The Montessori Curriculum And How It Works

A young child concentrates on arranging colorful Montessori knobless cylinders, helping develop problem-solving and fine motor skills.

Regular classrooms can feel like a one-size-fits-all approach, where everyone learns the same way at the same speed. This can leave some children frustrated and others bored. 

Montessori education breaks the mold! 

With a curriculum focused on five key areas, children can explore and master concepts independently, fostering a sense of accomplishment and ownership over their learning journey.

Key Learning Area #1: Practical Life Activities

Have you ever noticed how much children love to copy what grown-ups do around the house? These practical life activities give children a sense of accomplishment as they choose tasks that are meaningful to them.

Maria Montessori herself emphasized the everyday nature of these materials:

“The objects that are used for practical life have no scientific purpose. They are the objects used where a child lives and which he sees employed in his own home, but they are especially made to a size he can use.”

Maria Montessori


These activities are broken down into four areas:

Care of the Environment: Children learn practical skills like pouring, sweeping, and cleaning, while also getting a sneak peek at math concepts like volume. 

Development of Motor Skills: Activities like using tongs, sewing, and cutting with scissors help children develop the small muscle control and coordination they need for future learning. 

Care of Self: From dressing frames to washing hands, these activities foster independence and a sense of accomplishment.

Social Grace and Courtesy: Greeting others, saying “please” and “thank you,” and respecting others’ belongings are all part of the learning process.

Children may also participate in kitchen activities like sieving, washing dishes, and food preparation, further developing motor skills, social skills, and a sense of responsibility.

Children practice pouring water from a pitcher to a cup, a Montessori practical life activity that strengthens fine motor skills and coordination.

Key Learning Area #2: Sensorial Training

Children between the ages of 0 and 6 experience a critical window for sensory development. This sensory refinement window plays a vital role in the child’s overall intellectual potential.

The Montessori curriculum capitalizes on this by introducing sensorial materials designed to:

Refine the Senses: Including sight, touch, hearing, smell, taste, temperature, pressure, balance, and even body awareness.

Discrimination, Comparison, and Classification: Activities involve matching, sequencing, and categorizing, fostering skills essential for language and mathematical development.

Fine Motor Skills and Writing Preparation: The materials often require a precise “pincer grip” using the thumb and index finger, which is crucial for developing good handwriting skills later on.

Reading Readiness: The materials are arranged from left to right, mirroring the direction of reading and writing.

Sensorial training involves introducing abstract concepts through concrete experiences, such as the Pink Tower, which prepares children for the decimal system and cube root, and the Broad Stair, which introduces the volume of prisms.

Key Learning Area #3: Language

Young children are like sponges, soaking up words from birth. The Montessori curriculum for reading follows a step-by-step approach, guiding children from basic letter sounds to complex words. Here’s how:

Early Literacy Games: Before learning formal reading, children engage in playful activities that introduce letters and sounds.

Sandpaper Letters and LMA (Large Moveable Alphabet): The hands-on exploration of letter shapes and building words.

Pink Series (3-letter words): Children match pictures with words, learn beginning sounds, and practice reading simple CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant) like “cat” or “dog.”

Blue Series (4-letter words): Children explore more complex sounds and word structures. They continue matching activities, reading sight words, and progressing to sentences with pictures.

Early Grammar: Children are introduced to basic grammar concepts like singular and plural, prepositions, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and sentence structure through interactive activities.

Green Series: Children progress from matching pictures to reading words with phonograms independently and then into reading storybooks from the simpler ones to the complex ones.

This sequence equips children with a strong foundation for reading fluency and comprehension. 

A child uses their finger to trace the shape of a sandpaper letter, a Montessori sensory learning activity that introduces letter shapes and pre-writing skills.

Key Learning Area #4 Mathematics

Montessori prepares children for math through hands-on activities in practical life, sensorial, and language areas. These activities develop foundational skills like perception, sequencing, spatial reasoning, spatial relations, estimating skills, vocabulary absorption, parts to the whole, and problem recording before formal math lessons begin.

The Montessori math program is divided into six levels:

Level 1 – Numbers 1 – 10

Children learn number recognition and the concept of zero through Number Songs, Number Rods, Sandpaper Numbers, Spindle Box, Cards & Counters, and other manipulatives.

Level 2 – Introduction to the Decimal System

This level lays the foundation for place value using concrete materials like Golden Beads and a bird’s-eye view. Children connect these concepts to written symbols.

Level 3 – Linear Counting 11 – 99

This level focuses on mastering numbers 11-99. Children engage in a variety of activities that involve naming, identifying, and counting these numbers.

Level 4 – Decimal System Operations

Children explore addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division with 4-digit numbers using golden beads.

Level 5 – Composition & Decomposition of Numbers

Children learn to put together two numbers to make a larger number (composing) and break a number into smaller parts (decomposing).

Level 6 – Introduction to Recording

Mastering math operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) with the Short Bead Stair, Boards and the Stamp Game and recording their results.

The math operations are further reinforced through working other activities like the operations boards and the stamp game. 

Key Learning Area #5: Cultural Studies

Montessori education takes a holistic approach to cultural studies, encouraging children to explore the interconnectedness of the world. Cultural studies encompass various disciplines, including:

Zoology: Children learn about animal classification, habitats, and adaptations through hands-on activities and observations.

Botany: Children explore plant anatomy, life cycles, and ecosystems, fostering a love for nature and environmental awareness.

Geography: A child might use a sandpaper globe to feel the continents and oceans, explore world puzzle maps, or learn about flags, people and animals from different countries.

History: Activities might involve creating timelines to understand the passage of time, learning about personal milestones, or exploring the prehistoric era through captivating stories and visuals.

Science: Simple experiments that introduce concepts like observation, weather patterns, or basic changes in matter are used to ignite a child’s scientific curiosity.

The Montessori curriculum, rooted in Maria Montessori’s “Cosmic Education” philosophy, aims to cultivate global citizens by fostering a love for learning, respect for living things, and a vision for a peaceful future beyond traditional academics.


How does the Montessori curriculum work?

The curriculum is divided into five key areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language, and Cultural Studies. It provides the use of materials that progress from simple to complex. Materials are laid out on low shelves promoting exploration and self-discovery. Children work at their own pace and are driven by their individual interests. 

Montessori education spans Early Childhood (ages 3-6), Elementary (ages 6-12), and Secondary (ages 12-18), with options for infants and toddlers available in some programs.

Instead of traditional letter grades or numerical scores, Montessori teachers use a more holistic approach to assessing children’s progress and development. Observation is key to recording children’s progress.

Sony Vasandani, B.Com, M.Ed

Founder & CEO of: Sunshine Teachers’ Training, The Academy of Montessori, Smart Preschool Business.

Key Learning Area #2: Sensorial Training