Maria Montessori began her work with children from about two to seven years old in the Casa dei Bambini in Rome. Today, Primary, or Children’s House, classrooms are the most well-known of Montessori environments, serving hundreds of thousands of children around the world. Many of Montessori’s Children’s House innovations, such as mixed-age classrooms, child-sized furniture, hands-on materials, and student choice of activity have been incorporated into early childhood education around the world.
Montessori Primary classrooms typically serve between 20 and 40 children aged two and a half to six years, usually with one trained teacher and an assistant. Children usually stay in the same classroom, with the same teacher, three or four years. Materials and activities (sometimes referred to as “works”) are presented to children by the teacher, usually individually but sometimes in small groups. Once children have had a lesson on an activity, they are free to choose it whenever it is available, and to work with it at their own pace and to their own level of completion. The teacher’s responsibility is to guide children to appropriate choices, to support their individual development, and to inspire and elevate their work. This requires a deep understanding of children’s developmental psychology, keen powers of observation, and a thorough mastery of the hundreds of lessons in the Montessori Primary body of work.
The activities in the Primary classroom fall into several broad categories: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, and Language:
Practical Life: These activities consist of real-life tasks such as spooning, pouring, sweeping, polishing, washing tables, buttoning, zipping, nose-blowing, and many more. They appeal to children’s drive to take part in the culture that surrounds them, and they support the development of independence, motor control, internal order, and a sense of competence and mastery. Children begin these activities at the age of two or three, and continue with more complex tasks through the age of six and beyond.
Sensorial: Activities for development of the senses are at once the most iconic and mysterious elements of the Children’s House. The Pink Tower, the Constructive Triangles, the Color Tablets, the Bells, and many more materials are hallmarks of the Primary environment. These materials appeal to children’s drive to experience, manipulate, and learn about the world with their senses, while supporting development of sensory discrimination, mathematical precision, order and sequence, language, and more. Children begin these activities at the age of two or three, and extend their work into classification and vocabulary as they get older.
Mathematics: Mathematics activities in the Children’s House begin with concrete explorations of number and quantity and move through further stages of abstraction. Materials provide for concrete exploration of counting from one to one hundred (and beyond), place value, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division with four-digit numbers, memorization of math facts, and more. Many activities serve as indirect preparation for concepts which will be explored later, sometimes as far ahead as elementary school.
Language: Language exploration in the Children’s House begins with spoken language and enrichment of vocabulary, as children function daily in a language-rich environment. Phonetic sounds and letter shapes are learned with the Sandpaper Letters (shown here), and children use materials to form words, to read and write words, phrases, and sentences, and to analyze the functions of words and the structure of sentences.