The first thing that strikes parents about our primary class is how calm and peaceful it is.
A few children eating snack together; two children doing a puzzle together on a floor rug; two children coloring with markers at a table; the teacher sitting with a child for a one-on-one lesson; and four other children sitting at a table each independently doing his or her own work.
The peacefulness of our primary classroom is typical of Montessori preschools.
What’s the secret?
There is one skill that, over and above all others, helps children to be calm and peaceful. And that is: we teach them to do one thing at a time.
When a child takes a material off the shelf, he might ask the teacher, “Is this a table work or a rug work?” Or--he might ask, “Is this a one person work or a two person work?” Then he’ll either sit at the table with the material, or roll out a floor rug for the material. Then that child will play with the material for an extended period of time; and when he’s done, he’ll pick everything up and put it back on the shelf.
One thing at a time. It’s a simple skill with enormous benefits.
After learning the basic structure of the classroom, children are ready to focus on the materials, enjoy them, and learn from them.
There are 5 sections to our primary classroom, making up the 5 curriculum areas in Montessori.
Young children are sponges for new information. They can soak up anything they can get their hands on. Montessori called this mentality the “absorbent mind”. And the purpose of each of the materials in our class is to “feed” their absorbent minds. That’s why all of our materials--unlike many typical toys--have a specific learning outcome. Our students acquire new powers through using our materials such as the ability to read, spread jelly on bread, or add and subtract large numbers.
You might think that a calm, quiet classroom full of learning materials might be a bit rigid. Maybe the kids are forced to stay still and quiet, and they are forced to learn things that they don’t care about. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our primary class is a busy beehive of activity, but it is controlled activity. Our students develop self-control by observing the behaviors of teachers and other children, and then by imitating those behaviors.
Imitation is the key to a successful primary class. Children love to imitate the behaviors--and the language--of adults and older children.
Our teachers--as well as the older children in our mixed-age classrooms--serve as models for the behaviors and language that other children seek to imitate.
The teachers model how to prepare food, blow their noses, wash their hands, count to 10, sound-out words, feed the bunny, draw a picture, etc. And the children love to imitate what they’ve observed.
To sum up, our primary classroom is full of interesting materials that each have a specific learning outcome. The children learn how to use each of the materials by observing and imitating the teachers and other students. This is how the children are able to develop an extraordinary degree of self-control and independence; it’s how they are able to learn a lot in the primary years including how to start reading and writing; and it’s they are able to maintain a classroom that is peaceful and enjoyable for all students.
Kindergartners are at a transitory stage of development. They’ve acquired some degree of mastery over the immediate world around them, and they're ready to start learning about the wider world. For example, they already know a lot about the town they live in, and now they are ready to start learning about worldwide geography--or, they already know how to perform the basic tasks of life such as dressing and cleaning, and now they are ready to learn more specialized skills such as sports and musical instruments--or, they already know how to learn from experience (from listening, watching, and practicing), and now they are ready to learn from reading books.
Before Kindergarten, in preschool, children learn best by using hands-on materials such as puzzles, manipulatives, using tools, etc. After Kindergarten, in elementary school, children learn best from verbal discussion with visual aids (pictures, charts, etc.). In Kindergarten, then, it makes sense that children learn best with a mix of hands-on materials, and verbal discussion with visual aids.
This is what we offer in our Montessori Kindergarten program at Atlas Academy. The Kindergarten year is technically the final year of a 3 year cycle in our Montessori primary class, which is a mixed-aged class consisting of three, four, and five year olds. Mixed-aged classrooms are a more natural setting for children, mirroring the mixed ages within families. Young children benefit from the example of older children, and older children achieve mastery of their skills by helping the younger ones.
In addition to mastering previously acquired knowledge and skills, Kindergartener’s are introduced to more abstract knowledge, and more complex skills. With literacy, they have mastered the sounds of letters and now they can start learning how to actually read and write. With math, they have mastered basic number concepts and now they can start learning how to add and subtract numbers in the thousands. With science, they have mastered the parts of animals and now they can start learning about the features of different classes of animals. With geography, they have mastered the names of the continents and now they can start learning the names of countries and the differences among worldwide cultures. And finally, in regard to skills, they have mastered basic life skills and can begin learning more complex skills like woodworking, cooking, or musical instruments.
At Atlas Academy, we help our Kindergartners to master basic skills and basic knowledge of the world around them, and then we start to introduce them to the wider world, more abstract knowledge, and more complex skills. They learn how to read and write, and by that means enter the world of books; and with that they can finally achieve cognitive independence. Once children can read, they no longer rely solely on adults to provide them with information. Kindergarten is an exciting time in which children pass from mastery of their immediate surroundings to the wider world of abstract knowledge, complex skills, and books! And at Atlas Academy, we are prepared to help them to enter this new and exciting phase.