Your Montessori preschool teachers will tell you that developing fine motor skills is crucial for young children. These skills are necessary for everything from holding a spoon or fork to tying shoes, fastening buttons, and much more. As soon as your infant has mastered the ability to grasp an item she is ready to start developing fine motor skills, and learning early gives her a headstart in developing control over her muscles and manipulating items in the world around her.
A montessori preschool student has a lot to learn from piggy banks of all sorts. Placing coins in a slot is great for improving fine motor skills, for example. Start off by learning to place a single coin in a slot on top of the bank, and progress to holding multiple coins in the hand and inserting one at a time. As the skill develops, progress to a bank with a slot on the side. The same activity can be used to learn to count coins and later to count money.
Once your little one can hold a crayon, she can begin using them to draw. This develops fine motor control over the fingers and and hands, and is the first step in learning to write. While it could happen, you shouldn’t expect your infant or toddler to produce masterpiece drawings. What you will see, however, is a progressive development where random scribbles begin to take on shapes and then resemble actual items. Once a degree of control is being exhibited, move up to connect-the-dot pictures and then to drawing shapes, letters, and numbers-- in that order.
Stacking, Filling, and Dumping
Stacking blocks is a wonderful activity for developing fine motor skills, and one that is used commonly in Montessori preschools. Variations on this activity include filling a container with objects or dumping containers into other containers. Begin with large, easy to grasp objects and then reduce the object size as motor skills develop.
As motor skills develop, encourage your children to learn new activities such as using scissors, pasting objects on construction paper, and real-world activities such as fastening buttons, using zippers, and tying their own shoes. Even digging holes and planting seeds will improve coordination. Talk with the teachers at your Montessori daycare and coordinate the activities you use at home with ones which are being employed at school.
One of the defining characteristics of a Montessori pre-school or elementary school classroom is the everyday presence of hands-on, student-driven learning. This approach to education is called the Montessori method and is guided by the principles of child education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori was a researcher and educator who pioneered this method in the early 1900s and trained a generation of educators across the world in the practice. Today, there are thousands of Montessori schools in dozens of countries with millions of students and passionate adherents to the concept of learning by doing.
Experiential learning and the prepared environment
The concept of experiential learning, or learning by doing, in itself is not unique to the Montessori method. Many educators understand the value of a learning process that starts with a tangible experience, provides space for reflection on that experience, encourages the conceptualization of those reflections into an individual’s knowledge framework, and then allows for testing of those concepts in further concrete experiences. This cyclical learning process, however, finds a uniquely nurturing medium in the prepared environment of the Montessori classroom. The foundation of the Montessori method is the prepared environment, which is the physical space of the classroom that is designed with student-driven experiential learning at its core: learning tools are available and accessible to motivate students' engagement, furniture and items needed to manipulate the environment are engineered for students’ cognitive and physical developmental stage, and teachers are observers who offer guidance in learning with minimal disruption to a student’s experimentation.
Self-teaching and love of learning
Learning by doing in a Montessori elementary school classroom has two valuable outcomes: skills in self-teaching and a love of learning. These outcomes are part of the larger goal of Montessori education to teach the whole child with the aim of growing into a self-aware, capable adult. The independence and agency students gain in their learning process comes from the confidence and efficacy they develop in an unfettered experiential learning program. Unlike in traditional classrooms where external factors direct the content of learning, the pace and ways of engaging that content, and the measurement of mastery of that content, Montessori classrooms recognize that a student’s innate curiosity and drive to understand and contribute to the world around them is the most authentic, enduring, and ultimately empowering, way to learn.
The Montessori Method extends far beyond your child’s Montessori preschool. It is more of a way of life than an educational program, including waking habits, sleep routines, and everything in your children’s daily routine. Sleep is crucial to proper development, and these tips will help your child learn and grow in a holistically healthy manner.
A Consistent Routine
Just as Montessori preschool students take naps at the same time every day, your child should have a regular sleep routine at home as well. You do not have to follow the same routine as your friends and neighbors, but it is crucial that the routine you set is followed regularly so your child knows when it is time to sleep and accept bedtime as a matter of course.
A Child’s Environment
You have your own bed for resting, and so should your child. A child-sized bed promotes a feeling of comfort and safety and reminds the children that even when little they have their own special places. Make the bed easily accessible so your child can get in and out of it without your assistance to promote a sense of personal accomplishment and empowerment.
Promote Freedom of Movement
Even an infant can benefit from her sleeping space by placing her mattress on the floor and eliminating confining cribs or railings. When she is able to get in and out of bed or crawl around on it to find the most comfortable spot or position, she learns that she has control over her environment and the freedom to be where and how she wants.
Patience and Persistence
Be patient as your little one adjusts her own sleep space. You may find yourself having to place her back in bed after she falls asleep on the floor, for example. But be persistent, knowing that every morning when she wakes up on her floor bed she is one night closer to understanding the purpose of the bed why she belongs there during the night. Children learn by doing, and your patience will help her learn faster and without fuss.
Not every child will adapt to a floor bed right away, but with your help they will get the idea and acceptant the routine fairly quickly. As with other aspects of the Montessori Method, avoid showing displeasure when crawls out of bed, yet praise her when she willingly lays down for a nap.
Music education is often thought of as an extracurricular activity with isolated educational objectives and outcomes. But within Montessori schools, even as early as Montessori preschool, music education is held in the same esteem as the other elements of the classroom curriculum.
Music as a learning tool
The founder of this unique method of education, Dr. Maria Montessori, held several key beliefs about children and their capacity to learn based on her years of experience and research as an educator. Montessori felt that children have an innate curiosity and the ability to self-educate that, given the right environment and guidance, develops into independence, confidence, and a love of learning. Montessori saw music as yet another valuable tool in cultivating these characteristics and the Montessori method of education sees the potential in every child to learn, create, and express themselves through music.
The benefits of music education
As any musician will tell you, music education integrates and reinforces many academic subject areas, including mathematics, anatomy, physics, history, anthropology, and even the study of languages. Additionally, there are the social-emotional skills which music education cultivates such as engaging in a creative process and working with a group to create a harmonious collective outcome. Unfortunately, many traditional schools choose not to or aren’t able to support a robust music education program and children are left to discover and refine their innate musical capabilities outside of the shared space of the classroom and on their own time, if they have the opportunity to do so at all.
The Montessori method and music education
Within Montessori elementary schools, music education is woven into the school day and is approached in the same way as the other subject areas. Children are encouraged to choose how they want to engage with music and teach themselves, learn from peers, and receive guidance from a music specialist (who is often someone other than their Montessori teacher). The curriculum focuses on music literacy, singing, movement, listening, and the playing of instruments. Ear training is introduced early on in the Montessori Primary program through the standard classroom tool Montessori bells. For children in the first stage of their music education they will learn in a group setting with their usual mixed-age peers, while students who have progressed in their music education will have opportunities for private lessons with practice time incorporated into their classroom schedule.
Children as young as infants are able to start picking up important math concepts that will follow them through life. Not only are early math concepts taught in Montessori daycare and preschool, but they can also easily be applied to daily household activities. Using a hands-on approach to education makes it easier for kids to pick up these skills, and it may surprise you how quickly your children take them to heart.
The ability to count usually precedes the ability to recognize numerals, beginning even before your child attends a Montessori daycare. Counting begins in infancy, typically with counting fingers or toes, and progresses to the ability to count other objects. Since the earliest counting process uses a predetermined group of items such as fingers, the concept of grouping and sets are included in the process by default. In its simplest form, the basic set is a hand containing 5 fingers.
You can begin teaching children to recognize numerals even before they are able to talk. By the time they are in preschool, most children will have a good idea what the numerals for 2 and 3 look like, and will probably be ready to pick basic numbers from 1 to 9 out of a group of numerals.
More and Less
As children learn to identify their numerals they will also be able to pick up concepts such as more and less even if they aren’t yet able to count the number of items in a set. A group of three toy trucks is more than 1 toy truck, for example, and taking one of the truck out of the set means there are less than there were. This type of association is a good introduction to simple addition and subtraction, and an excellent way for children to compare sets of similar items.
After mastering the basic math concepts, children are ready to start exploring the complexities of math such as adding and subtracting items, dividing a set into equal parts (and recognizing when there is a remainder), and even learning the rudiments of multiplication by adding sets together. Introducing these concepts begins in your Montessori preschool and kindergarten, but the basic concepts they need for learning them starts within days or weeks of being born.
Attending Montessori preschool is an excellent head start, but the best way to help your children is to take a proactive role in their education. Giving him the opportunity t get outside and get his hands dirty is more than educational, it also has health benefits for his mind and body.
Provide the Right Environment
Your Montessori preschool makes good use of outdoor time, and so should you. Providing kids with a safe and interesting outside space encourages healthy activities like running, stretching and grasping. A lawn, for example, is filled with discoveries for the young mind but it must be free of trash, debris, and sharp objects. With supervision, cleaning up the lawn can be the activity they need and also gives them a sense of purpose-- and accomplishment as well.
Play Based Learning
Giving your child a small gardening space is an excellent incentive. Planting seeds and nurturing plants as they grow is both educational and builds self-esteem as children watch the result their activities grow, blossom and produce edible results. Gardening for children can be as simple as a pot or two filled with soil or as complex as a miniature vegetable garden with several different types of plants like squash, beans, and watermelon.
Even infants can benefit from time outdoors. Spread a blanket in the yard or at the beach and allow your baby to crawl about and discover new things. Keep in mind that little children are new to every experience and eager to try new things. Research indicates that our brains are naturally inclined for outdoor activity, so provide ample opportunity for it to take place. Physical activity is the primary goal and exploration is the bait which encourages it.
By giving young children the chance to explore and investigate, you encourage them to broaden their horizons, take on new roles and responsibilities, and learn about a myriad of things in their own way and at their own pace. Outside activity is fundamental to the human body and mind, so make it a practice to offer outdoor stimuli which boosts his personal potential.
At the heart of the Montessori philosophy is respect for the child, which has profound implications for the way children are taught in a classroom. In a Montessori Pre-school, this translates into the understanding and support of children’s developmental stages, versatile curriculum throughout their elementary school career, and a more hands-off role for the teachers, all of which encourage children to learn at their own pace.
Support of developmental stages
In Dr. Maria Montessori’s research and experience in education, she developed* the concept of developmental planes, a timeframe in which children are more apt to adopt certain behaviors and learn specific skills. Instead of thinking of development as linear and universal, Montessori’s concept of developmental planes posits that the path to mastery and access to the next plane is particular to each child, and supporting that child in their path is the most natural and effective way for them to learn. She observed that these stages of development span several years and for this reason, Montessori schools are organized into mixed-age groups that share the same developmental plane. Children have the opportunity to explore in the same classroom for three years, allowing them to pursue their interests and develop their skills at their own pace.
The three Montessori elementary school programs are the primary (3-6 year olds), lower (6-9 year olds), and upper (9-12 year olds) programs. Each program offers a different approach to curriculum, but all offer flexibility and diverse ways to approach the topics. In the primary program curriculum, children acquire knowledge through exploration and hands-on practice in practical life skills, sensorial, math, language, and cultural studies. For the lower program curriculum, children are introduced to the Five Great Lessons: the story of the universe, the timeline of life, the story of language, the story of numbers, and the timeline of civilization. As children move into the upper program curriculum, they will focus on research projects and group work of their choosing that deepens their knowledge and understanding of the subjects they’ve explored in the previous programs, letting their innate curiosity and love of learning guide the way.
Teachers as observers
Lastly and importantly, Montessori teachers are positioned in the classroom as observers and guides. Due to the intentional design of the prepared environment and the emphasis on self-directed learning, teachers do not have to uniformly govern a classroom full of children with diverse interest, skills, and needs. Instead they can observe the child as they explore, question, and engage subjects and encourage them to own their learning process, while offering support and their presence as a resource.