This area is designed to help students develop and care for themselves, the environment, and each other. In the Primary years (ages 3–6), children learn how to do things such as: pouring and scooping, using kitchen utensils, washing dishes, polishing objects, scrubbing tables, and cleaning-up. They also learn how to dress themselves, tie their shoes, wash their hands, and other self-care practices. They learn these practical skills through a wide variety of materials and activities.
Although caring for one-self and for one’s environment is an important part of Montessori Practical Life education in these years, it also presumes to prepare the child for more: The activities might build a child’s concentration as well as being designed, in many cases, to prepare the child for writing. For the first three years of life, children absorb a sense of order in their environment. They learn how to naturally act a certain way, by absorbing it. In these ages, 3–6, the children are learning how to both build their own order and to discover, understand, and refine the order they already know. The practical life area teaches language in many forms. Fine motor skills used in the pencil-grip help the child develop that particular grip, in order to later more easily use a pencil. Strong concentration and attention to detail are typical traits of Montessori-schooled children. Practical life schooling in the elementary years and in the high school years involves many of the same skills, but also begins asserting a greater drive towards community-service-oriented activities.
All learning first comes through the senses. By isolating something that is being taught, the child can more easily focus on it. There are many different Montessori sensorial materials designed to help the child refine the tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory senses. For example, colours are taught with color tablets. The color tablets are all alike, except for one detail — the color in the middle. It helps avoid confusion for the child, and helps him and her focus specifically on: What is “blue”?
Exact phrasing of identifying terms is important, thus, an oval is not an “egg shape”, a sphere is not a “ball”. The Montessori method greatly emphasizes using the correct terminology for naming what we see. This is readily apparent in the sensorial area, because, it regularly overlaps into the mathematics area.
The blue rods used in the sensorial area schooling are a direct link to the segmented rods used in mathematics taught to one-through-ten year-olds. The pink tower has a connection to units and thousands that the child learns later, in the 3-6 curriculum. Even the trinomial cube will be used in the elementary years to figure out complex mathematical formulae.
This includes studies of the world and other cultures. Montessori children achieve early understanding of the concepts of continent, country, and province, and the names of many countries of the world.
The use of colored maps and flags assist the children in remembering continents, countries, and provinces. More important, the goal is acquiring an understanding of the world’s other cultures.
The language curriculum, especially in the early years, includes everything — from vocabulary development to writing to reading. Children learn basic phonic letter-sounds through the use of sandpaper letters.
The child’s tracing of the letter implements tactile learning of how the letter feels.
Children then begin constructing three-letter words with a moveable alphabet, then progress into actual reading.
The science curriculum takes advantage of the child’s natural questioning and draws a curriculum for the 3–6 age range. Early-childhood age children are very detail-oriented. They know what a bird is. At that age, they want to know the body parts of a bird. They want to know the life cycles of different animals. They begin to observe the parts of a plant, and ask: What are those long things coming out the middle of a flower?
Children go from a concrete understanding of mathematics to an abstract understanding of mathematics via mathematical concepts. For example, telling the difference between 1, 10, 100, and 1000, because they have felt it many times. Originally, they felt it in the pink tower, when they were three-year-olds, and, later, in the mathematics materials. The concepts of squares and cubes become concrete in their use of the Montessori Bead Cabinet.