Charlotte Academy uses the Montessori method in our Preprimary class rooms.
A Montessori classroom is always carefully prepared, from the arrangement of the classroom to the layout of the materials. The setting is appealing and nurturing, while promoting concentration and work. Montessori classrooms are designed for open movement to support exploration and interaction within a focused atmosphere. All materials teach specific concepts or skills through a hands-on experience with real world application and relevance. The environment promotes independence and is carefully organized to optimize each child’s learning experiences.
The classroom is designed around the areas of practical life, sensorial, math, cultural studies, language, and science. The Lower Elementary classroom extends these areas, as well as further incorporating art, music, computers, and physical education.
Our Primary Preschool Montessori classes are communities of 15 to 20 children from age 3 to 6. Classes are taught by certified Montessori teachers and each class has a certified assistant. They tend to be fairly stable communities, with the oldest third moving on to the next level each year. With many children growing together over several years, very close relationships develop among the children and adults. They become close-knit communities.
Many preschools are proud of their very small group sizes, and parents often wonder why Montessori classes are so much larger. Schools that place children together into small groups assume that the teacher is the source of instruction; a very limited resource even in a small class. These schools reason that as the number of children decreases, the time that teachers have to spend with each child increases. Ideally, we would have a one-on-one tutorial situation. But the best ‘teacher’ of a three-year-old is actually not an adult, but other children who are a bit older and has mastered a skill. This process is good for both the tutor and the younger child. In the Montessori approach, the teacher is not the primary focus.
In the earliest years Charlotte Academy students are introduced to the concepts of mathematics through the use of hands-on learning materials. These materials allow students to experience such concepts as linking quantities to numerical symbols (numbers), linear counting, zero, the decimal system, and the operations. The objective is for students to actually understand the mathematical concepts rather than just memorize facts and figures.
The use of sophisticated concrete materials helps students understand complex mathematical concepts introduced during the Elementary years. The use of concrete materials allows students to eventually move into abstract mathematical thinking, generally of their own accord. Math concepts presented include: time; money operations; whole number operations; multiples and factors; fractions; decimal fractions; problem solving techniques; number patterns using figurate numbers; squaring and square roots; cubing and cube roots; ratios and percentages; graphing; statistics; measurement, both customary and metric; geometry, from nomenclature of solid figures to congruence, similarity, equivalence, tessellations, area, volume and the Pythagorean theorem; the history of mathematics and applied geometry.
The concept of time and historical time is developed through many activities beginning at the youngest ages with a study of their personal history and the natural order of the seasons. The story of the evolution of the planet and its life forms over the eons is first studied at the Elementary level, along with an overview of human history. The basic needs of man are food, shelter, clothing, defense, transportation, culture, law, religion or spiritual enlightenment, love, and adornment.
Because of our multi-age classroom design, our youngest students are constantly exposed to the older students in the class who are already reading. Every curriculum area of the Early Childhood and Elementary classrooms creates and reinforces in our young children a spontaneous interest in learning how to read and write. We begin to teach reading as soon as that interest is first expressed.
In the earliest years at Charlotte Academy, students develop sophisticated vocabulary and a command of the English language. Literature is introduced by reading aloud to young students and discussing a wide range of classic stories and poetry. Later the students are introduced to the world’s classic children’s literature at increasing depth and sophistication.
Pre-Reading: Young students learn to recognize the shape and phonetic sounds of the alphabet through the Sandpaper Letters, a tactile alphabet. The concept that written words are actual thoughts set down in print begins to form as young students work with the easily manipulated letters of a Moveable Alphabet. As students start to read they demonstrate their understanding of the parts of speech through games and activities.
Writing: Students practice handwriting through a series of activities that require increasing levels of fine motor precision. Such exercises begin with very young children and extend over several years so that mastery is gradually, but thoroughly, attained. Once handwriting is fairly accomplished, the students begin to develop their composition skills. Creative and expository composition skills continue to develop and become more sophisticated as the students advance from level to level. Students are typically asked to write on a daily basis, composing short stories, poems, plays, reports, and news articles.
Reading: Children begin to sound out and write words using the Moveable Alphabet as they are first learning to read. The sequence of spelling, as with all language skills, begins much earlier than is traditional in this country, during a time when children are spontaneously interested in language. It continues throughout their education. The Moveable Alphabet is used for the early stages of phonetic word creation, the analysis of words, spelling, composing sentences, stories, and poetry. This work facilitates early reading and writing tasks. Interpretive reading for comprehension at ever increasing levels of difficulty begins in the early Elementary grades and continues until high school graduation. Library and reference books are used on a daily basis for both research and pleasure.
Grammar: The study of grammar begins almost immediately after the child begins to read, during the sensitive period when he is spontaneously interested in language. It continues over several years until mastered. The idea is to introduce grammar to the young student as she is first learning how to put thoughts down on paper, when the process is natural and interesting, rather than waiting until the student is much older and finds the work tedious. This study includes reviewing as well as engaging in new concepts and skills: tenses, moods, irregular verbs, person and number, and the study of style.
A core component of the Charlotte Academy curriculum is the study of the Earth, plants, animals, and people. As our world becomes smaller through technological and economic connections our students are better prepared to meet the global challenges of the 21st century because of their deep interest in and understanding of scientific as well as cultural and religious ideas regarding the formation of the earth.
Countries are studied in many ways at all levels. Charlotte Academy students engage in detailed studies of one nation at a time. Focus moves over the years from one continent to another, as the student’s interest leads them. All aspects of the nation are considered: geography, climate, biomes (biological homes), major rivers and lakes, cities, mountains, people, food, religions, and much more depending on the skill level of the students.
Anything that the students find interesting is used to help them become familiar with the countries of the world: flags, food, climate, traditional dress, houses, major cities, children’s toys and games, stamps, coins, traditional foods, art, music, and history. This interweaves through the entire curriculum.
The Science area of the curriculum is closely linked to the study of Geography, Cultural Studies and History. Students are prepared to observe and make comparisons through early sensory development activities. They experience science in the natural surroundings of our beautiful campus. They develop a deep sense of the natural order of the planet and the life that exists on Earth. Through early exposure to nature they develop a reverence for life and a style of living which consciously makes an effort to conserve our natural resources and ecology
The Prepared Environment
Montessori classrooms tend to fascinate both children and their parents. They are filled with intriguing learning materials, mathematical models, maps, charts, artifacts, scientific materials, a natural science center, and art.
Montessori classrooms are commonly referred to as a prepared environment. This name reflects the care and attention that is given to creating a learning environment that will reinforce the children’s independence and intellectual development.
You will not find rows of desks in our classrooms. They are set up to facilitate students’ need to move with a purpose, and stimulate collaborative learning. One glance and it is clear that children feel comfortable and safe.
The classrooms are organized into several curriculum areas, usually including: language arts (reading, literature, grammar, creative writing, spelling, and handwriting), mathematics and geometry, everyday living skills, sensory awareness exercises and puzzles, geography, history, science, art, music, and movement. Each area is made up of one or more shelf units, cabinets, and display tables with a wide variety of materials on open display ready for use as the children select them.
Students are typically found scattered around the classroom, working alone or with one or two others.
It may take a moment to spot the teachers within the environment. They will normally be found working with one or two children at a time, advising, presenting a new lesson, or quietly observing the class at work.
This is the children’s community. It has definite structure, and they move freely within it, selecting work that captures their interest, rather than participating in all-day lessons and projects selected by the teachers.
In a very real sense, even very small children are responsible for the care of their own child-sized environments. When they are hungry, they prepare their own snack and drink. They go to the bathroom without assistance. When something spills, they help each other carefully clean things up.
One of the first goals of Charlotte Academy is to develop in the very young child a strong and realistic sense of independence and self-reliance. Practical life (PL) skills are the foundation for which the children will grow and carry over into the other areas of the classroom. Along with love and a stable environment, this is the child’s greatest need. This area of the curriculum focuses on control and deals with the social and physical environment in which he lives. There is a growing pride in being able to “do it for myself.” Practical life begins as soon as the young child enters the school and continues throughout the curriculum to more and more advanced tasks appropriate for the oldest students.
Coordination: Exactly what it says it is. The child gains coordination from the easy-to-hard, left-to-right, and whole-to-pieces challenges for his dexterity.
Concentration: The child will concentrate on completing an activity as perfectly as possible; all activities are intelligible, logical, sequential, and exact. Children will internalize this and try to repeat the exercises as perfectly as possible as all the exercises have a motive for perfection.
Independence: The exercises give the children a sense of independence from the result of freedom (freedom which is a result of co-coordination of movement and awareness of the environment)
Order: The children internalize the presentations in an orderly manner so that they can reproduce the same results as the teacher had presented. Each material has a sequence, a routine, a hierarchy, a cycle or a full rotation built in. There is also a definite logical order: the beginning, the middle and the ending of the process.
Exercises in perception, observation, fine discrimination, and classification play a major role in helping our students to develop their sense of logic and concentration. At the Early Childhood level these experiences includes activities, which assist the student in developing fine discriminations and categorizations using their visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory and olfactory senses. Through activities in this area students prepare for science as well as geometry and algebra. Elementary students refine the use of their senses by making precise observations of the natural world, and through culinary, artistic, architectural and musical appreciation.
Preliminary application: The child learns the basic movements of all societies such as pouring, folding, and carrying.
Applied applications: The child learns about the care and maintenance that helps every day life. These activities are, for example, the care of the person (i.e. the washing of the hand) and the care of the environment (i.e dusting a table or outdoor sweeping).
Grace and Courtesy: The children work on the interactions of people to people.
Control of Movement: The child learns about his own movements and learns how to refine his coordination through such activities as walking on the line.
Practical life activities feed the children’s natural desire to work and play an active role in their environment. The materials are rooted in “real” activities (nothing in this area is make believe, e.g. like wooden fruits). Since the exercises are lucid, logical and realistic (yes, I put breakable materials like ceramic cups), the materials help the children to pursue reality. If the activities are not meaningful and purposeful, the mind cannot develop or construct itself. The more familiar the children become with their environment, the higher their self-esteem grow.