Primary: the Montessori Program
The things [the child] sees are not just remembered; they form a part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.
–Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Good Shepherd’s Primary class, following the teaching philosophy of Maria Montessori, provides a prepared environment for children, ages 3-6, based on their natural tendencies of independence, self-motivation, and desire for order. The five-day Primary class is a preschool and Kindergarten program, with both half and full day options.
The school day is organized around two main work periods, during which students are free to choose and pursue the work that interests them, under the gentle direction of the Directress. The prepared environment, the Directress, and the child work together to produce a community of self-sufficient, curious, and joyful children who eagerly participate in their education. During the three or four-year Primary cycle, a child grows from being the youngest to being a community elder. Central to this process is the opportunity to experience, to learn, and then to abstract and solidify knowledge through teaching, working, sharing, and cooperating with others.
Montessori emphasizes the importance of a carefully prepared classroom environment to serve the needs of the student. The classroom is divided according to subjects: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and the Atrium for religious education under the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
At the heart of the Montessori environment is the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. This is a special place set aside for the child to encounter Christ as the Good Shepherd. The child learns about Christ and the Church through Sacred Scripture, song, prayer, the celebration of the liturgical seasons and feast days, the nomenclature of the articles of the Mass, and stories from the Gospels. Academic areas of the classroom are represented here as well through activities such as polishing the prayer table candlesticks, pouring water and wine, working with a map of the Holy Land, handwriting Bible verses, and learning the liturgical seasons. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a beautiful and gentle approach, introducing the child to the Catholic Faith in a very real and concrete way. Children grow to have a deep awareness and understanding of God’s love for them and an interest in the Mass as a manifestation of that love.
Students build both fine and gross motor skills as they learn to fasten clothes, tie and buckle shoes, work latches, fold cloth, pour water, polish objects, arrange flowers, and open and close containers.
As the children gain mastery of their skills, they use their newfound abilities to serve each other by washing dishes, sweeping, cleaning, and caring for their classroom, and by interacting with grace and courtesy.
Since, as Montessori taught, the child’s sensorial experiences inform his very soul, special attention is given to what a student sees, hears, and touches. In our classroom, young students refine their five senses by identifying color, shape, and texture, by differentiating weight, size and length of objects, by recognizing musical pitch, building binomial and trinomial cubes, learning the locations of continents and countries, and by working with constructive triangles.
Students engage in Language Arts in the Primary years by developing a proper three-fingered pencil grip, learning cursive handwriting, by learning to recognize letters by sound and by shape, and learning their phonograms and sight words. They also have the opportunity to build vocabulary, construct words, learn punctuation and the parts of speech, and even diagram sentences.
Children engage mathematics by hand as they interact with manipulatives and materials, and learn of the concept of number. They learn about the idea of zero, work with whole numbers from 0 to 9,000, and practice linear and skip counting. Additionally, students work with the decimal system, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, encounter word problems, and explore fractions.