The primary class, also known as The Children’s House, is the class for children between the ages of 3 and 6. Dr. Montessori observed that these children have what she referred to as ‘absorbent minds’. As a result of this characteristic, children of this age learn most easily through experience and are able to absorb vast amounts of knowledge quickly. These ‘sponge-like’ minds take in all that their environment has to offer without filtering or reasoning. This ability to absorb information in such a quick manner makes it doubly important that the primary classroom be prepared for the children with great care and attention to detail. Children remain in the same primary class with the same teacher until they are ready to move into the elementary class.
One of Dr. Montessori’s guiding tenets is “The hand is the key to man’s intelligence.” She saw how vital it is for children to be active learners. They need to be able to learn in a concrete fashion, getting to touch and manipulate materials as opposed to being lectured. She felt it was important to give all knowledge to the hand first and that only when children began with concrete experiences with materials could they then move toward understanding abstract concepts.
The materials for a primary class consist of four main groups (not ‘stations’) which include practical life, sensorial, language and culture, and mathematics. All children will begin with lessons in practical life. These lessons include such activities as brass polishing, window cleaning, tablewashing, flower arranging, sewing, weaving, along with grace and courtesy. Children of this age enjoy the opportunity to do work similar to what they have seen going on in their own home. These lessons help the children to develop coordination, the ability to organize, the ability to use their hands productively, and the ability to concentrate. By working with these materials the children learn that processes have a beginning, middle, and end. The lessons in practical life lay the foundation for all the learning that follows.
The sensorial materials give the children the keys to their environment. By exploring such materials as the Broad Stair, Pink Tower, and the Red Rods they learn about the characteristics of things, such as ‘broad and narrow,’ ‘large and small’ and ‘long and short’. They also learn the appropriate vocabulary associated with the materials, including the comparative and superlative forms of the words. Their experiences with these materials provide the children the opportunity to develop the ability to conceptualize these characteristics in their minds later on.
The language and cultural materials let the children explore again with their hands all that language can offer. Materials such as the sandpaper letters, movable alphabet and metal insets encourage the children’s independence with regards to writing, reading and conversation.
The Montessori math materials are well-recognized (and often imitated) as the best materials for helping children to understand the math processes. Their beauty and simplicity make it very clear to the children how these processes work and how they differ. In mathematics, as in other areas, it is the manipulation of materials that brings a deep-seated understanding of the concepts to the young child.