A Snapshot of the Children's House Curriculum
An overview of the 3-year Children’s House (preschool and kindergarten) curriculum
The curriculum in a Children’s House, the 3-year Montessori preschool through kindergarten program, is distinctive. Many of the materials, activities, and even subject areas are not found in any other kind of preschool classroom; while many of the more familiar materials and activities you might expect are absent or turned on their heads. And when you observe the materials themselves—such as the cylinder blocks, the binomial cube, or phonetic object box—it can be confusing and difficult to grasp what is happening in the classroom or what the child is learning.
All the learning materials and activities found in Children’s House can be understood by being organized into one of five areas of study: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math, and Cultural.
The first area of the classroom a child typically encounters when he joins at 2.5 to 3 years old is Practical Life. Instead of play kitchens and stations for dress-up or “playing house”, the child learns to prepare his own snacks using real knives and dishware, practices zipping, buttoning, and buckling clothing items using dressing frames, and sweeps the floor with a real broom and dustpan.
Though often boring to older children or adults, these activities are deeply captivating and rewarding for a young child. They enable him to channel all his energy and his desire to move and coordinate his hands and body towards achieving real, meaningful tasks—the same ones he has seen his parents accomplish every day for years, and that, thus far, have been tantalizingly out of his reach.
In a Montessori Children’s House, the environment is prepared so that a child has access to the tools and guidance he needs to achieve success. He has child-sized brooms, mops, and dust cloths among other implements, and receives precise, hands-on lessons teaching him the steps he needs to successfully complete each task.
The Practical Life curriculum is about more than teaching the child to independently dress himself or prepare his own snack, though these are important and meaningful skills. Throughout the 3-year program, the child builds his ability to concentrate, pay attention to details, act with responsibility and self-discipline, and follow increasingly complex steps to achieve a goal. Above all, the child forms an ingrained sense of his own capability, empowering him to surmount challenges and persist through setbacks in this and in other areas of life.
It’s no secret that children love sensory activities. Whether it’s play dough, sand, or slime, the child loves to explore the world with her hands. Similarly, she loves to experience new sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. In a Montessori Children’s House, the child is provided with more than just one-off opportunities for sensory exploration. Rather, there is an expansive curriculum dedicated to educating the child’s senses.
There are materials for each sense. The child works with color tablets in the visual sense, for example, and pairs red with red, blue with blue, and so on. Eventually, the child arranges the colors of over 5 dozen tablets arranging each color from the lightest to darkest shade. In the tactile sense, the child works with materials like the touch tablets, eventually arranging items from smoothest to roughest while blindfolded. In the auditory sense, the child pairs bells that emit the same note, eventually arranging a full octave independently.
Of course, every healthy person can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch items in their environment. A person doesn’t need a lesson to see the different shades of blue or feel the difference between course wool and smooth silk. But not every person is equally attuned to their world.
Noticing things in one’s environment, paying attention to fine distinctions, seeing connections and implications, and making precise judgments are all fundamental to navigating through one’s life successfully—whether one is a doctor studying test results for signs of disease, an engineer analyzing a building site, an artist selecting the proper shade of paint or grade of marble for a project, or a parent taking note of their child’s recent lethargy.
The Children’s House Sensorial curriculum is designed to empower a child to use her senses in increasingly refined ways, progressively building a habit of careful observation, logical reasoning, friendliness with error, and persistence. Indirectly, many of the materials also provide a foundation for advanced math, geometry, and scientific concepts. The child works with materials like the constructive triangles, for example, and builds an intuitive understanding of the relationship between triangles and various plane figures, forming the basis for a solid understanding of equivalence and area later studied in elementary.
In conventional education, language and literacy curriculum is typically reserved for kindergarten and above. Though you may be able to read a book to a younger child or teach him the alphabet song, more advanced skills seemingly have to wait.
A young child has only very recently learned to speak and understand others. The use of language, the expansion of vocabulary, and the translation of spoken language into concrete symbols are all very fascinating to him. Through the use of sensory-rich, hands-on materials, a child as young as 2.5 can begin building the foundations of literacy.
In a Montessori Children’s House, a young child is given access to a language curriculum at his level, enabling him to build skills without rote drills and without requiring teacher-led lectures. In addition, all other areas of the curriculum and the presentation of activities themselves are designed to indirectly teach skills needed for language and literacy development. Most materials, for example, must be grasped by little knobs, requiring the child to practice the pincer grip he’ll later use when writing. Similarly, most materials and activities are organized such that a child must follow a right-to-left and top-to-bottom pattern, just like a child will later use when reading.
Because the language curriculum is aligned with the child’s stage of development, and is designed to isolate skills that the child can focus on one at a time, he advances farther than his peers in traditional education. By the time the child reaches the end of the 3-year program, equivalent to finishing kindergarten year, he is able to read for comprehension and has studied advanced grammar that his peers won’t see until 2nd or 3rd grade.
And because the language curriculum is presented early while the child is captivated by the process, he learns to read in a joyful, positive way. For the child in Children’s House, reading is a thrilling adventure rather than drudgery. Reading is not something that he has to be forced to do, but is something he loves and chooses to do on his own.
Similar to language and literacy, hands-on multisensory materials give a young child access to a math curriculum far younger than her peers, and empowers her to reach advanced concepts by the end of kindergarten year.
The study of math, like literacy, also begins indirectly. Many of the materials in the sensorial curriculum provide an intuitive basis for math concepts. The child uses the red rods, for example, arranging them progressively from shortest to longest and viscerally experiences that the second rod is twice the length of the first, the third is three times longer and so on. When she later uses the number rods and labels them from 1 to 10, she has built a solid intuition to understand the new concept.
A major focus of the Montessori math curriculum is enabling the child to have access to abstract concepts at a concrete level she can understand. The goal is not to memorize and repeat algorithms without understanding where they came from or why one is using them. Rather, the goal is to understand the relationships in reality that give rise to the conventions and processes used in math. When learning about place value, for example, the child uses the golden bead set. She can see and hold in her hands the difference between one, ten, one hundred, and one thousand. The idea is real to her and she can build on it in increasingly complex ways.
By the time the child finishes the capstone kindergarten year, place value and operations have become so ingrained that she can perform all four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) with four-digit numbers. In conventional education, she would have to wait until 3rd grade to have access to these concepts. But because of the careful, hands-on approach, the child is guided from concrete to abstract knowledge at her own pace and in a way that feels grounded and intuitive.
The final area of the Children’s House curriculum is Cultural Studies. In this area, the child studies things like botany, geography, history, art, and music. The materials for this area of the curriculum are integrated with other areas of the classroom. For example, for botany there are sensorial activities that involve identifying and pairing the leaf shapes of various plants, practical life activities like gardening, and language activities that teach vocabulary relevant to the types and parts of plants.
The Cultural curriculum taps into the young child’s growing interest in understanding and cataloguing the world around him, while capitalizing on his interest in increasingly challenging vocabulary. In the same way the child is fascinated and excited to learn math vocabulary like “trapezoid” and “rhombus”, he is excited to learn the words for what he sees on maps and globes such as “archipelago” and “peninsula.”
With its emphasis on vocabulary and organizing information into a detailed system of knowledge, the Cultural curriculum sets the stage for more advanced learning in elementary. The child begins to transition to more abstract learning and finds an outlet for his growing desire to make sense of the world around him and the reasons behind things.
Over the course of the 3-year Children’s House program, the child gains an expansive understanding of her world, builds foundational academic, social, and physical skills needed to navigate that world, and forms the character habits that will enable her to use that knowledge and those skills to fuel her lifelong success.
By the time a child finishes the capstone Kindergarten year of the program, she is more than ready for elementary school. She’s eager for the more abstract learning, required self-discipline, and greater academic and social challenges that await her!