Although each Montessori environment is special and unique, they do resemble one another with respect to how the environment is arranged. Every Montessori preschool classroom is divided into the five main Montessori subject areas: Practical Life, Sensorial Development, Language, Mathematics and Culture. Additionally, we have an art room and outdoor classroom and play area.
Practical Life / Life Skills
This area of Montessori teaching focuses on giving the child the ability and independence to carry out every day tasks successfully on their own. This includes but is not limited to pouring, buttoning, zips, hair brushing, sorting (cutlery, shells, socks), cutting with scissors, cutting with a knife, washing up, doing up shoes and many, many more activities. These exercises are enjoyable tasks based on day to day activities in the home. These activities promote independence, hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills. It is through these exercises that your child will develop concentration and manual dexterity as indirect preparation for writing.
As the name suggest, the sensorial area focuses on the development of the senses. Children will begin to understand length, width, height, breadth, texture, colour, sounds, weight and many other variations through the sensorial activities.
Children begin to learn maths through the Sensorial equipment where they learn to grade through visual discrimination but once their interest in numbers is apparent then they are introduced to the maths curriculum to broaden their language and ability is developed from simple to more complex activities. Children will learn quantities first in concrete form and only once the concept has been grasped will they learn through the abstract form. After learning to recognise and trace through using sandpaper numbers and one to one correlation when counting, the concept of zero is introduced, and counting is further reinforced through counting activities leading on to addition, subtraction sums.
When a child is ready they will be introduced to the sandpaper letters and the phonic sounds of the alphabet. After this they will begin to build 3 letter phonetic words using the large moveable alphabet which develops the childs ability to segment sounds of a word eg "p - i - g" and then blend them to sounds out "pig". Other activities are promoted alongside such as I-spy, alphabet cards and working with peers.
Children are learning about the world around them everyday and the activities within Montessori's Cultural section allow children to explore the wider world. They will learn about land, air and water, continents, clouds, life cycles of animals and plants, different cultures and their celebrations and many more. As well as this we celebrate each child's 4th birthday with a special Timeline to which parents are invited.
We recognise that Britain is an increasingly multi-cultural society, although successive governments have emphasised the central beliefs of the population as being Christian in nature. At Monique's we undertake celebration of Christmas and Easter, these being the two major events in the Christian calendar marked both by celebrations across the country and by formal holidays. A Christmas nativity is presented every year, followed by an exhibition of children’s dance and song. The event culminating in the arrival of Father Christmas and the distribution of presents to all the children.
We also feel very strongly that children should learn to understand, appreciate and respect other people’s religious beliefs and festivals. There is such a broad range of beliefs and religions across the world that it is not easy to incorporate all their festivals. At our six monthly curriculum meeting we decide which festivals we will celebrate over the coming six months. This decision is made with regard to the beliefs and religions followed by the families of children attending the nursery, and those of the staff. This presents opportunities for peer teaching and learning and for parents to become involved if they wish.
We conducted an action research project to develop the art room, conducting surveys amongst children, parents and staff. Careful observations were carried out to determine why the art room wasn't being used by the children : most children thought the activities were too easy !
Before the project we found that only 35 children a month were using the artroom which was set up in the style of other non-montessori pre-schools. Observations found that the children lacked creativity and copied each other.
Researching art educationalists it was found that art is the only subject in which most adults do not progress beyond the age of 9. Further research found that art has its own set of skills - creativity and free thinking being amongst them. The children had a big input into the creation of the art room, suggesting putting in plants and pictures. The paintings displayed in the art room were chosen by the children and staff. One little boy who wanted to draw a rabbit but didn't know how, taught us that we needed to model the art activities in the same way that Montessori advocated.
We looked at the ideas of Vygotsky introducing scaffolding to challenge children who needed to take the next step in their artwork. Dewey advocated that children should be encouraged to use the correct colours for fruits, birds and animals and whenever possible the chiuldren refer to real items of pictures to determine what colours they should use.
We then set up the art room using the ideas of Montessori to create an airy, aesthetic and spacious airy room which allowed the children to explore their visual and tactile senses. The individual activities are presented on trays on the shelves so that they do not become cluttered and are readily seen and replaced after use.
After the research there were 129 visits to the art room a month and it continues to be a busy and popular area of the nursery !
Outdoor Classroom and play area
An action research study was carried out to examine how different activities in an outside play area affects the children’s level of engagement. The children have free flow access to a garden area throughout the morning and from observations prior to the start of the study it was found that the children undertook numerous activities without engaging in any particular one for a sustained period of time. This would indicate that the activity was either not challenging enough or not stimulating sufficient interest. The question was whether changing the outdoor activities affects the children’s level of engagement in the outdoor setting.
Observations were made on ten children and the number of activities the children did whilst outside was recorded. By implementing a more challenging and stimulating environment it was anticipated that the child would spend sustained period of time doing fewer selected activities.
Results of comparison from pre and post study data showed that the children were much more engaged in activities that were of a construction type and open-ended. Significantly, the staff’s role was crucial in modelling how to use the equipment. This was evident after the introduction of the new equipment which was modelled by staff as the children watched and it was then left to copy if they wished. This then led to the ripple effect as older children interacted with each other or watched and then demonstrated the technique to younger ones. This also led to a greater sense of involvement by teachers.
The best activities were those that lent themselves to more than one use in play. From the observations it was found that the open-ended construction activities enabled the children to have greater scope for creativity and social activity. Having a large number of flat wooden triangles meant that larger and more complex designs could be made which gave rise to sustained focus. It also meant that other children can be involved, either working alongside each other or cooperating and contributing. For example, the triangles could be slotted together to make squares, tessellate as triangles, be made into large scale patterns, stood up as dominos and made into snakes and dragons or stepping stones. The log slices could be made into stepping stones or a path or decorated with flowers and leaves, as a seat, rolled, or the split halves fitted together.
The children now have a greater opportunity to explore and discover in the garden. As well as developing gross motor skills in physical activities such as climbing in the fort, they also develop social and language skills when working together such as when making large scale designs, patterns and obstacle courses using the planks, posts and car tyres. The children are encouraged to problem solve and extend an activity according to their age and ability. Other activities include such as experimenting with sinking and floating, friction, gardening and those involving nature with all the different plants and minibeasts that can be found. Following on from our flower project last year, the children have been interested in the different butterflies, birds and insects. Minibeast "hotels" are being developed in several areas of the garden and the children are ensuring that the plants are kept watered to ensure that we have plenty of flowers in the garden.