The Montewssori school that our kids attend had "Parent Sharing Night" last Thursday. This is where parents come into the classroom and learn about all their children's "works."
Here is J demonstrating her "letter work." The wood card she's holding has the letter f on it, in cursive script and slightly raised with a sandpapery texture. Her work is to feel the letter and trace it. A companion work is tracing the letter (again, in cursive script) on a piece of paper -- not a small, inch high letter, but one that fills the whole page. Having just turned four, she's just developing the fine motor skills she needs in order to write. But she can use her gross motor skills to learn what the letters look like, and she can use her sensory skills to get a "feel" for the letter. While the language center of her brain is still being "turned on," the sensate part of the brain is what Montessori calls "highly absorbant" at this age.
Montessori kids start learning cursive rather than printed writing for several reasons. For one thing, cursive is actually easier for kids to write: the letters flow, so they require less fine motor control, and each letter starts and stops at the baseline, whereas printed letters involve making a series of intersecting lines and curves that each start and stop at different points. Also, the capital letters look substantially different from the lowercase letters, making them easier for kids to distinguish. Of course, kids are simultaneously learning to recognize their printed letters through their reading practice. At the moment, J is very big on sounding out words syllabically--she goes around the house "sounding out" various words, including her name, syllable by syllable.
In the next picture, J is doing another work on her work rug. Montessori is big on order (contrary to the stereotype); one of the first thing kids learn to do is to create a defined workspace by laying out a rug or mat. They get the mat, unroll it, and roll it up and put it away themselves from a young age. I'm not sure what the name of this particular work is, but basically it's another sensate work: it involves slowly moving different shapes together to create new shapes. Here, for instance, J's "sensate" brain is focusing on how two equilateral triangles form a square. She traces the edges of the triangles with her fingers, then the edges of the square.
Here is B, demonstrating his mastery of map skills. He has worked with maps ever since he was in Children's House -- he created a map of the United States when he was four. Here he is working on identifying the names of all of the countries in North America (including all the little ones in the Caribbean). Rather than working with paper, however, he's using a wooden puzzle that allows him to feel the shape of each country, and feel how they fit together. Seems like a small thing, but it engages more of the brain--including that primitive "sensate" brain -- in the task, making it easier to master.
And here Ben is after successfully naming all those tiny little countries. He can also name most of the capital cities in North and South America.
Here is M, who loves reading, writing, and drawing (and is extremely good at each of those skills), but who has always hated math. She is doing better, though, after learning what they call the "bead frame." (I guess I would just call it an abacus.) Here she is showing how to add two four-digit numbers using the frame. Another interesting math work that she demonstrated once before involves manipulating wooden beads, bars, squares, and cubes, each representing 1, 10, 100, and 1000 using raised dots (or a bead, in the case of single digits). This, along with several other similar "manipulative" math works, gives her a concrete idea of what she's doing when she's adding and substracting such large numbers. She is also looking forward to learning how to count money using a play cash register.