Each year of the Montessori three-year program prepares the children for success in academic education that will follow and more importantly provides experiences that help build character and community where there is kindness and caring for each individual.
Although there are marked individual differences, the following is a brief picture of Montessori preschool, year by year:
Year One (ages 3 to 4)
The three-year-olds have exhausted the resources of the home and come to school ready for more. They enter an established community where they are the youngest members who quickly learn that there are ground rules and that there is freedom - that is, freedom to do what is right.
The greatest needs and interests of the three year old children are to gain coordination and refined control of their movements, to learn more words related to their daily lives, and to sort out and make sense of the myriad impressions they have received since birth. The Montessori-trained teacher and the prepared environment together support these important developmental tasks. Movements are coordinated through the beginning practical life lessons and linework activity. Classified vocabulary is the emphasis in the language avenue for the youngest children. The sensorial materials help with the development of the intellect by giving children experiences that foster understanding of sense impressions.
Three year old children learn by mimicking what they observe. Their sensitive period for order can be seen everyday as they strive to perform a lesson exactly the way the teacher demonstrated; they even are seen copying expressions and errors the teacher may have made. Then they are seen happily putting the lesson back exactly where it was found. It is sometimes astonishing to witness the calm and order of a Montessori classroom at the end of a busy day. Order in time (the schedule) and in space (a place for their materials) is comforting to young children. It is only when they are older do they find change to be interesting.
Year Two (ages 4 to 5)
The four-year-old children come back to school to discover that they are no longer the junior members of the community. Amazed to see the struggles of the littler children, some who cannot even take off their shoes and turn on the water in the bathroom, they gain a new sense of themselves and their abilities. Soon they become the lawgivers. They know all the rules and routines and are helpful in trying to keep the new little ones on track. At the same time they are now more aware of the activities and projects of the older children; and through this prepare for the interesting work that is coming. They prepare for their future by looking on when the older ones are doing advanced variations of lessons, are reading or counting aloud, or are writing and making "books" to take home. They look to the leadership in deep admiration and strive to emulate them in every way. They are now interested in more complex practical life and sensorial lessons; they begin writing letters and blending sounds; they begin formal lessons in math and music.
Year Three (ages 5 to 6)
This is when it all comes together. The blending of sounds becomes the joy of reading and writing. The counting from the previous year set the foundation for wonderfully interesting lessons involving the four operations of arithmetic with manipulative materials. Mathematical concepts are clearly presented, freely practiced, and permanently internalized. Puzzle maps used the previous year are brought out again so the children can make their own maps and learn names of continents, countries of our hemisphere, and the states of our nation in a very happy way. They watched the teacher play songs on the bells for a couple of years, and now they play their own songs on the bells. They are exposed to grammar and written composition, botany, geography, geometry, zoology, and music theory. These senior members of the community have a watchful eye on the younger children and are lovingly ready to help whenever needed. At six or seven, they are ready to move on to a bigger and more complex environment taking with them capabilities and understanding that is the basis of true self-esteem, confidence, and eagerness to discover a bigger world.
The work of the Montessori teacher is to support, assist, encourage, and love them enough to remember what is written across the forehead of every little child: Help me to do it all by myself!