"Practical life" activities encourage motor skill development, coordination, concentration, independence, and a sense of order. Some examples include scrubbing a pumpkin, stringing a necklace, blowing bubbles, zipping a jacket, sewing, or using a screwdriver. These activities build the hand strength needed to hold a pencil and write, the sequencing abilities needed to read, and grow the attention span and memory to accommodate academic challenges that lie ahead.
"Sensorial" materials and activities encourage classification through visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile impressions. Fine tuning visual discrimination skills will allow the child to easily distinguish between similarly formed letters for reading. Discovering patterns, similarities and differences builds a strong foundation for increasingly complex math skills. Fine tuning the senses enables precise observation and orderly thought patterns which lay the foundation of math, language, geometry, geography, science, art and music.
From the earliest days in the Montessori classroom, children have the opportunity to explore basic math concepts like classifying, patterning, one-to-one correspondence, and rote counting. They progress to associating symbols with quantities, identifying “odds and evens,” understanding place value, and skip or linear counting. Children are introduced to two- and three-dimensional geometric shapes such as circles and spheres, squares and cubes, triangles and pyramids, ovals and ovoids. They learn the use of clocks and money. Montessori classrooms are filled with beautiful, engaging materials to explore addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, eventually moving from the concrete to the abstract.
Montessori method uses a phonetic approach to teach reading skills. As with all Montessori topics, the children manipulate learning materials to engage as many senses as possible, connecting letters to sounds, shapes, and colors. They begin by learning the most common sound of each letter through a combination of one-on-one instruction and the multi-sensorial input of sandpaper letters. They are taught to distinguish between consonant and vowel sounds, both through visual and phonetic means. Once they have mastered some letter sounds, children use a "moveable alphabet" to build simple three letter words.
Almost everything in the Montessori classroom leads to handwriting. Development of fine-motor coordination is encouraged through the grasping required in manipulating many of the classroom materials. The left-to-right, top-to-bottom organization of writing and reading is repeated in most classroom work activities as well as in the shelf organization of those activities. Writing itself is taught as children progress from tracing letters in sand, to writing on whiteboards, and different sizes of easels. Eventually, they progress to using lined paper and multi-page journals. Overall language growth is stimulated through regular reading aloud of both fiction and non-fiction books. The labeling of classroom materials encourages sight reading, and vocabulary is built through group lessons on engaging topics in the social sciences, geography, science and the arts.
The diversity of our world is celebrated in the classroom. Stories, artifacts, food, music, and art teach children to understand and respect differences between people and cultures, as well as to recognize the similarities that unify us.
Map-making is a fun part of the Montessori curriculum. Through detailed engagement with the shapes of continental and national borders, colorful puzzles, globes, and topical lessons and books, children learn about physical geography.
Children explore biology and physical science through hands-on classroom activities with magnets, simple machines, minerals, water and sand. Both indoor and outdoor activities caring for plants and animals introduce basic concepts of the biological sciences, including observation of the life cycles of chickens and butterflies each spring. Study of the solar system includes a trip to Parkland Planetarium.
Montessori Directresses incorporate singing, movement, dance, yoga, sign language, musical instruments, and art appreciation into their daily group lessons. Third-year students begin learning Spanish; kindergarten students attend a concert at Krannert Center after learning about the instruments of an orchestra. All faculty and staff model and teach respect, polite behavior, empathy, compassion, and responsibility. Montessori education has been proven to enhance kindness and cooperation between children. Peace education is a unifying theme for Montessori schools around the world.