To the young child, there is something special about tasks that adults consider ordinary, such as washing dishes or polishing shoes. These activities are exciting to children because they allow them to imitate adults and to gain independence. Dr. Montessori developed structured “practical life” exercises for the classroom to help satisfy this need for meaningful activity. For these exercises, she used objects children were familiar with in the home environment, such as buttons, brushes, and jugs, etc. Although the Practical Life exercises may seem simple and commonplace to adults, these tasks help children develop fine and gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, independence, social awareness, self-esteem, concentration, and logical thinking. They also satisfy the child’s innate desire for order, and indirectly prepare him/her for reading, writing or mathematics, laying solid foundations on which to build for the future.
A young child interprets the world through the senses. Dr. Montessori felt that early childhood was the ideal time to present materials and equipment that would enable children to identify and understand the sensory input they were experiencing. The Montessori Sensorial materials are designed to help children become aware of detail by presenting first strongly contrasting material, and then material in which the contrasts become progressively more subtle. Each of the Sensorial materials isolates one specific quality or sense such as dimension, color, weight, shape, texture, size, smell, or sound. The quality or sense being taught is emphasized by eliminating or minimizing other differences. The child learns to distinguish, categorize, and to relate the new information presented to what he/she already knows. The materials also prepare the child indirectly for mathematics and language.
A child’s understanding and use of language is crucial for all areas of his or her development. Dr. Montessori believed that language development should be constantly supported from the earliest age. The Montessori materials lay solid foundations for reading, writing, increased vocabulary, and listening skills. The Sensorial and Practical Life materials prepare the child for the use of the language materials. The phonic approach to reading and writing is used initially. Through the non-competitive and individual approach, the child gains a real enthusiasm for language in all its forms.
Dr. Montessori demonstrated that if a child has access to mathematical equipment during the early years, he or she will be able to easily and joyfully assimilate many facts and skills. She designed materials to represent all types of quantities that the child can touch, handle, and put in order. Later, by combining this equipment, sharing it, counting it, and comparing it, the child can perform the basic operations of arithmetic. This activity provides the satisfaction of learning by discovery rather than being taught. The child therefore maintains an early enthusiasm and a positive feeling for the world of numbers.
Dr. Montessori believed that through culture we become thoroughly educated. She described the cultural curriculum as a seed to be planted at an early age. As the seed sprouts and grows, the child learns to classify and clarify the world around him/herself, and to adapt to society. History, Science, Geography, Botany, Music, Movement, and Art are all covered in the cultural curriculum.
Here’s a great article we enjoyed on how Montessori prepares students for college.