3 years in a Primary Classroom

In Montessori Primary (3-6 years)

Year One:

Students begin the Practical Life area, developing concentration, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and logical sequencing skills, through purposeful work. Students are also working in the Sensorial area, developing the ability to use each sense with intention and to discover the world. We also build vocabulary and develop phonemic awareness (awareness that words are composed of sounds) in the Language area. As children develop this awareness, they are learning the letter-sound correspondences that lead to spontaneous writing, which will be followed by reading. The children’s work also includes concrete exploration of quantity (size, weight, etc.) and changes in quantity- the foundation for mathematics.
Young children are also learning through observing their older peers, receiving some lessons from them, as well as guidance for how to behave.

Year Two:

Children are continuing to develop reading and writing abilities, continuing to work with phonetic sounds with increasing accuracy and with words of increasing complexity. They are also continuing their Sensorial exploration of complex concepts, including geometry and geography. In the early stages of Math, we work begin with the hands on materials to teach quantity, the symbols we use to represent quantity (numerals), then the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Children are also continuing to work in Practical Life, as the sequences of activities lead the children to work that is appropriate for their developing skills. As their ability to remember long sequences of steps, or complete activities requiring very precise fine motor skills, they will be introduced to an activity that continues to challenge them to further develop these abilities.

As second year children, students will begin to take on more of a leadership role and start to do more work with others that requires an increasing amount of independence and practicing social skills.

Year Three:

As reading and writing skills continue to develop, children are improving fluency by learning alternative spellings (ex: ‘ie’ can be spelled ‘igh’ as in ‘high’, ‘y’ as in ‘sky’) and sight words. They also learn grammatical concepts and explore the ways that different words function in sentences. Through reading and writing stories, comprehension skills are developed. In the Math, children continue to move from concrete, hands-on materials, to those that are increasingly abstract. When this comes together, children discover that they can solve large math problems or word problems quickly without the use of a material or their fingers. Their knowledge of quantity increases from 9,000 to 1,000,000 and they also work with fractions. In Sensorial and Practical Life, children are using the materials with more awareness- using the Puzzle Maps to find a country they are reading about or using the Baric Tablets to measure and classify the weights of other objects, or taking greater ownership in maintaining the classroom.

As the elders, they are guiding younger children, gaining confidence and a strong sense of self. Secure in the knowledge they are gaining and with a sense of pride in their accomplishments, they share what they have learned, academically and socially, with others.

Through observing the children’s work and assessing their skills, the guides provide support where needed and show the next lesson in a sequence when appropriate. As each child is unique, each will have their own challenges and their own strengths. This overview is a general outline, explaining the pattern of development as the child moves through the classroom.

Summer Activities

Summer is often a chance to spend more time together as a family and for children to take some time off from school. During this time, some parents may wonder how to help fill their child’s new free time in ways that support their physical and intellectual development. We have put together some suggestions as a school, which may be helpful. As always, providing these experiences as options for your child to freely choose helps to develop internal motivation and will encourage greater periods of concentration.

Language Development:

  • Build vocabulary with books (children can read books independently at their level or higher level books with an adult, an older sibling).
  • Practice sounding out words using the Sound Game (“I spy something that starts with __ and ends with __.” This can be done at home or anywhere- on a car trip, running errands, or exploring the outdoors.
  • Build handwriting skills through coloring activities and writing practice. Allow children to choose their own topics to keep writing joyful, rather than forced.


Children practicing math at school can continue this practice at home with any large quantity of objects (beans, beads, etc.) that they can count and use to explore addition (putting things together) and subtraction (taking things away). Mathematics is a natural part of our world and as children interact with the world, they are constantly experiencing math. Allowing children to measure things in the house, yard, or park, or inviting them to bake following simple recipes provides these opportunities to our children. Children may enjoy practicing tables of math facts, but please keep in mind that the choice to do so should come from the child to allow them true ownership over their work and greater focus.


Providing simple materials (water, objects for floating, sinking, or mixing, colored dye, etc) allows children to explore. If you need ideas, the children’s sections of libraries and bookstores will be full of resources!
Children can have their own space in a garden or pots on a balcony to raise plants. They can also help build bird feeders or baths and observe the birds that come (http://spoonful.com/crafts/gardening-crafts-gallery#carousel-id=photo-carousel&carousel-item=13). They are capable of building and creating with cardboard or wood and screws.

Physical development:

Children develop their physical skills through practice, just as they develop intellectual capabilities. Providing balls or beanbags to toss can help to develop accuracy, as well as build muscle and burn off energy. Children can use yoga and dance to exercise their bodies and use their bodies as a form of expression.


Developing a child’s creative mind not only gives them tools to express their emotions and ideas, but also helps build problem-solving skills. Imaginative play helps the child’s mind to solidify what it has learned and to play through different situations and different possible outcomes. Creativity can be expressed artistically through indoor and outdoor art areas with paint, colored pencils, chalk and chalkboards, bubbles, sewing materials or playdough. Children can sew or create their own puppets, sets, and create their own stories. Children can create their own obstacle courses and scavenger hunts in the backyard- all they need are the materials, the time, and freedom to explore!

You will notice that many of these involve the child’s body and hands, as well as their mind. During this age, children are capable of learning complex concepts through their direct experience. Even if we do not sit down and explain the physics behind what they experience dropping different objects into water, the child’s experience will help them understand this concept when they study it in school down the road. Let your child’s interests and senses guide you as choose activities for them!  And remember, that they are learning constantly. Allowing a small amount of choices for activities will not overwhelm them and will help them to develop the ability to self-direct as they learn and discover.

Praise versus Encouragement

” Like others I had believed that it was necessary to encourage a child by means of some exterior reward that would flatter his baser sentiments….in order to foster in him a spirit of work and of peace. And I was astonished when I learned that a child who is permitted to educate himself really gives up these lower instincts.”

( 2005: 172 taken from Montessori 1967)

Maria Montessori, like many of us, had reservations and concerns surrounding the idea of a child developing confidence, self belief and esteem without extrinsic rewards and praise as a motivating factor and a means of influencing behavior long term.

Montessori stated that by providing encouragement, an environment that supports a child’s needs, and being able to withdraw and let the child show you what he needs means that the child has the opportunity to develop his own sense of self, without having to be dependent on praise from an adult. Montessori believed that excessive, long-term praise can inhibit children from gaining independence because they rely heavily on the praise of those in authority positions. As an alternative, encouragement can be empowering. There are no conditions and it isn’t judgmental. The receiver is encouraged to make judgments of his own behavior, work, and ultimately, self worth.

In contemporary society and education, the adult is generally seen as the center of a child’s learning and development. In the Montessori philosophy, the adult is the facilitator and the guide in the child’s learning and development. Montessori believes adult centered learning, as found in conventional education dampens the child’s self esteem and fosters dependence rather than independence.

When I reflect back on my childhood, I was always striving to be recognized via praise from both my parents and my school. I defined myself by this and I now see that that has hindered my progression as I found it very difficult to make choices unless my parents approved of them, validated them and as a result validating me as a person. As a result of my time studying Montessori I have developed and felt a sense of achievement in my own work and cultivated friendliness with error. This has enabled me to feel proud of my achievements rather than wondering what everyone else thinks, says or feels. This is a liberating development!

We know that children have natural innate drive to internalize, absorb and manipulate what they experience in their environment, much like mathematics and language. We know that the child’s reward is not in the teacher reinforcing that he did a good job in finding the answer to a mathematical problem, but it is in the process itself. This process requires concentration, a strong will and perseverance and the joy the child experiences in recognizing his hard work or the child’s joy at tying his laces is about what he did, his achievements.

Surely, if our focus as teachers and parents is on the rewards, then it becomes less about the process or about the journey of reaching the goal and more about the end product. If you need to provide the reward to get the end product then where is the innate motivation to learn clearly evident in children? In the long term it has been replaced with learners or workers driven by external measures to get a desired result of what someone else wants. Surely the joy is of learning and growing for you.

Alfie Kohn (2001) summarized what we can do and say when a child does something impressive, and although it may go against many of our own experiences in the home and in school, it is important to consider and think about these suggestions.

  1. He advices us to say nothing. Many people believe and insist a helpful act must be reaffirmed and reinforced because if we don’t do this then the child may not respond in this way again. Giving the child a verbal reward is deemed as the best way to encourage good behavior but Kohn suggests that this is an artificial reason and is unfounded and therefore praise may not be necessary.
  2. Secondly he suggests say what you saw. A simple, non judgment statement where you recognize the child’s work such as “You did up your coat by yourself” or “You did it.” This shows you are noticing the child’s efforts and hard work and allows the child to take pride in their achievements. This can relate to you noticing an action and how it affects another person positively. For example if a child helps another child then you may comment how the other child is feeling. “Can you see Joe’s face? He seems happy that you helped him clean up the spill.”
  3. Finally he asks is to talk less, ask more. Converse with the child and ask questions. For example, if a child has drawn a picture ask the child what part he liked the best or what was the most challenging rather than telling him what you like the best. This is likely to stimulate interest in a topic rather than saying “Good job!” as research proves that his may in fact have the opposite effect on the child. Kohn goes on to elaborate further and say;

“This doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child’s future behavior) as well as the actual effects of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life — or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she’s doing in its own right – or turning it into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head.” (2001: 2)

We know that children are driven by an innate interest in learning and it is our role as the educators and parents to support this. We have heard how praise and rewards undermines independence and esteem and how praise and rewards are often used to manipulate children to behave in a particular way. I know I personally have been bought up in a loving, supportive family who praised their children with the best of intentions, but once you start to see praise for what it is and what it does as well as the motives for praising, giving and receiving it, I personally am looking at praise with a more critical eye. Surely it is more delightful to hear a child say, “I did it!” and the pleasure she must feel from this accomplishment. By offering the child the support and encouragement without judgment, at home and in the classroom, we are supporting the child to do things for themselves, the ultimate goal in life.

Ms. Goode
January 2013

Further reading

  • Kohn, Alfie “Punished by Rewards” New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993 a
  • Polk Lillard, Paula and Lillard Jessen, Lynn “Montessori From The Start” New York: Shocken Books, 2003
  • Kohn Alfie, “Five reasons to stop saying ‘Good Job” Young Children, September 2001 http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm
  • Bronson, Po, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids. The inverse power of praise” New York News and Features, February 11th, 2007. http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/
  • Bronson, Po and Merryman, Ashley. “Nurture Shock” New York, Twelve, 2009 b