- Practical Life
- Sensorial Activities
- Oral Language
- Writing and Reading
- Grammar and Word Study
- Physical Education
- Learning Specialist Services
PRACTICAL LIFE During the Primary years, children engage in a wide range of Practical Life (or Daily Living) activities. Activities involve many exercises to refine their fine-motor coordination. They consist of exercises in care of the child’s own person, exercises in care of the environment (both indoors and out), exercises in social etiquette known as “grace and courtesy,” and exercises to develop equilibrium and control of movement. The latter exercises include carrying and balancing objects, walking heel to toe on a line, and learning to sit in patiently. The Practical Life exercises are simple and ordinary activities that we perform daily to establish, conserve, and restore proper conditions in our environment, as well as to establish and maintain social relations within our community. These activities help the children to internalize order, sequence, and the experience of completion of a task. The purpose of all Practical Life work is to help children develop independence, concentration, and control of movement, thus aiding in the development of the will, which leads to confidence and responsibility. The Practical Life activities lay a strong foundation for later work in all areas in the curriculum.
SENSORIAL ACTIVITIES The children explore extensively with Montessori-designed Sensorial materials. These materials are designed as keys to the everyday world. Each material isolates a particular sensory input or experience. Visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, olfactory, and other senses are educated and refined through the children’s work with these materials. Precise language is given once the sensorial experience has been mastered. The teacher, through observation of the individual child and knowledge of the stages of child development, endeavors to present the material during the appropriate “sensitive (critical) period.” These activities also contain many indirect preparations for later work in language and mathematics. The fingers, hand, and arm are being prepared for writing, and children are experiencing all kinds of groupings, sets, sequences, and geometrical patterns in visual and tactile ways.
ORAL LANGUAGE The Primary Language Curriculum has a strong oral language component as its basis. We are conscious of the fact that children during this age of the absorbent mind can acquire vocabulary and usage norms with great ease once they are in a stimulating and rich language environment. Rhymes, sound games and vocabulary related to all areas of study (for example, geography, botany, zoology) are introduced very early. The sound games are used as part of a phonetic approach to the acquisition of writing and reading. Children trace sandpaper letters with their fingertips and associate the corresponding phonemes. The Montessori Primary classroom is a conversational place. Reading aloud, recitation of rhymes and opportunities for the children to share information and stories in a group are daily occurrences. Our teachers recognize the great importance of working on the refinement of speech and articulation during this important sensitive period for the development of spoken language.
WRITING AND READING Typically, in a Montessori Primary classroom, children will begin to compose written work spontaneously with a wooden moveable alphabet prior to beginning reading. The non-phonetic words are taught via various games and activities. By using this moveable alphabet very young children can “write” words and phrases and even engage in creative writing and writing related to the subject areas. A sequence of activities has prepared the children’s hand for writing with a pencil. After the finger tracing of the sandpaper letters, the mechanical aspect of controlling a pencil continues through a gradual series of exercises, which involves following the contours of geometric shapes with a pencil. A multitude of sensorial and practical life activities have carefully prepared their pincer grasp, or pencil grip. Specifically, the tracing of the cursive sandpaper letters prepares their hand for the muscular movement and lightness of touch needed in order to facilitate the flow of good handwriting. Children work with large and then smaller chalkboards as they gradually learn to control a writing instrument and move towards use of paper and pencil.
Reading for 4 or 5 year olds in a Montessori program usually follows an immersion in writing activities, mostly done using the moveable alphabets. The children spontaneously synthesize all of the phonemes they have learned and the sight words they have been given and often discover that one day they can now read. In addition to a wide range of suitable fiction and non-fiction books in each classroom, there are vocabulary cards in relation to every subject area (nomenclature of everyday objects, geometry, science, world cultures, etc.). Enrichment of vocabulary across the curriculum is a constant focus in the Primary classroom. Another daily occurrence is reading aloud to the children as a group.
GRAMMAR AND WORD STUDY Introductory activities in areas of grammar, syntax and word study form a part of the early language work. Dr. Maria Montessori described the 5 to 7 year olds as “word lovers,” such was their great interest in language at this age. The concepts of noun, verb, preposition, subject, direct object, etc. are introduced in playful activities using a miniature environment and a variety of movement games. The Montessori grammar symbols used throughout the Elementary Program are first introduced at this age.
MATHEMATICS An introduction to mathematics at the Toddler level is given through simple counting exercises such as counting the plates when setting the table, counting the children as they line up, and through counting songs and rhymes. At the Primary level, children’s mathematical sense is built on the strong foundation of the sensorial materials where many fundamental concepts, such as length, volume, gradation, sequencing, grouping and so on, have been already experienced via the senses.
Children experience the numbers zero to ten in a variety of hands-on ways before beginning counting and exploring the teens and beyond with the bead chains and other materials. They learn to count to 1000, the longest Montessori bead chain. They learn both linear counting and skip counting (e.g. 6, 12, 18, 24, etc.) with these bead chains and their corresponding squares and cubes of the numbers 1 to 10. Children explore the four operations of arithmetic, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (up to 4-digit problems) using hands-on bead material, abacus, and other Montessori mathematical materials.
Parallel exercises to support the early memorization of all math facts are also given. Children explore fractional equivalences and the fractional names with manipulative materials. They use a wide variety of two and three-dimensional geometry materials and learn the basics of geometric nomenclature. They see and explore binomial and trinomial patterns in certain materials and gain a visual and tactile impression for later work when they will use such patterns to explore the concepts of squaring, square root, cubing, and cube root during the elementary years. The emphasis is always on examining patterns and sequences and the connections between arithmetic and geometry in order to help children develop their mathematical minds from an early age.
GEOGRAPHY Working with the sensorial, language and cultural materials related to geography is an important part of the work of a Montessori Primary classroom. The very young children are introduced early to a sandpaper globe where they can have a visual and tactile experience of the Earth. Other sensorial materials and puzzle maps are used by the children to explore the continents of our world, the countries of each continent, and the states of our own country. They also create key land and water forms such as lake, island, and peninsula. Geography vocabulary is given both orally and with prepared nomenclature cards that are used by the children as an integrated part of their language work. The children are introduced to the diversity of international cultures by means of stories, songs, celebrations, pictures, and artifacts. They also work with miniature flags of a wide variety of nation states.
HISTORY An introduction to History during the Toddler and Primary years takes the form of stories about artists, musicians, famous Americans, and people from other lands. The children in both Toddler and Primary will, for example, hear the music of Mozart and see the artwork of Monet, and then in Primary hear about their lives and where they lived. Seasonal and cultural/religious holidays are always celebrated during the Primary years and given a global context thus sowing the seeds of interest in human history.
SCIENCE Practical and sensorial activities at the Toddler and Primary levels lay a strong foundation for later work in scientific classification and experimentation. Basic skills of science, such as measuring, comparing, classifying, and keen observing, are carefully prepared and practiced. This work is accompanied by extensive classified nomenclature. For example, Primary age children learn the scientific nomenclature of the parts of a flower, such as the calyx and corolla. Classification systems such as living/non-living, and vertebrate/invertebrate are also taught. Children study the basic characteristics and nomenclature of plants and animals. They learn to name common domestic and wild plants and animals, and they work with materials to learn fundamental classifications such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Children are also introduced to some basic concepts of physical science, such as floating/sinking, magnetic/non-magnetic. Non-fiction books related to science are read aloud to the children, and they have classroom responsibilities for the care of indoor plants, as well as feeding the birds outside. The children also plant, tend to, and harvest their own classroom gardens.
MUSIC Students in our Toddler and Primary levels have a rich experience in singing, playing rhythm instruments, and listening to music. Primary children use the Montessori Bells. This material is initially a sensorial material designed so that children can match and grade all pitches on both diatonic and chromatic scales during the sensitive period for pitch development. The material is then used to play scales and musical phrases, and can be accompanied by the voice. For those four and five year olds who are ready, building the grand staff can be introduced. Children are told stories of composers’ lives, incorporating both elements of history and geography, and they listen to selections from the works of the composers.
ART Art activities in the Primary classroom are chosen by the child from the art shelf according to interest. There is a progression in the artwork as the child’s skills develop. Cutting exercises move from very simple to quite complex exercises. Pasting work is followed later by collage. Coloring with various media (crayons, pastels, charcoal) is available. Painting on an easel, watercolor, and clay work are presented. Handwork, including sewing and embroidery, is taught. Seasonal inspirations using different media are a prominent feature in our primary classrooms.
PHYSICAL EDUCATION At the Toddler level (15 months to 3 years), we introduce such skills as throwing and catching a ball, running, hopping, jumping, galloping, and skipping. These skills are further developed in the Primary program, along with the introduction of games such as Duck-Duck-Goose, Red Rover, and Hopscotch. The education of the body though movement activities, games and relays enhance eye-hand coordination, balance, and depth perception. Moving to music of different rhythms or walking on a line while balancing objects is a daily activity for our Primary children. The “Practical Life” activities offer many appropriate large and small motor physical education exercises for this age. Children engage in these activities throughout the day both in the classroom and outdoors, where they garden and use carpentry tools at their workbenches. The Extended Day Primary children (age 5 to 6 approx.) begin to work with our Physical Education specialist to further develop spatial awareness, body mechanics, and ball handling skills including kicking. They also begin to learn the basic rules of kickball, soccer, and tee-ball.
CIRCUS SMIRKUS Each year Cobb School students experience the magic and joy of the circus with a one week Circus Smirkus Residency program. Troy Wunderle of Circus Smirkus works with the children for five fun-filled days of balancing, juggling, and acting. The children also learn the importance of teamwork and trust. Parents are invited to their children’s classes so they too delight in Circus Week.
LEARNING SPECIALIST SERVICES Every student identified as needing special learning support receives the services of The Cobb School’s Learning Strategies Team. This Team is comprised of the Assistant Head of School/Primary Division Head (a Primary-trained teacher with more that 20 years of Montessori experience as well as a Master’s degree and work experience in Special Education); the Learning Specialist (an experienced Montessori Elementary teacher with a Master’s in Special Education and Connecticut State Certification in Special Education); the Learning Support Teacher (a Primary-trained teacher with 30 years of Montessori experience, including tutoring in all areas of the Primary curriculum), and the Program Coordinator/Elementary Division Head (a published author on Montessori education, a Montessori Trainer in Training with 30 years of classroom experience). The Learning Strategies Team meets every week to discuss the progress of each student receiving help.
When a student is identified as needing support, the team observes the child, meets with the teacher and parents, and devises a plan. After approximately ten weeks the progress is reviewed and, if necessary, the student is referred for private tutoring or recommended for further testing. If a student has had a psycho-educational evaluation, the recommendations are integrated into a thorough Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) involving the teacher, tutor, and parents.