The Montessori environment, in which each child's unique curriculum develops organically, is described as a prepared environment, a place specially made for the child's needs. Guided by the principles of Maria Montessori, the teachers create a space which nurtures the child's intellectual and emotional growth. Montessori's scientific and medical training showed that children were capable of acquiring tremendous knowledge from active, concrete experiences. She wrote, "In our schools which have an environment adapted to childrens' needs they say 'help me to do it alone.'" The teacher assists by presenting a sequence of lessons based on observations of each child. As the child grows and develops the teacher offers new opportunities for learning. Within the prepared environment are five basic areas of study:
This is where the child learns and practices skills for everyday tasks. The materials here are like ones seen in most homes (pitchers, tools, brooms, etc.), except they are all child-sized. This allows the child to do real work in the environment without needing adult assistance. Montessori believed that "education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment." The child can repeat jobs as often as he or she chooses, and from this repetition, he or she gains coordination and concentration. As progress is made the jobs are changed and the complexity of the tasks increases.
These jobs refine or enhance the individual senses. "There is nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses," Montessori wrote. The pink tower and the red rods show differences of size and length in ways that can be seen and felt. Different sounds, textures, and scents are all presented in attractive materials. The sensorial materials all offer ways for the child to classify concrete experiences.
This area features jobs which teach the individual letter sounds as the building blocks of reading and writing. Children practice tracing the sandpaper letters, they sort objects and pictures by beginning letter sounds, and they create words with the movable alphabet. The sandpaper letters and the metal insets prepare the child for the motions needed for handwriting. Throughout the room, the placement of materials, and the sequence of the materials emphasize the top to bottom, left to right sequence used in reading and writing.
"The Montessori child does not learn mathematics, s/he experiences it." The math materials give a hands on experience of quantity, size, and length. The sandpaper numerals are traced to learn the numbers' shapes, the numerical rods are segmented to show the size and quantity of each number, and the bead materials show the physical process of adding two quantities together.
Cultural (including History, Geography, and Science)
Globes, maps, and flags show the children more about the planet we share. Science experiments and experiences invite the children to explore and observe. Grace and courtesy lessons teach empathy for others, and respect for all. The Montessori classroom is a lively place where the child's joy of learning occurs daily.
Each day, after the children hang their jackets, put on their slippers and place their belongings, they gather for a meeting “on the line.” The children and teacher sit together, cross-legged on the floor, for either a group lesson or a sharing of ideas or stories. Once the children leave the “line,” they disperse into the classroom and choose work in any of the five areas of curriculum. The teacher then becomes a flexible and creative observer, noting each child’s interests and learning habits, so that he/she can address each child as a unique individual learner.
Unlike many Montessori schools, we do separate children by age. We have teachers that specialize with the two-year olds, the three-year olds, the fours, and the fives and sixes. Fifty years ago, after teaching in both one-room schoolhouses and public schools, Mrs. Ruth Datzyk opened the Datzyk School believing it more practical to group children of similar age. The various art, science and cultural activities we do are geared to groups of similarly-aged children.
The children in our school learn at their own pace in non-competitive environments, developing a strong sense of independence, self-discipline and self-confidence.