Children are curious creatures. From a three year olds constant “whys?” to a twelve year olds wanting to understand fairness and justice they ask questions and seek information on everything! We are very proud of the way our students learn to read so young and so well but the real beauty of Montessori education lies in the exposure our children get to all the wonders of the world. Art, music, literature, science, history, math and fun are all integrated into the curriculum so that each offers the child a way to explore information and build a strong framework for understanding.
In the preschool classes children begin this exploration from day one in practical life. Here they explore with solids and liquids. They sort and categorize. They create pictures and find out about color mixing. They carry work and realize that gravity is always at work even though they didn’t mean to drop the beans. Of course, at this level, the concepts are taken for granted rather than labeled and “studied” but this foundation gives the child a real life experience to base later understanding and exploration on.
As the children move into the sensorial area they explore size and the relative gradations of sound, texture, weight, and color. Still without any formal lessons the children understand that everything they see, hear or touch can be categorized and this understanding opens the doorway to formal study and analysis of information. All of these early, unconscious, realizations are what help the child develop mental powers that will support him or her throughout life.
Memorizing facts or dates does not build an educated adult but having a network or framework in the mind that allows the child to constantly integrate new experiences into this ever-growing web of understanding is critical to intelligence. Montessori curriculum has been called an integrated spiral curve of learning. “Old” materials keep reappearing at later stages of development with an ever-increasing complexity. The child who learns to pour water without spilling it in practical life is prepared to pour water from a graduated cylinder in science class in fifth grade. The child who has held a cylinder and a cube in his or hand in sensorial has a mental image to refer to in later geometry lessons. This same child understands a hemisphere in geography because he or she has held a whole sphere! Learning about light and how it is bent and refracted comes easily to a child who has sorted minor gradations of color in Color Box III.
As children get older parents sometimes wonder, “But when do they learn to add without beads?” It is important to realize HOW children move to abstract thinking to answer that question. At some point a wise teacher or parent will notice that the child takes out materials but starts to skip steps and arrives at an answer without completing the work with the materials. This tells you that child is moving to abstraction. Because the child has had so much experience with concrete material he or she is ready to visualize, rather than do, the next few steps mentally. Without the early hands-on experiences a child can only memorize but with a firm foundation in the concrete the child can understand!
So Montessori classrooms are full of beads and puzzle maps and magnet games and labeling activities. Children move and carry and manipulate because they learn best with their hands and bodies. Real experiences build mental images. The human brain is wired to make sense of all these stimuli and Montessori children have the freedom of constant access to the concrete to support them until the mental images are strong enough to exist on their own. Montessori children are always comparing and sorting ideas in their minds and teaching is a reward in itself whenever you hear a child say. “Oh! I get it.”