The Elementary Environment
The Montessori elementary curriculum is, by nature, interdisciplinary. It is carefully structured and integrated to tie the separate disciplines of the curriculum together into studies of the physical universe, the worlds of nature and the human experience. There is an emphasis placed on making connections between different areas of study versus the mere presentation of isolated facts. Dr. Montessori referred to this approach as Cosmic Education. The elementary Montessori curriculum encompasses the full mastery of basic skills and goes well beyond to promote independent thinking and creativity. In addition, Montessori imparts other valuable life lessons such as how to work with others; peaceful resolution to conflicts; teaching and leading others; service to the community and social responsibility.
Practical Life – Practical life retains its importance in the elementary classroom. Children care for their classroom, keeping it clean and orderly and providing care for plants and animals. Practical life also may include snack and meal preparation. Grace and courtesy are still vital in the elementary classroom. Children may great visitors and give tours, learn to support others in their learning, learn communication skills and conflict resolution skills. Practical life includes community service. Elementary children may work in primary classrooms supporting younger students by reading to them, listening to preschoolers read or supporting classroom work. At times, students may learn about others who are in need in the world or their own community and plan a service project to help. Going out or field trips are another part of practical life in the elementary classroom. Children attend plays, concerts or museums to practice appropriate behavior at community events. Oral presentations are another practical life skill that is developed in the elementary classroom. Children research various topics and present the information to the group.
Reading - For most students, the first two years in the lower elementary classroom are spent working phonetically to build reading skills. As the child learns the sound pictures in words, his reading level increases. During this process, the directress will work with the child to develop comprehension skills. Children will participate in peer discussions, predicting and using context cues. Students are introduced to classic literature books in which to develop these skills.
The directress carefully chooses reading materials that are cross curricular, integrating history, geography and science content areas. Student interest also may dictate which books are used. Children are also exposed to a variety of genre or types of literature throughout the school year.
Grammar – The study of grammar begins almost immediately after the child begins to read.
During the three year cycle in the lower elementary classroom, children are presented experiences with the nine parts of speech every year. This layering of information is necessary to develop a solid foundation of how words function within sentences. Maria Montessori has assigned a geometric symbol to represent each element of grammar. (For example, verbs are represented by a large red sphere.) The children symbolize sentences by placing symbols for the appropriate part of speech over each word. In their first year, children are presented basic information about a part of speech and work to label parts of the farm and classroom. When ready, a child begins to identify words by their function in a sentence. In the second and third year, children have additional experiences in classifying parts of speech with language grammar materials including the grammar command cards and grammar boxes to deepen their understanding. They then move into learning about the parts of the sentence through analysis. We begin with searching for the predicate and subject then analyzing direct object, indirect object, adjectives and adverbs.
Writing – Even children who are not yet ready to write with pencil and paper can create sentences and stories with the movable alphabet. Students work through a process of writing that helps them to get their thoughts on paper in an organized fashion. This process is done in a very concrete way so the children internalize the skills needed to become proficient writers. Throughout the writing process, students learn about the mechanics of writing: sentences, paragraphs, editing, capitalization and punctuation. Children experience a variety of styles of writing. They write fiction, non-fiction, comparative paragraph, poetry and friendly letters. Within this process, children learn the basic research skills need to be competent writers, which includes dictionary and children’s encyclopedia use.
Mathematics – In the lower elementary classroom, children work on two paths of mathematics, the study of the operations of addition, multiplication, subtraction and division and the memorization of math facts. Using concrete Montessori materials, the child begins with the golden beads, which present place values of the decimal system, the children gain a strong foundation of number sense. As the child moves towards abstraction, he utilizes the golden beads, stamp game, and bead frame which incrementally become less concrete. The process of the memorization of facts is also presented in a very concrete manner. The Montessori materials bring active learning into the rote memorization process.
Children are introduced to fractions using concrete materials and begin addition and subtraction work with the fraction materials. Children are exposed to measurement of length, weight, area and temperature including English and metric units. Building on a concrete introduction to plane and solid geometry in the preschool classroom, children continue to study geometric nomenclature. These include the study of a variety of geometric shapes of the geometry cabinet and an introduction to the study of types of angles and triangles. Children should be able to recognize coins and bills and count money; to tell time with an analog clock; and to read bar graphs and pie charts in conjunction with word problems.
Biology – The biology work done in the lower elementary classroom falls into the subject areas of botany and zoology. The child becomes aware of the classification of all living things. He is introduced to the Domains and Kingdoms Chart before moving into the specific study of plants and animals. The use of the botany materials and lessons allow the child to learn about the parts of the plant, leaf and flower. Nomenclature cards and real specimens are used to introduce the child to each part of the plant. The botany cabinet is also used for identifying and sorting different leaf shapes. Children trace various leaf shapes and can match them to actual samples of leaves. The zoology materials expose children to the study of the animal kingdom. Through nomenclature cards, animal puzzles and real specimens, children observe, research and give presentations about vertebrates and invertebrates. Animal research allows for many areas of inquiry and exploration on an independent basis. Habitats, body functions, camouflage, adaptation and characteristics of an animal are some of the topics children typically learn about while doing their research.
Physical Science – The first presentation of the school year is an amazing story of how earth came in to being that sparks the child’s imagination and becomes the spring board into the rest of the curriculum studies. Children learn about the formation of the universe and of the solar system and specifically our planet Earth. They experience and research the laws of the universe, the states of matter, the earth’s orbit around the sun, the earth’s composition and the seasons.
Geography – Once the child has a view of how the earth came into being, this leads to the study of the land and water forms, continents and oceans. Once the child has an understanding of the continents, they begin a study of a continent. They label puzzle maps and create maps of their own. They spend time researching countries to learn about their cultures, economics, government, capitals, flags and languages. The foundation of this learning is the independent researching of information culminating with presentations so everyone learns about their specific country.
History – History is taught from the big picture to the small. Children begin with a study of the universe and end up with specific studies of how life came to be on Earth as it is today. Time lines and great stories are the foundation of our study of history. We begin with the concept of time and the passage of time. This enables the children to better grasp the sense of where we are in the big picture of geological time. As we study the needs of humans throughout time, children research and make connections to those who came before us and what contributions they made to humanity. The third year in the lower elementary, students study and research the Timeline of Life. This covers the earliest forms of life to the coming of humans on Earth.