Concentration skills and an active mind. Learning, in Montessori, is not an adult-led process of transmitting knowledge, but rather a process whereby the child teaches himself (with the adult functioning as a guide). The first skill a child needs to acquire is an ability to sustain attention, to concentrate. By offering him activities which he naturally finds interesting, and which lend themselves to repetition which the child enjoys, he learns to focus his mind – and to appreciate his developing ability to solve problems all by himself.
Independence and self-esteem. A toddler or young preschooler will spend a lot of time with “practical life exercises”, which help her develop the ability to take care of her own needs, and to care for her environment – to dress and undress, to prepare foods, to pour water. Our materials are designed – and the teachers trained – to help the child learn how to break down the required actions, to perform them step-by-step, and to do them repeatedly. For example, the “dressing frames” isolate the skill of buttoning with an attractive material; our children enjoy buttoning and unbuttoning, over and over, until they master the skill.
As he acquires skills, the child experiences the pride of independence. At an age during which he might otherwise throw tantrums over wanting to “do it all by myself”, but not be able to accomplish the desired task, he instead learns to do it – all by himself. By perceiving himself as a capable, efficacious person, he acquires real self-esteem – and comes to regard effort as a positive; he becomes an eager learner who seeks out new challenges (which of course he finds in abundance in our classrooms.) In this way the classroom setup perpetuates both the child’s intellectual growth and the accompanying self-confidence.
Mature social skills. In Montessori classrooms, children are taught to respect each other and to act with “grace and courtesy” – to walk around another child’s mat, to avoid interrupting when others are speaking, to say “please” and “thank you.” Like everything else in the classroom, social interactions are voluntary (within reasonable bounds) – children choose whether to work alone or together, whether and when to share. Under the expert guidance of the teacher, a Montessori classroom becomes a benevolent and civilized social environment, where children appreciate each other; quarreling over toys, fighting and bullying typically do not happen in a Montessori school – and if they ever do occur, the teachers provide careful guidance meant to teach the children how to address such situations amicably in the future.
Academic skills – writing, reading and arithmetic. Somewhat older children – from about 3 ½ – 4 years – learn handwriting and reading by a similar, carefully sequenced process. For instance, children use sandpaper letters and sound games to associate sounds with alphabetic symbols. They naturally develop a sense of quantity by encountering numbers everywhere in their environment – counting snack items, arranging rods by length – and then explore a wide range of math materials to further develop their skills.
By the time our children graduate from their third year in our primary class, they have usually acquired the ability to read full books (not just phonetic three-letter-words); they can handwrite sentences; they know addition, subtraction, division and multiplication into the thousands – and are more than prepared for the most challenging elementary curriculum.