A Montessori preschool class is designed in philosophy and environment to meet the needs of the preschool child. At Millhopper Montessori School we have developed and refined our preschool program over a 26 year period. Each preschool class has an age range of two years. A Montessori premise is that children learn by example from their older peers and the older students ground their knowledge by teaching their younger peers. The environment is safe and clean and scaled in size to fit the ages, sizes, and maturity of the children. The Montessori materials are the finest in teaching readiness skills and basic concepts. Concentration is developed through the area of Practical Life. Education of and through the senses are addressed in the Sensorial area, and Math, Language, Geography, and Science are abundant in the environment.
The pre school classrooms have ample space with carpeted areas and tile areas. Each child has his/her own table space, chair, and cubby for personal items. There are two bathrooms with child size sinks and toilets in each class. Two walls are lined with windows that the children can see out. Each class opens to a covered porch and yard and has direct access to the playground.
The outdoor equipment is designed to meet the needs of age’s three to seven and follows all local standards. All personnel at MMS follow the local requirements for private schools (we are not licensed as a Day Care center).
The academic program for Montessori early childhood consists of four main areas: practical life, sensorial, language, and mathematics. These four areas are designed to support children’s emotional, social, and active needs and are integrated into each other. These integrated areas are holistic in design. They encourage children to draw and validate their own conclusions by building on and extending their prior knowledge.
The language program contains reading, exposure to appropriate literature of fiction and non fiction, vocabulary and nomenclature, and handwriting.
The Montessori approach to reading is phonetic in nature. The children learn the individual sounds that accompany each letter in the alphabet in an integrated visual, auditory, and kinesthetic presentation. The three-period lesson is used in the review and the introduction of new material. In phonetic letter recognition, the three-period lesson consists of a teacher presenting a letter by tracing the symbol on textured cut out letters and saying the sound the letter represents. The child would trace the shape and repeat the sound. The first period presents, “This is.” The second period asks, “Show me the…” and requires memory recall. The third period asks, “What is this?” and is more abstract. The three-period lesson is used to introduce nomenclature in all areas of the early childhood and jr. elementary curriculum.
As soon as a child knows some of the consonants and vowels, simple three-letter words can be formed by encoding (building a word by selecting each sound). Decoding would follow (reading a word that is printed by naming each sound) The encoding process is a fundamental step in the Montessori reading program and can be accomplished by children as young as three years of age. There are students who are four and five whose developmental ability is still at the encoding stage. The curriculum is laid out in a complete scope and sequence but each child moves along the sequence at his or her own pace. By kindergarten, the children that have been in our program for a year or more are reading simple books.
Because Montessori originated in the Italian language, there is much supplementation and teacher-made materials in the classroom. We use the Phono-Graphix program in lower elementary that provides subtle differences from the Montessori training. For example, the identification of the “silent e” is identified as “vowel-consonant-e” and the concept of a “rule” such as, “When two vowels go a walking the first one does the talking” is only true 40% of the time. Phono-Graphix calls this a tendency and not a rule. We are in the process of integrating the PG in the early childhood reading program in a more comprehensive way for greater curriculum continuity.
Everything has a name and children are eager to learn the names of things. The Montessori environment provides extensive opportunities to learn nouns and adjectives through hands-on visuals such as: unit, ten, hundred and thousand, in mathematics, or Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, in geography, or corolla, pistil, stamen in the parts of a flower, or thick, thicker, thickest, in a sensorial activity.
Daily exposure to books read to the class in fiction and non fiction also enhances and extends the acquisition of vocabulary. The children in the kindergarten classes keep journals and are encouraged to write daily.
The textured letters (sandpaper letters) that the children use when learning auditory corresponding sounds is the same tool that kinesthetically enables them to learn to write. Block print is presented in preschool for the purpose of recognizing the printed word. By kindergarten, the children are presented the D’nialian technique. This is done primarily to ease them into cursive (cursive is presented in first and second grade) and secondly, to be consistent with the grade-level requirements used at other schools in Alachua County so that students who transfer will not be at a disadvantage. Handwriting exercises continue through third and fourth grade and computer keyboarding is presented at that level as well. There are no formal lessons given in handwriting beyond the fourth grade.
Mathematics and Geometry
The early preparation of the mathematical mind follows a natural and definite pattern. This, according to Montessori, is not by means of direct lessons. At first the knowledge is absorbed subconsciously until the memory traces in the subconscious (engrams) have built and organized the concepts. The important goals of the Montessori mathematics curriculum are that each student be taught at exactly the level on which he or she is performing, and that students will be both willing and able to work on their own. There are important differences between the Montessori math curriculum and other manipulative approaches. These differences are the depth and complexity of the manipulative materials, Montessori’s concept of abstraction vs. memorization, and the materials are tools for the child, not teaching aids for the teacher. The goal is for the children to learn by discovery through experience and repetition.
The early childhood mathematics curriculum overlaps the sensorial curriculum and both can begin as early as the children’s concentration is developed. The scope and sequence begins at the most basic of concepts, fixed quantities for one-to-one correspondence and expands far into elementary level concepts. According to the Sunshine State Standards, our early childhood preschool and kindergarten curriculum parallels goals set for elementary students as high as third grade.
The sensorial curriculum is an education through the senses. The materials are weighed and measured to provide exact impressions. The children learn to discriminate differences in color, shape, texture, sound, and taste. This is accomplished through activities of matching and grading.
There is an overlap of sensorial materials in all of our early childhood classes however; there is less of an emphasis in the kindergarten classes because the children have explored them thoroughly in the preschool classes. Children that come to MMS for the first time in their kindergarten year are drawn to the more basic of the sensorial materials. We allow them the time to engage in this exploration but also feel the need to direct them into the academics as soon as possible due to kindergarten curriculum standards. In the original Montessori schools, and still in many contemporary Montessori schools, a kindergartener would be allowed to pursue the basic sensorial concepts for as long as he or she desired. At MMS we decidedly direct the children into the academics but only when the teacher feels the child’s readiness is developed. Sometimes a teacher will recommend that a child remain at the kindergarten level for an additional year.
The practical life curriculum is the most important element of the Montessori early childhood program because it is the curriculum where children develop concentration, fine motor skills, and organization. The children are naturally drawn to these activities that include care of the person and care of the environment. This area of the program gets the least appreciation from today’s parents who are prone to push their children into the academic areas prematurely. Through parent education, newsletters, etc. the teachers and administration give a lot of attention to creating an understanding and appreciation of the developmental aspect of practical life.
Montessori early childhood teacher training includes instruction for classroom teachers to provide a complete music curriculum for their students. This includes music appreciation, learning about composers and various styles of music, instruments of the orchestra, rhythm activities, incorporating movement into music time, learning to sing a repertoire of songs, and performing in front of an audience.
At Millhopper Montessori School we enhance the Montessori music curriculum that each teacher brings to his or her students with a separate music teacher that rotates to each class once a week. Our music teacher plays a variety of instruments as well as teaches the children to sing by modeling perfect pitch. She leads the classes in our winter program and in our Spring Fling musical performance.
Montessori early childhood teacher training includes instruction for classroom teachers to provide a complete art curriculum for their students. This includes art appreciation, art history, learning about artists and various styles of art, exposure to various mediums, daily and weekly activities, and incorporating art into other subject areas. Opportunity for art should always be part of the classroom and not only a special event or project. The teacher’s role is to maintain the integrity of the Montessori environment; allowing the child freedom of choice with gentle guidance. Montessori students are allowed to choose art activities throughout every day. Some of the activities use standard items such as an easel and paint, colored pencils and markers, construction paper, scissors and glue and push pins that are available daily. Other activities are presented to the children as a special craft for the afternoon or as an activity to enhance a lesson in geography, etc. Many of these projects involve process art, sometimes referred to as developmental art. With process art, the art process and the pleasure of creating is emphasized over the product.
Sewing and food preparation rounds out the art curriculum. Beading, quilting, and embroidery, and activities related to food preparation, all strengthen fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and encourage creativity.
Physical Training Program
Gross and fine motor training is built into the Montessori hands-on environment. Perfecting movements and mastering one’s body in space is accomplished through the daily Montessori activities and experiences. Along with the aforementioned, we include ample time for the children to have free play on the playground equipped with a variety of apparatus for gross motor development and social interaction.
Physical Education Program
MMS is fortunate to have a partnership with the University of Florida Physical Education department where we are given a student who is working on a master’s level. These students are trained in the latest and most state-of-the-art techniques and are experienced in the use of the Sunshine State Standards. The PE curriculum includes a variety of team sports and fitness through the National and President’s Council of Physical Fitness. The students become competent in physical education literacy and develop a level of personal physical fitness promoting a physically active lifestyle.
Students begin with explorations in personal and general space using various locomotor movements, i.e., running, skipping, and galloping. The concept of self-space is reinforced in various fleeing and dodging activities. Students are introduced to the basics of throwing, catching, kicking and trapping. For each of the before mentioned skills a maximum of three skills cues are stressed. The skills are done with stationary targets and extension tasks that stress individual performance over group success. While overall fitness is improved, cardiovascular endurance is stressed daily, however, the students do not fully comprehend the connections between its benefits and participation.
The Montessori philosophy of fostering creativity is based on the premise that creativity is an expression of one’s impressions. First a child needs a multitude of impressions. The Montessori environment is rich with the education of the senses (sensorial) and gives the child continual access to activities that develop an awareness and sensitivity to visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli. Second, a child needs to have tools and supplies readily available in the environment to express his or her impressions and third, a child needs to develop fine motor skills to control the eye to hand coordination.
Dr. Montessori believed that the secret mission of the child is to create the adult and to fashion the human personality. Through the child’s natural sensitive periods of absorption, the Montessori prepared classroom environment enables the child to follow his or her inner voice and exercise his or her free will in the process of creating himself or herself. A creative program is usually seen as one where activities of art, drama, and imaginative play are treated in a scheduled format. Although MMS allows time for these components in the curriculum, the Montessori philosophy and prepared environment is creative in a more profound way.
Music, movement, drama, and art are fundamental aspects of a Montessori early childhood program.
Montessori materials are presented in a carefully prepared format and follow an exact sequence. Because the teacher initiates the presentation of new materials and because they are used in a precise way, it is important to provide opportunities during the day that allow children to explore and find new applications for the materials. The usage of the sensorial materials has evolved to allow for more extensions initiated by the child, as long as care is given to the materials while handling. Many ideas for creative extensions have been presented at Montessori conferences and are now a part of the Montessori early childhood teacher training courses.
Foreign Language (Spanish)
Children at MMS are introduced to Spanish in a fun and friendly way through songs, poems, games and pictures. These activities are a bridge to speaking new, unfamiliar words and phrases. The students are able to engage in a short conversation by expressing feelings and opinions. They are also able to greet others and exchange personal information and understand oral messages that are based on familiar themes and vocabulary.