The Montessori Curriculum
The Montessori approach which has been used successfully for over a hundred years, seeks to provide organised play as a means of promoting specific skills and concepts and is very much at one with the EYFS view of learning. In particular, both see observation of children as central to promoting their learning and development.
The learning environments presented by Blue Butterfly Montessori are structured and organised in such a way that children learn through all the senses.
Our Montessori curriculum identifies six key areas of activity which encompass the six areas of learning and development identified and accepted in the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage). These are namely:
Practical life activities reflect the child’s need to model behaviours reflecting their family life. One of the aims of these activities is to form a link between the home and the new environment of the Montessori classroom. Children are able to contribute towards the cultural and social life of the classroom, offering them the opportunity to experience a sense of belonging.
Typical tasks which children may be already familiar from the home surroundings include, pouring, dusting, dressing, wiping, sweeping etc. Whilst engaged in these activities, children perfect basic skills that will aid their independence both in the classroom and at home. They learn to pour their own drinks, serve food, tidy their own activities, wash their hands, wash up after their snack, water the plants in the garden and many more other skills.
Common to all practical life activities is their active nature. Children manipulate and so perfect their gross and fine motor skills as well as coordination of movement, hand-eye coordination, dexterity and pincer grip. The activities support the child’s need to exert control over their environment and enhance their sense of wellbeing by the predictable and consistent nature of their organization.
The child’s ability to concentrate, to organize, sequence and order the activity, and to pay attention to detail, such as replacing utensils at the end of an activity is significantly enhanced.
The sensorial materials the children will experience were developed by Maria Montessori herself and have changed little in over a hundred years, which is testament to their remarkable success.
Sensorial materials offer systematic refinement of the five senses, exploring two- and three-dimensional forms- (geometric solids such as cubes, prisms, cones, pyramids and outlines of squares, circles and triangles).
The Montessori sensorial materials hold the key to the understanding of fundamental concepts and the possibility of the expansion of the child’s cognitive capabilities. With the frequent focus on matching, pairing, sorting and grading, these activities are integral to building the foundation for mathematical understanding.
Sensorial activities lay the foundation for the child’s academic learning in later years.
Dr Maria Montessori was surprised by children’s ability to learn to read and write much earlier than generally expected. The use of phonics by Dr Montessori to develop reading and writing focusing on the sounds of letters, syllables and shapes using sandpaper letters is now widely accepted as one of the best methods for developing early literacy.
One of the reasons for the success of this method lies in the multi-sensory approach to absorption of the letter sounds and shapes by both visual and tactile means.
Children are prepared for use of writing implements early, both through the refinement of their fine motor movements within the
practical life and creative areas of the classroom. A child’s ability to control a pencil is further refined by the use of insets for design.
The child first learns to build words using cut-out letters (many children use magnetic letters on the fridge at home) and by careful listening to letter sounds. They start by building words with predictable patterns of a single, short vowel placed between two consonants such as ‘cat’ and ‘hat’.
This stage of learning serves as an important tool for the introduction of reading and the decoding of words.
Phonological awareness and general pre-reading activities such as storytelling or books with props or sequencing of stories prepare children for more systematic literacy work in their primary school years.
The Montessori numeracy and arithmetic materials offer a systematic approach to learning about the integrity of numbers in relation to numerals, always using objects to support the learning. The golden bead materials, designed to introduce children to the hierarchies of the decimal system while exploring the place value using both the beads and the written symbols of the large number cards, are probably the most unique and original contribution made by Dr Maria Montessori to children learning mathematics.
Our Montessori teachers give children opportunities to use number knowledge in everyday contexts and within contexts meaningful to the child, such as counting how many fairy cakes will be needed for a snack or recognizing numerals on a birthday chart. Role Play is also used to great effect as children use number knowledge spontaneously.
This area of the classroom allows our talented teachers to really distinguish themselves as the cultural area has the least amount of prescribed materials. Teachers are able to explore a wide range of topics in biology, geography and history.
Activities focus on real experiences that give children the chance to observe, explore and investigate such things as trees, plants, flowers, seasons, calendars, festivities, animals etc. Within our secure private play area, children have an opportunity to nurture plants and flowers in the garden section. In the natural sciences such as botany and
zoology, observation and familiarity are the method adopted.
For Geography however, a different approach and perspective is practiced embracing the whole solar system and exploring the natural aspects of global physical geography before focusing on continents and the countries where we live.
History is explored through timelines and natural cycles that help children understand the passage of time, a concept alien to most children. This is seen as preparation for later and more systematic study of natural history from an evolutionary perspective.
The exploration of continents and their countries also gives our teachers an opportunity to explore similarities and differences in the lives of children and their families across cultures around the world.
Dr Maria Montessori saw these activities as important learning tools for nurturing children’s understanding of respect for all humanity as a foundation toward peaceful co-existence.
The concept of peace permeates much of her work and represents her commitment to introducing children to spiritual life.
Dr Maria Montessori valued self-expression and highlighted the need for children to have opportunities to participate in self-chosen and self-initiated arts and craft activities, as well as music, movement and socio-dramatic play.
Here at our well-equipped Montessori setting, there are designated areas of the classrooms where children have all the necessary resources freely available to paint, using both easel and watercolours. Children are able to choose from a range of good quality implements such as crayons, coloured pencils and felt tips as well as a variety of different textured paper. We have resources to glue and make collages and to print using stamps as well as natural resources such as vegetables, wood and sponge stamps.
Our teachers help the children to develop the necessary skills for using scissors or applying glue but the activities themselves are spontaneous and open ended allowing plenty of scope for children’s self-expression and sense of accomplishment.
A generous range of musical instruments are readily available, and teachers sing regularly with the children. Specialist music teachers are also employed to initiate a love of music and the instruments. Music itself is a great teacher and revealer of children’s natural character and sensibility.
Storytelling using props is also a regular daily feature of our curriculum. Our Montessori teachers often dramatise stories and engage the children with role play. Once something has been initiated and understood, children are left to emerge spontaneously with their imagination to create.
Creativity is not taught but unfolded and supported in the child and is viewed as a vital and equal component of the curriculum along with the preceding five disciplines. Children who are given ample scope to express themselves through a rich and varied creative arena tend to arrive for primary school with a more balanced and receptive disposition for further learning.
Under Extra-Curricular activities, we aim to introduce children to ICT, French, Music and Physical Excercise through specialist teachers.
Children participate in specific experiences using practical materials which are designed to develop manipulative skills. Within the Montessori environment, real experience is understood to be the source of all learning.
We have ensured that our Montessori Teachers and assistants are supported by the full complement of authentic Montessori materials, quality educational toys and associated early years play equipment. In turn, we feel this gives every child attending our setting the best possible chance to flourish and attain their full potential.
In our holistic Montessori curriculum we strive for excellence in all areas and hope families are able to learn more about what makes Blue Butterfly Montessori … the place to begin.
The Montessori Method
The inspiration for the Montessori Method of education comes from Dr Maria Montessori (1870-1952) who was a pioneer of child-centered education. She became the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor in Italy and it is her scientific background which underpins much of the teaching philosophy.
Like many nineteenth century women of her class, she felt social responsibility for the poor and supported them far beyond the duty expected of a doctor. In 1897 she was asked to visit Rome’s asylums and became intrigued with trying to educate the poor and mentally disadvantaged children who were thought to be ‘unteachable’. Her first notable success was to have several of her ‘unteachable’ students pass the State exams for reading and writing with above average scores. These mentally disadvantaged children made her wonder in awe at the untapped potential she might be able to discover in normal children.
After establishing her first school in 1907 she began observing children’s reactions to their new environment without any pre-conceived ideas of what would happen –this is what we would call today: ‘action research’. She modified the materials originally used on the mentally disadvantaged children in relation to the normal children’s usage and her insights formed the basis for her first book, ‘The Montessori Method’ published in 1912. In this book she describes children as:
- being capable of extended periods of concentration;
- enjoying repetition and order;
- revelling in the freedom of movement and choice;
- enjoying purposeful activities (preferred work to play);
- self-motivated, displaying behaviours that did not require punishments or rewards;
- taking delight in silence and harmony of the environment;
- possessing personal dignity and spontaneous self-discipline;
- being capable of learning to read and write.
Montessori believed that these characteristics represented the potential of humanity. She advocated that all children should be given the opportunity to ‘reveal themselves’ in a developmentally appropriate environment that would facilitate their natural growth and development. The favourable environment forms one of the key links in the triangle of components at the heart of the Montessori Method. The other two links being the child and the teacher.
Q. What is the Montessori Method?
A. The Unique Triangle – Child, Environment, Teacher
She urges adults to demonstrate trust in the child’s ability to learn and absorb the environment and culture in which they grow up, and so become an adult. She saw the child as a possible agent in affecting social change in the world at large.
Fundamental to the Montessori approach is the belief that a child’s early years-from birth to six years are the period when they have the greatest capacity to learn and the greatest appetite for knowledge. What happens to a child during these critical years lays the foundations for the future.
Montessori’s specifically designed equipment and materials are central to the philosophy. There are specific learning tools for each core area of learning, created to help children develop essential physical, cognitive, linguistic and social skills.
The Montessori classroom is a ‘prepared environment’ consciously designed to support the child’s developmental needs. Everything within the setting reflects a commitment to quality and to the children’s ability to do things for themselves. It is by doing things for themselves and feeling the joy of achievement that children acquire knowledge and develop new skills.
The design is expressed in the quality and accessibility of all materials-children rarely need to ask if they can get something.
Montessori materials are carefully designed to provide children with a step-by-step understanding of complex abstract concepts through the use of concrete examples- such as the physical shape of letters to the structure of the decimal system. The children themselves are encouraged to participate in replenishing supplies, correcting their own mistakes, cleaning up after themselves and maintaining the ordered setting that is the foundation of the Montessori approach.
The materials themselves have been refined and perfected since Maria Montessori’s time and form part of a structured approach to learning and the acquisition of skills that allows the children to dictate the pace of advance as their understanding builds.
The teacher is the third and final vital link to complete the triangle between the child and its environment. Montessori teachers seek to guide rather than control. They are not there to impart knowledge or stuff the child with data, but to provide opportunities for learning and to present the best possible environment to achieve this.
The range of learning and experience found within a Montessori setting is broader than the state prescribed curriculum. Focus is on the 6 core areas of learning: Practical Life; Sensorial; Mathematics; Cultural and Creative Activity. Learning is invited rather than imposed; encouraged rather than enforced.
Equally, the emphasis is on giving the child the chance to progress at their own speed, rather than driving towards rapid advance, early achievement or any other fixed and premeditated goals. Freed from tests, benchmarks and competitive pressures children tend to excel, driven by their own thirst for knowledge.
Self discipline is an important teaching within the approach to learning. Children enjoy enormous freedom to choose within the limits of the prepared environment. Poor or disruptive behaviour is discouraged through the reinforcement of positive behaviour and respect for the space, work and concentration of other children in the classroom.
Montessori Teachers are skilled interpreters of child behaviour constantly refining their observational skills and teaching strategies as well as developing their understanding of how children develop and learn because each child is ultimately unique. Montessori teachers distinguish themselves by forming a close partnership with the family of the child. Montessori herself recognised that both the nursery and the home have to share the values of ‘following the child.’ Montessori teachers are committed to continuous learning, as teaching is also a process of learning.
‘The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say that the children are working as if I did not exist.’