Areas of Discovery

The Prepared Environment

plant care

Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work. Characteristics of the prepared environment include:

  • Beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.
  • Children are given freedom to work and move around within suitable guidelines that enable them to act as part of a social group.
  • Children are provided with specifically designed materials which help them to explore their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills.
  • Children are part of a mixed age group (3-6) that encourages all children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace.

Washing windows

Practical: basic, useful, purposeful Life: the way of living

The Exercises of Practical Life are just that — purposeful activities of everyday living: those essential simple ordinary tasks that we do as adults to prepare, maintain, restore, and beautify our environments, such as washing, sweeping, cooking, cleaning and so forth. For the child, these exercises serve a more personal, developmental function. Adults perform the work of practical life for the outer result; making the floor clean, having a meal ready, or mending a sock. The utility derived by the adult in doing these acts is just what attracts the child. Intrinsically the child knows the work is purposeful, but for the child it fulfills a different need – an inner need.

cylinder blocksThe sensorial materials are designed to give a sensorial impression of the world already experienced by the child, thus helping to order her impressions and clarify her mind. For example, the child sees rectangles in cupboard doors, circles in plates, squares in picture frames, trapezoids in lampshades. These solids, determined in form by their surface, are impressions taken in by the child.  Isolation of a property is one keen aspect of the sensorial materials. For example, the red rods are identical among themselves in all respects except the variable quality of length, thus bringing it to the forefront:  A physical property is highlighted while everything else remains constant. This helps the child to focus on that one aspect. For another example, the sound cylinders look the same but the pairs differ in the loudness (or softness) of the sound. By shaking them, the child discovers the differences of the quality of sound, and with practice, she can find the similarities and pair them. With more practice, the child will be able to discover the finer distinctions inherent in the material and grade them.

The education of the senses is practical and necessary to carrying out one’s daily pursuits and prepares the child for living and enjoying the world that she lives in.


The child has a unique sensitivity to language starting at birth through age six. During this period, the child  spontaneously acquires  the vocabulary and sentence structure of his/her native language. The Montessori environment provides the child with ample opportunities to explore and deepen his/her spoken language, vocabulary enrichment and language appreciation. The children play word games, sing songs, learn poetry, rhymes and riddles. They listen to and create their own stories. Every area of the room is rich with language. We give “grace and courtesy” lessons on how to communicate a need, a feeling, and a request. We offer the child examples of proper language to use in social situations that come up naturally in the course of the day.

metal insets sandpaper letters

121204_010 PB304996

Children love working with the sandpaper letters — such a simple material gives the child profound experience in learning the sound, touch and shape of the letters in the alphabet. The child matches the sound with the symbol first. Then, he/she connects these symbols to form words using the movable alphabet. The child is “writing” without pencil. The mechanical act of learning penmanship is separated from learning the sounds of the letters. Work with the metal insets, the chalkboard, and tracing letters and numbers with a pencil gives the child much practice in the mechanics of writing. Fun with “writing” words with the moveable alphabet eventually turns to reading those same words. Beginning reading activities are fun and plentiful: matching phonetic words to objects, reading and placing phonetic labels on objects in the classroom, rhyming games, short sentence reading and reading phonetic books. From there the child learns phonograms (oo, sh, ch, oy, etc), again through movement and language games. The child is learning to read! Self-expression through story telling, story writing, art, music, dance and puppet shows is an integral part of the child’s experience at Hopkins Montessori School.

spindle golden beads


When the child enters the Children’s House at three, the child’s mathematical mind is concrete and, with time and experience, it passes into abstraction. Dr. Montessori found that through concrete representation of an abstract idea, the child understands. She developed a collection of “materialized abstractions” to help the child know quantity and measurement; to compare, differentiate, find patterns and perform the four operations of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Mathematics is made tangible for the child through the senses and movement. Number rods and golden bead material give the child a sensorial impression of quantity and arithmetic. The goal is not so much if the child has added correctly; rather, the idea is for the child to “experience” mathematics. To understand with his senses and whole body movement what it means to add, to take away (subtraction), to add the same number many times (multiplication) and to share evenly among friends (division). The child holds and manipulates quantities, walks with the rod of five, counts the beads of the ten bar with the touch of her fingertips, exchanges squares of hundreds for cubes of thousands. She plays games with her friends in remembering a quantity and bringing objects to show for it. Rather than reading about Sally who had 100 pies and gave 20 to Robbie, the child acts out operations with the golden bead material and cards. In addition, because the child is working with concrete objects alongside the numerical symbol, quantity and its symbol unite and the child understands, for example, what “100” really means.

In all this work is the underlying respect for each child’s time in understanding mathematical concepts. To move from concrete to abstract thought is within the child’s own timetable. She cannot be pushed. The child is given the freedom to work with a piece of material as often as she likes for as long as she likes.

USA puzzle map

Geography is the study of the life of humans, the way we live, and the way of life that has been established by a human society to sustain life. It is the study of the features of the earth, and the cultures that were developed in the various parts of the world by human beings. The needs of humans are universal, but the way these needs have been met, differ. So we have many different peoples around the world who live differently, who have adapted differently to what the world has offered them in different locations. We give the child a rich experience of the culture in which he lives. Then we expand from the home culture to other cultures and other places. This helps the child to understand that all humans need to make a way of life that will support not only life but a good way to live.


Science is an integral element of discovery. Among other things, it represents a way of life: a clear thinking approach to gathering information and problem solving. The children experience a hands-on introduction to botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, geology and astronomy. This approach to science cultivates children’s fascination with the universe and helps them develop a lifelong interest in observing nature and discovering more about the world in which we live.


play musical instruments

Dr. Montessori believed that the first step in music is to arouse the child’s love and appreciation. The child is surrounded by all kinds of music in his/her environment. The child first develops rhythm. The body naturally moves to rhythm, fostering the development of balance. The child then hears the harmony and the melody. For this the child begins with simple instruments that are appropriate to the child’s size and which the child uses freely. The children learn songs of all kinds, including those song in Spanish and other languages.


Art, like language or music, is a means of expression. Opportunities for art are always a part of the classroom environment and not a special event. When children are able to choose art materials freely, they feel respected and satisfied with their abilities. Artistic expression helps the child to develop: art appreciation, eye/hand coordination, techniques in handling tools through the use of these materials, self construction, independence, self awareness, and self confidence. For the young child, creating art is more about the process and than the product.