At HPMS, we have two fully equipped Montessori Children's Houses, each providing twenty children with all the materials needed to inspire learning and independence. Children's choices are self-directed, with the only criteria being a presentation of individual materials by the teacher. This self-direction lends itself to eager and early learning. The children work individually and with friends. Our teachers are trained observers, noting each child's readiness for new presentations of materials and activities, offering help, direction, and emotional support as needed. The morning typically ends with a collective activity, such as reading, singing, group presentations, or outdoor time.
The Prepared Environment
Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work. Characteristics of the prepared environment include:
Beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.
Children are given freedom to work and move around within suitable guidelines that enable them to act as part of a social group
Children are provided with specifically designed materials which help them to explore their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills.
Children are part of a mixed age group (3-6) that encourages all children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace.
During the morning and afternoon Montessori sessions, children choose work from five areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Culture. At the end of a session, the children gather for "circle time" to share and learn new songs and stories, talk in turn about their day, and receive group lessons from the teacher. Once each month, the children take part in show-and-tell.
GEOGRAPHY & CULTURE
Practical: basic, useful, purposeful Life: the way of living
The Exercises of Practical Life are just that, purposeful activities of everyday living: those essential simple ordinary tasks that we do as adults to prepare, maintain, restore, and beautify our environments, such as washing, sweeping, cooking, cleaning and so forth. Adults perform the work of practical life for the outer result: making the floor clean, having a meal ready, or mending a sock. For the child, these exercises serve a more personal, developmental function.
Practical Life activities such as pouring, preparing food, arranging flowers, and sewing aid the young child's emerging independence in caring for his or herself and the environment. These activities help develop coordinated movement and concentration, and they lay the foundation for all future work.
Children can see rectangles in cupboard doors, circles in plates, squares in picture frames, and trapezoids in lampshades. The sensorial work available in the Montessori environment connects to the impressions the children form in their lives outside of the classroom. One keen aspect of the sensorial materials is the isolation of a property. For example, the red rods are identical among themselves in all respects except the variable quality of length, thus bringing it to the forefront: a physical property is highlighted while everything else remains constant. This helps the child to focus on that one aspect. The sensorial materials provide a means for the child to explore their senses of sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, kinesthetic and stereognostic (combination of kinesthetic and tactile). The education of the senses is practical and necessary to carrying out one’s daily pursuits, and prepares the child for living and enjoying work in science, art, language, and mathematics.
Each classroom offers a rich language environment with ample opportunities for the children to explore and deepen their spoken language, vocabulary enrichment, and language appreciation. A phonetic approach to writing and reading is offered as they are in a sensitive period for language acquisition. The children play word games, sing songs, learn poetry, rhymes and riddles. They listen to and write their own stories. We offer the child examples of proper language to use in social situations that come up naturally in the course of the day, such as how to communicate a need, a feeling, and a request.
Children love working with the sandpaper letters — such a simple material gives the child a profound experience in learning the sound, touch, and shape of the letters of the alphabet. The child matches the sound with the symbol first.
Later, the child will connect these symbols to form words using the movable alphabet. The child is “writing” without a pencil, and so the mechanical act of learning penmanship is separated from learning the sounds of the letters. Work with the metal insets, the chalkboard, and tracing letters and numbers with a pencil gives the child much practice in the mechanics of handwriting, in both print and cursive. Writing words with the movable alphabet eventually turns to reading those same words.
Beginning reading activities, such as matching phonetic words to objects, are fun and plentiful: reading and placing phonetic labels on objects in the classroom, rhyming games, short sentence reading and reading phonetic books. From there the child learns phonograms (oo, sh, ch, oy, and more), again through movement and language games. The child is learning to read! Self-expression through story telling, story writing, art, music, dance and acting out sentences is an integral part of the child’s experience at HPMS.
Mathematics is made tangible for the child through the senses and movement. At age three, the child’s mathematical mind is concrete and, with time and experience, her understanding passes into abstraction. The idea is for the child to “experience” mathematics. To understand with her senses and whole body movement what it means to add, to take away (subtraction), to add the same number many times (multiplication) and to share evenly among friends (division). The child holds and manipulates quantities, walks with the rod of five, counts the beads of the ten bar with the touch of her fingertips, exchanges squares of hundreds for cubes of thousands. She plays games with her friends in remembering a quantity and bringing objects to show for it. Because the child is working with concrete objects alongside the numerical symbol, quantity and its symbol unite and the child understands, for example, what “100” really means.
In all this work is the underlying respect for each child’s time in understanding mathematical concepts. To move from concrete to abstract thought is within the child’s own timetable. She cannot be pushed. The child is given the freedom to work with a piece of material as often and for as long as she likes.
Through cultural activities in music, geography, science, and art, children connect to the larger world. World languages and cultures are introduced, and the children celebrate special days from around the world throughout the year.
Art and music are a means of expression. Opportunities for art and music are always a part of the classroom environment and not a special event. The children learn many songs to sing and how to sing together. They also learn how to play the bells, zither and percussion instruments. Artistic expression helps the child to develop art appreciation, eye/hand coordination, and techniques in handling tools. For the young child, creating art is more about the process than the product.
THE NATURAL WORLD
Connecting to nature is vital for the young child. Activities such as gardening, hatching butterflies, taking care of classroom pets, and starting seeds foster a love of the environment, as well as allowing children to exercise responsibility. In our playground, the children enjoy large motor activities such as biking, swinging, climbing, outdoor games, gardening, raking, and shoveling.
Fran Ouellette has been teaching monthly creative movement classes for HPMS Children's Houses since 1998. Creative movement is non-competitive, whole-body movement that helps develop the child's body, mind, and spirit. Creative movement safely builds physical strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, vascular health and rhythmic awareness. Children learn spatial and body awareness, and how to move safely with others. They also learn how to use their own ideas, as well as specific locomotor steps such as galloping, skipping and leaping. Imagination is encouraged along with listening skills and following directions. These activities help to build self-confidence and skills in leadership, cooperation and respect for individual differences.