The Primary environment provides children a strong foundation on which to build their blossoming educational career. It leads students towards a love of learning, a natural curiosity, and a desire to do and be more. When children move on from the Primary level, they will have gained a strong sense of self, decision-making ability, a measurable amount self-control, and a sense of responsibility for self, others and environment.
The Primary environment is lovingly prepared for children of this age. It has small shelves with Montessori materials, appropriately sized furniture, natural light and beautiful art work. Children are encouraged to choose work from shelves in clearly defined areas of study. They explore the work at their own pace and their own rhythm so as not to cramp the expansion of the mind as they continuously develop independence and confidence. The materials will help to develop coordination, concentration and sense of order. The environment helps young students grow from undisciplined to self-disciplined, from disorderly to organized, and from distracted to focused.
The Practical Life area provides children with the opportunities to develop concentration, coordination, independence, and order. This area contains lessons in care for self and environment, Grace and Courtesy, and fine and gross motor skills. It is through the sensory functions that the child lays the foundation of her/his intelligence by continually observing, comparing, and judging. In this way, children grow their intelligence as they gradually become acquainted with their environment. An environment that richly provides sensorial experiences, which are aimed at sensory education, accelerates the formation of intelligence.
The Sensorial area helps children develop and refine their senses through the use of didactic materials. Didactic, meaning “designed or intended to teach,” are specially designed materials invented by Maria Montessori for the purpose of sensory education. These materials help develop their stereo gnostic sense, as well. This sense is the capacity to perceive forms by the movement of muscles of the hand as it follows the outline of solid objects. Maria Montessori wrote, “When the hand and arm are moved about an object, an impression of movement is added to that touch. Such an impression is attributed to a special, sixth sense, which is called a muscular sense, and which permits many impressions to be stored in ‘muscular memory,’ which recalls movements that have been made.” The use of stereo gnostic senses allows a child to form mental pictures and memories through touch and movement.
Because of their concentrated work in the Practical Life and Sensorial areas, children develop the ability to concentrate. As children reach sensitive periods, a critical time during human development when the child is biologically ready and receptive to acquiring a specific skill or ability, they are ready to further develop their math skills. The materials for math are concrete and provide children with visual manipulative representations of mathematical concepts. These materials aid in building the foundation that later lead a child to abstraction.
The development of language is natural and spontaneous. As children engage in their environment, vocabulary develops as a natural response to their peers and the materials. Children are relating and being heard, which indirectly leads to order, organization, and builds vocabulary. It is imperative that all language be given to the child within a context. The child needs to know the names, labels, and meanings of things in the environment in order for them to have relevancy. This correlation allows the child to see and understand the greater picture of things and gives things meaning. Once the greater picture is painted, it can be broken down to the smaller details. Letters are taught in a phonetic, multi-sensorial approach. The children trace sandpaper letters as they repeat the sound it makes, using multiple senses to make the connection. The development of language exposes students to the concept that words are made up of sounds, and each sound is represented by a symbol. With this knowledge, children are able to compose words, then a phrase, then a complete sentence and, finally, a story using a movable alphabet. After much practice with the moveable alphabet, the children learn to read. Materials are sequential, and the children advance from reading 3-letter phonetic words to 3-letter phonetic books. This sequence continues as the children’s abilities advance to more difficult books, phonograms, and grammar.
The last direct preparation the child will have before she/he begins to write will be work with the metal insets. This activity will help the child to learn how to correctly hold a pencil and develop useful pencil pressure. The child’s hand is flexible and malleable and her/his movement is not yet set. Practicing different strokes will make the hand ready for handwriting.
The Primary environment is prepared in a manner that will allow children to explore their world. The Cultural area encompasses a variety of subjects within geography (both physical and cultural), the sciences, history, art and music. Guided by curiosity about the world, the child learns new vocabulary, gains a greater understanding of the needs of living creatures, and explores cultures with respect and appreciation. Maria Montessori felt that having knowledge and understanding of these subject matters is what makes one a “cultured” person.