At Mountainside Montessori, a Primary class is a joyful, peaceful community of children from 2-1/2 to 6 years old. The younger children are guided by the teacher as well as by observing and working with older students. The older children learn leadership and compassion in this mixed-aged setting. Children are given sequenced lessons designed to increase their skills and independence. Once they have been introduced to the activities and materials, children enjoy choosing their own work.
The three-year Primary program focuses on the following areas.
These consist of exercises in care of the child’s own person, exercises in care of the environment (both indoors and out), exercises in social etiquette known as “Grace and Courtesy,” and exercises to develop equilibrium and control of movement. The purpose of all Practical Life work is to help children develop independence, concentration, and control of movement, thus aiding in the development of the will, which leads to confidence and responsibility. The Practical Life activities lay a strong foundation for later work in all areas in the curriculum.
These materials are designed as keys to the everyday world. Each material isolates a particular sensory input or experience. Visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, olfactory, and other senses are educated and refined through the children’s work with these materials. These activities also contain many indirect preparations for later work in language and mathematics. The fingers, hand, and arm are being prepared for writing, and children are experiencing all kinds of groupings, sets, sequences, and geometrical patterns in visual and tactile ways.
Children’s mathematical sense is built on the strong foundation of the sensorial materials, where many fundamental concepts, such as length, volume, gradation, sequencing, grouping, and so on, have been experienced already via the senses. Children explore the four operations of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (up to four-digit problems) using hands-on bead materials, abacuses, and other Montessori mathematical materials.
Primary children are eagerly acquiring language, both in size of vocabulary and complexity of expression. The Sandpaper Letters allow the child to learn the sounds and shapes of the letters of the alphabet, tracing the shapes using the same hand movements they will later use to write. Older children choose letters from the Moveable Alphabet to “write” their own stories, even before their hands are able to easily direct a pencil. Children are eager to express themselves, and often find through writing their own sentences that they are suddenly and spontaneously able to read their own compositions—and others’. Montessori-educated children routinely enter first grade as fully competent readers and writers.
Working with the sensorial, language, and cultural materials related to geography is an important part of the work of a Montessori Primary classroom. The very young children are introduced early to a sandpaper globe, which provides a visual and tactile experience of the Earth. Other sensorial materials and puzzle maps are used by the children to explore the continents of our world, the countries of each continent, and the states of our own country. They also create key land and water forms such as lake, island, and peninsula. Geography vocabulary is given both orally and with prepared nomenclature cards that are used by the children as an integrated part of their language work. The children are introduced to the diversity of international cultures by means of stories, songs, celebrations, pictures, and artifacts. They also work with miniature flags of a wide variety of nation states.
Art activities in the Primary classroom are chosen by the child from the art shelf according to interest. There is a progression in the artwork as the child’s skills develop. Cutting exercises move from very simple to quite complex exercises. Pasting work is followed later by collage. Coloring with various media (crayons, pastels, charcoal) is available. Painting on an easel, watercolor, and clay work are presented. Handwork, including sewing and embroidery, is taught. Seasonal inspirations using different media are a prominent feature in our Primary classroom.
Students have a rich experience in singing, playing rhythm instruments, and listening to music. Primary children use the Montessori Bells. This material is initially a sensorial material designed so that children can match and grade all pitches on both diatonic and chromatic scales during the sensitive period for pitch development. The material is then used to play scales and musical phrases, and can be accompanied by the voice. Children are told stories of composers’ lives, incorporating both elements of history and geography, and they listen to selections from the works of the composers.
Practical and sensorial activities at the Toddler and Primary levels lay a strong foundation for later work in scientific classification and experimentation. Basic skills of science, such as measuring, comparing, classifying, and keen observing, are carefully prepared and practiced. This work is accompanied by extensive classified nomenclature. For example, Primary age children learn the scientific nomenclature of the parts of a flower, such as the calyx and corolla. Classification systems such as living/non-living, and vertebrate/invertebrate are also taught. Children study the basic characteristics and nomenclature of plants and animals. They learn to name common domestic and wild plants and animals, and they work with materials to learn fundamental classifications such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Children are also introduced to some basic concepts of physical science, such as floating/sinking, magnetic/non-magnetic. Non-fiction books related to science are read aloud to the children, and they have classroom responsibilities for the care of indoor plants, as well as feeding the birds outside. The children also plant, tend to, and harvest their own classroom gardens.
During a three-hour block every morning, Primary children are engaged in a wide variety of work. They may practice skills to care for themselves or the classroom or work on writing words or stories. Some children may work together to solve a large equation with manipulative math materials. Others may care for plants by watering or washing the leaves. The Montessori materials, joyfully presented and freely chosen, create a strong foundation for reading, writing, creativity, critical thinking and participation in an active, diverse community. By the time children have completed three years in Primary, they have become poised, proud, and compassionate leaders for the younger children. They have learned to think for themselves, approach learning with joy, and self-regulate their emotions for social harmony.
Our youngest students are welcome to spend the full school day with us in a program designed to meet their needs. After the noon dismissal, the children wash their hands and gather their lunch boxes. On nice days, they eat outside on picnic tables in the shade of two large trees. In inclement weather, their indoor lunch tables are set with place mats, candles, and cloth napkins. Soft classical music plays as they chat with their friends, asking to be excused from the table if they need something, and remaining quietly seated until everyone has finished eating. After lunch, they pack up their lunch boxes, then unroll yoga mats, pillows and blankets for an afternoon rest. A story read aloud or soft music provides a smooth transition to quiet time. After their nap, they play quietly with toys, take a walk on the paths through the campus or enjoy free play in the yard before going home.