I want to learn more about the Montessori concept, so I ordered a few books books to check out from half.com.
"How to raise an amazing child the montessori way" by Tim Seldin
"Teaching Motessori at Home: The Pre School Years" by Elizabeth G. Hainstock & Lee Havis
I also found this interesting description of Montessori materials on facebook.
The practical life exercises are the first contact the child has with the Montessori environment. They have been planned in such a way that the child will gain a control of his environment through language and motor control as he progresses in the exercises. Motor control is accomplished through coordination of both the large and small muscles and also hand-eye coordination. The child develops a sense of dignity and independence. He/She is able to control the environment and at the same time is being prepared for later skills, such as writing.
Movement and activity are inherent in all the exercises. The child learns through movement “The hand is the instrument of the mind” (Dr. Maria Montessori). The child learns faster when he is able to actively participate. This activity also holds the child’s attention, provides motivation for the exercise itself, actually calms and satisfies the child's inner needs. Mental and physical stimulation presented together seem to refresh the child rather than fatigue him. The child will want to finish what he has started.
The Practical Life exercise are most important. They not only teach the child the direct skills, but also indirectly prepare him for all of his life's work, even the type of individual he will become. Practical life is the beginning, and all projects that are to succeed must have a strong foundation. Practical Life is a foundation for a life as an independent and satisfied individual.
All children love to touch things and explore their environment. They are constantly prying and poking and investigating. Children are attracted to these stimuli for themselves, not for the reasons for things. Montessori noted this and recognized the need for something more that just the education of the intellect in the classroom
The child is gathering up perceptions from his environment constantly. Montessori strove to refine or build up their powers by educating the senses themselves. All that is to become an idea, and abstraction, first sprang from a touch, or a smell or some physical contact. The stimuli are first perceived by the senses, which activate the nerves which send the impression to the brain. The intellect, through the senses, creates abstract ideas.
Montessori sought to train or exercise the senses through the use of specially designed sensorial equipment. This equipment she terms "didactic', which means educative, or that which educates. Hence, it is the material that does the teaching through the child's manipulation of it. This "auto-education", learning though movement of the materials, is a basic concept of sense training. The materials appeal to the child when presented, but are also designed to function as a basis for future work. It is the job of the sensorial materials to gradually increase the child's ability to perceive things in a more refined and ordered way. The exercises are graded so that the child can perceive first strong contrasts and are gradually refined to finer and more delicate differences. The child is provided with an opportunity to repeat these exercises as often as he wishes for repetition is what builds and exercise the senses.
The journey of Mathematics starts with concrete materials that lead to abstract understandings. Montessori Math materials provide many opportunities to experience number as quantity and measurement. Counting shells, objects and rods of graduating lengths gives the child a sensorial "feel' for numerical properties. Sandpaper numerals are presented for the child to trace and form a "muscle memory" for later writing of that numeral. When the child has mastered the concepts of `1-9, the decimal system can be introduced concretely by use of the golden bead material. Beautiful, hand made glass beads represent units, tens , hundreds and thousands. The child can construct 4 digit numbers using these materials in the Bank Game. They build quantities and match the symbols (numerals) to them. We do not expect children of this age to be proficient in 4 digit numbers, that is not the goal of these exercises. It is to form a foundation for future learning. Anything experienced concretely at this age will stay with your child. When they are in third or fourth grade and these concepts are presented in a abstract way, this early contact will be recollected and lead to mastery.
Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division are also introduced in a concrete manner. The child can experience the action of these processes e.g. addition is putting things together, subtraction, taking things away. In like manner, fractions are handled and understood. Long and short bead chains are counted introducing skip counting, preparation for multiplication. These chains are based on the square and cube of numbers, indirectly preparing them for future learning. Math in a Montessori classroom is dynamic and enjoyable, a first choice of many of the students.
Language is an ongoing acquisition in a Montessori classroom. Since the earliest Practical Life and Sensorial activities things have been named and identified. Comparatives and Superlatives e.g. big, bigger, biggest are integrated into these activities. In the science and Geography materials animals, countries, land forms, water forms, insect, plants, parts of trees, leaves and flowers have been discussed. Children learn the names of shapes, parallelogram, rhombus, pentagon, curvilinear triangle, all with hands on experience with these shapes. Children love language, English as well as other languages are easily assimilated at this age. Exposure to the diversity of life around us is part of the curriculum.
Reading begins early by tracing sandpaper letter and learning the phonetic sound of these letters. Children can handle objects that begin with these sounds. Reading starts out much more abstract that Math, but it involves a finite number of sounds to experience and memorize. Once these have been mastered a child can begin to build words with the moveable alphabet. This is more of a phonetic spelling activity than reading. By repeated experience with this sounding out of words, the child comes to the spontaneous discovery one day that this arrangement of symbols has meaning c-a-t translates into cat, the child has taught herself how to read. Now they begin to sound out all words around them, on signs, cereal boxes, anywhere. This "explosion" into reading is the culmination of all the language experiences. Since English is not a truly phonetic language we then present the "exceptions" such as the, ch, sh. The child now has the skills to attack any new words they come upon. This is one of the advantages of a phonetic approach to reading.
Story writing and creative expressions are encouraged. Spelling is not corrected in the beginning of these activities. It is more important that the idea be expressed. Later, corrections can be made when the child has experienced success.
Geography and Science Materials
Montessori presents the world to the child. We start with the globe of land and water. The areas of land are called the continents. The areas of water are the oceans. Then each land and water area is explored. Puzzle maps of each continent are available. Children love puzzles. As they work with them, the names of the continents are used, later the names of the countries are also introduced. It depends on the interest of the child. Folders of pictures representative of life in each continent are available. Parents and other presenters come into the classroom to talk about other countries, show slides, make food, teach songs, dress in native garments. We live in a global society. All children should be exposed at an early age to all races and ethnic cultures. This promotes understanding and peace.
The science material begins with the natural world around us. Animals, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians are compared and contrasted. Children look at different biomes of the world. Parts of plants, leaves and flowers are presented in puzzle form. Real specimens are taken apart and studied. The world of nature fascinates children. We teach respect for and care of all living things. Other science experiments and experiences are introduced. Magnets, Light, Color, Physical Properties are explored with hands-on open ended activities.