The practical life area of the classroom is one of the many aspects of the Montessori Method that make it unique from other, more "traditional" preschool programs. By working in this area, children learn coordination, concentration, control of movement, and order. To accomplish these goals, the children use real tools and equipment to practice skills useful in daily activities, like grasping, squeezing, pouring, spooning, and many others. The children learn how to safely and properly use kitchen tools (tongs, ladles, basters, etc.) as well as tools for fixing things, such as hammers, screwdrivers, and pliers. In addition, there are lessons that focus on other self-help skills, such as using buttons, snaps, and tying shoes, as well as sweeping and polishing. Time spent in this area lays a foundation important to success in every other area of development. Plus, it's FUN!
In the sensorial area, the children learn about different aspects of objects in our world. Working in this area offers practice in using the senses:
The children work on lessons in matching, grading, comparing, and contrasting objects. The primary goal is not just to memorize the names of colors and shapes, but to also develop an understanding of the relationships of objects in the world around us.
In our language area, the children progress from the most basic, concrete of the pre-reading skills, matching identical objects, to the most complex, abstract one, which is actual reading. There are many steps in between these two skills, and mastery of each is critical before moving on to the next. When the children are ready, we first introduce the sound that corresponds with each letter. By doing so, the progression to reading is much quicker than if the letter names are learned first. As the child shows mastery of most of the letter sounds, the letter names are introduced, however this usually happens in the natural course of working with the language materials. As important as reading is to a child's language development, it is not the only skill on which our curriculum focuses. The children also work on lessons in writing, listening, and speaking. By forming a strong foundation in ALL language skills, the child will be more successful in later academics, and in all areas of life.
As in the other areas of the classroom, the mathematics lessons are presented in a specific, logical sequence that allows the child to build new knowledge based on prior mastery. The most basic lessons are in rote counting and one-to-one corespondence, "1, 2, 3, 4,..." etc. After the child can name the numbers in order, groups of objects can be manipulated to show an understanding of each quantity represented by the number. Once the child understands the meaning of the number, the symbol for that number is presented. In this way, each number is learned. First the numbers 1-10, then the teens are introduced, followed by numbers up to 100, and finally hundreds and thousands. At this point, the child will be offered lessons in higher math skills, such as greater-than, less-than, equal-to, and the mathematical operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). Dr. Montessori discovered that children at this age are naturally mathematically-minded, and so taking advantage of this window of learning opportunity is very important. It is our goal to raise generations of adults who LOVE math!
Our science curriculum is intended to awaken an interest, or, as Dr. Montessori put it, "plant the seed". The children are introduced to concepts in botany (plants), zoology (animals), geology (the Earth), physical science (how things interact), and other areas of science. In doing so, they are more prone to success in science classes later in their education. Another goal involved in the science lessons is the development of a respect for the natural world. We offer concrete opportunities for this by involving the children in the care of the plants and animals in our classroom, as well as our outdoor garden.
In the geography and culture area, the children first learn about their place in the universe. They study space, the solar system, the continents, North America, the United States, Florida, and our local area. They then construct and label maps, plan routes for real or imaginary trips, and learn about terms used in geography.
The study of culture at Imagination Station is much more than looking at pictures of people from other countries. While we do offer numerous pictures and books for the children to look at to see what life is like in other lands, we incorporate our dramatic play in our cultural exploration. As much as possible, we provide clothing, props, and decor to enhance the imaginative play area. We also provide common objects for the children to compare with the multi-cultural items. In this way, the children will "travel" to places all over the world, such as Africa, Greece and Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Australia, and even back in time to the days of the Pilgrims and Indians, and when dinosaurs lived. Periodically, we will have guests who come in and show the children the clothing, dancing, and music native to the area of study to enhance their understanding of other cultures. We also discuss the differences and similarities between other cultures and our own, in order to help the children develop respect for all people.
As a part of the Montessori curriculum at Imagination Station we incorporate our playground into our teachings, using the entire space as an outdoor classroom. From the butterfly garden to the water tables, the large and shady playground allows children plenty of time and space to explore the great outdoors. Since we are large believers that play is a child's work and the very best method by which they learn, our playground provides for free play, imaginative play, and lessons in science, art and nature.
Large motor skills are also practiced and developed daily from the sandbox to the swings, with children of all ages being granted frequent and extensive access to the outdoor environment.
There are many opportunities for the children to express their creativity in art, crafts, music, and movement. Our art area provides numerous materials to explore and experience. The children always have the choice to proudly display their creations or take them home to share with their family. Our music area features many instruments along with a CD or cassette tape player for them to use freely. Several times per day, the children participate in movement activities, dancing or exercising to various types of music. In addition, we sing about EVERYTHING!
Like practical life, the spiritual part of our curriculum is uniquely Montessori. It is NOT a religous education, although the children are exposed to basic information related to religions in different cultures, including our own. None of these religions is taught as "right" or "wrong", but merely as interesting facts about people and what they believe. During cultural holidays such as Hannukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Cinco de Mayo, and St. Patrick's Day, we explore the many customs and traditions involved in celebrating each holiday. The true goal for a child's spiritual development is the understanding that while people may be different, they are also similar. We teach the children tolerance, patience, compassion, and ultimately, peace. These lessons, unlike lessons in other areas of the curriculum, are intangible--they are not activities the children can "do". However, we have incorporated a Peace Area in each of our classrooms, where a child may go to think about a problem, resolve a conflict with another child, or just relax for a moment. Like adults, children need a space they can "get away from it all', to take a break from the business of learning and playing.