The Montessori Method recognizes the whole child and thus the classroom environment is structured to support that. The teacher sets the tone and expectations for the atmosphere of the classroom through modeling and expectations.
Early childhood is a time of activity, self expression, and early forays into developing relationships. Through play, daily experiences, stories, demonstrations, discussions, and practice, children begin to learn social problem solving skills and how to identify and regulate emotions. They learn that emotions are natural. They practice strategies for expressing and governing them in healthy ways. Children are encouraged to discuss problems that arise and to create solutions. Regular guidance from the teachers and daily practice help them gain skills and confidence that build a base for lifelong success.
The physical environment is rich in visual and auditory stimulation with varied musical and art equipment, posters, globes, maps, wall hangings, etc. Materials are placed neatly on child-sized shelves and furniture to encourage exploration and use. The children are directed to choose an activity, complete it and replace it before choosing another. Because the children have freedom of choice in activities, in an atmosphere of quiet discipline, mutual respect, and reasonable behavior, a positive self-image emerges. All materials are self-correcting and the teacher intervenes only when necessary to introduce a child to new materials or to direct group activities. Most of the children work individually or in small groups.
The different areas of the Sunnybrook classroom can be divided into the following:
Practical Life: The Practical Life Area is where children learn daily life skills as sweeping, pouring, cutting and serving food, washing tables, and folding napkins. This works with a child’s desire to imitate the activities of daily life around them. These activities also help develop hand and finger coordination and muscle control. Practical life activities are varied, but start with preliminary skills such as rolling a mat, walking around a mat, and setting a chair correctly into place. Other focuses are social graces (using “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”), care and respect for self (tying shoe laces, hand washing), care and respect for the Montessori community/environment (sweeping the floor, keeping the classroom neat), and life skills.
Sensorial: The Sensorial Area teaches such concepts as longest and shortest, thickest and thinnest etc., using materials such as Red Rods, Broad Stairs, and Cylinder Blocks. The sensorial work assists in the development of mathematics and language-specifically such concepts as base ten, measurement (size,weight, length), mathematical relationships, left to right eye movement, attention span, auditory/visual discrimination, prehension, vocabulary and eye hand coordination. Each piece of equipment has a single focus or “abstraction” -an isolation of a property. These materials are designed to be self-correcting. If the child has done the activity correctly the child can see the completion-if it has not been done correctly he/she will be able to reexamine the materials and determine on his/her own what needs to happen. This develops the child’s sense of accomplishment and confidence.
Mathematics: The Math Area uses concrete experience with appropriate material to foster an abstract concept of mathematics. The math exercises at Sunnybrook are all hands-on experiences. The children explore math concepts including counting and arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, 1-20), number representation by graphic symbol, exercises with number associations of symbol with quantity (1-1000), lessons in zero, decimal lessons and basic algebraic functions (binomial, trinomial cubes), counting money to $1.00 and telling time. There is also an emphasis on problem solving.
Language: The Language Area develops literacy skills through the child’s senses – auditory through listening to rhymes, syllables, and individual sounds of words, ; visual through matching pictures, designs, letters, and words; and tactile through using sandpaper letters to foster muscle memory of sounds. The language exercises in the Montessori classroom move from concrete in-the-hand experiences to the abstract. Children have opportunities for conversation, stories, poetry, plays, songs, chants and rhymes. Through the Montessori materials we stress the alphabetic principle, systematic relationships between letters and sounds, linguistic and phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, letter naming, comprehension, and developmental writing (example: scribbling, letters to represent words, invented spelling etc.).
Science, Nature & Culture: Children at Sunnybrook explore geography, biology, botany, and zoology. Nature exploration and outdoor time is an essential aspect of the Sunnybrook curriculum. Natural items regularly visit the classroom for more thorough observation. Through hands on exploration, stories, conversations, and examination of maps, images, books, and music children become acquainted with the diversity of cultures, creatures, land-forms, and habitats of the earth. They are introduced to the characteristics of living and non-living beings and objects. They explore plants, animals, water, air, and begin to recognize the interdependence of living beings. They also begin to develop an understanding of their individuality, their place in the world, and the magnitude of the universe.
Art & Music: The classroom is designed to involve the children in creative expression daily. Art and music are integrated into all areas of the classroom-whether it is listening to complex musical arrangements while working on other projects, or using drawing skills to represent letter sounds. Because of the young nature of the children our emphasis with art is on process, not product. Daily art supplies include watercolors, clay, markers, pastels, paper, scissors and glue. The teacher often introduces a variety of artists through examples of art work or literature. Children also have opportunities to complete theme based art projects. Once a year the Sunnybrook children complete a special project for the art show. In the past children have created wool balls, used recycled materials to create self-portraits, and created pictures from their favorite books. The Montessori classroom focuses on the key elements of music-pitch, rhythm, duration, intensity, tambour, tone, form, style, and historical and cultural contexts. To accomplish these aims the Sunnybrook children sing, play instruments, dance and listen to music under the careful facilitation of the Montessori teacher.