Montessori Materials

At MMS children are exposed to many complex concepts at an early age through the use of the specially designed Montessori materials. These hands on learning materials enable the child to literally see and explore abstract concepts.

Many of these materials are somewhat of a mystery to both parents new to Montessori and even parents who’ve had children in a Montessori school for a few years! Hopefully this section helps all parents and anyone else wanting to know more about some well-known Montessori materials used.

Why is the morning work cycle so important in a Montessori education?

At Maria Montessori School students from Casa to Middle Years have a morning work cycle.  During this work cycle, the child is given the freedom to choose materials, have a snack, receive individual presentations from the Directress and work at their own pace on activities that interest them.
Here is the science behind this method – Work Cycle

What are the Montessori materials and how do they enable your child to explore and learn?

A classic Pink Tower is used by young children to discover how size changes in three dimensions. The child builds the tower cube by cube, making decisions about which cube is bigger or smaller. 
Exploration with the Pink Tower prepares the child for concepts such as the decimal system and volume. Made of 10 wooden cubes, painted pink, this material illustrates the way Montessori isolates one quality at a time. Only the size changes; not the shape and colour. It is used by children from under three to four years although older children may return to explore it more!
When young children have discovered that words are made up of sounds and knows some of the symbols for these sounds, they can begin writing. Montessori suggested using a pre-made alphabet, so the child is not limited by their ability to write with a pencil. The Large Moveable Alphabet is made of wooden or cardboard letters that the child uses to write words and eventually sentences, laying them out on a floor mat or table. The different colours of the vowels and consonants are an example of how Montessori introduce new concepts indirectly, without the Directress having to point it out! The moveable alphabet is used by children when they know 8-10 letter symbols and sounds. The phonetic writing is often profound and accurate, for example: “I luv mi mummy.”
The Golden Bead Material is used to introduce the quantities and symbols of the decimal system and all four operations of math – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. A unit is a single gold bead, 10 is a bar of 10 golden beads, 100 is a square of 100 beads and a cube is 1,000. The child gains strong sensorial impression of number – thousands are bigger and much heavier than units. Children start working with the golden beads once they recognize symbols and can make quantities 1-10. Many games are played; making and reading numbers up to the thousands, bringing numbers to be counted. Children then work in groups to do the operations of math, seeing concretely how addition makes a number larger and subtraction makes a number smaller. This material is introduced in the Casa classroom usually around age 5 (Kindergarten), it is then used with higher degrees of difficulty in Lower Elementary. There is an understanding about ‘carrying’ and ‘borrowing’.
The young child is a sensory explorer and a lover of language. Montessori uses both these tendencies to introduce geography. Starting in Casa, the world puzzle map is a flat board with two painted hemispheres. Each continent inset is cut out and can be lifted by the child out of the frame. The child traces the shape of each piece and learns the name of all seven continents. Later the child will trace the map onto paper, colour and eventually label the continents. In the Lower and Upper Elementary Classrooms, older children move onto puzzle maps of each continent – learning the names of countries and later, capital cities around the globe.
The Brown Stairs is one of the many sensorial materials found in Casa classrooms. It is an example of how Dr. Montessori isolated abstract concepts such as size, colour, and shape in the materials she developed so that the young child could explore, classify and categorize. Like the Pink Tower, the Brown Stairs are used to explore size. The prisms of the Brown Stairs change in two dimensions – only height and breadth changes. No other quality changes; the colour and length remain constant. The concept of the decimal system is introduced indirectly with many Montessori sensorial materials. In the stair there are 10 prisms, which the child builds into a ‘stair’ from broadest to narrowest or uses to build in different ways as he explores the concepts inherent in the material.
The Checker Board is a math material used in both our Lower and Upper Elementary Classrooms to do long multiplication of numbers into the 100’s of millions. The material is part of a progression of math materials that enables the student to experience the process of multiplication using coloured beads and a painted board. The Montessori student does not learn about multiplication as an abstraction; but knows why you ‘add the zero’, why you ‘carry the 10’ and what the multiplier and partial product actually are. The material appeals to Elementary children who are fascinated by large numbers.
Written language is an extension of spoken language and in Montessori begins with the concept that words are made up of sounds. Many games are played so that the child realizes that ‘cat’ starts with the sound ‘kuh’ and ends with the sound ‘tuh’ and has a ‘ahh’ in the middle. When the child is familiar with the sounds, the letter symbols are introduced using the Sandpaper Letters – symbols cut out of sandpaper and pasted on board. The teacher asks ‘What sound can you hear at the beginning of ‘cat’?’ When the child replies ‘kuh’ the teacher says ‘This is what ‘kuh’ looks like’ and shows the child how to trace the shape of this letter with their dominant hand. By sounding out and tracing the letters the child learns in an auditory, tactile and visual way. 
Sandpaper Letters are a perfect example of how Dr. Montessori introduces concepts indirectly – vowels are on pink boards and consonants on blue board. When the child is familiar with 8-10 sandpaper letters the child is introduced to the Large Moveable Alphabet and starts to sound out and write their own words. Thus the child can begin writing before they have developed skills of forming the letters with a pencil. Sandpaper Letters are found in all Casa classrooms.

Every Montessori class has equipment such as a broom, dustpan, brush, mop and duster that all the children can use. Child-sized and of good quality the equipment is used by younger children to practice sweeping, dusting and mopping. Their desire to repeat and repeat may result in the floor being swept even when it is clean. In our Lower and Upper Elementary Classrooms our children usually begin to notice when cleaning is required and mop only when water spills on the floor, or if the shelf is dusty. Other practical life activities that the Elementary children enjoy doing include window cleaning, mirror cleaning, floor washing, dusting and table scrubbing, as well as outside cleaning as well. Students in our Elementary classrooms use skills practiced in early childhood to take responsibility for caring for their classroom environment. They are all given a list of duties/chores to be completed during the day and most important at the end of the day to ensure that the classroom is well maintained. This gives the children a great sense of community and accomplishment.

Successful Montessori teachers guide their instructions with the fundamental principles of following the interests and needs of the child, working from the concrete to the abstract, and supporting the students in acquiring the practical life skills for future success. The work of the child is to explore their world through carefully prepared environments with the support and guidance of their teacher. We believe children have the ability to construct their own knowledge and understanding of the world and they are empowered to do so by having the choice and freedom to follow their own interest. We support this through focusing on individualization, citizenship and experiential learning.”

 Michael Piper, Montessori Department Head, Coquitlam School District