Educating The Whole Child
Practical life activities are basic, vital, and continuous, though they take different forms at different ages. They appeal to the sensitive periods for order, control, and perfection of movement.
In the primary classes, much practical life has to do with adapting to the environment. Concentration (watch a little one wash a table!), care, exactness, social awareness, independence, cooperation, coordination, and self-esteem are some of the qualities that emerge and develop through the practical life work.
In the elementary classes, practical life grows to include the community outside the school.In the middle school classes practical life activities of the elementary years continue, and new responsibilities are added. The skills and habits of mind developed through Practical Life at all ages help to strengthen the foundation on which academic skills are built.
The sensorial material is most deeply explored in the primary classes, where children are passing through sensitive periods related to perception of form, texture, color, weight, sound, smell, taste, and temperature. The materials are not intended to give new impressions, but to order, classify, relate, explore, and realize the sense impressions the child has already formed. The sensorial materials serve as keys to other areas of learning. The language of the material is usually given after the child has explored it: triangle, trapezoid, and square, corolla, calyx, and stem, North America, Asia, and Africa, . . . .the words crystallize the concepts for the child.
Language is woven into all parts of the program. Language development is guided from the time toddlers are learning to name objects and express their thoughts until middle school students are speaking and writing for public audiences. Learning to read is a vital part of any good education. Children as young as three begin to learn the sounds of our alphabet using sandpaper letters. Reading and writing grow together using materials like the moveable alphabet to both build and read words—and even stories.
In the elementary years, as children’s reading skills grow, language learning expands to include word study, history, sentence analysis, and research. By the time students reach middle school they are refining their language skills to include literary analysis, writing for a variety of purposes and audiences, and public speaking.
Foreign language is an important part of our overall language program. Students learn Spanish starting in the primary program and continuing through middle school. As the children, grow the amount of time spent focusing on foreign language study increases. The curriculum is presented as a rich, multi-sensory experience. Our students take delight in singing, speaking, listening, reciting, conversing, and learning about Spanish cultures worldwide.
In the Montessori environment, mathematics is an integration of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry into a system in which each illuminates the other. Primary children are given mathematical concepts in the form of objects; the objects can be felt and moved about so that the hand is always involved in the learning process. The children are introduced to counting and mathematical processes with numbers into the thousands using concrete materials that clearly demonstrate the differences between small and large quantities.
In the elementary class, the work continues, building on materials and concepts already presented and adding new concepts such as algebraic computation, base systems, square and cube roots. The materials are intended to lead the child into more and more abstract work, until finally the materials are spontaneously discarded.
By the middle school level, most students are studying at the Algebra I level. However, the program is flexible and adaptable to meet individual students’ needs.
History, geography, economics, art, music, and other general subjects are at first presented to the children through sensorial materials and stories.
For primary students, the pattern of presentation is to work from the whole to its parts. As children progress through the elementary years, they learn about cultures, political, economic, and physical relationships, and the history of mankind. Information is organized and presented in an integrated fashion. Literature, art and music studies, maps and histories all focus on one area of the world at a time.
As in the other cultural studies, the study of scientific topics, such as botany, zoology, and physical sciences, is integrated, multisensory, and follows a path of concrete and basic to abstract and complex. Efforts are made at every level to achieve a strong balance between explorations of real materials and the use of print sources, models, and charts to develop scientific understanding of the way the world works.
At the middle school level, students follow a two year course of study in the sciences. One year includes primarily earth and life sciences while the second year focuses on physical science and chemistry. Students learn in a variety of ways, including participating in lessons and labs, scrutinizing demonstrations, reading from texts or other sources, developing hypotheses, conducting experiments, responding to questions, solving problems, building models, analyzing data, listening to podcasts, researching people or events, discussing concepts and ideas, listening, thinking, and writing. Students at this level are guided to complete a hypothesis-driven science project each year.
Montessori used the term “cosmic education” to describe an integrated approach to understanding the interconnected nature of all aspects of life. Through what are called the Great Lessons, students learn about the Creation of the Universe, the Time Line of Life, and the Histories of Mathematics and Writing. The child develops a respect for life, an appreciation for our interdependency, and a sense of responsibility to the world.
At the middle school level, students follow a two year course of study in history of humans, world history, US history, geography, and cultures.
Creative work is woven into the life of all the classes. We enrich the classroom spaces with fine painting, good music, and special programs so that the arts become an integral part of the prepared environment.
The child’s own creative energy is used everywhere in the program as he discovers and teaches himself. Painting, studying music, composing, writing stories all begin in the primary class. In an environment that is ordered, beautiful, and rich in possibilities, the child acquires something to paint about, dance about, and compose about.
Elementary and middle school students undertake larger projects as part of their Fine Arts curriculum. This includes working with our Art Teacher, who provides sophisticated exposure to art history, and a variety of media (paint, clay, paper, textiles and color).
Education begins with the sensorial materials in the classroom and grows to include formal lessons and performance opportunities. Children from early elementary to middle school participate in weekly lessons with a Music Teacher. The Music Teacher also meets once a week with children in our primary afternoon program. Children move from learning about rhythm and melody in the early years to reading and composing music as well as singing and basic instrumental performance. In the elementary and middle school years students have many opportunities to perform for their classmates as well as the larger community.
Primary children participate in activities that encourage coordination and control of movement such as walking in line to music and the silence game. They exercise every day outdoors or in the all-purpose room. Organized sports activities for elementary and middle school students include outdoor and indoor physical education games, teamwork and individual skill development.
Elementary students will begin to experience homework. Our goals are to make the connection between home and school stronger, to give parents a chance to see their children’s work at home, and to begin to develop in the children a greater responsibility and good work habits. By middle school, students will be doing homework on a nightly basis. This is a measure of the increased level of work for the older students and provides them with a practical life experience that they will benefit from as they move on to high school.