Montessori Curriculum

We believe it is important that students “learn how to learn” rather than just amass academic knowledge.  Our attention focuses on individual development and on the premise that progressive learning experiences promote that development.

Our school’s K-8 academic program is based on the principle of freedom within limits. Our Montessori guides determine, through observation of the students, when new activities and materials need to be introduced. Lessons are given individually or in small groups, with the aim of encouraging active, self-directed learning.

Experienced students share what they have learned with younger children, while reinforcing their own learning. Students work toward gaining independence and taking responsibility for the learning process. While Montessori education focuses on individual choice, students have tasks they are expected to accomplish and goals they work to achieve, according to their individual learning needs.

Glossary of Montessori Terms

Absorbent mind
A mind able to absorb knowledge quickly and effortlessly, much like a dry sponge absorbs water. Montessori said the child from birth to six years has an “absorbent mind.”

The capacity of imagining objects, principles, and ideas that are not physically present. Abstraction is related to symbolic thinking, which uses the substitution of a symbol for an object or idea. Abstraction is the ability to genuinely understand the difference between real and not real; the ability to mentally plan ahead, to visualize, and to invent.

Children who have reached abstraction are capable of using metaphors and analogies; understanding relationships between ideas; connecting concrete objects or circumstances with abstract symbols and meanings; spatial reasoning with the ability to mentally manipulate and rotate objects; and complex reasoning, such as using critical thinking, the scientific method, and other approaches in problem solving. (Also see Creativity and Reproductive Imagination)

Analysis of movement
A technique used by Montessori teachers. The adult breaks complex actions down into their basic parts. Then the adult instructs the child one step at a time, executing each movement slowly and exactly. The action thus becomes a sequence of simple movements. The child has a greater chance of success at the larger action when given the liberty to practice the broken-down skills s/he has been shown.

Bead Cabinet
Beads used to teach linear counting, skip counting, squaring and cubing concepts.

Bead Frames
Small wooden frames with bars holding ten beads in each place value. Colors match the stamp game in showing mathematical place value. Colored beads are used to show addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Bead Frames follow the Stamp Game presentations and further lead towards greater abstraction.

Checker Board
A mat with colors representing mathematical place value in what looks like a checker board. Beads are used to represent numbers in the place values during multiplication. Checker board follows Bead frames in instruction and further leads towards abstraction in multiplication.

Children’s House
The English translation for Montessori’s “Casa dei Bambini” (Italian). This was a place for children ages 3-6 years to live and grow with everything necessary for optimal human development, couched in a safe and secure environment.

Sorting. The process of classifying something according to shared qualities or characteristics. The young child is drawn to and engages in classification activities because the process is essential for the construction of the intellect. The Montessori classroom offers many opportunities for classification.

The act of concentrating. The young child focuses his/her attention or mental effort on aspects of the environment essential for development. From a Montessori perspective, concentration is “a consistent activity concentrated on a single work –an exercise on some external object, where the movements of the hands are guided by the mind.” (The Secret of Childhood p. 149). Deep engagement leads to normalization.

Concrete to abstract
A logical progression rooted in developmental appropriateness. The child is instructed using concrete materials that express abstract ideas. With hands-on experience, a child’s mind absorbs the inherent concept in the material and forms an abstraction—a representational thought that can be mentally manipulated. Only through further maturation can a child gradually start to comprehend the ideas in their symbolic forms, leading to the development of abstraction.

Control of error
The element in the design of Montessori materials that provide instant feedback. Montessori activities provide children with some way of assessing their own progress. This puts the control in the hands of the learner and protects the young child’s self-esteem and intrinsic motivation.

Coordination of movement
Through the child’s own activities, there is a refinement of muscular coordination and consequently increasingly higher levels of independent functioning. Coordination of movement fulfills a developmental need in children, and therefore they seek activities which involve movement focused in precise execution. Coordination of movement is the basis in which a child gains true independence.

Creativity/ Constructive Imagination
Imagination is the formation of mental ideas or visualizations that are strictly held in the inner world of thought processes. Creativity, or constructive imagination, is a product of the imagination. Creativity is the ability to mentally combine imagined ideas in new and inventive ways. It is dependent on mental imagery formed through concrete sensorial experiences. (Also see Abstraction and Reproducible Imagination/Memory)

Cycle of activity
This is the process where a “work”, or an activity, is initiated (removed from the shelf) and the child engages in the activity because it interests him/her. The child will repeat it many times and for no apparent reason, stopping suddenly only when the inner need which compelled the child to the activity has been satisfied. The “work” is then returned to its proper location and the child can now move on to his/her next activity. To allow for the possibility of long, concentrated work cycles, Montessori required her schools to include a 3-hour uninterrupted work period.

A box of beads that represents all multiplication tables from 1-10. This material allows for the multiplication math facts to be constructed in geometric form.

Behaviors seen in children that are the result of obstacles in the normal path of human development. Such behavior may be commonly understood as negative, (a timid child, a destructive child, etc.) or positive (a passive, quiet child). Both positive and negative deviations disappear once the child begins to concentrate on a piece of work freely chosen. Montessori said that through their work children reveal themselves—their true selves.

A child without deviations is considered to be a normalized child.

“…when the attractions of the new environment exert their spell, offering motives for constructive activity, then all these energies combine and the deviations can be dispersed. A unique type of child appears. A ‘new child’, but really it is the child’s true ‘personality’ allowed to construct itself normally.” (The Absorbent Mind p185).

Discipline from within
Self-discipline. The discipline in a well-run Montessori classroom is not a result of the external controls inherent in rewards and punishments. Its source comes from within each individual child; it is an intrinsic motivation based in the ability to control one’s own actions and make positive choices regarding personal behavior. Self-discipline is directly related to development of the will. Children must be given many choices (based in the “freedom within limits” ideal) spanning an extended period of time, to achieve high levels of self-discipline.

“Let us always remember that inner discipline is something to come and not something already present. Our task is to show the way to discipline. Discipline is born when the child concentrates his attention on some object that attracts him and which provides him not only with a useful exercise but with a control of error. Thanks to these exercises, a wonderful integration takes place in the infant soul, as a result of which the child becomes calm, radiantly happy, busy, forgetful of himself and, in consequence, indifferent to prizes or material rewards.”
The Absorbent Mind p.241)

“The discipline we are looking for is active. We do not believe that one is self-disciplined only when he is artificially made [silent and motionless]. Such a one is not disciplined but annihilated. We claim that an individual is disciplined when he is a master of himself and when he can, as a consequence, control himself when he must follow a rule of life.” (The Absorbent Mind ).

Exercises of Practical Life
Practical life activities are the exercises of self and environment care. Things like washing hands, sweeping, dusting, polishing, washing dishes, etc. are all included. These purposeful activities help the child develop gross and fine motor skills, learn self-control, and independence. As a child preforms these exercises, he/she begin to see him/herself as a contributing part of the social unit. The child’s intellect grows as he/she works with his/her hands. The child’s personality becomes integrated as his/her body and mind coordinate and function as an efficient unit.

The purpose and aim of Practical Life activities are to help the child gain control in the coordination of his/her movement. Coordination of movement is the basis in which a child gains independence. Practical Life exercises also aid the growth and development of the child’s intellect and concentration, and will in turn help the child develop an orderly way of thinking.

Grace and Courtesy are also a part of the practical life curriculum because learning to be gracious and courteous are a “practical” part of socialization. (See Grace and Courtsey)

Freedom within Limits
This means to allow children choices when appropriate and to restrict choices when appropriate. Children need the security and structure of consistent, firm, wise adult guidance.

“To give a child liberty is not to abandon him to himself.” Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori did admonish her followers to “follow the child”. She did not mean however to give the child adult authority or to advocate their total free reign. What she meant by this simple statement was that adults should look to accommodate individualized learning. Through observation, she asked that guides assess what a child’s needs are and then to make a plan on how to meet those needs best—through a lesson or through modeling. The focus in a Montessori environment is always on leading a child towards self-sufficiency by designing age-appropriate activities and responsibilities.

Golden Bead
Beads of a golden color, used to concretely show mathematical place value in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Grace and Courtesy
A part of the Practical Life lessons. Grace and courtesy lessons are role play lessons which demonstrate positive social behavior. They are designed to help young children adapt to life in a group and outline the knowledge of socially acceptable behavior, useful both in and out of school.

Not depending on another. Normal developmental milestones such as weaning, talking, potty training, etc., are skills that enable a child to achieve increased self-regulation and autonomy. Throughout the four developmental planes, children continually seek to become more independent. It’s as if the child says, “Help me to help myself.”

“When a child is given a little leeway, he will at once shout, “I want to do it!” But in our schools, which have an environment adapted to children’s needs, they say, “Help me to do it alone.” And these words reveal their inner needs.” (Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood)

Isolation of difficulty
Complex skills are analyzed by a Montessori teacher and broken up into their basic components. Presentations are then made separately for each basic skill. For example, the simple movement of holding and snipping with scissors is shown before cutting curved or zigzag lines. An activity should neither be so hard that it is overwhelming, nor so easy that it is boring.

Indirect preparation
Activities designed to influence learning in the future. Example: Activities in early childhood lessons lead to greater understandings for future lessons. For instance, a child in the early childhood environment will enjoy using the various geometric shapes in the geometry boxes and cabinet, totally unaware that because of this work his/her mind will later be more accepting of bigger geometry concepts. Also referred to as “remote preparation.”

Language appreciation
Children in Montessori classrooms have songs, poems, and rhymes as a daily part of their classroom life. The Montessori guide models the art of peaceful conversation, as well as polite listening. From the very first days in the Montessori classroom, children are given the opportunity to listen to true stories, told with great expression and enthusiasm. Looking at beautiful books with lovely, realistic pictures is also a part of language appreciation in a Montessori classroom.

Learning explosions
Human development is often not slow and steady. It is marked by peaks and valleys. Acquisition of new abilities seems to arrive suddenly, almost overnight, and with explosive impact. Such learning explosions are the sudden outward manifestation of a long process of internal growth. For example, the explosion of spoken language around two years of age is the result of many months of inner preparation and mental development.

Mathematical mind
From 0-6, Montessori taught that children experienced the absorbent mind. Around the age of 6, children enter into what she called the mathematical mind. Humans have the tendency to learn things which enhance their ability to be exact and orderly, to observe, compare and classify. Humans also tend to naturally calculate, imagine, abstract and create.

This vital part of intelligence – the mathematical mind – must be given help and direction for it to develop and function efficiently. Montessori found that if mathematics is not part of the young child’s experience (absorbent mind plane), his/her subconscious mind will not be as accepting of it at a later date. Montessori’s lessons in early childhood (ages 0-6) were in preparation (indirect preparation) for the development of a child’s future mathematical mind.

Multi-age or Mixed Aged Classrooms
Montessori identified four “planes of development,” with each stage having its own developmental characteristics and developmental challenges. At each level, Montessori programs are designed to address the developmental characteristics normal to children in that stage.

Montessori classes are organized to encompass three-year age spans (0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12) which allow younger students the positive example of older children, who in turn benefit from serving as role models. Each child learns at his/her own pace and will be ready for any given lesson in his/her own time, not on the teacher’s schedule of lessons in a one-size-fits-all model. In a mixed-age class, children can always find peers who are working at their current level.

Working in one class for three years allows students to develop a strong sense of community with their classmates and teachers. The age range also allows especially gifted children the interaction with intellectual peers, without requiring that they skip a grade or feel emotionally out of place.

Normalization is the single most important result of our work. (The Absorbent Mind – Maria Montessori)

The term normalization is a word borrowed from anthropology and means “becoming a contributing member of society” (Lecture given by Dr. Rita Shaefer Zener, on the AMI 3-6 course, Nakhon Pathon, Thailand, April 2006)

If children are repeatedly able to experience periods of spontaneous concentration on a piece of work freely chosen, they will begin to display the characteristics of normal development: a love of work, concentration, self-discipline, sociability, attachment to reality, a love of silence and of working alone. Normalized children are happier children: enthusiastic, generous, and helpful to others. They make constructive work choices, and their work reflects their level of development.

Obedience is directly tied to the development of a child’s will. It is an act of will that develops gradually, showing itself “unexpectedly at the end of a long process of maturation.” (Montessori) There are three stages of Obedience. “Obedience is seen as something which develops in the child in much the same way as other aspects of his character. At first it is dictated purely by the vital impulses, then it rises to the level of consciousness, and thereafter it goes on developing, stage by stage, till it comes under the control of the conscious will. – The Absorbent Mind.

While this inner development is going on, little children may obey occasionally, but be completely unable to obey consistently. As their will develops through the exercise of free choice, children begin to have the self-discipline or self-control necessary for obedience.

“Will and obedience then go hand in hand, inasmuch as the will is a prior foundation in the order of development, and obedience is a later stage resting on this foundation.”
(The Absorbent Mind p.234)

Prepared environment
The Montessori classroom is an environment prepared by the adult for children. It contains all the essentials for optimal development but contains nothing superfluous. The classroom feels peaceful, orderly, calm, inviting and interesting. It is full of beauty and simplicity. Everything is child-sized to enhance the children’s independent functioning. A trained adult and a large enough group of children of mixed ages make up a vital part of the prepared environment. The emphasis of the space is that it belongs to the children—The Children’s House. Montessori designed the educational materials on the shelves to attract children by appealing to their senses. The materials are meant to be used in a specific sequence and are designed to be self-correcting so that children can make their own discoveries.

The teacher does not teach in the traditional sense, but rather shows the child how to use the various objects and then leaves him/her free to explore and experiment. This is called a presentation. It often includes a three period lesson. To be effective, presentations must be done slowly and exactly, step by step, and with a minimum of words.

A young child’s work differs from the work of an adult. An adult’s work is product oriented. The adult sets out to accomplish some goal and stops working when the objective, the product, is achieved. A child, however, does not work to accomplish an external goal, but rather an internal one. The process is more important than the product in a child’s world. Consequently, children will repeat an activity until their inner goal is accomplished. The unconscious urge for repetition helps the child to coordinate his/her movements or acquire some ability.

Reproductive Imagination or Memory
Imagination is the formation of mental ideas or visualizations that are strictly held in the inner world of thought processes. Reproductive imagination is the ability to see something often enough that it can be retrieved from memory in a mental construction- seeing an object or procedure in the mind’s eye. Reproductive imagination makes it possible for children to take the materials that they have been manipulating with their hands and internalize those materials to manipulate them in their heads. Reproductive imagination plays a huge role in the early formative years of a Montessori child.  It allows them to develop basic math and language skills, and permits them to understand abstract concepts such as colors, shapes, and other aspects of the world around us. Reproductive imagination resembles abstraction, but in truth is different. In Reproductive memory, children still are very much tied to concrete materials and have not built any new ideas outside of their concrete experiences, so they are not abstracting. They are simply doing in their heads what they have practiced doing with their hands. Reproductive imagination is the precursor to creativity/constructive imagination or abstraction. (Also see Abstraction and Creativity/Constructive Imagination)

Sensitive periods
Children have windows of development— called sensitive periods— that open up throughout the natural course of their development. These are times when the brain is particularly open to a certain type of experience that results in a specific ability. After the window closes, the ability becomes harder, if sometimes not impossible, to acquire.

A child in a sensitive period is believed to exhibit spontaneous concentration when engaged in an activity that matches his/her current developmental sensitivity. It is believed that the brain has matured and so there is an opportunity, a craving, for stimulation in the areas of sensitivity. This leads to an intense period of information absorption and to a general coordination in the areas of sensitivity. For example, children in a sensitive period for order will be drawn to activities that involve ordering. They will be observed choosing such activities, becoming deeply concentrated, sometimes repeating the activity over and over, without reward or encouragement. Young children are naturally drawn to aspects in the environment that meet their developmental needs.

Sensorial materials
The sensorial materials were created to help children refine their senses. All information is retrieved through the senses so Montessori felt it very important to train the senses. Each sensorial material isolates a quality found in the world such as color, size, shape, smell, sound etc., and this isolation focuses the attention on this one aspect. The child, through repeated manipulation of these objects, comes to form clear ideas or abstractions. What could not be explained using words, the child learns through his/her sensorial experiences.

Simple to complex
Children are first introduced to a concept or idea in its simplest form. As they progress and become capable of making more complex connections, they are eventually able to handle information that is more complex. Children develop to where they are able to understand the complexity of relationships. Small isolated lessons are later joined together to show the intricate relationships found in nature.

Stamp Game
Small square stamps with the numerals 1, 10, 100, or 1,000 written on one side. Each stamp is painted a color to reinforce the concept of place value: 1-green, 10-blue, 100-red, 1,000-green. Stamps are used to show addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division through the base 10 place value system. Stamp Game follows Golden Bead presentations and leads towards abstraction.

Test Tube
Test tubes full of colored beads that represent numerical place value. Beads are placed on boards meant to show concretely what is happening in large division equations.

Three period lesson
“The famous three period lesson of Sequin” (Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work p. 307) is actually quite simple. The first period is Naming: “This is soft. This is hard.” The second period is Recognition: “Give me the hard. Give me the soft.” The third period consists of The Pronunciation of the Word: “What is this?” In these three simple steps, the entire learning process is systematically addressed. The three period lesson is used for teaching vocabulary.

Will, Development of
The ability to choose to do something with conscious intent. The child’s will develops gradually during the first phase of life and is strengthened through practice. The Montessori environment offers many opportunities for the child to choose. Willpower, or self-control, results from the many little choices of daily life in a Montessori school.

From an evolutionary perspective, the long period of childhood exists so children can learn and experiment in a relatively pressure-free environment. Most social scientists refer to this pressure-free experimentation as “play,” although Montessori prefers to call this activity the “work” of childhood. Children are serious when engaged in the kind of play that meets developmental needs. Given freedom and time, they choose purposeful activities over frivolous ones.

Writing to reading
In a Montessori environment, children usually begin writing before they can read. They excitedly create words using a box of loose letters (the moveable alphabet) or they write their words with chalk or pencil. Shortly after they begin writing (about 6 months after), they begin to understand what reading means, and they do so only through associating it with writing. (The Secret of Childhood)