The Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati puts Montessori principles to work here in a materials-rich private-school environment. University-trained faculty follow the Montessori method created by Dr. Maria Montessori in 1907. Dr. Montessori believed that learning is a natural, self-directed process that follows certain fundamental laws of nature. She observed that children, when met with a prepared environment, came into complete harmony with their surroundings — a process she called “normalization.” This environment, she believed, must be committed to the principles of observation, individual liberty and preparation. In this environment, a child’s spontaneous desire for goal-directed activity, serious intellectual development, genuine thirst for knowledge and academic achievement emerges.
The Montessori program has many distinct qualities that set it apart from traditional learning environments. There is a strong emphasis on cognitive and social development. Children choose their own work from interests and abilities, giving them a sense of ownership over their activities. Each child formulates his or her own concepts from self-teaching materials. Self-correcting facets of the materials provide understanding and independence. The sensorial manipulatives used by the children help to make more abstract concepts concrete for better comprehension. The program is based on self-directed, noncompetitive activities which help children develop confidence and face new challenges.
The purpose of the language activities in a Montessori classroom is to develop reading and writing skills. During the ages of three to six years, children are riding the crest of language development. Their absorbent minds are adding new words to their vocabulary at a rate that will never again be equaled. This is why, in a Montessori classroom, language permeates all areas. Objects are labeled. Activities such as the geometric solids and the botany cabinet, where classifications are named, promote language. Language is the cohesive element which integrates the child’s total experiences in the classroom. Montessori’s approach to language is all-encompassing. It is a strong phonics-based method that includes whole language ideas. The sensorial and practical life areas are a preparation for language learning. Concentration, left-to-right sequencing, pencil control, and visual and auditory discrimination are developed through many practical and sensorial activities. The child learns sounds through the visual, auditorial and kinesthetic channels. The sandpaper letters and moveable alphabet are tools to help the child learn to communicate.
The emerging writing skills are mastered in many ways. The metal insets prepare the hand for writing. The sandpaper letters provide the link between the sounds and the symbols. D’Nealian handwriting techniques are taught with this process. Beginning reading starts with matching sounds with objects and progresses. Both encoding and decoding materials are available to master the skills of reading.
The Montessori math program focuses on using concrete examples to illustrate abstract concepts, transferring quantities to symbols and learning the ones, tens, hundreds and thousands. Sandpaper numerals, number rods, cards and counters, teen and tens boards and a 1-100 board are all materials used to demonstrate the quantity to symbol recognition. Bank game and golden bead materials provide an introduction to the decimal system and basic operations. Squaring and cubing of numbers is demonstrated through the bead chains of varying colors.
The exercises in practical life are the very heart of the Montessori education. As young children wash dishes, pour liquids, polish silver, sweep and dust, they are developing the inner aptitudes of calmness, order, concentration, coordination and fine motor skills. At the same time, children learn the process of meeting their own needs, caring for the classroom environment and experiencing helping others. Children begin to develop responsibility, independence, self-confidence and self-respect.
The sensorial materials allow the child to observe the world, make comparisons between objects, form judgements, reason and, in general, give a sense of order to their environment. The red rods, pink tower and brown stair materials, to mention a few, improve the child’s ability to make visual distinctions, develop muscular memory and improve reasoning power. The sound cylinders are designed to develop the sense of acuity in hearing the smallest stimuli. Later, the activity increases the child’s ability to distinguish individual sounds used in the reading process. The constructive triangles permit children to explore geometric possibilities of size and shape and train the eye to discriminate visually. The geometric cabinet and geometric solids emphasize shape and size discrimination between two-dimensional forms. The geometric solids include a sphere cube, triangular and rectangular prisms, a pyramid, an ovoid, an ellipsoid and a cone.
The sensorial materials are a preparation for all learning. They establish a solid basis for the mathematical and language materials. The child learns organization and discrimination through using the visual, tactile and auditory approach.
This curricular area covers the universe from the concept of land, air and water to various landforms to maps and cultural studies. Map skills are taught using a continent map, six continent puzzle maps of countries and a map of the United States. Cultural studies include presentations about Romania, England, Ireland and Brazil.
Montessori science introduces students to a wide breadth of topics including botany, zoology, anatomy, physical sciences and astronomy. Trips to the Cincinnati Zoo and The Summit’s own Star Lab help to bring these studies to life for the children. Montessori students learn classification techniques, magnet work, sink-and-float work, skeletal make-up and the way planet models are created.
Weekly presentations of Bible stories using hands-on materials encourage student participation in their own spiritual experience. Students hear and interact with Bible stories involving God and His Son, Jesus, offer insight into these stories and sing songs of praise. The Montessori kindergarten has adopted the Archdiocesan approved curriculum. Christian service is also a part of the religion curriculum, with Montessori students participating by providing Christmas gifts to families in need.
Units of Study
Five-Year-Old All Day (Kindergarten) Enrichment Program Units
Enrichment units of study for this age group include animals, Native Americans, astronomy, inventors and inventions, music and art. The unit on animals looks at how animals are classified according to mammals, birds, fish, insects, reptiles and amphibians. Books on animals are used as well as animal art in the form of stuffed birds, clay insects and fish prints. This unit culminates with a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo.
The Native American unit studies the environments where several different tribes of Native Americans lived. Northeast Woodland, Southeast Plains and the Northwest and Southwest Indians are some of the tribes covered in this unit. Native American art, such as dreamcatchers, weavings, amulets, clay pots, teepees and totem poles help to illustrate this culture; the unit is closed with a Cherokee Indian Corn Festival to celebrate.
The Christmas Nativity Play is a celebration of Advent and allows Montessori students to work on memorization skills and stage presence.
A unit on astronomy exposes children to both the solar system and constellations. Students create papier-mâché planets accompanied by planet reports to learn facts about our solar system. Fictional accounts of aliens allow the children to practice their writing skills. The use of The Summit’s own Star Lab provides All-Day students a hands-on experience of the constellations which they translate into stories about the naming of the constellations. The Star Lab is also used to illustrate circumpolar, winter and birthday constellations.
Three- and Four-Year Old Extended Day Enrichment Program Units
Mini-units, similar to the All-Day units, include two-week programs on animals, planets, plants, geography and cultural studies, nutrition, the human body, rocks and minerals, holiday studies and cooking. Specialties offered are physical education and the Orff Music program. Lunch and naps are a part of the Extended Day Program.
In this online booklet, The Summit's Montessori faculty provide background on the Montessori Philosophy through Dr. Maria Montessori's words.
Montessori Math uses traditional concrete manipulative materials which help children develop an understanding of abstract concepts such as quantity and the symbols we use to represent it.