Where children self construct through the work of their HANDS within the world
The St. Catherine’s Montessori Primary community nurtures children’s intrinsic motivation by matching their natural enthusiasm for learning with opportunities for the fulfillment of their needs and interests. Each of our Montessori guides prepares an environment with materials so beautiful that they “call to the child” to come and touch. These materials, arranged in order on shelves, ARE the curriculum through which the child progresses to learn. So often the child tells us, “Let ME do it.” The materials in our environments give the child the tools and then the freedom to empower that motive.
In our highly-ordered and prepared environment, each task presented to the child offers one new isolated difficulty for the child to master. These tasks build upon one another to lead the child toward independence and confidence. The three-hour morning work cycle allows the child an uninterrupted period for self-directed concentration. The child may request a new lesson, return to practice lessons already presented, and choose their own snack time within that work cycle. Over time the child progresses toward a well-balanced use of self directed time, a work ethic, a state that Maria Montessori referred to as “Normalization”.
The work of practical life is often the first work of an entering 3-year-old. This work is designed to develop the young child’s hand, transitioning the child from the palmar grasp of toddlerhood to the 3 finger grasp of the more mature hand. Practicing skills such as pouring, spooning, opening containers, folding cloths, cleaning up spills, carrying trays, and buttoning develop the child’s attention span. All of the work of practical life evokes a sense of order, an opportunity to gain independence, and to develop concentration and coordination. Later practical life lessons encourage the child to attend to lengthier and more multi-step tasks such as polishing, clothwashing and food preparation.
The sensorial materials support the child in organizing sensorial impressions. They give the child the opportunity to practice discriminating between quiet, louder, loudest, or small, larger, largest, or light, darker, darkest. With our senses the experience IS the learning. Because of this, these sensorial materials are considered auto-educative. Once the senses have self-trained through exposure to a wide range of impressions, the guide then offers the language for labeling these impressions. Maria Montessori called the sensorium the “key to the intellect.” The richer the child’s experience of sound, touch, vision, taste, smell, and kinesthesia then the richer the child’s vocabulary and the more discretely the mind is ordered.
The language materials in our primary environments meet children at the linguistic level at which they enter St. Catherine’s Montessori School. This range includes everything from vocabulary acquisition through reading and into grammar studies. Our language rich environment is full of objects and language cards to support the child who enters still needing to develop basic vocabulary. Every lesson, whether a lesson in language, practical life, math, or geography, is given with very specific vocabulary, naming each object and action being taught. Thus, all lessons ARE language lessons. The child begins to acquire writing and reading by learning the sounds associated with each letter. Later words are built with those sounds using a moveable alphabet. Practice with this moveable alphabet over time brings the child to reading phonetic words. A further study of phonogram sounds supports the child in moving into reading fluency. The primary language work culminates with an introductory exploration of parts of speech and sentence structures.
The earliest math materials support the child in counting with one to one correspondence and learning to associate those quantities with numerals. The child then moves into work with the hierarchies of the decimal system. Using a material called The Golden Beads the child begins to grow familiar with numerals constructed of units, tens, hundreds, and thousands. It is with these unit beads, ten bars, hundred squares, and thousand cubes that the child is first introduced to the concepts of addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division.
In order to give this very young child a broad exposure to the sciences and geography, we bring the world to the child. Therefore our environments are rich with animal life, plant life, and cultural studies. At St. Catherine's Montessori School we have a great commitment to having even very young children begin to become aware of land stewardship. Our property offers ample opportunity to explore a variety of plant life and habitats. Indoors we have pets in each environment that the children take part in caring for daily. We strive to have culturally diverse populations at St. Catherine's Montessori School. The cultural studies are supported by elaborate puzzle maps of each continent and of the world.
Art and Music
At this age it is appropriate to give exposure to art media, and to perfecting the use of art tools, not training in “how-to-draw”. The child’s own developmental sequence unfolds naturally from simple to complex scribbles, into beginning and then more elaborate figurative images, finally to narrative drawings and archetypal imagery. Music appreciation begins with singing, listening, and rhythm activities. The child’s ear is exposed to a wide range of music for listening and for movement activities. Pitch is introduced with beautiful bells that the child can play to practice matching pitch and sequencing in order of the scale. Work with these bells can progress toward learning to read notes on a staff and playing simple tunes on bells.