“If the work of man on the earth is related to his spirit, to his creative intelligence, then his spirit and his intelligence must be the fulcrum of his existence, and of all the workings of his body. –The whole man develops within a kind of spiritual halo.” (Montessori, Absorbent Mind, 61).
Peaking inside our Montessori Pre-K room, you will typically see our 3-5 year old children moving about with intention—carrying trays with pouring work, such as, “Preparation of the Cruets”, measuring and trimming flowers to fit a vase, chatting with a friend while sewing a geometric shape, rolling out a work rug in preparation for sensorial exploration with a botany puzzle tray or a world continent map, or setting up small altar articles from their sacristy cabinet. At certain tables, one child might be sitting quietly, concentrating on fitting knobbed cylinders into correctly shaped receptors, while another child is independently laying out and building up a 3D trinomial arithmetic cube. At yet another table, a child may be learning cursive letter forms while matching objects with the correct beginning letter sound. A small group of children may be quietly working with rugs in the math corner using golden bead material as a “bank game” not yet aware they are familiarizing themselves with placement value and exchanging.
Dr. Maria Montessori—the genius behind this educational approach—was one of the first women doctors in Italian history. She was a distinguished scientist, pedagogical expert in child psychology, lecturer in education and hygiene, and first class medical official of the Italian Red Cross. In 1906, upon invitation to apply her medical, child psychology, and child development expertise, Dr. Montessori opened her first “Casa dei Bambini” (Children’s House) in San Lorenzo, Rome, Italy—establishing the first ever “Montessori school” and revolutionizing education across the globe.
Respecting the developmental needs of children, especially the freedom to learn and practice independence, as well as to foster spiritual well-being, is the omnipresent theme running through all fully functioning Montessori rooms.
As such, our Montessori Pre-K accommodates all needs and pace levels with developmentally appropriate curricula based on “sensitive periods”—a quintessential Montessori term referring to the vulnerable, essential, and time-sensitive moments when a child is ripe for learning. An accessible, attractive environment supports the children’s “Absorbent Plane of Development”. Absorbent mind refers to the 0-6 year old child’s ability to take in sensorial impressions from the environment by simply existing within that environment— absorbing the environment and learning despite not being informed. This absorbent capacity aids the child during the sensitive periods.
The teacher “Follows the Child” with lessons that align naturally with each student’s ability and readiness—giving only enough information to present the most salient and singular concept and leaving the most important discoveries for the child to make independently. Concepts graduate sequentially along with the child’s personal progressions from easy to complex.
Montessori materials are multi-sensory and manipulative in nature, created with the importance of the young child’s sensitive period for order and exactness. Montessori believed that manipulating objects builds pathways of cognition as the mind remembers the feel and movements associated with materials. During free choice “work cycles”, materials, once presented, can be freely accessed by the children for independent follow-up practice and exploration.
In our class, as in all Montessori settings, the fundamental task for a young child is to develop his or her intellect and freedom. It is the teacher’s task to guide with limited intervention so as to enable children to discover the world while unlocking their individual abilities.
Author: Kellie Young, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher