Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Montessori Moments asked an interesting question on her blog on Friday about planning. She asked:

I was wondering what you do in terms of planning for the year. Are there certain things that you know you want to introduce? Do you make a yearly/monthly/or weekly plans?

I was going to reply in the comments section of her post, but then realized that long-term it is a question that readers and family may have often and I might as well post about it here where it is easy to find. My answer is not specifically geared for the author of Montessori Moments because she is Montessori-trained and a lot of this information will be old news for her.

I do not make yearly, monthly or weekly plans. What I do have are three-year plans, that is, a full curriculum planned for the ages 0-3, a full curriculum planned for ages 3-6, and again for ages 6-9. The reason I don't make weekly, monthly or weekly plans is because to do so would be...prepare yourself now...

...contrary to my (admittedly self-educated) understanding of
Montessori philosophy.

One of the major tenets of Montessori philosophy is to "follow the child" and I believe that if I made shorter term plans I would be either disappointed in our progress or holding my children back. I know roughly what we will accomplish over the course of the next three years but when we do what and how fast or slow we go is up to the children.

Having a three-year plan is relatively easy to do because Montessori activities follow a pretty specific progression. "Everything the child does is preparation for something the child will do later" [Gettman, 22]. For this reason it is very easy to know where you are starting and where you are headed. I have two main sources for this information that I use as homeschooling mom without formal Montessori training, although there are others available. If you are reading this and you are a Montessori teacher these probably wouldn't be very exciting for you because of course you have your manuals which serve that purpose. I always find it amusing that the books homeschooling parents have on their nightstands (Gettman, Hainstock) my Montessori-teacher-friends have not necessarily even heard of.

For the ages of 3-6

I use the David Gettman book Basic Montessori. This book takes the place of a set of Montessori manuals for me. Particularly useful are the pages where the activities are divided subject, then by period, then lists them in the order they are generally introduced [23-27]. I'm not sure it's completely legal, but you can view those pages with the lists by subject and period here.

The book provides the following for nearly every activity listed in the sequence:
  • the activity's aim
  • list and description of the material
  • DIY instructions on how to make the material (if possible)
  • discussion of any preliminary activities or preliminary presentations or any special preparation to be done by the director
  • a full step-by-step guide to giving the actual presentation
  • complete descriptions of ensuing exercises and how to present them
At the primary level Montessori work is divided into five subjects: Practical Life, Language, Sensorial, Math, Culture (includes science, geography, history , geography, anthropology and biology). The child works in all subject areas simultaneously for the most part. Each subject area has a long list of traditional activities that most people introduce in pretty much the same order. For convenience, Gettman has divided the traditional 3-6 curriculum into "periods" that represent groups of activities that the child is most likely to be working on at the same time. This is important to me as self-educated in Montessori because it helps me maintain the relationships among the materials in what Gettman calls an "inter-related web of experience" [22]. By the way, I am using the word "curriculum" in place of "sequence of activities" or "web of experience" and apologize for any non-Montessori connotations the word may have. Such connotations are not intended and curriculum just types better. At any rate, Gettman states "The five subjects are themselves not sequenced; they are conducted more or less in parallel. but as shown in the lists below, certain activities in one subject area are best conducted before, at about the same time as, or after certain activities in the other subject areas." [22] An example of this is how the red rods (subject-sensorial) are preparation for the number rods (subject-mathematics). This grouping by period also gives me some relative benchmarks by which to compare the boys' progress, although Kal-El has rarely been in the same period for everything at once and is usually working across periods is several subjects. It was really easy to start because we just began at the beginning of the list. The few things that were too easy for him we put away in short order and moved through the list until it was obvious that the activities were presenting an appropriate challenge. I like to think of it as five paths that we are traveling simultaneously. Me Too is walking a little behind Kal-El on all of the paths. Each of them may be farther down one path than the are another. There is no pressure to end all paths at the exact same time, we get there when we get there.

Again, this is why I can't make weekly, monthly, or yearly plans. I have no idea where the boys will be on their paths a month from now or a year from now. I make changes in the classroom through observation daily--not by deciding we'll do two new things in each subject this week, or that we'll finish a certain period by a certain date, or that we'll introduce cylinder blocks in April . In a particular week one of the boys might want to work entirely on language and move quite aways down that path, but not have any interest in sensorial and will not be ready for new materials.

Gettman puts it this way:
More generally, the director [that's me!] must constantly observe all the activities selected by the child each day, to see where the child's natural interests lie. The overall observations of the child's work are vital because the several schemes of activities described in this book are not intended to be followed like a syllabus [my emphasis]; decisions on what new presentations to offer should follow the child's natural inclinations [my emphasis again]. For instance, if the child is selecting a lot of physical activities, the director should offer activities that involve much movement; if the child seems particularly interested in reading and printed material, the director should offer activities that use charts or tags or books. Also, special interests shown by a child in particular subjects, like boats or rocks or clothes, should be incorporated into the activities whenever possible, for example, by providing 'rocks' to count in the memory play activity in Mathematics. In brief, if the director is successfully to direct the environment on the child's behalf, then the child must be allowed to direct the director. [20]
This is a reason I don't particularly want to purchase a curriculum that is organized by season. The boys are sorting animal and transportation beads because that is what they like, I am not going to subject them pumpkin sorting just because it's Fall or eggs to sort just because it's Easter. I don't want to schedule "oceans" for Summer and do it even if they aren't interested in oceans that month.

Again, reinforcing why I don't make weekly, monthly, or yearly plans Gettman states:
While the Periods tell you the proper sequence of the activities, you should, as has been mentioned before, only follow a particular series of activities when the child has shown an interest in pursuing such directions. This is an important qualification to the use of these lists: your over-riding responsibility is to follow the child's inclinations. Within the scope of the child's inclinations, these lists will help you know what doors to open next. To expand on this metaphor, you should not lead the child down these corridors, but rather follow closely behind the child, so that whichever direction the child turns, you can reach out and open a door. [23]

As far as I can tell, the Gettman book is the only resource that divides the activities into "periods." This feature made his book particularly helpful for a homeschooler because a homeschooler doesn't usually have an entire classroom of Montessori materials straight away, but rather makes purchases as they go. In order to stay several steps ahead of the boys I purchased or made enough materials for the first two periods right away. My more recent order encompassed Period Three. His divisions into periods helped me to divide up the financial burden somewhat, helped me see when I might be done with something and can send it to a new home, and helped me justify some the purchases. For example, I could see that the geometric cabinet is introduced in Period One and is continually used through at least Period Four. This made me feel better about spending the money. The listing according to periods also helped me know how far ahead I really needed to buy at first so that I didn't wind up ordering 3 yrs worth of materials and later decide I was only doing this for a year. In hindsight, now that I know how well it is working for us I wish I had just bought a full package because it is probably the cheapest way to do it in the end. However, I'm still not even sure about that because when I sat down and determined what I could make cheaply, what I really didn't need because we only have two children here, what I could make do without (usually stands and things which aren't that necessary with only two children here) my a la carte orders always came out cheaper than a package.

For the age 0-3

I purchased this inexpensive scope and sequence list from Montessori for Everyone. I have laminated a copy and check things off with a dry erase marker. I liked having something to check off so I also purchased her scope and sequence for ages 3-6 (which basically matches Gettman's) and laminated a copy of that as well. UPDATE: A free record-keeping list is available here at The Wonder Years.

I want to point out that in every scope and sequence I have looked at there has been considerable overlap from the end of one age group to the beginning of the next, so there is no rush to "finish" the 0-3 curriculum before a Me Too turns three. That overlap is, of course, evident in groupings themselves: 0-3, 3-6, 6-9. This also means that I still use the Gettman book quite a bit even for Me Too.

Other Resources

As most of you have probably realized, I stay current on all of the Montessori blogs in my sidebar. These blogs include Montessori classrooms as well as homeschools. I feel like this keeps me in constant touch with what classroom teachers are doing, homeschool parents are doing, what other kids the same age as mine are doing and enjoying. I also belong to five Yahoo groups that are on the subject of Montessori but I don't enjoy them very much and much prefer blogs. Although, I do love that on Montessori Online I can sometimes read a really great response written by somebody like Tim Seldin. I'm not going to sit and list what I don't like, you can try it and make your own decision.

I use the Gettman book somewhat as I imagine a Montessori classroom teacher might use their manuals. If you wanted something free there are several online Montessori manuals to choose from. I use them whenever I want to clarify how to give a particular presentation. The Tami Elliot videos on Expert Village have been the most helpful for this purpose overall. I mentioned the Hainstock books earlier. I enjoyed these at the very beginning when I was first learning about Montessori at home. However, they don't have enough material in them if you are going the whole-hog.

In addition to our traditional Montessori work we do a lot of reading. Of course, every Montessori classroom I've seen has a reading corner so I really shouldn't say "in addition." Again, I try to follow the child. We take a pile of books home from the library each week. Some are subjects I know the boys are interested in, some are new topics to introduce them to. Whatever they like, we keep for a while, and get more and more books on that topic until they tire of it. Kal-El has been "studying" trucks for a solid 3 years now, but some weeks he wants to read all about doctors, others about pirates. I don't feel like I need a plan to do this, I just have to spend time reading and talking with them.

So there you have it. I probably could have just said "I don't believe in making weekly, monthly, or yearly plans because I feel it would prevent me from progressing through the general sequence of activities at a pace that truly follows the child" but that wouldn't have been nearly as much fun now would it?


  1. Thanks this post helped me out :)

  2. Great post! If you don't mind, I think that my next post will be about planning too! My planning is similar, yet different, since I have a home-based preschool (with my 4 year old and five other 3-5 year olds, so I have fewer children than a traditional classroom, but more children at the same age & sometimes level than a typical family.

  3. Thank you so much for your wonderful post! I agree with you 100%. So, you may ask me why I asked you this question. I want to have children in my home and operate a "preschool" this coming year. According to regulations I am required to have lesson plans and a curriculum. I am not sure how to go about this as I want to follow the lead of each child individually but also follow the legal requirements. Thanks again!

  4. I loved this post. I need to get this book you mentioned.

    My sons teacher actually gave us her lesson plan for the entire year. I wish I had it with me but I lost it. I need to get another copy from her.

    The lessons that were planned were religion and cultural lessons. For example: She has specific times she introduces the five major classes of the Phylum Chordata: fish, amphibian, reptile, bird, and mammal. Lessons in botany, geography and history are presented at certain times to the entire class.

    Individual lessons are in the other areas. She writes down what she plans to presented to each child individually the next week but it is because she has 15 student sand needs to keep track where everyone is at and where they are going...

    This is how she does it. I know not all teachers do it this way.

  5. After reading your post I found on montessorimakers yahoo group several free Gettman's Scope and Sequence in different formats created by different folks. They are called Stages Charts. Here is the link:

  6. Hmmm. I don't know if I agree with all of this. Daily observations are SO important. But, I do make weekly plans of which lessons I want to give. If you have a large class, this HAS to be done in order to keep records. What I do is this - I keep a book on a table that has a space in it for each child. In this space, I list 3 -4 lessons that I think the child is ready for and is interesting for them. Throughout the week, I try to give at least one of the lessons. When it is given, I circle it in my book. At the end of the week, I record these lessons under "practiced" in my permanent record keeping book. Then I start all over again.

    Again, this is something that works for classrooms. I'm not sure if it would be necessary for home Montessori.

  7. P.S. Montessori,

    You're right, that probably would be necessary for a classroom. My "class" has a 2:1 student to teacher ratio so the daily observations make it painfully obvious what to do next :)

    Thank you for your comments, they will be very helpful for those who are keeping track of larger numbers.

  8. Thanks for this really thought provoking post MBT :)

    Even though I *have* purchased a curriculum (New Child Montessori) I did it really just to flesh out our days / add some fun... Now, in an ideal Montessori home classroom you might not have to do that & while we didn't *have* to either I felt like it added the missing links that, not having a background in education, I might miss.

    I don't , however, have the Gettman book yet & wish that I'd bought it at the very beginning of my adventures in Montessori because so many people really rely on it. WHen I get it maybe I'll have the confidence to feel like you do! I hope so :) Even then, I feel that the NCM curriculum won't be a mistake because at the moment we're mostly using it "out of school time" as fun activities to do in the morning when my boys get up or in the evening.

    I appreciate your well thought out ideas - I find life so busy at the moment that it's hard to think straight most of the time!! ;)

    Have a great weekend, Amber :)