Wandsworth has spent a significant amount of time building a curriculum that meets the children’s academic, physical, emotional and social development. When the school began the children were all of a pre-primary age and all enjoyed working towards the goals laid out in the UK Foundation stage curriculum. The introduction of the Montessori curriculum and its approach to children learning through movement, not only embraced a method of progressive learning for our children, but facilitated access to concrete didactic equipment for both the physically and neuro-typically different children. Each piece of equipment and learning experience is an opportunity to build vocabulary, communicate, learn and develop social graces, all the while working towards as much independence as physically possible.
Montessori incorporates Practical Life skills right from opening and closing a box or bottle to matching and folding laundry, to sorting and categorising colours and shapes. Each presentation has a direct aim, for example Spooning – the direct aim being to hold a spoon and move beans from one container to the next. Every presentation has indirect aims and links to other learning areas too. Spooning incorporates the indirect aims of sequencing, training of muscle movement and eye tracking from left to right for literacy, pincer and palmar grip development, and independence. Development of concentration and meeting the intrinsic needs of the child for repetition and perfection are all encompassed into each presentation. Respect for self, others and the environment are addressed in every activity.
The development of language is tantamount to the Montessori approach, whether it is naming a presentation or identifying an object. The child’s listening, communication, literacy, hand function, grammar and thinking and reasoning are constantly addressed through both the language and the cultural materials. How does a non-verbal child benefit from this? Wandsworth makes it very clear not to confuse communication with verbal language, and just because a child cannot verbalise does not mean they cannot communicate. The materials are geared towards a child being able to make a choice – whether they use an eye-point, a gesture, a communication device or a vocalisation, and we are able to perform a presentation and assess the child’s understanding by giving each child the opportunity to respond through the modality they are most adept in.
Mathematics begins with an explorative and sensorial approach to learning, where the children are asked to physically lift and move the equipment to build towers, stairs, grade sizes and sort shapes. For the more physically challenged children, as with all the learning areas, work may be presented and reinforced with hand-on-hand support. This action requires an astute directress to know how much physical support is required, so that the child is always working towards independence and building new neural pathways. Wandsworth currently offers the full scope of the Montessori 3-6 years and 6-9 year Mathematics, Language and Cultural curriculum.
Our Social and Natural Sciences cover work from the beginning of time all the way through to more current events and knowledge of the world around us. The children love these daily sessions as they are able to use all their senses to explore the presentation at hand. They address their tactile, sensory and physical needs while simultaneously building their vocabulary, communication and life skills.
Daily Living Skills like requesting to go to the bathroom, what to do in the bathroom, transitioning between environments, generalisation of skills, health, safety and hygiene are constantly addressed with each individual, focusing on their movement towards independence. As the children progress through the school, we will develop the Life Orientation Skills programme into functioning outside the school environment and supervised work programmes, provided we can build appropriate partnerships with local businesses.
The development and pace of the work from the concrete to the more abstract depends on the child. We keep the Montessori, National Learning Outcomes and National Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) chronological ages in mind when we perform presentations, however we cannot dictate the time it will take a child to grasp a concept. We use neuro-typical milestones as a guide to determine what development goals the children could strive for, but do not take into account their chronological age as it is not a determinant of intellectual or emotional ability. We reinforce the work the children perform on a daily basis and have now included the support of the parents by sending work home for them to reinforce, just as would be expected by any neuro-typical child.