“Education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” For these reasons Dr. Montessori encouraged educators to break the conventional mold and support the child’s desire to learn through activity. She called for places that were scientifically planned and methodically created for children. Thus, the Winston-Salem Montessori School is a series of “prepared environments”, in which children have materials that act as keys for exploration. These “Prepared Environments” are designed to unlock possibilities rather than define purposes, invite constructive activity without demanding conformity. The design is based on the principles of order, beauty and simplicity. The environment would be utilitarian enough to meet both the needs of the community and the needs of each individual. In such an environment the work of the child is fulfilled, for unlike adults who work to change their environments, children use the environment to change themselves.
The Montessori Elementary Program is divided into two levels: Lower Elementary (6-9 year olds) and Upper Elementary (9-12 year olds). The mixed age elementary classroom creates a community in which the child both lives and learns. During the elementary years children develop social skills, academic abilities and abstract intellectual concepts. By collaborating with others of different abilities and ages, the child learns to accomplish goals cooperatively. The process of group learning encourages the child to contribute ideas, listen to others, and learn to compromise. These are important lessons, high on the list of priorities in a Montessori elementary program. The elementary classroom environment meets both the social and academic needs of the child at this stage of development. The emphasis in elementary is to encourage project work that moves over time from the concrete to the abstract.
The Montessori Elementary program allows the child to continue the great strides in learning made in Children’s House. This is a time for perfecting and extending the skills already begun. Reading, math, geometry, and science all bring the student to new understanding expressed through writing. History, geography, and biology are presented in ways that give meaning and appreciation to the great order of the universe. Spanish, music and art, and physical education are an integral part of the week. Children begin to explore humankind and themselves in the world and begin to develop respect for nature.
The Montessori elementary curriculum is interdisciplinary, allowing English, science, social studies, the arts, world language, writing, and math to converge in studies guided by the child’s own interests. Emphasis is placed on the connections between different areas of study, not on the mere presentation of isolated facts. Spanish, music and art, and physical education are an integral part of the week. The overall curriculum is an integrated and academically challenging program that meets the child’s changing developmental needs from year to year.
The Montessori Elementary course of study for the Elementary years fully integrates separate disciplines of the curriculum in an integrated thematic approach. This approach uses five Great Lessons as a framework for the child to gain a rich understanding of the physical universe, the world of nature, and the human experience. They introduce for study a scientific approach to investigating the interrelatedness of all things, and a complete understanding of the ecology of the natural world as humans know it. These lessons appeal to this age child by drawing on a wealth of previous sensorial experience and interrelating it an order that provokes the imagination. The previous knowledge of the child is brought together in a framework that provides a vision of the whole with all its component parts.
The Great Lessons are presented as a story, a kind of cosmic tale, about the wondrous and incredibly expansive universe. They provide a graphic impression of the whole topic without giving extensive details. The Great Lessons are simple overviews of complex subjects, a condensed version of a complex system.
- The Coming into Being of the Earth – The Idea of the Universe. The first Great Lesson is a creation story, starting with an explanation of the formation of the universe. It is a dramatic tale of beginnings, the infancy of the universe and how it came about.
- The Story of the Coming of Life. The second Great Lesson is a tale of the beginnings of life on the earth.
- The Story of the Coming of Human Beings is the third Great Lesson and presents the ascendancy of man and the development of culture.
- The Story of Communication is the fourth Great Lesson about the development of signs and symbols to represent human thought and pass on accumulated knowledge.
- The Story of Numerals is the fifth Great Lesson exploring mathematics and the development of numerals and operations.
These lessons form a foundation for all later work and encompass a vast territory of human knowledge. For this reason their intention is to stimulate interest and address a need, and not to be complete when given in isolation. Each lesson builds upon the previous knowledge of the child to integrate many different subjects while provoking research in a variety of topics presented. The Great Lessons are an introduction to a wide scope of avenues in learning. They compel the child to study further, by giving him ideas for his imagination. They open doors to analysis of detail in all the aspects introduced.
The Great Lessons sow the seeds of interest, setting the child to explore with his intellect and his imagination. They ask questions for the child to answer. With such a variety of choices the child can find the topics which suit his individual needs and interests.
The scope and sequence of the Language Arts in the elementary includes lessons in the history of the development of spoken and written language, communication skills, handwriting, composition, spelling, grammar, sentence analysis, and reading.
In a Montessori elementary each student extends their vocabulary through listening and interacting with others. They learn to interpret and carry out directions, answer critical questions of how and why, predict outcomes and correct erroneous assumptions. Each child participates in group discussions, problem solving and contributes during group projects. They have many opportunities to memorize and recite creative stories, poetry, dramatic scripts and musical lyrics.
The necessary preparation for handwriting comes in the Childrens’ House program. The children bring to the elementary a skill and style of writing which has been developed at the critical period. They will, through the many activities in the elementary, write often in both a technical and creative manner. Children increase and expand on these abilities with cursive handwriting practice. With a variety of different exercises the child can satisfy their need to perfect their own handwriting. This series of steps begins with practice of the individual lower case letters, then letters classified by their writing similarities, next the means for joining letters, and lastly the formation of capital letters.
Composition is an important component of the everyday experiences in a Montessori elementary classroom. Children learn how to record both dictated and written information. They are taught techniques to organize their thoughts on paper and categorize research notes. Their writing includes applying skills in gathering information and organizing thoughts through reading, discussion, journal writing, brainstorming, and list making. At the most advanced level they apply skills in planning for writing by determining purpose and selecting an audience.
The child explores creative writing, linking the written word with their own inner thoughts. This builds consciousness of others, and so the child writes letters, invitations, scripts, and little dramas which can be expressed in the small social environment of the school and immediate community.
Writing is encouraged by a portion of the elementary environment structured to make available the necessary tools for writing in the form of specially designed paper, writing instruments, and the necessary art media for decoration. Exact tools with aesthetic appeal help to motivate the child. Skills are taught both formally and as a product of experience, and the child is presented a wide scope of possibilities.
The Montessori elementary strives to provide the means by which the child can write freely as an expression of their own particular needs and interests. The necessary skills lessons do not focus on the group, but rather each child’s individual needs. This then becomes an expression of individuality and relates directly to the growing social awareness of the child as an aid to life.
Elementary language activities act as aids to spelling learning spelling patterns. Spelling is also taught as a discreet subject and employs a developmental approach which includes word study lessons, spelling lists for memorization, spelling tests and a structured approach to teaching spelling rules.
Throughout the child’s written work the teacher responds to errors in spelling. Children keep their own spelling dictionary, organized alphabetically, with words generated from their own writing and from group lesson content. Some of the youngest children might need review of the key sounds and their variations as well as a compilation of word groups in a personal dictionary.
All of the childrens’ finished written work is corrected for spelling errors. This emphasizes respect for the reader and avoids developing incorrect patterns of spelling.
If language is the tool of humanity’s cultural evolution, then grammar is the logical ordering of our experiences. Without grammar there would be no shared meaning, it would fall apart in individual constructions without common understanding. Grammar is more than just mechanics, it has a noble purpose we can share with the child. Students investigate the underlying units of meaning within words as well as their function, and discover ancient roots. The child asks why, and is answered with the pyschogrammar of words from history. Etymology plays a key role in this process.
The study of grammar in the elementary is divided into three parts. The first is called word study, and looks into the morphology of words, the structure of their components. Study of suffixes, prefixes, compound nouns and word families are included in this area. Next is the function of words, the logical role and classification of each part of speech. This is followed by the logical analysis of sentence structure, the study of syntax. All of these come together to give the child a holistic overview of grammar.
Logical Analysis of Sentences
The materials for logical analysis give the elementary child an understanding of the order and the reasons why sentences are structured. Students comes to learn certain consistent patterns in the syntactical arrangement of words which leads them to an ability to critique their own writing.
The logical analysis material shows the component parts in the sentence and their relationships. It demonstrates the construction of the parts of speech in a sentence. This follows from the child’s work with the grammar boxes. With grammar work the child has taken apart the whole sentence to identify the function of its parts. Now he finds that sentences have order in their construction, and can be classified.
In a series of steps the child proceeds with this material to first analyze simple sentences, those with an independent clause and no subordinate clause. The child finds that the subject is the starting or focal point of a sentence. The complete subject of the sentence consists of the simple sentence and any words that modify it. The predicate of a sentence is the part that consists of all the words which are not the subject. All of these words say something about the subject. This part is properly called the complete predicate. Next he is introduced to compound sentences, those which contain one independent clause and at least one subordinate clause. He discovers that a compound-complex sentence contains two or more independent clauses and at least one subordinate clause.
Emergent Reading and Decoding
Reading is integrated into all of the work of the Lower Elementary environment. The mixed age grouping is especially helpful to emerging readers because older children tend to create and reinforce in our younger children a spontaneous interest in learning how to read better.
Our youngest readers begin by reading and identifying the component phonetic sounds in words, building on their Childrens’ House experience. They use concrete materials to associate the accurate sound with consonant digraphs and vowel diphthongs. They learn to divide words into syllables, and develop new strategies for decoding words based on identifying the sounds of dipthongs and digraphs as well as component syllables in words.
They develop a bank of sight words through specific reading experiences and use these with their emerging skills of comprehension to identify context clues for increased fluency in reading. Their speed and ability grows quickly with these new skills. Further experiences with prefixes, suffixes and root words refine and expand their word attack skills.
Junior Great Books
Elementary age children are introduced to the world’s classical children’s literature with increasing depth and sophistication each year using the Junior Great Books program. The stories in the series are used to develop skills of interpretive reading for comprehension at ever increasing levels of difficulty. The program uses excellent literature that engages both the intellect and the imagination in a group process that allows the participant to think for themselves and learn from each other.
Reading and Research
The keys to research lie in the exploration of sources that are available in the classroom and the community library. Library skills are introduced and include the use of reference tools.
The dictionary is the first and foremost resource in the classroom. It’s history is introduced and alphabetical order is focused upon. A variety of types of dictionaries are provided, from the simple to the expanded versions. The child learns the term “entry word” and uses it as a key to locating types and parts of the definition including the pronunciation code, etymological entry, levels of definition, antonyms and synonyms, and prefixes and suffixes are also investigated. Children use the library and reference books on a daily basis for both research and pleasure.
Theme Project Work
Project work grows out of themes that the class studies and challenge each student in their essay writing.
Children learn to take notes during presentations. They use these notes and further research to create paragraphs summarizing theme lessons, often creating a timeline or little booklet. Inherent in this process is the need for each child to accurately explain particular concepts presented in oral lessons, to summarize accounts of these events, and draw conclusions by integrating isolated information into a vision of the whole. These theme studies push their writing skills to a new level of concise and well written paragraphs.
These essays also provided opportunities to improve skills in spelling and punctuation. The children are required to identify spelling errors in their written work and use proper spellings of words appropriate to their reading level. Attention is given to capitalizing letters that begin a sentence, and identifying and capitalizing proper nouns. In a developmentally appropriate way, each individual is expected to correctly punctuate finished copy using periods, commas, question marks and exclamation points.
The project work that grows out of the key lessons provided a context for improving reference and study skills. The children apply their reading skills in research work, further developing their skills in using a table of contents, an index, a glossary, maps and charts. They locate definitions and information in the encyclopedia, atlas and dictionaries. They make efficient use of reference aids for research and read charts, graphs and time lines for information.
In the Lower Elementary children still need to explore with their hands and senses the concepts of mathematics. Yet with these experiences they now can move to abstraction with a reasoning mind, and discovers mathematical implications. The scope of work with concrete materials in geometry, arithmetic and algebra helps the child to realize skills in going from abstraction to relationships. The process of mathematics in the elementary provides the child with opportunities to infer, abstract, relate and recognize theorems.
Exercises in number concepts include concrete materials that provide a dramatic representation of the decimal system beyond one thousand and to one million. These activities reinforce the base ten system and the individual components of the families of number and their hierarchical relationships. Children in the Lower Elementary develop a complete understanding of the decimal system and whole numbers up to the millions category and are able to read and write numerals up to 999,999,999. The work with concrete materials develops skills in recognizing place value, using expanded notation up to four digits, identifying odd and even numbers, greater than and less than number sentences and estimation to the nearest whole number.
Addition and Subtraction
Students name facts from memory for addition and subtraction combinations one through ten, memorize binomial combinations up to ten and learn to exchange quantities from ten in one category to one of the next category. They add and subtract using concrete materials with four and five digit addends. They learn to identify and use the commutative property. They develop skills to accurately record transactions on paper.
With multiplication students learn to recognize the property of multiplication as a form of addition. They memorize the multiplication facts and learn to skip count by different multiples. In a series of guided experiences with concrete materials students first practice with one digit multipliers, then exchange in categories and carry quantities up to three places, progressing to multiplication equations with 2 or more digit multipliers, and 4 or more place multiplicands. As they move in a series of steps to work on paper without materials students learn to record partial products, exchange, and carry up to the millions. Students are also introduced to the use the distributive property, and work with both factors and multiples.
Students begin with concrete materials using one digit divisors moving in a series of steps to practice with two and then three digit divisors with dividends up to the millions. Students are able to record division transactions on paper and use accurate terms for the parts of the division equation. During the Lower Elementary years students are introduced to the rules of divisibility and memorize division facts up to ten.
In the Lower Elementary years students learn to read, analyze and solve verbal and written equations with the operations of addition and subtraction. They gain experience at recognizing inequalities of greater than, less than, and not equal to. They gather and organize data from surveys and classroom experiments and display data on charts or graphs to illustrate, summarize or explain story problems. Some students develop accurate text for their own story problems.
Students use a calendar to accurately locate days of the week, month, and year. They read and record time from both digital and traditional clocks up to minute intervals. In the Lower Elementary they learn to recognize the monetary value of coins and bills, read and write values up to $5.00, and perform simple additions and subtractions using coins. They estimate and measure length in inches, feet, yards, centimeters and meters, capacity in teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, pints, quarts, liters and gallons and weight in ounces, pounds, grams and kilograms. Students are introduced to temperature on a thermometer in Fahrenheit and Celsius.
In Lower Elementary students are first introduced to the concept of a fraction as part of a whole, learn to accurately name and define the parts of a fraction and identify equivalent fractions using concrete materials. Fraction work continues with performing simple operations with fractions having like denominators, reducing fractions to lowest terms and converting improper fractions to whole numbers or mixed numbers. Finally, students convert mixed numbers to improper fractions.
Decimal work begins with learning the power of ten and defining decimal fractions as part of a whole. Students next read and write decimals up to the millionths, perform simple operations with decimals using concrete materials and lastly are introduced to converting a common fraction to a decimal fraction.
Students in Lower Elementary are first introduced to the concept of a multiple with concrete materials and then go on to identify common multiples, lowest common multiples and greatest common multiples. This work prepares the student for more advanced skills using common factors, least common factors and prime factors.
In Lower Elementary, geometry is presented with concrete materials to help students visualize abstract concepts and develop intellectual understanding. They learn to identify, draw and define the 8 basic angles, measure angles using a protractor and perform simple operations with angles. With concrete materials they identify, draw and define basic polygons, a circle and its parts and work with similar, congruent and equivalent figures.
Students learn to identify and make models of symmetry with concrete materials and drawings. They are presented the concept of perimeter and area in everyday usage. They learn to calculate the perimeter of a polygon and the area of a rectangle.
The child in the elementary has a keen interest in the wider world and wants now to explore with his imagination the realm of information that goes beyond his senses. Starting from that interest the child is given a vision of the whole and pursues knowledge of the details in relationship to the greater whole. The subject matter is integrated into a multi-disciplinary approach that has as its basis the study of creation and the ecology of the earth. This is what Montessori called cosmic education.
In cosmic education the classification of geography plays an integral role in uniting the earth sciences under one category. Subject matter in astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, as well as political and physical geography make up this study of earth ecology and the nature of its elements.
The nature of the presentations build upon known facts and impressions gained as perceptual experience in the Childrens’ House and goes beyond the facts to explain the “why “and the “how.” It appeals to this aged child’s interest in the extraordinary, the immense, and the dramatic. These presentations take the form of grand stories and fascinating experimentation; stories of the real world and demonstrations of its properties. This provokes a sense of wonder in the child and focuses his imagination for creative constructions. The broad themes that these stories open for study include:
The First Great Lesson: Origin of the Universe and Creation of Earth
This is a cosmic story about the creation and it is used as a model for the study of the universe. The story of creation develops interest in the wonder and mystery of the unknown. It has enormous scope, and therefore activates the imagination to create mental constructions of a reality that exists but can not be seen.
This is the essential overview of the beginnings of the universe, formation of the planets and the formation of the earth. The story inspires the child to do further research on the details or any particular component they are interested in. The same story is revisited each year with experiments and further details which illuminate basic scientific properties.
Composition of the Earth
The composition of the earth exercises provide a focus on a portion of the great lesson, and provide the foundation for concepts in the formation of the earth. These exercises define the characteristics of the earth’s component layers, what each layer does and that life is dependent on their composition. They present basic knowledge about the thickness of each layer and develop understanding of their relative thickness to one another. These activities show how the crust of the earth is constantly changing and include a basic introduction to plate tectonics.
Three States of Matter
These exercises provide impressions for the child on the properties of the elements and the behavior of particles obedient to the laws of nature. They show that states of matter are dependent on temperature, which effect their properties of fluidity and solidity. They investigate concepts in the states of solids being rigid, elastic or plastic.
Laws of Attraction and Gravity
These activities reveal details of the properties of gravity and attraction. They show that particles follow laws which create attractions, that gravity is the force of attraction caused by the mass and that some particles pull more than others. The students also investigate the properties of magnetism and are introduced to the concepts of gravity according to weight.
Different Ways of Combining
This exercise relates back to the great lesson to create sensorial impressions as well as experience with how different substances combine and separate. This forms an important component of the child’s overall understanding of the three states of matter and the properties they have. Through experiments the child discovers the basic chemical properties of a solvent including a solution, suspension, emulsion, crystallization and a deposit. Further experiments illuminate concepts of chemical properties.
The Relationship of the Sun to the Earth
Through presentations, experiments and conceptual charts the child will develop understanding of the properties relating the earth to the sun:
- Only Part of the Sun’s Rays Reach the Earth
- The Earth Moves in Two Different Ways
- The Effect of Rotation
- The Coldest and Hottest Times of the Day
- Effect of Sphericity of the Earth
- Effects of the Earth’s Rotation around a Tilted Axis
- Revolution of the Earth Around the Sun
- The Measurement of the Tilt of the Earth
- Arctic and Antarctic Circles
- Introduction to Lines of Latitude and Longitude
- Climatic Zones
The Properties of Air
These exercises illustrate the properties of the element of air. This follows on from the work of the first great lesson and focuses specifically on the aspects and properties of air as an element and it’s effect on the climate of the earth. These interactions, between the properties of air, the heat of the sun, and the solid nature of land create the everyday conditions of wind, rain and currents that interrelate to make weather.
Effect of Water on the Planet
These exercises dramatically illustrate the properties and effects of water as it works with the other elements on earth. The nature of these demonstrations are more illustrative than oral, and many of the experiments and impressionistic charts speak for themselves. They cover content on how rivers work, rivers and their relationship to rain and the major rivers in the world. Students investigate the concept of erosion and the water cycle.
Life on the Land
These presentations lead the children to apply previous learned knowledge in geography, and how it relates to the distribution and type of vegetation, and the kinds of peoples and their cultures in the different zones.
Interdependency of People on Earth
Through previous exercises the children have become aware of the Fundamental Needs of Humans and have explored these in some detail. They have a growing awareness of the connected nature of societies, and how specialization creates a pattern of dependence, first in small groups and up to the advent of cities.
So over time humans have relied more and more on one another, from hunting and gathering to settling into great cities. We learn how dependent we are on one another in these exercisers. By the network that is created through production and distribution of goods, the child sees a web of interdependency that binds us together. These economic ties meet both our physical and spiritual needs.
These studies act as a structure for the investigation of geography in the Montessori classroom. Each child is allowed to follow areas of interest within this foundation that meet his need and in his own time. Self directed learning continues in the elementary with a higher purpose, the powers of the reasoning mind take conscious control of the child’s actions and he joins humanity with a wider awareness of his place in society.
The history curriculum in the Montessori elementary is comprised of two basic elements, the first is designed to help the student develop a clear sense of time and the second is designed to present the story of the universe and human civilization. To present these broad ideas to the child Montessori employs concrete materials, impressionistic charts, detailed timelines and historical artifacts.
The Measurement of Time
This series of exercises are intended to aid the child, in a series of steps, to move from concrete materials to an abstract concept of time. This includes the telling of time on the clock, recognizing units of time such as the day, week and month, as well as a basic ability to use calendars. The child needs these experiences to move towards a concept of history, the telling of time that goes past the child’s personal experience and connects him with the rich cultural background that transitions them to joining the social community around them. For the child to find his place in society, the concept of time is the fundamental prerequisite.
The Second Great Lesson: The Coming of Life to the Planet
The story of the emergence of life on earth entices the child’s imagination with facts concerning the changing earth and the conditions necessary for the development of life forms. The story begins with a review of the laws of the particles and the cosmic tasks they fulfil. A great conflict comes about, and divine intervention changes the conditions on the planet. Life emerges as the key mediator with a new cosmic task, to grow and multiply. Life’s cosmic task is to eat. By doing so life provides a service to the greater whole. It begins in the sea, and adapts as conditions change. Its comes in a series of progressions and processions to the land. Finally, at the last minute, mammals and birds emerge and survive as a result of their warm and protective birthing characteristic.
The child gains a vision of the wonder of the development of life as well as seeing that life responds to the environment by taking what it needs and giving back something which is useful to the continuance of the system.
Third Great Lesson: The Coming of Humans
The Third Great Lesson gives an overview of the gifts and powers of humans as they emerge on the Time Line of Life. The students do further investigations of the prehistoric history of humans.
The Fundamental Needs of Humans
The Fundamental Needs Charts represent the motivating reasons for which human civilizations grew and developed. The child investigates civilizations using the framework of the broad categories on the charts.
History Question Charts
Introduction to the History Question Charts provide a structure for the study of cultures through the ages.
Time Lines for Human Beings
The Time Lines for Human Beings complete the series of exercises which puts history in a linear perspective. These experiences begin with the first Great Lesson in which the children are exposed to time in it’s largest context, and are given a vision of the beginning of the universe. They discover that certain physical laws order and guide the interactions of the elements, and gain a perspective on the formation of the stars and planets. Next the children are introduced to the story of the Coming of Life, and the Time Line of Life.
In specific study the children research the diversity of life and its adaptations through geological time. The fundamental principle of adapt or die out rules the development of life. This sets the stage for the Black Strip, so that the child can see the relationship of life on the planet to the coming of humans. The Hand Time Line shows the child that humans had a long span of development that progressed in specialization and that certain qualities of humans distinguished them from the other forms of life, placing them in greater control of their environment than previous species. Next the Fundamental Needs Chart shows the physical and spiritual needs of humans, and helps the children realize the motivations for human evolution.
With these exercises as a framework the children have a solid base to move into more specific study of human history, and it is at this point that the Time Lines for Humans are introduced. These time lines put human history in a linear perspective, such that the children can grasp the passing of significant time spans relative to human development.
The Three Phases of History
In the same story telling tradition as the Great Lessons, the three phases of history are introduced to the child with broad reference and give a vision of the whole of human development. It is intended to be an overview, without unnecessary detail. Later, the children can investigate the details as interest and enthusiasm develops.
Dr. Montessori refers to the different realms of human development as the physical and spiritual territories. The physical needs of humans drew them together into organized social communities. They gathered in social units to meet fundamental needs, of which food, shelter and defense formed the most primary. Humans also have spiritual needs, and so customs. Laws and religions grew out of these social units.
Building and developing communities created structures for those spiritual and physical needs to be met. The process of human history is linked to science and economics. Science can be looked at as the systematic effort to understand and interact with the physical environment. The economy is the systematic approach to that goal with the least amount of effort. The building of the physical and spiritual territories is what culture is.
History is a sequence of phases. We present these phases to the children, but it is not necessary to give them in their complete aspects. Dating is also not essential, just that they are concurrent is enough. These three phases are a framework for understanding human history. They can be stated in stages, the first being that of the nomads. The second stage is the agricultural phase, and the last stage in the urban phase which includes the bronze, iron and feudal eras. This phases caused changes in the life-styles and patterns of population.
The Movements of People
With a study of human history and time line work the children have gained a vision of the development of civilization and the variety of phenomena that created changes in human history. The work with the movements of people extends this study into a specific area of influence and change, the effect of migrations on human evolution. These migrations played an important role in the building of nations, and created mass movements that brought on wars and revolutions in both a physical sense and a spiritual sense. Human history moved the mind to new levels of awareness as humans populated the earth and sought to expand their influence.
In the Montessori elementary the focus is on botany and zoology; dealing with plants in all their aspects and the study of the animal kingdom. The children experience the interrelatedness of the life sciences in an ecological perspective which Dr. Montessori called “cosmic education”. They study how the history of life on the planet prepared a special environment for humans to ascend and take a dominant role and discover that each individual also has a cosmic task in this process of life on the planet. With knowledge and experience the child is able to imagine his own natural place in the system, a contributing member of a greater work to do. The scientific understanding of the delicate balance of life and its interdependence in the biosphere that preserves it is a natural outcome of this approach to the study of biology. The child learns that each individual has a role in being a shepherd to the environment.
The design of the curriculum in biology investigates through scientific classification the functions of the parts in the plant and animal kingdoms. The child undertakes to research areas of personal interest, and relate these details to the function of the whole. He learns the nature of plants, their individual parts, and the function they serve in maintaining the life of the whole organism. He discovers the process of decay, reproduction and growth, and the system that underlies its balance in the overall ecosystem. He studies the kinds and component features of animals, and learns their process of growth in their specific habitats. The child is presented concepts in small group lessons, as well as in individual study using reading materials for research. The design of the curriculum involves both the intellect and the sense in exploring the concepts of biology.
The children in elementary learn to order their study with scientific nomenclature, the key for the elementary aged child. They do this with a purpose, not just to know what the name of an animal or its characteristics are, but to see how they interrelate and why they have the functions that they do. In this way the child comes closer to the essence of the plant and animal kingdom, working in harmony for a common purpose, to survive and flourish with the aid of each individual contribution. He discovers that life for humans would not exist, and that we are linked in this interdependency. In this way he comes to understand the cosmic task of each living thing in the chain of life.
The study of life, like the means for study, is not static. The purpose of the biology curriculum is to explore with the intellect ways in which man has classified living organisms so he can understand aspects of the overall system. This approach creates models of experience for exploration as interest and need arises. The thoroughness of its content does not suggest that the child be an expert in all aspects. Rather it encourages a means by which the child can grasp with his imagination a vision of the complex whole.
Practical Life Skills
In the Elementary classroom, Practical Life is not a separate set of materials as it is in Children’s House, but rather a part of many activities. These skills develop in children a strong and realistic sense of independence and self-reliance, first within the school community and later in the community beyond school. “Class meetings”, classroom clean-up jobs, and “conflict resolution” discussions build on the Grace & Courtesy lessons taught in Children’s House. In-class activities and “going out” experiences of increasing complexity expose children to the real world around them and teach more adult lessons in Grace & Courtesy that allow them to negotiate effectively in that world. Students also learn skills in areas such as; sewing, care of animals, shopping for and cooking meals, public speaking and oral presentations, working with tools and making simple repairs.
Health and Wellness
A component of the Health and Wellness curriculum allows children to engage in sports and activities that enable them to gain knowledge of the basic rules of these sports and games. They have the opportunity to develop and improve their fine motor, gross motor and eye-hand coordination as well as practice their ability to cross the midline of their body and use two sides of their body simultaneously and alternately.
The children also benefit on a social and emotional level through play/competition with their peers in individual (singles), dual (doubles) and team settings, where behavior is guided by a code of sportsmanship. Engaging in these activities may also improve a child’s self-confidence and foster an appreciation for, and a desire to participate in, physical activities.
The intent of the Physical Education is to provide a comprehensive program to develop personal fitness skills, abilities in games and sport, and movement skills which create patterns for a healthy life-style. The program encourages basic skill development and participation with an appreciation for the contributions of all team members. It fosters group cooperation and sportsmanship.
The emphasis in Lower Elementary is on playing these games and sports and gradually elements of strategy are brought in for older students.
Visual and Fine Arts
The Fine Arts program in the Lower Elementary is designed to develop the knowledge, skills, and techniques used in different art form. Information about individual artists and movements introduce the students to styles and media used throughout history. Many lessons reinforce classroom work, and are used to develop an understanding and appreciation of art in different cultures. The students learn that each art form has distinctive characteristics, which they experience with hands-on activities. The emphasis is given to the process of each project, which is a follow up to each lesson on a technique, art form, and place in art history. The students develop the skills to critique art using proper terminology. Their experiences with artistic self-expression often have a positive impact on self-esteem, self-discipline and cooperation.
The children are presented with lessons and demonstrations on techniques that increase their understanding of how artists worked. With each lesson, the children are introduced to new vocabulary and are exposed to the exemplary works of artists of different periods. The students also work to develop perceptual awareness needed for understanding and producing art. Finally, individuality and creativity is a key component of the learning process.
The children use the Montessori bells and tone bars to explore the elements of music and music theory. They learn the names of the notes and scales. They are introduced to playing songs and composing their own pieces. Children explore aspects of music such as rhythm, pitch, intensity and timbre. They learn about instruments of the orchestra and about composers.
The Spanish program in the Lower Elementary is integrated into the classrooms and lessons are given in mixed –aged groups. During the Lower Elementary three-year cycle the emphasis is given to oral language and communication skills. The children are also exposed to the culture and customs of the Spanish speaking countries so they may increase their own perspective and understanding of these countries and their people. It is hoped that the exposure to another language will result in a positive attitude toward learning languages and experiencing other cultures. Lessons are presented to the students with different visual materials to introduce new vocabulary.
Individual and group participation is encouraged to help the children develop comprehension and speaking skills. Follow-up and independent work is always given to the students after each lesson to reinforce the material they have learned. This includes activities such as games, songs, listening materials, booklets, crafts, skits and performances.