What Curriculum Do Montessori Schools Use?

Many visitors to Montessori school comment on how calm and relaxed children go about their daily activities. This inner harmony springs from the self-discipline gained from learning how to work with the didactic materials from each Montessori curriculum area. 

Montessori schools use the five key areas of the Montessori curriculum: Practical Life Exercises, Sensorial Education, Mathematics, Language, and Cultural Subjects to help the child attain social, emotional, physical, and intellectual developmental milestones. The curriculum areas consist of a set of concrete materials that teach each key area. Through working with the materials, the child develops an understanding and mastery of each curriculum area.

Montessori curriculum areas develop the child’s intellect through active exploration of materials. The self-correcting nature of the materials enables children to develop control over their learning. Each key area consists of a set of materials that increase in complexity as the children gradually progress through the curriculum areas at their own pace. Read on to learn more about the Montessori curriculum.

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What are the Five Areas of the Montessori Curriculum?

Montessori curriculum areas engage children in age-appropriate activities for attaining their developmental milestones. The curriculum areas are child-centered and involve hands-on learning in the prepared environment. 

Here are the five key areas of the Montessori curriculum: Practical Life Exercises, Sensorial Education, Mathematics, Language, and Cultural Subjects.

1. Practical Life Exercises: are simple daily activities that help children maintain and control their environments. Practical Life aims to help the child gain control in the coordination of his movement, fine and gross motor skills, and independence. 

Practical Life Exercises are divided into four areas:

Practical Life Area 1: Elementary Movement and Preliminary Activities. These activities include,

  • How to talk and walk in the classroom
  • Use of workspace; how to fold or roll a work mat
  • How to carry materials 
  • Opening and closing of doors and drawers
  • Washing and drying hands and the use of a toilet
  • Painting and drawing
  • Pouring large beans, rice, or water from one container into another
  • Transferring objects like rice, and beads from one container to another 
  • Threading beads on a shoelace
  • Cutting patterns with scissors or knife

Practical Life Area 2: Exercises for the Care of Self

  • Washing and drying hands
  • Changing shoes
  • Dressing frames; zip, buttons, lacing, bows
  • Polishing of shoes
  • Folding of clothes
  • Blowing nose
  • Care of teeth, nails, and hair

Practical Life Area 3: Exercises for the Care of the Environment

  • Sweeping-use of broom, dustpan, and brush
  • Use of clothes
  • Scrubbing of tables and floors
  • Laying of table
  • Care of the garden
  • Care of pets
  • Classroom skills- sharpening pencil, keeping work folders, use of the ruler
  • Cooking skills-weighing, measuring, whisking and mixing, rolling and cutting pastries

Practical Life Area 4: Exercises for the Development of Social Skills, Grace, and Courtesy

  • Greeting people
  • Interrupting ‘Excuse me.’
  • Coping with an offense
  • Conduct with a visitors
  • Behavior on outings
  • Helping out
  • Table manners and use of eating utensils
child eating with utensils

2. Sensorial Education

Sensory learning helps the child develop critical thinking, fine and gross motor skills, discrimination of objects by color, shape, size, texture, and maximum refinement of senses. 

The following are some of the materials used in teaching the Montessori Sensorial Education;

  • Pink tower
  • Knobbed and knobless cylinders
  • Brown Stairs
  • Color boxes
  • Flat shapes
  • Geometric solids
  • Touch boards, fabrics, and tablets
  • Sound boxes 
  • Montessori bells

The child, to Maria Montessori, is a “sensorial explorer” who uses all senses to perceive and experience the environment. 

3. Language

The Montessori Language curriculum is excellent preparation for young children’s speech and language development. Starting as early as in the toddler program, we proactively work to develop the children’s language skills. Some of the language activities include:

  • Stories and poems
  • Rhymes and jingles
  • Action songs and finger play
  • Picture reading
  • Sandpaper letters
  • Large movables alphabets
  •  Pink series for teaching three-letter phonics sounds, phrases, and sentences
  •  Blue series for teaching consonant blends and longer words
  • The green series introduces the child to consonant diaphragms, vowel graphs, and phonemes
  • The Montessori grammar materials for teaching nouns, pronouns, prepositions, and other parts of speech

4. Mathematics

Mathematics is an exciting curriculum, especially when explored with appropriate concrete and didactic materials. The child’s aptitude for mathematics is stimulated, refined, and sustained with the aid of Montessori materials and activities like;

  • Number rhymes and songs
  • Counting parts of the body
  • Number rods
  • Sandpaper numerals
  • Cards and counters
  • Sequin boards
  • Golden beads materials for teaching addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division

5. Cultural Subjects:

Cultural Subjects facilitate the child’s adaptation to the world by bringing the world to the classroom environment. Montessori cultural materials provide activities that help children develop their personality and acquire knowledge in;

  • Biology- care of plants and animals, animals of the world, pairing cards, nature table, natural habitats and life cycles
  • Geography– land and water forms, puzzle map of the world, continent globe, solar system
  • History – timeline of a child’s life, telling time, and natural history of the world
  • Science- floating and sinking objects, animate and inanimate boxes, making rainbows, magnetism, and other science experiments

What is Unique about the Montessori curriculum?

Now, let us consider these unique characteristics that are inherent in the Montessori curriculum: Self-correcting materials, freedom of choice, prepared environment, vertical grouping, and freedom of movement.

Self-correcting Materials: Montessori realizes that the materials, most of which are self-correcting, allow children to discover and correct their own mistakes without asking the teacher. For instance, a child working with a simple shape puzzle from the sensorial curriculum will observe that circle does not fit into the triangle socket. The Montessori materials’ self-correcting nature encourages children’s problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Freedom of Choice: Children in Montessori schools show deep concentration and multiple repetitions of the same activities. Given free choice with limits, children show more interest in practical materials than typical toys. For instance, the teacher can ask the child to choose between working with the lace dressing frame from the Practical Life Exercises or assembling the leaf puzzle from the cultural curriculum. 

Montessori concludes that by working independently, children attain independence and become self-motivated learners.

montessori classroom

Prepared Environment: Maria Montessori was the first educationist to use child-sized furniture in the classroom. Her first school, the Casa Dei Bambini or House for Children, was designed so that all the Montessori activities would be accessible to the children. 

The materials are arranged orderly according to their curriculum area. For instance, materials like jugs, trays, and dressing frames are organized on the practical life shelf, while materials like the pink tower, knobbed cylinders, and color boxes are arranged on the Sensorial Education shelf. 

Order is one of the essential features of the Montessori classroom. The children are responsible for returning the material to the appropriate curriculum area after completing the activity. That helps to develop the child’s sense of belonging and responsibility. 

Vertical Grouping: the children in the Montessori classroom are grouped vertically between the ages of two and a half to six years, enabling the younger children to learn from the older children. In retrospect, the older children also experience deep knowledge due to the repetition of activities and by helping the younger ones.

Freedom of Movement: Montessori is a great advocate of giving the children freedom of movement in a prepared environment. The children have the freedom to move around and choose workspace and their appropriate activities from the five curriculum areas. For example, a child might decide to start with brown stairs from the sensorial Education shelves and gradually move to care of plant activity from the cultural shelf. The goal is to groom children to become independent and responsible adults.

The newcomer to a good Montessori prepared environment soon absorbs the quiet, orderly, calm, respectful, and cooperative atmosphere.

Do Montessori Teachers Follow a Curriculum?

Montessori teachers guide the children through the five curriculum area. They first present the activities to introduce children to the name of the material, learning outcomes, and how to work with each age-appropriate material. After the introductory lessons, the teacher encourages the child to work with the Montessori material independently to practice, explore, and make connections to the critical learning outcomes.

The children are expected to work with material from each curriculum area daily. They can choose to start from any of the curriculum areas. For instance, if the child decides to work with the polishing shoes from the practical life exercises curriculum, the teacher firsts show how to polish the shoes and then encourages the child to continue.  

While working on the materials, the teacher observes and documents their progress or the milestones achieved. New activities are introduced once the child demonstrates an understanding of the activity. Through repetition and practice, children master the progression of the Montessori materials and develop a fundamental understanding of each curriculum area.

Montessori teachers are trained to recognize that it is their responsibility to prepare a safe, orderly, and stimulating environment for the children to attain their developmental milestones. They also guide the children with kindness and empathy.

What is the Purpose of the Montessori Curriculum?

Montessori education aims to create practical, stimulating curriculum areas to help the child develop an excellent foundation for creative and independent learning. The specific goals for the children who attend a Montessori school are:

  1. To develop independence: the Montessori curriculum is designed to help children achieve independence and take control of their learning. The practical life exercises like care of the hair, sweeping, folding of clothes, and so on help the child become an independent being. 
  1. To develop concentration: as the child gradually gains the core competence of each curriculum area, he develops maximum concentration in the classroom and in other aspects of life.
  1. To develop motor skills and coordination: children can freely move around the classroom to choose their activity from each curriculum area. The child develops motor skills and coordination through the movement and manipulation of objects.
  1. Development of social skills, grace, and courtesy: exercises from the practical life area four like greeting people, behavior in an outing, and coping with an offense teach the children emotional intelligence, good manners, and social skills.
  1. Language skills and communication. The language curriculum prepares the child for early reading and writing.
  1. Maximum refinement of senses; sensorial education helps children experience the prepared environment with all their senses. Sensory learning is the best approach for the child’s optimal brain and intellectual development.

In conclusion, the holistic or whole child approach is introduced to Montessori schools through the key areas of the Montessori curriculum to encourage the child’s natural development and help children attain their developmental milestones.

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