For children between the ages of 2.5 to 6, fully-implemented Montessori begins by providing a homelike space with a complete set of Montessori materials where trained adults guide a group of children in building a supportive learning community. The combination of these features — a specially prepared environment complete with Montessori materials, trained adults, and a community of children — is called a Children’s House. Each of these features possesses unique characteristics that work in harmony to facilitate a full range of learning opportunities for all children in a Children’s House.
A Specially Prepared Environment and Sequence of Montessori Materials
Each Children’s House starts with a warm, inviting space utilizing as much natural light and material as possible. This welcoming space is designed to maximize each child's ability to meet their own needs and the needs of the group with as much independence and purpose as possible. Almost all furniture, counter space, shelving, and equipment is sized to fit the use and needs of children between 2.5 and 6.
Throughout the room, low, accessible shelving house an integrated and cohesive set of Montessori materials. Each material is designed to be used by trained adults while giving individualized lessons as well as by children in solo or small group follow-up work.
These materials form many interwoven sequences of work. Any particular material in a given sequence builds on the skills and understanding learned through the use of previous materials while preparing the child for work with materials further along in the sequence. This unique, individualized learning structure and sequence of materials, with a balance of one-on-one work with an adult and self-guided follow up, allows the learning opportunities in a fully-implemented Children's House to go far beyond the curriculum found in typical preschool and kindergarten classrooms.
Many materials and their associated lessons offer children the keys to caring for themselves, one another, and the environment in ways not typically seen in children under six. These materials are collectively called Practical Life. An observer in a fully-implemented Children's House may see children sweeping up beans spilled in an exercise to practice pouring from a pitcher, buttoning and unbuttoning fabric fixed to a small frame, polishing a piece of brass or wood to a shiny luster, adding water and crushed eggshells to potted plants, sewing a button onto a stuffed animal, or scrubbing a small table. They may also see groups of older children taking on more complex responsibilities such as preparing a buffet style snack for the entire Children's House or planning the best ways to weed the raised garden beds in the natural play area outdoors.
In fully-implemented Children's Houses, sets of blocks and other traditional building materials, as well as lessons on concepts like shapes and colors, are replaced with a set of sequenced materials designed to awaken awareness and discernment across all the senses. These materials are part of the Sensorial group and are among the most well known Montessori materials. An observer may see a young child wearing a blindfold while exploring a gradient of textures from rough to smooth or arranging a set of rectangular prisms from shortest to longest. Older children might be matching the 35 shapes of the geometry cabinet to a set of label cards or sorting a set of tablets by weight. A small group of even older children might be working with a puzzle where each piece is a country in a particular continent and an atlas, quizzing one another on the countries' names.
Sequences of materials introducing progressively more complex and abstract math and language concepts stem from work in the Sensorial area then quickly diverge into their own extended sequences of learning opportunities. Math begins with a concrete understanding of quantity from 1 - 10. Next, the names and symbols of the numbers that correspond to those concrete quantities are introduced. A truly beautiful representation of the decimal system begins with the introduction of a single small golden bead as a unit and then puts 10 beads together to form a bar, 100 beads together to form a square, and 1000 beads together to form a cube. Exciting introductions to the four basic mathematical operations — addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division — are offered to the children while manipulating sets of many thousands of these golden beads, laying the groundwork for a deep conceptual understanding of each basic operation and the decimal system. Further work in math offers children the chance to refine their understanding of the four operations while also supporting a move away from manipulatives and towards abstract calculation skills with paper and pencil. All along the way, children are given keys to basic work with math concepts like multiples, factors, fractions, square roots, and cube roots — all of which will prepare them well for further math exploration.
The language sequence begins with materials and activities designed to build spoken language skills. Children are encouraged to expand their vocabulary according to areas of personal interest for purposes as diverse as scientific classification and storytelling. They are also encouraged, from their very first days in the classroom, to build their abilities to hear and name the sounds that make up our everyday speech. While these important vocabulary and phonemic awareness skills are given the opportunity to flourish, children are also encouraged to develop their abilities to recognize and trace diverse shapes and use a pincer grasp to manipulate objects. All these skill sets come together to support a highly tactile process of learning letter symbols and their associated sounds and then, shortly thereafter, the ability to write! This introduction to writing just before reading is a uniquely participatory and phonics-based introduction to literacy. It offers children the advantage of creating symbolic language (i.e., writing) before being asked to decipher symbolic language (i.e., reading). The sequence of language materials outlined above is typically presented to a child over their first and second year in a fully-implemented Children's House. In their final year of work, many children have the opportunity to work with more advanced language materials that help build fluent reading and writing skills while exploring more abstract components of literacy like parts of speech and punctuation.
The role of adults in the Children’s House is to support and protect each child’s unique developmental journey while facilitating community. This is primarily achieved through observation and individualized connections with children. All adults in the Children's House also take on responsibility for modeling and encouraging care of the specially prepared environment. An observer may see adults talking or working with individual children, gathering a small group of children to read, sing, or play a game, or simply observing the Children's House waiting for an opportunity to offer appropriate support.
One adult, specially trained as a community Guide (i.e., classroom teacher), observes the children during the work cycle and looks for opportunities to invite individuals or small groups of children to attend lessons they believe will benefit their development. The Guide's role is to connect each child in the community to opportunities in the environment that will help build new skills and reach new developmental milestones. A capable Guide will infuse the process with seemingly effortless joy. However, in their everyday work, Guides weave together their knowledge of hundreds of materials and lessons along dozens of sequences with their knowledge of the individual developmental trajectory and personality of each child currently in the Children's House.
Another adult, trained in the role of Children's House Assistant, also carefully observes the children and the environment. The Assistant is responsible for maintaining order by restocking or reorganizing materials, helping children follow community boundaries, and protecting the Guide's work of giving lessons to individuals and small groups. The most capable Assistants combine high levels of support and warmth with high expectations and consistent boundaries while interacting with children. Montessori Guide is a great resource for learning more about the roles of the Guide and Classroom Assistant in the Montessori Children’s House.
A Community of Children
Each child in a Children’s House community ideally attends for three years. When they enter, just before or after their third birthday, they are one of the youngest children in the community and benefit greatly from the care, example, and guidance the older children and adults in their new environment offer. Gradually, over the course of approximately three years, that same young child is able to take on the responsibility of modeling skills and ways of supporting the community to the younger children entering behind them. This process gives each child the opportunity to reinforce their own learning through repetition and the process of modeling while developing their own unique set of leadership skills.
Group size is intentionally larger in fully-implemented Montessori learning communities; at CMC, we will aim for groups of 24 children balanced by age, gender, socioeconomic status, and exceptionalities. These larger groups ensure that the children in the mixed-age setting have same-age peers and an opportunity to develop a mixed-age, child-centered community.
To support the continuity of the community and each child's learning in the Children's House, all children attend school for five days each week and follow a unique daily schedule. Children are offered long, uninterrupted periods during both the morning and afternoon to work independently, participate in individual or small-group lessons, play games, serve and eat snack, observe, and socialize at their discretion. During these periods, called work cycles, all choices made by children that respect the community boundaries are, in turn, respected as part of each child's developmental journey. At Community Montessori Columbus, we will supplement the Montessori work cycles with time in our natural play area and garden or indoor gross-motor space, lunch, a nap/rest period for younger Full Day students, and three flexible Extended Care sessions.
The Children’s House Schedule at Community Montessori
At CMC, all children will participate in the morning work cycle five days a week and will either go home to nap, nap and/or rest at school, or participate in a second work cycle during the afternoon. Regular school day drop-off for all Children’s House students will be between 8:30 AM and 8:45 AM. A Partial Day pick-up time from 1:00 PM to 1:15 PM will be offered for 2.5, 3, and 4 year olds whose families would prefer they nap or rest at home. Younger children remaining at school will nap and/or rest in the afternoon while older children will participate in a second, afternoon work cycle. Regular school day pick-up will be between 3:15 PM and 3:30 PM.