What do Montessori schools teach? And how do they teach different subjects?
The Montessori curriculum is unique and progressive. For most subjects, the focus is on concrete and experiential learning. Below, we outline the Montessori curriculum and teaching method for five subjects: math, science, reading, writing, and language.
Keep in mind, though, Montessori teaching and learning approaches vary between different levels (e.g., preschool, elementary, middle, and high school) and evolve through the years. Here we discuss the Montessori pedagogy and curriculum for math, science, reading, writing, and language.
The Montessori math curriculum is very concrete and hands-on. There’s little direct instruction in math. Instead, teachers guide and counsel. This is similar to the discovery approach to math instruction, and unlike the traditional approach.
Students work with many concrete materials to learn skills and concepts. They use self-correcting manipulatives, which allow them to find and correct their own mistakes. They also use sandpaper numbers, number rods, spindle boxes, golden bead material, bead frames, fraction insets, and sequin boards.
Montessori math starts with concrete learning. For instance, in arithmetic, students learn the names of the numbers by identifying numerals and objects. They then move on to more abstract and complex concepts.
The content for math is divided into categories that allow students to grasp increasingly challenging concepts. And usually, brief lessons cover these categories in a special order. But most work is done independently or in groups. And the pace of study varies between students.
The Montessori science curriculum, similar to math, is experiential. It’s very concrete and hands-on, with little direct instruction. This is similar to the inquiry approach to science instruction, and unlike the expository approach.
Students are rarely taught scientific subjects on their own. Instead, Montessori science interdisciplinary focus: students learn several subjects (scientific and non-scientific) at once. For instance, they might be given a great lesson about the beginning of the world, where they’ll learn about science, history, and theology.
Students are free to explore in and out of the classroom. They learn about the world through problem-solving and trial and error.
In secondary schools, some science lectures are given. There also might be some textbook learning at this level. This is especially true in high school, where provincial curricular requirements must be met.
In the Montessori reading curriculum, teachers take advantage of the sensitive period for reading—between the ages of three and five—during which children are more able to learn how to read. Children first learn to read (and write) through concrete material and sensory activities. For instance, they learn to trace sandpaper letters, and how to hold a pencil and control its use. This allows them to develop fine motor skills, and learn through many of their senses.
When children have learned some letters, they use what’s called a “movable alphabet.” These cardboard or wooden letters allow children to construct words, phrases, and sentences.
This sets the stage for phonics: sounding out letters and joining them together to form words. Children begin to distinguish sounds, and phonetically read words, phrases, and sentences.
As part of the whole language approach, children are then given reading cards. These allow them to practice matching words with objects and pictures. There’s also a lot of focus on comprehension. Children are given special material to learn the meanings of words and sentences and the basics of grammar.
After they’ve learned the basics, children are given books to read (usually non-fiction books). Often, many illustrated books about the real world are provided. Most schools also provide plenty of reading activities related to special topics of interest.
Children learn to write before reading in the Montessori education system. They start writing between the ages of three and four. During this sensitive period, they’re thought to be attracted to the order of writing, and can easily learn this skill.
Montessori writing, like reading and math, isn’t taught by direct instruction. The focus is on practising writing and doing engaging exercises. This resembles the process approach to writing instruction, and is unlike the systematic approach.
Children first work with moveable alphabets. They then learn how to hold a pencil, practice different strokes, and learn about pencil pressure. This improves their fine-motor skills and builds up their finger and hand muscles.
Special writing exercises are also given. These allow children to realize writing is not just “making marks.” This also helps them improve their handwriting. They then learn to write creatively, and express themselves in unique ways.
There are several aspects of the Montessori language curriculum. These include spoken and written language, reading, and spelling. These skills are taught together.
The Montessori classroom is designed to promote language skills. Language use is encouraged in the classroom, partly by giving students plenty of freedom to speak with their peers. Students also speak with teachers a lot. Oral language skills are refined through songs, games, poems, and stories.
In the language area of the classroom, vocabulary is enriched in many ways. Precise names are used for all objects. Object classification and matching exercises are also used to improve comprehension and vocabulary.
Students mostly move at their own pace in learning to speak, read, and write. There’s no strict time frame for developing these skills, unlike in many mainstream schools. Teachers do, though, take advantage of the sensitive periods for learning these skills.