The Early Childhood Program - Ages 3 - 6
Children 3-6 years old form the classroom community in our Early Childhood Program, which is a continuation of our Toddler Program. Students remain with the same classroom for 3 years, until they are ready to attend our Lower Elementary class (Grades 1-3). We strongly encourage parents to keep their children in the Early Childhood program for the full 3 years because the Kindergarten year serves as a capstone year that is a culminating experience academically, emotionally, socially and developmentally.
Dr. Maria Montessori saw the growth of an individual from birth to age 24 in four "planes of development": birth to 6, 6 to 12, 12 to 18, and 18 to 24 years of age. In each of these planes, humans have unique needs and characteristics which she defined. She then developed a methodology and materials to respond to the needs and characteristics of the evolving individual at each plane. Those needs and characteristics grow and then diminish in importance during each six-year plane. That is, they are at their strongest at each midpoint and are at their weakest at the points of transition (age 6, age 12, and age 18) from one plane to the next.
With each plane divided into two three-year developmental cycles, conventional "kindergarten", Third Grade and Sixth Grade are endings at Montessori Community School, completions that are culminations and not beginnings. This is very different from the paradigm in traditional schools where Kindergarten is the start of the elementary sequence and Sixth Grade is the start of Middle School.
We know that ages 3 and 4, Grades 1 and 2, 4 and 5 are years of academic and intellectual explosion. Yet, Dr. Montessori observed that for 6 year olds, 9 year olds (Third Graders) and 12 year olds (Sixth Graders), their great work was social and emotional and lays the foundation for the next "explosion". She concluded that unless the social and emotional growth was addressed directly and effectively, rather than suppressed, academic growth could slow and suffer.
Rather than fighting the social and emotional growth of the children in the third year of each sequence, Montessori encourages it. How? Instead of making those students in their transitional years the youngest of the children in a sequence, we make them the oldest and most mature in their group. We give them age-appropriate responsibility. We make them educational and civic leaders in this community.
The leadership of the older children has remarkable impact on the health of the three-year community they help lead, and it allows the oldest children in each cycle to stand tall with confidence during an uncertain time while internalizing the academic work of the first two years by sharing their knowledge and expertise with the younger students in the group. They become role models for the younger students, who long to reach their level of academic accomplishment and community responsibility.
We embrace the maxim, "You do not understand something until you can teach it," and giving lessons to the younger students in the group requires that the oldest children reduce complex concepts to their simplest elements and then convey them with clarity and understanding. If they cannot, it is clear that they need a lesson before going on! Thus, without fully realizing what they are accomplishing, our "third-years" internalize and consolidate the academic skills they have garnered for two years before exploding into the next three-year cycle.
The three-year grouping also makes sense because we know from experience that five year olds have much more in common with 3 and 4 year olds than they do with 8 and 9 year olds. Sixth graders have much more in common with 4th and 5th graders than with 8th graders. Clearly, the full benefit of the educational program accrues to our children in the third and capstone year of each cycle, and a student’s educational experience is greatly diminished without it.
The child is allowed to progress through the curriculum at her own pace and interest level. The Early Childhood Program addresses the whole child – her intellectual, social and emotional, and physical development. Activities are provided which foster the development of order, concentration, coordination, and independence.
- Prepared Environment: The prepared environment of the classroom lets the child absorb the world about her through work with a wide variety of materials.
- Practical Life Activities: The practical life activities are where, through concentration and practice, the child develops good habits of work that are the foundation of her later education. She learns how to focus on a project - getting needed materials and using them properly - and completing a task. Pouring, washing, arranging - all with an eye to detail - help the child to establish order, not only physically but also intellectually. Sense of order is the first step in developing skills needed for later classified work in the Elementary grades. The importance of these practical life skills cannot be overemphasized.
- Sensorial Activities: The Montessori materials are scientifically designed to isolate a single concept that the child discovers through working with them. Length, color, shape, size, weight, texture, smell, and sound are all qualities that can be discerned by the child's patient work with the varied materials.
- Language: Metal insets, sandpaper letters, movable alphabet, word building and reading are all keys to language development. After years of scientific observation and analysis, Dr. Montessori came to the conclusion that the time for acquiring the skills of writing and reading was around the 4 to 5 year old period. The acquisition of language opens the doors of learning and so, the Montessori child does learn to write and read when she is young, and with these tools, the world is at her fingertips through the written word.
- Mathematics: Working with the number rods, symbol cards, spindle boxes, card counters, and Golden Bead materials, the child sees and feels quantities and numbers and their relationships. Her hands-on work with this manipulative material eventually leads to the abstraction of concepts, laying a firm foundation for her advanced school work in arithmetic, geometry, algebra, trigonometry and calculus.
- Geography: Making clay land forms using sensorial maps of continents and physical characteristics as guides allows the Montessori child to explore the geography of her own country and other parts of the world. All of the continents are introduced throughout the year with the use of Continent Boxes which contain activities exploring the continent through all areas of the curriculum. One of the benefits of these studies is a sense of appreciation for other peoples of the world.
- Zoology: Animal study, including range of habitat, adaptations to the environment, classification of herbivores and carnivores and endangerment of species, are all favorites with Montessori students.
- Botany: With her classmates, the child experiments with seeds, growing them in and out of light, with and without water. She learns the parts of plants. She takes proper care of classroom plants and learns about various groups of plants. She finds order and the exciting organized evolutionary story of the plant kingdom, just as she does in the study of the animal world.
- History: By examining their own timeline from birth to present, and their own family tree, children gain their first sense of history and the concept of time is brought to life.
- Science: The science activities are interesting and fun! They are all hands-on, with prediction and analysis incorporated into each experiment.
- Music: The children learn songs, not only in their own language, but also in that of other countries and cultures. Each month, a different classical composer is introduced to the class and the children learn about that composer’s life and body of work. They learn rhythms through games and exercises, pitch through the bells, and gain listening experience and the joy of music through the instruments played and songs sung with classmates. Specialty music classes are conducted each week outside of the classroom where music studies are broadened and intensified.
- Dance/Movement: Specialty classes are conducted each week introducing the children to basic dance/movement concepts. A Spring performance each year gives parents the opportunity to appreciate what the children have learned in this class.
- Art: Prints of art masterpieces decorate the walls to encourage an appreciation of great artists. Each month, a classical artist is introduced and the children work with and learn to recognize and appreciate that artist’s style. Specialty art classes are conducted to further the child’s exploration of art. Using shapes as a basis for drawing skills, the Montessori child learns to try her hand at creating works of art. Broad strokes in tempera, watercolor and crayon are refined as the child uses many different types of media in her exploration of art. She models clay, uses things from nature to create designs, and learns how to mix colors.
The Early Childhood program strives to foster and facilitate the development of patterns of behavior that will serve as the foundation for future learning. These include:
- Intrinsic motivation: The child is working and learning through her own choices and direction.
- Independence in work: Each child enjoys "working" and selects one task and another tirelessly and independently.
- Completed work cycles: Whatever activity is initiated by the child is carried out to its natural end, signified by the return of the material to its proper space.
- Respect: The child respects the work of others and does not interrupt or attempt to make it her own. Materials are returned in a manner showing respect for the environment as well as for the child who will use it next. The child is kind to herself and to others and works cooperatively with the group.
- Responsibility: The child takes responsibility for her behavior with the materials. If she spills, for example, she will independently remedy the problem. The child also takes responsibility for her words and actions towards herself and others. For example, she knows that it is her choice to be kind or hurtful and each choice brings certain consequences.
The Montessori Community School offers two Dual Language (Spanish/English) Early Childhood classes. Individual and group lessons are presented in both Spanish and English throughout the school day. Native Spanish teachers speak to the students in Spanish and the other classroom teachers speak in English.
Students enrolled in this program are expected to spend three years in the Dual Language environment – including the Kindergarten year. Once a student is accepted into our Early Childhood Program, they will receive a Dual Language Application Form in the enrollment package. If a student is selected to participate, a $150 annual materials fee will be invoiced. Acceptance of a student in the Dual Language program is not guaranteed since the number of applications may exceed the available spaces. Administration will review all the applications and endeavor to balance the class with respect to age and gender.