6 Weeks - 18 Months
Foundation for Movement
The first thing you’ll see upon entering the Nido (Dr. Montessori’s term for the prepared Infant Environment, the Italian word for ‘Nest), is its use of simple, natural materials which encourage a sense of calm, order, beauty and security. Every object is selected to promote children’s natural development of motor and cogitative skills. There are no infant swings, no bouncers, no walkers, no exasaucers. No noisy battery-operated plastic toys. Not even a high chair in sight! We allow children to freely explore the environment and encourage uninterrupted, self-directed play. We trust that our children’s play choices are enough. Perfect, actually.
Infants as active participants
Our youngest students are invited to actively participate in caregiving activities such as diapering, washing, meals and nap rituals. The inclusion allows the children to become active participants rather than passive recipients. We promote consistency and provide clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline. At the same time, we recognize that the children need nurturing empathetic caregivers who model patience, tolerance, kindness, empathy and respect.
Continuity of Care
We take our commitment to our youngest students a bit further by practicing Continuity of Care. Children in our Nido stay together and transition together to Community with their trusted caregivers until they are ready for Primary at age three. This allows close bonds to develop where infants, toddlers, and their caregivers flourish.
18 Months – 3 years
Foundation for Independence
Help me do it myself!
Often, we hear this period of development referred to as ‘the terrible twos’. We disagree; we think it’s ‘the terrific twos.’ We love their energy, curiosity, determination, as well as their natural drive to be independent.
We’ve carefully prepared an environment that takes advantage of this natural drive where everything is just the right size for the children to do things on their own. The child sized tools that are just the right fit for their tiny hands allow them to prepare snack and serve it to their friends. The miniature broom and dustpan empower them to clean up on their own. We offer endless opportunities to practice daily life tasks from washing tables to watering plants; from dressing themselves to toilet learning. Children gain the skills that are essential to life along with the confidence and self-esteem that comes from being independent. More importantly, children develop the belief that they are an integral member of the community and that they can choose to make a genuine impact on the world.
Language Development Explosion
Engaging children in everyday tasks gives us so much to talk about! They have a desire to learn new words and practice speaking them. The purpose of our Language area is to help children express themselves and to communicate with others. We offer many creative and intriguing linguistic concepts to expand their growing vocabularies; by participating in conversation, listening to stories, classifying object, learning new nomenclature, practicing songs and poems, they nurture their budding language skills.
By the end of their Community experience, sometime between the ages of 2 ½ and 3, your child’s language skills will develop rapidly; the child will grow more confident in his independence and express a keen interest in broader, more complete concepts. At this point, he is ready to transition to the Primary Classroom for children ages 3-6.
Foundation for Learning
Focus on the whole child
The Montessori Primary curriculum is truly a gift to your child. It doesn’t just focus on a set of academic skills or a body of knowledge. Instead it focuses on the development of the whole person. It is designed to support the child’s intellectual, physical, emotional and social development through active exploration, choice and independent learning. It serves as the early and general foundation that will guide your child for the rest of his life.
Our children experience the joy of independence and responsibility
In most instances, children who don’t do things for themselves haven’t been given the opportunity to learn or simply haven’t been given the chance. We provide both. We show children how to take care of their own needs and provide many opportunities to practice. When they can successfully care for themselves and the environment in which they live, they not only build confidence and independence, but responsibility and self-discipline.
Learning takes place through independent exploration
A large portion of the day, the children work independently. Your child is free to choose an activity from a full set of scientifically designed Montessori learning materials. These materials help to develop a new skill or reveal a new concept through the child’s use and exploration. Some provide the opportunity to perfect the practical skills of caring for one’s own needs or for the classroom environment. Some materials enrich vocabulary and open the door to writing, reading and the parts of speech. Some inspire interest in the world around us leading to great exploration of geography, history, the physical and natural sciences. Others build on your child’s natural interest in counting and introduce an understanding of the decimal system and the processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Some encourage artistic self-expression through the introduction of skills and media. The physical manipulation of these materials builds a foundation of concrete experiences of abstract concepts, such as mathematics, assisting your child to a deeper level of understanding.
The classroom is child-centered, not teacher-centered
Your child moves through the sequence of these activities at his own pace and repeats these activities until he’s achieved mastery. The teacher acts as a guide, noting where your child may be struggling or gaining mastery, ready to present new lessons and challenges to keep him actively engaged throughout his development.
Individualized learning in a mixed-age class
Because the curriculum is individualized, your child can work independently while participating in a mixed age classroom community. A three-year-old literally and figuratively looks up to a six-year-old. The older children help the younger children tidy spills, polish correctly, learn map vocabulary. The six-year-old has an opportunity to practice leadership, patience and empathy while the three-year-old has a model to emulate. This wide range encourages the best in everyone. The children form a sort of family, caring for and about one-another.
While most of the day is spent in self-guided work, there’s also time for group activity and play. The teacher gathers the group for community – for songs, to read stories or ‘grace & courtesy’ lessons that teach children how to solve conflicts or to act politely in social situations. Ample time is also given to run, dig, explore and play with friends outdoors.
A note about the three-year commitment
The primary Montessori program is designed as a three-year cycle. Ideally children from 3 – 6 years old stay with the same teacher right through their kindergarten year.
Because some things take time to develop, that final year is so important. In the first two years, children work on activities and materials that build the foundation for more complex and abstract work. For example, over the course of the first two years, children work with concrete math materials, such as the golden beads. Working with concrete materials gives the child an increased understanding of concepts and they become deeply internalized. As third year students are guided to more and more complex work, concrete materials are no longer as necessary and the child moves to more abstract pencil and paper math exercises.
In addition to the academic, there is also a social component. During these three years, children experience different roles, responsibilities and expectations. The younger children learn quickly and enthusiastically from their older peers. They look up to the older children as role models and learn how to behave and what is acceptable. They also observe the more advanced work of the older children, something the child will be aspiring to do one day. In turn, the older children have the unique opportunity to be mentors and community leaders. Their understanding of concepts and skills is strengthened by practicing and sharing with the younger ones. These opportunities to lead help build confidence and self-esteem.
So it is unfortunate that some parents will enroll the child in our Montessori school at age 3 but will pull their child after 2 years in order to enroll him in the Kindergarten of their future elementary school. A Montessori education, even if cut short, is beneficial to the child, but that child is robbed of that precious last year. The child laid the foundation for something that was never completed. Additionally, when the child leaves the program early, it affects the overall integrity of the class. There is a negative effect on the dynamic of the classrooms if there are only a few 5- and 6 – year old children who remain.
For these reason, we ask families to consider their plans for kindergarten prior to enrolling their child in a Primary classroom. We do expect families to choose Montessori Foundations of Chicago because they believe in the Montessori philosophy, understand the advantages of staying through the Kindergarten year, and are willing to commit to a partnership with us to provide their child the best possible beginning to a successful school career. Placement decisions not only of the enrolling child but also the siblings of that child are influenced by a family's commitment to completion of the full Primary cycle.
Foundation for Thinking
We want the child to learn everything!
This is how different elementary school can and should be! Traditional curriculum restricts students to what they are supposed to learn. In Montessori, we want children to be able to learn everything!
The universe and all its wonders are offered to children through the “Great Lessons”; these dramatic and scientific stories are presented annually at the beginning of the school year and give the students the ‘big picture’ of astronomy, earth science, geography, physics, biology, history, cultural and social studies, language, math, music and art. The “Great Lessons” serve to initiate students’ individual exploration and discovery and are the springboard for subsequent lessons and further research. Meaningful learning happens when children are inspired by a lesson and begin to explore the subject and work on their own.
Children work collaboratively and cooperatively.
Elementary age students have a strong drive to be social and to collaborate. For this reason, most of the lessons and follow-up projects are done in pairs or groups of children rather than discouraging chatting and socializing. In a Montessori elementary program, your child will practice social skills necessary to plan and carry out a project: delegation and division of labor, sharing resources, making group decisions, taking responsibility for actions, and celebrating the success of peers. There are no desks to which children are confined while the teacher lectures. Learning how to work with different personalities is a significant life lesson with practical application in the ‘real world’ of the future.
Learning is tailored to challenge children at their own ability levels
Since the teacher rarely teaches the whole group, the work is individualized and each child is challenged at just the right level. A second grader who is advanced in math may join a group of third graders; if struggling with reading, the child may also join a group of first graders in literature circles. Furthermore, the multi-age format of the classroom prevents comparison of children; differences in ability and achievement are expected. There is no social disadvantage to being bright, interested, and motivated at school. Likewise, there is no stigma for reviewing or repeating lessons to gain mastery. Your child is free to continue to work with a material or concept as long as necessary, or to move on when he is ready for a new challenge. In our school, all children get straight “A’s” because they only move on when they really understand a concept.
Children explore their own interests while meeting age appropriate standards
Montessori children learn because they enjoy learning—because they delight in new knowledge, or love mastering new skills, or get motivated by seeing older children in class do challenging work. We don’t do letter grades because we believe that extrinsic incentives like grades and sticker charts appeal to the lowest levels of intellect and only for a brief period of time. Instead, the students collaborate with the teacher to ensure that the work is challenging and purposeful and that the basic skills for each grade are mastered. The teacher meets with students regularly to plan and assess their progress.
Similarly, we don’t assign homework. Typically, homework emphasizes the repetition of rote behaviors rather than the development of understanding. These assignments limit the possibility for exploration, substituting the mere completion of a task for the joy of discovery and personal understanding. Instead, the afternoons and weekends are free for family time and to pursue children’s passions without sacrificing sleep.
Learning occurs beyond the classroom
An important component of the upper elementary program is what we call going out. Going Out occurs for a group of children when exploration of a topic exhausts the resources of the classroom. We want the children to be comfortable navigating the world, not just the school. A Going Out is initiated, planned, organized, and carried out by a small group of students as a spontaneous extension of studies or projects they are pursuing in the classroom. These excursions are taken to visit museums, galleries, theaters, stores and other businesses, libraries, non-profit organizations, places of worship, zoos, historical sites, and other places where subject-matter experts can be found or hands-on experiences can be had. Each Going Out is an entire course of study on independence, responsibility, good citizenship and ‘real world’ social skills – to say nothing of the intellectual rewards that children get from such experiences.
Montessori graduates successfully matriculate to public, private and parochial schools. MFC graduates are regularly recognized as exceptional students, model citizens who readily assist others, and mature learners who respectfully take initiative, are adaptable and accountable and regularly rise to meet any challenge. We are confident that our Montessori program delivers outstanding results.
Our schools reflect their neighborhoods, with families of many ethnicities, religious beliefs, and countries of origin. Yet parents find that within their Montessori community, they are able to connect with people who share similar parenting styles, and who all value the investment of a great education for their children. Regular community events at school, frequent communications between teachers and parents, and an open door policy inviting parents to observe in class contribute to the community feel.