One unique aspect of the Montessori classroom is the inclusion of several subjects that are not typically found in any other classrooms. Of course there are the standard Math, Language, and Science areas, but in a Toddler or Preschool/Kindergarten classroom in Montessori, there are a couple other areas that deserve just as much educational credit as the others.
Arguably the rest of the curriculum in a Montessori classroom becomes harder to teach without the presence of the Practical Life and Sensorial sections. These both are crucial because they both provide the child with the opportunity to refine and improve the motor skills necessary to move about independently and successfully in the classroom. Exercises in this area also give the child a wonderful development of what those of us in Montessori refer to as O.C.C.I. – Order, Concentration, Coordination, and Independence. Without the crucial refinement of these skills, the child is unlikely to succeed in the classroom. Order is important because it has been proven by many researchers that child have a strong desire and need for order. They need a routine, for things to have a place, otherwise their world is chaotic. Concentration is necessary to complete the longer and more time-consuming works. Coordination gives the child the grace they need to complete the work successfully and with confidence and less frustration. Independence makes for a happy child capable of doing many things for themselves and not relying on an adult to do things for which they are completely capable if given the chance. The two of these sections give ample experience for the child to improve their skills while learning more about their surroundings as well. This is part of the beauty of Maria Montessori’s didactic materials.
The name of this section almost seems silly if you don’t realize how wonderful the materials are for the child. However after seeing the independence and control each child gains from working with these activities, I cannot imagine why all schools do not have something similar. Not only does this section work on a child’s independence, it also gives them the ability to use a lot of the more involved works they will later encounter in the classroom. A child can take out an activity that involves nothing but pouring water into glasses, then pouring the water back into the pitcher. What does the child gain from this? Refined, steady movements, the ability to pour water, and the confidence to do what is normally considered an adult-only task themselves. Without this practice, the child would have frustration encountering works later on that require the ability to pour water delicately. Without being able to use an eyedropper correctly, how would they add soap to a washing project, or colors to a color-mixing activity. Practical Life gives the child a wonderful base for skills used in everyday life. It allows them to perfect these movements which then creates a more independent and successful child. Some more examples of Practical Life activities include – Using tongs, using tweezers, using spoons to transfer objects, pouring various pastas, using a sponge, slicing and preparing food, cleaning up an area, sweeping, sewing, and many many more activities. Teaching these at a young age to children is amazing. They are completely capable of doing all of these things, even at the age of four. It is mesmerizing to watch a 4 year old wash, peel, slice, and serve a carrot as a snack to several other children and then completely clean up their workspace independently.
A very aptly-named subject! The Sensorial section allows for refinement of the 5 senses – Taste, Smell, Touch, Sight, and Hearing. The materials here are designed in such a way as to isolate one of each sense to allow the child to examine it fully, and rely on it for the completion of the activity. There are Sound Cylinders which the child matches to each other, Tasting Bottles to experience the various tastes our tongue processes, Rough and Smooth tablets for the child to refine their sense of touch, and so many more activities. The Bells I referred to in my last post are a wonderful Auditory exercise. And what is the purpose of this section? First of all, it helps the child learn control of their movements, and gives them practice for identifying the world around them more clearly. Sensorial also has a heavy mathematical undertone. Most of the works in this section are in sets of 10, providing the child with a habitual mental image of sets of 10 for the decimal system. The Binomial Cube and Trinomial Cube seem like simple wooden color puzzles to the 4 year old child, yet later in an older classroom they can dissect the cube’s mathematical equations. Language is also heavily developed in this section providing the child with more descriptive terms to apply to the world around them – Thick, thin, heavy, light, short, wide, skinny, and so many more terms to be used instead of “big” or “small”.
Two wonderful and amazingly beautiful sections of the classroom come together to help the child be more independent, successful, and observant in the big world around them.