Aquinas & Old Town Montessori Schools
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PRIMARY LEVEL : ages 3 to 6 at the Aquinas and Old Town Montessori Schools

Welcome to our Primary Program! We hope that you discover that our schools are the right environment for your young child.

We have three primary classrooms on the Mount Vernon Campus and two in Old Town Alexandria. Children younger than 5 years attend five days a week from 8:30 AM till noon. Once children are ready for a full day of work in the classroom, around the age of 5, they are invited to stay until 3:00 PM. After-school care until 6:00 PM, is available to the children of all ages at both campuses.

The school year begins on Tuesday after Labor Day and continues through the first week in June. School closings for holidays and vacations follow closely the calendar for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Please enjoy getting to know the details of our program listed below.

Your Primary Child

"Let ME do it!"  is a normal outcry of a young child. He is ready to test his independence and do things by himself. When you visit our schools, you will discover that you have come to the right place.

What looks like fun and play in our classrooms - and it actually is for the children - is really "the child's work": the effort to master practical and social skills, to absorb vast amounts of information, and to internalize abstract concepts. Children are shown how to use the unique, authentic, AMI-approved Montessori materials and are carefully, professionally guided toward making their independent work choices.

The atmosphere in our classrooms is joyful, orderly, and calm. Children manipulate color tablets, number rods, and alphabet letters lined up as words. They also do "Practical Life" activities: they scrub, build, construct, pour, and wash. When you come to observe one of our classrooms you will see it for yourself how peaceful, joyful and organized our students are for their age.

All activities are based on respect, - respect for the teacher, for the work of others, and for the materials. This respect is based on a deep conviction that even very young children have a profound sense of dignity and deserve to be seen as the person they are going to be.

The Primary Curriculum

The Montessori primary curriculum for children ages 3 through 6 is highly individualized to support their physical, social, and emotional development. Unlike traditional teachers implementing a set curriculum to the whole group at the same time, a Montessori teacher is trained to observe each child's unique needs. She selects learning activities from the primary curriculum that are suitable for a child's interest at that particular moment. Montessori vs. Traditional

The primary curriculum is designed as a three-year (sometimes four-year) program. The youngest children absorb important concepts from their hands-on activities. In the mixed-age setting, they also observe and learn from the older children, while the older children develop compassion and mentoring skills for the younger ones. The magical Montessori "Kindergarten" year reinforces academic skills and offers unique opportunities for leadership.

The areas of activities in the primary program are Practical Life, Sensorial Exploration, Language, and Mathematics. Integrated into these four areas are Geography, History, Biology, Art, Music, and Physical Education.

Areas of study:

Practical Life
The Practical Life activities help children develop order and sequence, control of movement, and concentration. Once they have been shown how to do a specific exercise, they are free to repeat the activity without interruption and work at their own pace. All practical life exercises advance small and gross motor development and prepare for dexterous manipulation of language and math materials.

The Practical Life exercises are simple and ordinary activities of everyday life. Children are proud that they can do things for themselves. They choose special dressing frames to practice buttoning, zipping, and lacing. They learn to concentrate by following multiple steps in polishing wood or silver or washing the table, working from left to right in preparation for later reading and math operations. Through role-play or special presentations, called "Grace and Courtesy", children learn to politely verbalize their questions and master their early social relations.

Sensorial Exploration
Working with the sensorial materials helps children refine their perception of objects in their environment. Through matching, grading, touching, listening, seeing, tasting, and smelling they observe and internalize abstract qualities of these materials. Individual impressions are then related to objects in the classroom and identified through games. These sensorial explorations are the base for intellectual expansion.

The beauty of the materials attracts children to take them off the shelf and actively explore their dimensions, color, forms, and sounds. For example, a set of four blocks, each containing ten cylinders of different sizes, develops visual discrimination of dimensions. An error in the line-up of the cylinders is obvious and can be corrected independently. Precise language for each dimension is given. Also, holding each cylinder by a small knob is an indirect preparation for writing by strengthening the fingers to hold a pencil.

Similar steps are followed for grading and comparing shapes of geometric plane figures and solids. Refining the auditory senses with sound boxes and the Montessori bells prepares for isolating the sounds in spoken language. Children are intrigued by the different dimensions of the colored blocks that form the binomial and trinomial cubes. In the elementary class, when they learn the corresponding algebraic formulas of (a+b)2 and (a+b+c)3, they will be excited to recall their earlier sensorial impressions of the cubes.

In the Montessori classroom, precise language is drawn from all activities. Early on, the gift of language is organizing and building each child's personality. The ability to express thoughts intelligently and creatively develops self-confidence.

In preparation for reading, the teacher offers guidance in three ways: conversation, enrichment of vocabulary, and writing. Many opportunities are offered throughout the day for making conversation, from nature projects and fiction and non-fiction stories to poems, songs, and art pictures. Children learn to express their ideas clearly and speak in logical sequence. Their vocabulary is enriched through naming objects in the classroom, their wider social environment, and geography. Children are given accurate terminology for the parts of animals and plants, which encourages them to express their knowledge in both oral and written language. Playing the Sound Game or "I Spy" game supports the visualization of specific sounds in various locations of words, preparing the mind for spelling and writing.

Children come to the writing process through indirect preparation of the practical life and sensorial activities. When they begin work with the Sandpaper Letters, they receive three impressions: tracing the letter prepares the hand for writing; saying the sound, rather than the name of the letter, facilitates connecting sounds into words; and the visual impression of the letter is a preparation for reading.

When the teacher introduces the Moveable Alphabet, children begin to construct words and, eventually, combine words into phrases and sentences. The purpose of these exercises is to enable children to express themselves freely in graphic form. Primary children seemingly learn to "write" before reading. To introduce proper pencil grip before actual writing, creative work is introduced in parallel with the Moveable Alphabet. Ten metal insets of geometric shapes are carefully traced and shaded in with beautiful colors. The lightness of touch and keeping within limits prepares the hand for forming letters.

When children can interpret their own writing, the teacher introduces the reading of words others have written, which is more challenging. The sequence of decoding phonetic words, learning the many phonograms of the English language, and sight-reading "Puzzle Words" provides the mechanics of reading. Children practice their reading skills through labeling the environment or arranging pictures and words around a theme. These exercises inspire them to produce booklets with written descriptions, definitions, and illustrations.

In a playful way, children are introduced to elements of grammar. A delightful set of a farm or garden, with animals and plants, engages children in exploring the grammatical function of words. Older children in the primary class are introduced to the most ingenious teaching materials: colorful grammar symbols are used to label the different parts of speech in their written stories and poems. Grammar Symbols - The Nine Basic Parts of Speech    and Parts of Speech further Classification    More advanced materials introduce the analysis of simple sentences. Together with interpretive reading and acting out stories, children move at their own pace toward total reading. They read with comprehension and acquire a love of words and appreciation of style.

Once children stay in the classroom for a full day, Spanish is added to their language experience. The purpose of Aquinas' primary level Spanish program is to expose the children to a foreign language and to encourage a love for learning a second language. Using joyful conversations, songs, books, games, and other Montessori materials, children learn vocabulary and develop proper accents. When children continue onto the elementary level, they are ready to dive deeper into learning the Spanish language.

In the Montessori classroom, the world of mathematics is explored through magnificent materials that excite the children. Practical Life activities have prepared the mind with a sense of order through sequencing and working with precision. Several of the sensorial exercises transition directly to work with numbers. Rather than beginning with abstract written numerals, children discover mathematical concepts through tactile and visual impressions. Repeated manipulation of various materials eases the memorization of math facts. Proceeding from the concrete to the abstract, children establish a comprehensive number sense that will serve them well for future work in advanced mathematics.

The Decimal System is introduced with the famous Golden Bead Material. Children can grasp a single golden bead as a unit and compare it to the next higher categories of beads arranged as ten bars, hundred squares, and thousand cubes. They use a group activity called the "Bank Game" to work out the four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Because children work with categories of the decimal system, they do not shy away from large numbers; whether they have 8 units or 8 millions, they only have to consider the numeral 8 placed in the appropriate category. Similarly, the concept of "carrying" or "borrowing" is accomplished in a fun way by exchanging 10 single unit beads for a ten bar, or 10 ten bars for a hundred square, or 10 hundred squares for a thousand cube.

Linear counting of teens and tens is introduced with special boards and number cards. Short and long bead chains with specific color schemes for each number illustrate the squares and cubes of the numbers 1 through 10. The same material is used for skip counting, which prepares for multiplication. In memorization exercises, children have the opportunity to do all calculations with charts and materials, until they can work out answers in their head and record them on paper.

Fraction materials are available to children who are curious about dividing a single unit. A set of ten disks shows concretely the divisions from one whole to ten pieces. A small knob on each fraction piece enables the child to manipulate the parts and discover various combinations.

Children love the large beautiful puzzle maps that represent the world, the countries of every continent, and all states of the United States. After initial manipulation of the puzzle pieces, children learn the names, trace around single pieces, and read about cultural features. They carefully pour water around various land and water formations set in individual pans. Islands, lakes, straights, and peninsulas are explored on large maps. As a follow-up, children frequently collect their written definitions and illustrations in small booklets.

Children's first impressions of history occur during joyful birthday celebrations in the classroom, accompanied by songs and music. Pictures, special objects, and brief narrations sent from home are shared or presented on short timelines. All children become aware of the passing of time and the place their personal history has.

Studies of botany and zoology begin with nature explorations and visits to our two outdoor bunnies on the Mount Vernon campus and parakeets in Old Town. In the classroom, children enjoy puzzles that represent the parts of plants and animals, together with extensive card materials for classifying and reading. Every fall, primary children observe the miracle of the Monarch Butterfly's metamorphosis and migration. Elementary children regularly visit each primary classroom to help care for the caterpillars and explain the developmental stages to their young friends.

Visual art and craft activities are integrated in all areas of the primary program. Children are guided to work with glue, water colors, paints, and scissors. They feel comfortable using these skills in their personal expressions of the work they produce. Handwork, including sewing, weaving, and embroidery, is part of the practical life exercises. Children also love to lay out beautiful arts postcards of famous paintings. They learn to see minute details, discover similarities, and analyze differences of artistic expressions.

From sensorial listening exercises children move to musical ear training with the Montessori Bells. They begin with matching two bells with the same pitch and gradually increase the number of pairs. Through careful listening, children learn to grade the bells from the lowest to the highest sound until they discover the pattern of the C major scale. After the names of the pitches are introduced, they are "written" by placing small black disks on a board that has the musical staff painted on it. Children also love to improvise or figure out how to play a familiar song on the bells.

Physical Education & Movement
Movement is an essential part in the physical and intellectual growth of primary children. Throughout the day, the Practical Life activities offer ample opportunities for refining small and gross motor skills. Children walk, carry, lift, and pour to develop body control. Joyful singing and movement activities help them establish balance and equilibrium. The extensive outdoor grounds and beautiful play areas at Aquinas provide natural spaces for running, playing, and learning basic ball skills. Children are also active in the children's garden. They grow flowers for display in their classrooms and harvest vegetables to make simple snacks. A highlight in the fall is the field day for all primary children, when the monarch butterflies that were raised in the classrooms are released for their long flight to Mexico, accompanied by songs, relays, and games.

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