Young children are attracted to activities that foster independence and establish mastery over their environment. Activities focus on strategies for work, care of self and environment, and for participation in social life. Using child-sized materials, the children perform many types of household activities and simple dressing exercises: button, snap, tie, and zip, sweep, pour, polish, sew, carry water, and wash the table. Children gain satisfaction as they become independent in caring for themselves and their environment. These sequential activities help children develop purposeful activity, increase their concentration, perfect their coordination, movement and attention to detail, foster a sense of personal and social responsibility, and help them establish good working habits. They lay the foundation for more intricate future academic activities.
Materials offer the child varied opportunities to refine observation skills, perceptual discrimination, and judgment. Materials focused on the qualities of objects encourage the child to cultivate specific perceptual awareness (visual, tactile, kinesthetic, gustatory, olfactory, and auditory) and explore relationships in size, color, shape, and texture. Through activities that involve sorting, matching, grading, and construction, the child gains physical experience of certain concepts that are prerequisite to mathematical understanding, such as class inclusion, recognition of patterns, global and serial ordering, and one-to-one correspondence.
Language development is supported through the child's expansion of vocabulary and organization of thought in the meaningful context provided by all curriculum areas. Activities in language arts encourage listening, speaking, and graphic expression, then build on the child's own development to introduce more formal levels of language: encoding (writing) and decoding (reading). Our language program is “whole,” in the sense that the awareness and exercise of language permeate all activities, from the oral reading of good literature to dramatic play – with the added strength of materials that present an organized approach to the development of phonics skills. A phonetic approach to reading begins with sandpaper letters that children use to hear the sound, see the shape, and trace the letters, training the muscles needed for writing. Children continue to explore their fascination for words by using the Moveable Alphabet exercise to construct words, phrases, sentences, and stories. Through storytelling, conversation, and many other exercises, the child's vocabulary grows. These activities prepare a child to write.
The Montessori mathematics materials enable children to understand basic concepts through concrete exploration that lead to an understanding of abstract concepts. Math is taught by first introducing the quantity, then the symbol, and finally the symbol and quantity together. By tracing sandpaper numbers, the child begins to recognize the shapes and names of the numbers. A variety of beads and symbol cards familiarize the child with the decimal system, including concrete experiences with the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. After learning concrete mathematical concepts through the use of manipulative materials, the child is prepared to work with more abstract concepts such as fractions, key elements of geometry and algebra, and problem solving on paper.
Dr. Montessori observed that children eagerly absorb many difficult concepts if they are presented in concrete form using manipulative materials. In Culture, children are introduced to history, geography, science (biology, botany, and geology), art, and music. Cultural studies present experiences designed to foster a basic understanding and appreciation of human cultures. Many such experiences are presented through a project approach that integrates activities around a central theme and assists children in exploring ideas of who people are and what they need (history), how they interact with their environment (geography), how they express themselves (fine arts), and how they observe and think about things (science). In Montessori classrooms, fractions can be isolated and held by a child, water can be poured around an “island”, or flags from different cultures can be made. The experiences with Montessori materials make concepts tangible and serve as touchstones in the child's memory for years to come.