The Pre-Primary classroom (Ages 2-3) at Middle Creek Montessori is a prepared environment for children from 2 to 3 years of age, fondly named the “Sweet Pea” classroom. It consists of an entryway where each child has a “cubbie” for personal belongings, an activitiy area, fine motor lesson room, a bathroom with a child-sized toilet, accessible sink and diaper changing area. There is also a large activity room for indoor play and gross motor movement with gymnastic mats, and a platform for motor activity. An outdoor fenced-in playground is adjacent to the classroom with a sandbox, swings, climbers, garden and farm animals. We maintain a 1:4 ratio of one adult to every four children at all times.
To facilitate emotional acceptance and bonding with the teachers and ensure high quality care of each child, we have assigned each child to a Primary Caregiver. The teacher who is the Primary Caregiver is responsible to ensure that the children in her care are well fed and have water to drink, have their diapers changed or use the bathroom on a regular basis, and are safe, happy and learning during the time they are at school. She is also responsible to report this information to the parents either in writing or verbally on a daily basis. The Primary Caregiver records which lessons the children are learning and using in the classroom so it can be conveyed to the parents at bi-annual parent/teacher conferences.
The Montessori lesson period provides an opportunity for the children to choose lessons from the low shelves in the classroom and work on them independently, or to work with a teacher or friend. This lesson period lasts approximately two hours and is interspersed with snack time, and toileting. Initially, the teachers work with the children showing them how to do a lesson by giving them a demonstration. The children are then free to choose and repeat lessons, as they desire. The Montessori work time and prepared environment is what sets Montessori programs apart from a day care setting. During this time, the classroom is calm and quiet so children can concentrate without being distracted.
Experience has shown that young children enjoy and are capable of successfully participating in a large variety of Montessori-like lessons that are developmentally appropriate for their age and ability level. The two-year-old environment provides a combination of lessons that have a defined purpose (puzzles, counting materials, vocabulary lessons, practical life lessons such as pouring water or using a baster) as well as creative play materials (a doll house or farm, play telephone), art materials (paint, crayons, glue, paper), and familiar toys or activities such as blocks, cars and trucks, dolls and doll clothes that do not have structure or a defined purpose.
With practice and gentle reminders toddler-age children can be taught and expected to choose and carry a lesson to a table or work rug, work on one lesson at a time, and return a lesson to its place when finished. They can successfully understand the concepts of waiting for someone else to finish their turn, watching but not touching someone else’s work, and sharing with friends. They are capable of working on a lesson with focused concentration for long periods of time. They love to imitate and repeat lessons as shown and will often repeat a lesson many times before being finished with it.
Young children often work side by side with other children without engaging them in conversation or play. This is known as parallel play. As the child gets older, he becomes more social and enjoys playing with and forming friendships with other children. Toddlers and two-year-old children are able to understand and show respect for others working on a lesson by using quiet voices and not disturbing others.
Maria Montessori identified the sensitive periods for toddlers to be movement, language and order. With this in mind, we have prepared the classroom to offer experiences in all of these activities. It is the prepared environment that holds the key to the child’s independence, concentration and normalized behavior. The role of the teacher is to help connect the child to the environment and assure his ability to use the environment safely and with respect. The teacher observes, determines which lessons are developmentally appropriate and then gently invites a child to have a lesson and take his turn. She does not intervene when a child is working with concentration and does not offer assistance when a child is capable of doing something by himself.
Following the Montessori lesson time the teacher turns on a music box that signals to the children that it is time to put their work away, clean up the classroom and get ready for “Circle Time”.
“Circle time” is a group experience that usually consists of singing songs, playing musical instruments, movement (marching, jumping, spinning around), finger plays, use of puppets or props, counting activities, repeating the sounds of the phonetic alphabet, showing pictures or flashcards and giving their vocabulary, and a story. Children are invited to get a mat to sit on and join in the circle, but are not required to attend. Circle time lasts between 10 and 20 minutes, depending upon the needs and interest of the children.
Following circle time the children dress to go outside for 30 – 60 minutes depending upon weather.
Lunch is from 12 – 12:30. The children are encouraged to eat independently and with good manners, and to eat their “main” food before snacks or dessert.
Half-day children are picked up at 12:30. Those that remain for the full-day take naps between 1:00 – 3:00. Afternoon pick-up is at 3:30 for full-day children.
The Pre-Primary Sweet Pea classroom is a busy and happy place. It is our great privilege to share this time and experience with the children during this wonderful, dynamic period of their lives.