveable alphabet” and then to forming simple sentences, reading these as well as creating them. The child begins to write “stories” with a pencil and learn proper letter formation. Once the child can easily identify/decode simple words and “read” his/her created sentences, he/she jumps into phonetic readers and then into books carefully chosen for their literary value. Once decoding becomes facile, the focus changes to developing comprehension and inference skills. At this point, children begin to read in many different subject areas.
Through applying grammar, sentence analysis, and spelling instruction in an inquiry-based research curriculum, Elementary students are able to express themselves clearly, creatively and correctly in writing. Practical applications in the forms of a published poetry magazine, a self-made book for their Reading Buddies and the Upper El newspaper give the students a reason for writing and taking pride in their work.
From early on, students begin honing “public speaking” skills as they explain to other children how to complete a work or share what they are learning. By the Lower Elementary grades, they begin to deliver oral reports to their peers and share first drafts of written pieces with their classmates in order to receive helpful feedback. The finale of this process is the written speech that each sixth grader delivers at graduation.
Maria Montessori felt that our whole civilization is based on mathematics. Mathematics leads to the discovery of natural laws and patterns that ultimately have the power to control the environment. Montessori identified a specific “sensitive period” during the years 3-6 for the development of concepts such as quantity, size, counting and measurement. As in all Montessori curriculum areas, mathematics instruction proceeds from concrete to abstract as the children move through the Children’s House years and then through the Elementary years. Montessori’s process employs concrete materials and carefully constructed “works” to aid in the child’s development of an awareness of mathematics and mathematical thinking.
The child’s ability to think at a high level of abstraction rarely fully develops until early adolescence, thus, the need for concrete experiences and extensive practice. Knowledge is displayed through performance and through the child being able to explain process and concept. Children apply their knowledge to a variety of real life tasks such as graphing the daily temperature, cooking, and computing the height of a tree to measuring the school building. These experiences contribute to an understanding of mathematical concepts through practical applications.
The Montessori science curriculum seeks to cultivate children’s natural curiosity and to allow them to discover the answers to their “why” questions. Science study concentrates on process: hypothesis, procedure, observation, data analysis and conclusion. This teaches them to think before deciding, to use a logical method of discovery or testing and to use data to evaluate results and arrive at a thoughtful conclusion.
Along with process, the science curriculum aims to provide each child with a basic knowledge of zoology, botany, matter, energy, earth science, astronomy, human development and personal health. Hands-on experience with the natural world and with scientific materials and apparatus help to promote learning such things as animal classification, chemical processes, earth forces, botanical components and rock types.
The Montessori curriculum aims to fill a child with wonder at the complexity and grandeur of the universe, the simplicity of physical laws and the miracle of life. It encourages respect for our world and an understanding of our place in the natural order of things. The ultimate goal is the development of an ecological view of life and a feeling of responsibility for the earth.
ELEMENTARY MUSIC CURRICULUM
Elementary Music builds on the foundation provided in the Children’s House Sensorial curriculum. Children’s House students have developed a reasonable control of movement, have honed their listening skills and have had experiences in singing, making music and moving to music. Elementary Music instruction seeks to strike a balance between skill development and free exploration and to encourage a natural desire for self-expression. It also seeks to build a child’s musical vocabulary and awareness of all kinds of musical expression. Music has the potential to develop the intellect and also social skills. Many skills involved in music contribute to cognitive functioning. TMS encourages each child to “find and nourish the artist within him/herself”.
ELEMENTARY SPANISH CURRICULUM
TMS believes that foreign language instruction fits the overall aims of Montessori pedagogy. Foreign language study is but one way to humanize another culture. In grades 1-3, the aim is to expose the children to the sounds of Spanish in an effort to give them a degree of comfort listening to it, repeating and speaking it in simple words and sentences. In grades 4-6, we aim to build students’ vocabulary and grammar base so that they can begin to manipulate and use the language. In addition, they begin to read and write Spanish, both in class and at home. In this way they are more fully prepared for study of a language in Middle School.
PHYSICAL EDUCATION PROGRAM
Elementary physical education builds on the balance and motor skills that were practiced in Children’s House. We seek to build in the children a love for physical activity, a healthy interest in keeping fit and an appreciation of the emotional well being that regular physical activity can provide. The Elementary physical education program gives children necessary experience with the basic tenets of good sportsmanship. Competition is kept to a healthy level, with team play and cooperation receiving the most emphasis. The program emphasizes physical activity, maintenance of a positive attitude, development of good sportsmanship and movement competency as a means of achieving wellness for life.
PRE-ACADEMIC CURRICULUM: INTRODUCTION TO THE PRACTICAL LIFE SEGMENT
Practical Life exercises are crucial components of the overall development of the young child (Toddler through K) in preparation for what is to come. They depend on the child’s “sensitive period” for order, movement, purposeful activity and social relations. Practical Life allows the child to realize that he/she is part of a community and that his/her actions affect the functioning of the whole. Through the use of the real-life objects such as glass pitchers and plates for eating, tools, pruning shears, etc, children develop self-esteem, inner discipline, confidence and control of movement. Lessons in Grace and Courtesy serve to establish a social conscience and an understanding of the functioning of a healthy community.
PRE-ACADEMIC CURRICULUM: INTRODUCTION TO THE SENSORIAL SEGMENT
The Sensorial segment of the Montessori curriculum builds on the Practical Life curriculum. It capitalizes on the young child’s (Toddler through K) “sensitive period” for development and refinement of the senses and development of fine motor skills. Anyone who has ever watched a young child “explore” an object knows how thoroughly this process is carried out. The Sensorial curriculum offers the child this experience in the context of a variety of “works” to be repeated as often as the child desires, building and reinforcing sensory data that will play an important role in what comes next in the child’s development. As with the Practical Life curriculum, lessons are varied to meet the needs of the child and the classroom. The purpose is not to master these works for their own sake but rather for the developmental benefits they offer.
ELEMENTARY LIBRARY CURRICULUM
The mission of the Library is to provide resources that support the teachers and the school’s curriculum, develop information skills to ensure that students become effective users of information and ideas, and nurture a lifelong love of reading and learning. Children can browse and check out books in the Library, while laptops are used by older Elementary students in the classrooms.