Between ages 3 and 6 ½ children exhibit great curiosity and have a tremendous capacity for learning. They love to explore color, form, sound, texture and other aspects of the world around them. They absorb facts about the world and acquire independence. They expand their abilities to concentrate, to increase their vocabulary, to make increasingly coordinated movements, to write, to read, to explore numbers, to learn manners and customs, and to make informed choices appropriate to their age and experience. A teacher and an assistant work with an average class size of 24 to 30 students.
Children in the primary classes benefit enormously from classrooms designed for their enthusiasm and readiness to learn. The prepared environment for the child between ages 3 to 6 ½ offers a classroom full of specially designed materials. At Chesapeake Montessori School every teacher is trained to observe each child and to present the activities and materials for which the child is ready. Most lessons are individual. The goal is that a child’s experience in a primary class be enjoyable and an aid to the development of independence. Teachers help further children’s cognitive growth and the development of their creativity, social skills, love of learning, self-confidence, and power of concentration.
Children remain with their teacher and classmates for the three to four years in the primary program. This gives the classroom a closeness and continuity and the children a sense of confidence and belonging. This three to four year cycle is an important aspect of all Montessori environments.
Children’s exploration through the senses builds knowledge and clarity of the world around them. The Montessori primary environment is prepared with beauty, order, and activities which will aid in the development of the hand, control of the body, and will lead to calm focus. Children from 3 through 6½ years work together in an environment encouraging choice of activity, repetition, working to satisfaction, and independence. Younger children are helped by older children in a classroom setting that is natural and home-like.
The main areas of the primary classroom are:
Practical life: The activities assist the child in the development of order, coordinated movement, independence, and care of the environment and of self. Washing a table, arranging flowers, raking leaves, learning to button and tie are some of the practical life activities of the prepared environment. These are real and purposeful work for the child. An indirect result of this approach is to build a small, caring society and the very beginnings of responsibility.
Sensorial: These materials help the child to refine and classify the many sensorial impressions experienced in daily life. Through the child’s own manipulation of the Montessori materials she gains understanding of the world and refines the mental classification of the world. The sensorial experience ends in language – a move toward abstraction.
Language: Language surrounds the child in the Montessori environment. Conversation, poetry, songs, and stories are a regular part of every day. Vocabulary enrichment provides an oral foundation for the children’s ever-expanding understanding and use of language and lays the foundation for later writing and reading. Listening and comprehension are developed as children explore the sounds of language. The phonetic sounds of language are presented and lead to writing and later to reading. Older children explore grammar through games and activity.
Mathematics: Math is presented through very concrete and manipulative materials, always beginning with material to be manipulated and always incorporating a hands-on approach to learning. We find that manipulative math materials at the Primary level lead to a much deeper abstraction of mathematical concepts in our Elementary program.
The three period lesson is the model used to foster learning: the first period entails new knowledge being introduced by the teacher, the second period allows the student the time and activity to explore and discover concepts (really, it is the time period in which learning happens), and the third period is when a student’s knowledge is demonstrated as having been mastered.
Music, movement, geography, botany, zoology, and other topics are presented to the children through sensorial and language extensions.
Young children teach themselves, and the Montessori materials are designed to be used individually by a child to foster discovery. This individual and personal exploration occurs in a warm and lively social context with other children.
Children of five and older remain in their classroom all day to continue their work with other children of their age. Children under five go home at noon or eat lunch and go to the nap room for the afternoon.