The didactic materials, curriculum and instruction in the primary Montessori learning environments are carefully divided into the following areas:
Practical Life: A series of prepared exercises focus on the child’s large and fine motor development, and directly impact control and coordination, physical independence, concentration, order, and generosity of heart. Each of these attributes and areas of motor development prepare the child for success with later cognitive activities, which follow a logical, orderly sequence of difficulty. Practical life activities are divided into the following categories: care of person, care of environment, control and coordination, and grace and courtesy.
Sensorial: Education of the child’s five senses is critical for the development of his/her perceptual acuity, intelligence, and mental framework for abstract/logical thinking. Sensorial exercises and didactic materials are based on the Aristotelian principle of “what is in the mind was first in the senses” and are divided into the following categories: visual (colors, shapes, solids, and dimensions); auditory (sounds and tones); tactile and baric (textures and weight); gustatory (taste); olfactory (smells, aromas, fragrances), and stereognostic (visual activities blindfolded).
Language: The Primary child is particularly interested in language and expanding his/her expressive vocabulary. The sense of touch is acute, making exercises that introduce the child to writing, reading and spelling, such as “sandpaper letters” and “the movable alphabet,” profoundly interesting. Many exercises establish and refine the child’s knowledge of the sound-symbol correspondence. Music and Spanish are critical supplements to the language curriculum. Read-alouds and poetry also capture and sustain this child’s attention for significant periods.
Mathematics: Dr. Montessori first introduced the child to a Base 10 system with dimensional pieces in the sensorial area (see above). With a good foundation in the sensorial area, the child quickly and thoroughly grasps the concepts of quantities and numerals, as well as simple mathematical operations with concrete materials that make abstractions very clear. Areas of mathematical work include counting quantities and numerals from 1 to 100, the decimal system and related operations, memorization of arithmetic facts, and square and cubes of whole numbers.
Cultural: Geography and history lessons present a personal sense of time as well as placement in the family, school, community, state, country, world, and universe. Life sciences include the study of the five vertebrates as well as plants, flowers, and leaves. Teachers often include simple science experiments that introduce the children to concepts of water, gravity, light, and magnetism.
Art: Skills and techniques of art are introduced to the child in the practical life exercises. In this area, many exercises, such as cutting paper with scissors, mixing colors to make a color wheel, and using pastels, water colors, tempera paints, and markers for self-expression are always available to the child. Teachers are also active in giving lessons in shading, outlining, and coloring – necessary skills for projects that are either content-oriented or spontaneous.
Developmentally, learning activities reflect each child’s sensitive periods for critical growth in the following cognitive areas:
Language: Oral, written, and thought.
Order: Coordination of fine and large motor systems; outer orientation, i.e. awareness of where didactic materials are located; and inner orientation, specifically the understanding of his/her place in the family and the school community.
Detail and aesthetic appeal of didactic objects: Carefully selected Montessori materials beautifully designed to attract and sustain the child’s attention.
Social relationships: Appropriate grace and courtesies that enable the child to maintain positive and productive social relationships throughout life.