What is the Montessori Curriculum?

If you have spent any time looking through our website or reading our blog, then you already know that we have a unique way of doing things around here. As a certified AMI school, we faithfully put into practice the principles and practices espoused by Dr. Maria Montessori and the Association Montessori Internationale, including a traditional Montessori curriculum. But what exactly does that mean?

Unlike traditional education models, which are broken up into grade levels by year, Montessori curriculum is organized into more generalized developmental groups.  At WBMS, we have specialized curriculum for the Toddler Program, the Children’s House, and the Elementary Program.  Montessori students still learn all of the same skills and subjects that they would in a traditional setting; however, rather than moving from grade level to grade level based solely on their age, our students progress by reaching developmental and learning milestones and advancing as they are ready.  This is a huge topic and many books have been written about the subject, but I will provide an overview for you.


It may seem laughable to discuss the curriculum of an infant, but if you think about the development cycle of the child, you will agree that it begins at birth.  Therefore, Dr. Montessori has wonderful recommendations for children under the age of two.  

The Assistant to Infancy Guide is trained to assist families and children in different capacities.  One is to help families prenatally in setting up a home environment that will meet the needs of both the infant and family.  I would have loved for a Montessori guide to visit my home and help me figure out how to prepare for my first child.  At almost 40, I was nervous that I didn't have the nesting gene.

Another infant environment is a “Nido” (Italian word for ‘nest’).  The Nido has a trained guide with support staff that work with up to eight infants.  Both the home environment and Nido environment have specific areas designed by Dr. Montessori for meeting the needs of the developing infant: sleeping, eating, physical care (changing), and for doing work.  WBMS does not have a Nido program, but the first one in Minnesota was recently opened by our neighbors at Oak Hill Montessori.

At White Bear Montessori, we have a Parent - Infant Community.  The room is a prepared environment for parents, extended family members, and infants ages 8 weeks to 16 months to come together once a week for two hours.  The natural interactions of the infants and caregivers leads to discussions that arise around sleep, nutrition, physical care, and the work of the infant.  At this age, the work of the infant is centered around the development of child himself.

Toddler Curriculum

The Toddler Program, designed for children 16 months to up to 3 years, gives very young children the opportunity to learn and develop in several key areas.

The classroom is designed with them in mind. Everything is child-sized, from the tables and chairs to the shelves, vases, plates, utensils, and even the toilets. In this environment, toddlers explore the world together, learning much more together than any of them could learn alone.

The Toddler Program offers an environment rich in opportunities for physical, sensorial, intellectual, and social learning. Children spend their days learning new words, new skills in physical coordination, and new sights and smells by cutting up fruits or vegetables. Social skills are another area of challenge and growth. Children celebrate classmates' birthdays and other special occasions, learn each others' names and families, care for classroom pets and plants, and develop important skills of empathy and being part of a group.

Care of Self: undressing, dressing, storing clothing, hand washing, wiping nose, cleaning shoes, and isolated fasteners on dressing frames:  velcro, zipper, large button, snaps and buckles.

Grace and Courtesy: handled in the moment of real life situations such as:

“May I please have __________”
“Thank you”  or “Excuse me” 
“This is my work.”

Care of the Environment: wiping a table, washing a table, dusting, sweeping, mopping, cleaning glass, polishing a mirror, polishing wood, watering plants, washing leaves, flower arranging, washing and hanging cloths, germinating seeds, gardening, raking, or shoveling snow.

Movement of Objects: carrying, unrolling and rolling a mat, moving tables and chairs

Food: preparing food, setting the table, serving food, clean up – washing and drying dishes.

Children’s House Curriculum

Children’s House, designed for children between the ages of 2 ½ and 6 years, gives the children the chance to learn from each other while they play, to practice patience and compassion, to develop thoughtful leadership skills and team playing abilities. Children’s House focuses on four concepts: practical life, sensory, language, and math.

Practical Life: These activities are the essential but ordinary tasks that we are expected to perform as adults.  Skills such as caring for yourself (personal hygiene and dressing); caring for your environment (cleaning and gardening); daily tasks (cooking and making work choices); grace and courtesy (interpersonal skills, apologies, complimenting, questioning and observing); and control of movement (appropriate body language and silence) are woven into the Montessori school day. Examples of practical life materials include polishing work, pouring grain, grinding coffee, apple peeling, sweeping, and so much more. Like so many Montessori activities, most practical life materials are simultaneously developing fine motor skills that will be used later in writing.

Sensory: Unique materials such as the Pink Tower, Brown Stairs, Cylinder Blocks , Geometric Cabinet, Geometric Solids, and Color Tablets are used to help children internalize the concepts of size, shape, weight, touch, sound, color and taste and also act as a prelude to math and language. In addition, the signature hands-on Montessori materials for learning include musical instruments, tasting and smelling bottles and touch boards.

Each set of materials focuses on one physical quality of a property, which helps the child to classify and distinguish things that we perceive as abstract. Sensory materials also refine a child’s small and large muscle coordination. These sensory-focused activities help prepare children for the concepts found in academic subjects, such as math, reading and writing.

Language: Learning letters, reading, writing, phonics and vocabulary are an important part of the Children’s House curriculum.  Students will learn through activities such as the Sound Game, Moveable Alphabet, Classification Cards and Sandpaper Letters.

Language activities begin with simple conversations about the animals and objects in our environment, enriching the vocabulary. Following this, children start down the path of spelling and writing by making sound and letter associations through activities like letter tracing and sound games. Then, because it is easier to write a word that you have in mind rather than to decode a word somebody else has written, the children begin writing short phonetic words with the Moveable Alphabet, progressing to creating longer words and then sounding out words others have written. As the children become fluent readers, they begin to explore the function of words in a sentence. At this point they also begin writing stories and reports, both with the small Moveable Alphabets and in their own handwriting. 

Montessori materials first isolate aspects of number and then progress through the basic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division including fractions. Number skills such as quantities of 10, counting numerically and skip counting up to 1000, recognizing and writing numbers up to 9999, decimals and arithmetic are honed through games, counters, Golden Beads, Spindle Boxes and Number Rods.  As with all Montessori curriculums, mathematical concepts and facts are taught through hands on play.

Other subjects such as geography, music, biology, art and history are intertwined in the other areas through the use of concrete materials, but also overall in all other areas of the classroom. Skills introduced include: globes, land and water formations, flags of the world, climates, life cycles, animal classifications, days of the week, timelines, family tree, movement, rhythm, drawing, painting, mixing colors and cutting simple shapes.

Elementary Curriculum

The Elementary curriculum, designed for children ages 6-8, consists of a series of lessons that open up the different areas of study: the story of the universe (geography), the coming of human beings and their accomplishments (history), the coming of life (biology), and the development of language and numbers. In Elementary, children begin to understand their place in the universe. The Elementary curriculum also includes a second language, art and physical education.

Practical Life: Practical life, which was a separate area in the Children’s House, is now integrated with the day-to-day care of the classroom and its inhabitants. Tasks may include preparation of snack and daily meals and watering of plants and care of animals. Elementary children dust the shelves, organize and straighten the materials, sweep and vacuum, and keep the classroom neat and clean. At this age, the children also begin to focus on a number of core subjects. Unlike traditional schools where the subjects are broken into separate and distinct blocks of time, these subjects are often interconnected within the course of a child’s day.

Geography and Science: Composition of the earth – air, land and water, maps, land formations, latitude and longitude, human geography and cultures, politics and economical structures, physics – states of matter and gravity, the periodic table, magnets, seasons, the atmosphere and temperature.

Biology: Plant needs, structures, classifications and cells, animal needs and classifications, vertebrates, invertebrates, ecology, human development, observation and care of living organisms, interdependencies.

History: Historical timelines of the Earth, ancient civilizations, human needs, measurement of time, phases of history, world history, United States and Minnesota history. 

Mathematics: Numbers, numeration, place value, operations, whole numbers, decimals, fractions, properties and rules, percents, squaring, cubing, roots, graphing, statistics, probability, rounding and estimating, geometry, lines, angles, polygons, perimeter, area and volume.

Language: History of written language, word study and analysis, grammar, parts of speech, story structure, sentence analysis, the writing process, creative writing, spelling, handwriting, cursive, literature, book making, poetry, drama, novels, short stories, authors, spoken language, reports, speeches, debates and computer literacy.

Second Language:
Learning a second language helps children not only develop language and literacy skills, but cultural and interpersonal skills as well.  Emphasis begins with listening, pronunciation and reading skills in the second language, followed by exploring grammar and reading and writing longer pieces.  Montessori curriculum uses songs, poems, geography and history to help hone second language skills such as: simple verbs and conjugations, constructing and reading stories, geography, holidays, idioms and ties with American culture and language.

Music: Montessori music is focused on singing, movement and improvisation, solo and ensemble performance. Reading and writing music are skills which are also taught.  Each year, all students perform in a class play. Musical skills children learn include: clapping and body percussion, musical games and dances, singing in unison, rhythm, melody, instruments, musical production, direction and performance.

Art: The study of art history connects students to the ideas of the whole human family – Montessori curriculum believes that art is a tie that binds all humans throughout history and the world. Art skills include: drawing, painting, sculpture, color theory, design, art history, clay, bookmaking, weaving, collage, print making and basic art appreciation

Physical Education: Movement and kinesthetic play are core themes within any Montessori school.  Through the use of their bodies, students learn all other skills.  Care of self is also one of the main messages carried through the Montessori curriculum, and through physical education students not only learn about themselves, but about others and the world around them. Core physical education concepts include: ball work, team games, individual exercises, yoga, fitness and conditioning, sport skills and strategy, square dance, folk dance, group games and cooperative activities.

If you have questions about how the Montessori curriculum will look for your child at White Bear Montessori School, please contact us!

Danielle Cloe