When the child first enters the Montessori environment at age three, the teacher introduces the exercises of practical life. These include table washing, shoe polishing, pouring exercises, and flower arranging. There are also dressing frames, which allow children to practice activities such as buttoning, snapping, tying, and buckling. It is with these numerous practical life exercises that the child acquires independence and develops control and order, thus realizing the ability to organize and carry through to the end of a task. The practical life activities form the basis for all other work in the classroom. Through these activities the child becomes aware of the need to care for the environment, friends, and world.
The sensorial materials have been scientifically designed to aid the senses in discriminating form, shape, size, color, sound, and touch. They consist of an array of colorful and attractive materials. The pink tower shows cube relations. The red rods show linear relations. The color tablets isolate colors of the environment. These are only a few of the many appealing apparatus found in the sensorial area. Through these exercises, the child discovers the ability to “see” things by merely touching. The bells, sound boxes, and listening exercises teach the delight in and discrimination of sounds.
Through various games and exercises, the very young child is made aware of the fact that words are made of sounds. The child then learns that each sound has a symbol and the child traces the sandpaper letter symbols during this sensitive period for touch. Knowing the sound and symbol for each letter of the alphabet the child begins to build phonetic words. Soon the child advances into reading with more advanced games and exercises. The study of grammar begins with the study of individual words, first in an informal study with games, and later with a more formal manner through the function of words exercises.
Some areas covered in what we call the “Cultural Subjects” are Geography, History, and Science. Geography folders, land and water forms, flags, and puzzle maps are all used to introduce geography concepts. Types of shelter, transportation, food, clothing are discussed. History language cards on topics such as the presidents are used.
The child has already worked sensorially with the materials showing cube relations, square relations, and linear relations. By the time s/he is four years old, s/he is ready to abstract this information and learn the symbol and quantity of numbers. Materials such as the evenly graduated red and blue rods representing the numbers 1 through 10, help the child to clearly understand the quantity of numbers and that each has a corresponding symbol. Once the child understands this concept, s/he then has the key to the mathematical world and can begin working with more advanced apparatus, which will lead to abstraction.