This unique period is designed to take advantage of the sensitive period when children can absorb information from an enriched environment. At this level the children begin to gain the skills of concentration, coordination, and develop working habits that will help them achieve in the later grades. They begin to learn how to manage their time and gain a sense of personal responsibility for what they do and accomplish. Through the use of concrete materials, abstract concepts in areas such as math or reading, begin to sink in through the hands-on work they do in these areas.
“It is self-evident that the possession of and contact with real things brings, above all, a real quantity of knowledge.”
The advantage here is that the child will learn without the stumbling blocks of boredom and discouragement. Their hands-on exploration and discovery develop an enthusiasm for learning, which is key for future academic success.
Along with developing their own self-awareness and independence, the children also gain a sense of social awareness. The multi-age group setting allows the younger ones a graded series of models for imitation, and for the older ones, an opportunity to reinforce their own knowledge.
Introduction to the Montessori Kindergarten Experience
Kindergarten is an important year for your child. If you are trying to decide whether your child should continue in the Montessori program or enroll in a “traditional” school, we would like you to consider the following points before finalizing your decision.
- If this will be your child’s first experience in a Montessori classroom you will find that he/she will quickly make friends and become oriented to the classroom. Even late entry into a Montessori program will provide your child with skills and experiences needed for the Elementary years.
- A Montessori program is essentially a 3-year program. Kindergarten is the year where all the pieces fall into place. The concepts and skills your child has learned by working in the Montessori environment will take on complete meaning.
- Concrete materials are used for teaching the lessons so that a child can more easily understand and absorb the meaning of the concepts being presented. A child is able to observe, explore and draw conclusions from these concrete materials. The sensorial classroom exercises assure the grasp of new concepts and mastery of a skill before moving on to more abstract work.
- In the Montessori program, a healthy self-concept is fostered by mastery of each skill before progressing to the next level. A child develops self-confidence because he learns to think and do things for himself. He builds self-esteem since he now becomes the older, respected child in the community with many friends. The kindergartener has a sense of purpose and feels good about his contributions and accomplishments.
- Success is what your child will experience daily in a Montessori program. The teacher works individually with your child to ensure immediate feedback. Subsequent lessons are planned according to individual needs, abilities and development. That way, no child is bored while peers catch up and no child feels their own rate of progress is unacceptable.
Overall Benefits of Third Year in a Montessori Primary Environment
During the Kindergarten year in a Montessori Primary classroom your child has the opportunity to reap the full benefits of a Montessori education. This environment will continue to provide the safety and security of a familiar, family like environment for your child. They will stay with the teachers they already know and love, and no time is lost as they transition to a new classroom. Your child is familiar with the classroom routines and the teachers have built a strong working relationship with him / her. The teachers have also had time to get to know you, listen to your concerns, set goals with you, and are aware of your child’s strengths, as well as areas targeted for continued growth.
The 3rd year gives the teachers precious time to complete your child’s strong foundation for Elementary school. But the true gift of their third year is the gift of competence. Being competent is defined as – having suitable skill, experience, etc. for some purpose.
Having sufficient time and the numerous successful experiences allows your child to see themselves as truly competent (through their own hard work). This experience gives them not just empty self esteem but a lifelong true appreciation and internal pride in their own skills and accomplishments.
What to Expect
Numerous areas of growth mark this upcoming year in your child’s life. During the time from birth to age 5 your child’s brain has made significant developments. They are now cognitively able to begin to take the individual facts and bits of information they have learned in preschool and put them together to form new associations and connections. You will find this year is a time of many questions and a feeling of intense interest in their world as they grasp more involved concepts and master new skills.
In the Montessori Primary environment they are able to take the materials they have come to love and use them in exciting new ways. It is such a joy to see them have the time to reach this stage of competence and understanding. These feelings of competence or “I can do it” are a gift that will last them a lifetime. Three other important concepts focused on in this year are: the true-life fact that some tasks and skills are more difficult; I can do it if I keep trying and some tasks are my responsibility (not my parents or teachers).
During this year your child will be introduced to many new materials. In addition many of the Montessori Materials have been designed to be reintroduced at deeper levels to meet the needs of the older child. As an example the simple pink cubes which your child has used to understand the concept of sequencing from smallest to largest now has five new concepts to share. At the Kindergarten level the pink cubes are used to: continue to develop higher level visual perceptual patterning work (important for math and science concepts- like reading a schematic), is used as another concrete way to experience addition facts, many ways to make ten, reinforces the importance of our base counting 10 system and is used to teach fractions. The interest and understanding that is developed when a child learns to see that knowledge comes in many deepening layers supports the child’s personal desire to understand how things work and leads them to see life as an experience full of exciting surprises.
Social / Emotional Benefits
The year from 5 – 6 is also marked by a burst of interest in being social and seeing themselves as a responsible part of a social community. The joy of having friends and sharing simple joys with these friends is one of the highlights of this year. Being part of the oldest group of children in the classroom gives them many opportunities to be successful at skills that were once too difficult. Another part of this wonderful social growth, that is possible in a mixed age classroom, is the social understanding that evolves over time. When all of the children in a classroom are the same age and developmental level your child’s experiences only cover that level. Any child that is involved in a mixed age environment is steeped in a rich range of ages and abilities. This enriched environment gives your child more variety of experience. Our philosophy and environment allow your child to experience and learn to respect the wonderful variety represented in their classroom and the people of the world. Over time they learn to look at each person as a unique individual and develop the social awareness and skills to react to each one as a unique individual. They will have time for small group discussion and exploration with children in their own age group – and they receive so much more. As an example if they are paired with a 4 year old for a project they will develop leadership skills and work on how to teach so the younger child can understand and succeed. Explaining something is a much more difficult cognitive task then simply doing it yourself. The Primary environment gives your child all of the gifts of a Kindergarten age classroom and then adds the cognitive development opportunities of a rich environment where they are given the gift of being able to teach and the social / emotional gift of feeling and building competence.
Another benefit of the 3rd year is more practice at using the Peace Table. During their pre-school years they have experienced dealing with every day conflicts in a successful and respectful way. Their cognitive abilities have grown and so will their awareness and skills at expressing themselves. The third year sees the Peace table and group meetings become a viable arena for discussion. Through the Peace Curriculum they practice problem solving possible solutions for day-to-day conflicts with their friends. Their teachers foster this new awareness and skill level by having conflict partner’s work toward finding their own solutions, trying out their ideas and then returning to the peace table to evaluate what worked. The final step involves knowing that if one solution does not work they should simply try another. Being empowered and feeling a sense of optimism about social difficulties is the basis for productive action.
These advances in social, emotional and moral development build a foundation for your child’s future social interactions. As your child moves into the Elementary years they will need the ability to: calm themselves when they are angry, sad or frustrated, finding an acceptable way to get their needs met, brainstorm how to handle a problem, and have the knowledge and maturity to evaluate the consequences of their actions or the actions of their peers.
In Montessori Primary classrooms the individualized approach and the differences between age groups make a classroom into a finely turned machine. As an example the morning work time allows the Kindergarten age child an opportunity to get lessons and work toward a more independent work cycle (periods of independent follow through or work). Being able to be self motivated and work independently is a large part of school and life success.
A mixed age classroom also has the benefit of reducing competition within the group. Each of the children are seen as unique individuals and are encouraged to compete not with the class but to continue their own work. The child does benefit from the positive aspects of healthy competition with themselves. What can you do today that you could not do last week? The negative aspects of stress (and in turn reduces productivity) associated with competing with others within your class are reduced.
Another more obvious example of the way the system benefits the kindergarten age child is the fact that younger children’s developmental needs include an afternoon nap. This gives the teachers time to work for an extended period of time with the older children on specific skills.
Because the Montessori Curriculum is individualized, and is a full day program instead of just 2 hours per day, our 3rd year allows the Kindergarten age children to make huge leaps in reading and math skills. Being around people who love to read supports developing a love of reading and thinking reading is “cool”. The accomplishment a 5 year old feels as they read is clearly mirrored in the astonished eyes of the 3 year old who comes over to watch.
The teachers, environment and materials promote the necessary academic skills. Having good skills makes reading, math science or any other content area fun and do-able. This experience of having real skills and an “I can do it” (and I want to do more) optimism makes school a successful experience.
Another significant part of the 3rd year in a Montessori primary environment is the explosion into writing. In the first 2 years of a Primary Class we have experienced the explosion into reading. In the 3rd year we see the explosion into writing. Now that their hands are stronger and more coordinated writing is more successful. You will find your child’s interest and skills at writing and recording their work blossom during this time. Writing will be central as your child moves from words to phrases to sentences. These new skills will allow a more advanced level of creative writing, journaling, and recording their cooking or science experiences.
I hope this outline of how a Montessori Primary Classroom works will answer some of your questions. Current research has definitely reinforced the value of mixed aged settings within schools.