The second plane of a child’s development, between the ages of 6 -12, is the curiosity phase. The Montessori curriculum in lower and upper elementary is child driven, with a focus more on the process than the product. It is during this phase where the children learn to be team players, acquire leadership skills, accountability, and reinforce a lifelong love of learning.
The following perfectly describes the authentic Montessori Elementary program, and it is sourced with permission from www.MariaMontessori.com.
The Montessori Elementary program offers an unparalleled opportunity for the ongoing development of your child who has been nurtured in the Primary program. He is entering a new period in his life; this imaginative, social, creative child needs a planned environment and expansive course of study to support his burgeoning independence and potential. The Montessori Elementary program, for children between the ages of six and twelve, is designed to meet the needs of your child in this phase of development. This experience will shape not only his knowledge and skills, but also his attitude about learning for the rest of his life. AMI Elementary classrooms across the world share the following traits:
When your six year old comes into the elementary class from the Montessori primary, she will find much that is familiar in this new setting. The elementary classroom environment is beautiful and thoughtfully prepared to support independent learning; it is child-centered, not adult-centered. There is access to the outdoors and the kinds of learning that can only take place in nature. Many of the beautiful, inviting Montessori materials from the Primary classroom are also found in the elementary, where your child will use them in new ways suited to her expanding mind, and make her own discoveries in language, math, and science. Perhaps most importantly, the other children in the class have a similar background of being treated with respect and support, and have developed into confident, competent students.
The goal of a traditional curriculum is to delineate what a child is supposed to learn. In Montessori, we want your child to be able to learn everything! The starting point for all courses of study is the “Great Lessons”; these impressionistic and scientific stories are presented every year and give the students the “big picture” of cosmology, astronomy, earth science, geography, chemistry, physics, biology, history, anthropology, cultural and social studies, language, math, music, and art. Subsequent lessons offer the children keys for exploring these areas of human knowledge in more detail. As in the primary, the lessons are starting points for your child’s own activity. Meaningful learning happens when children are inspired by a lesson and begin to explore the subject and work on their own.
In the Primary classroom, your child was best able to concentrate when working parallel to his peers, each with her own activity. Elementary children, however, are at a different stage of development and have a strong drive to be social and to collaborate. For this reason, most of the lessons and follow-up projects in elementary are done in pairs or groups of children. Each day, your child will practice the social skills necessary to plan and carry out his projects: delegation and division of labor, sharing resources, making group decisions, taking responsibility for actions, and celebrating the success of peers. Conflict is not uncommon, but the motivation to resolve it comes from the children and their engagement with their projects. The Montessori teacher models and supports constructive and respectful problem solving. Learning how to work well with the different personalities and characteristics of other children in the classroom community is a significant life lesson with practical applications in the “real world” of high school, college and the professional workplace of the future.
Elementary age students are naturally curious and have a strong internal drive to discover how our world works. They may ask, “How does a fish breathe under water?” “What number comes after a trillion?” “What causes a volcano to erupt?” Instead of simply giving them the correct answers, Montessori elementary teachers ask the right questions; they tell stories to inspire the children’s imagination and tantalize them to explore on their own to find out more: about volcanoes and dinosaurs and Monet and gladiators and poppies and skateboards and butter churning and cheetahs and – there is no limit! Driven by their passions, the children are open to the input from the teacher that refines their reading, writing, reasoning, and research skills. Designing our elementary program around the children’s natural cognitive abilities means that our focus is less on the facts and concepts we teach and more on what the children learn and how they learn it.
Each child’s response to a lesson is unique, and their follow up work reflects those individual differences. Your child is free to form or join a group to work with the concepts introduced in a lesson. For example, a group of children might have a lesson on the parts of a river. Some might choose to label an outline map with the rivers of North America. Others might choose to repeat the demonstration with the river model (and without the teacher), labeling for themselves the parts previously demonstrated. Another pair might be intrigued by a particular river mentioned in the lesson or by the river running through their city, and they might launch a research project about the Mississippi or the Willamette. Because the children are free to move around the classroom and see what others are doing, it’s not uncommon for an idea to spread; children are stimulated not just by the teacher’s lessons, but by each other.
Children in Montessori have significantly more input into how they are taught, and control over how they learn, than children in traditional school settings. Their natural learning styles and preferences are respected and supported. The multi-age format of the classroom prevents comparison of children; differences in ability and achievement are expected. Lessons are presented in small groups to the children who are ready for them, regardless of their age. There is no social disadvantage to being bright, interested, and motivated at school. Likewise, there is no stigma for reviewing or repeating lessons to gain mastery. Your child is free to continue to work with a material or concept as long as necessary, or to move on when he is ready for a new challenge. In Montessori, all children get straight “A’s” because they only move on when they really understand a concept.
Montessori elementary students study both broadly and deeply, covering many subjects not attempted in traditional schools. The children often develop expertise in a subject that is especially interesting to them. Because there is not a rigid schedule or prescribed curriculum that the whole class must follow, your child can focus intensely on her self-chosen work, with minimal interruption. At the same time, she will collaborate with the teacher to ensure that the basic skills for each grade are mastered. A version of the public school standards is available to the class, and the teacher facilitates your child’s use of these standards as a guide to her work choices. To support her individualized plan of study, the teacher meets with her regularly to plan and assess her progress.
Two important components of the elementary program are the Use of Technology to explore the world beyond the classroom, as well as what we call “Going Out.” Our Media Lap at Montessori ONE Elementary Academy will enable elementary students to conduct research on topics of interest. Going Out occurs for a group of children when exploration of a topic exhausts the resources of the classroom. We want the children to be comfortable navigating the world, not just our classrooms. So, we have a few excellent books, but not everything there is to read about a topic. We have many evocative art and construction materials, but probably not the one perfect thing that a group of children need to build their model. As a result, the children must “go out” beyond the limits of the classroom to find the information or resource that they need.
A Going Out is a planned undertaking by a small group of children. They find a resource in the community, schedule the outing, arrange for their own transportation and supervision (by staff or parent volunteers), prepare themselves for the experience, conduct themselves with dignity while out in public, and return to share their research with the rest of the class. Each Going Out is an entire course of study on independence, responsibility, and good citizenship —to say nothing of the intellectual rewards that children get from such experience. Montessori elementary children go out to the public library, to museums, to farms, to local businesses and public service institutions. They visit other schools and consult with experts. They attend plays, ballets, concerts, public lectures, tours, and other civic offerings. They spend time outside, having direct experiences with the natural world. Montessori children might go out occasionally or often, but the experiences are always deeply personal and memorable.
At the end of the Montessori elementary program, your 12 year old is ready for a very important transition: becoming an adolescent. His elementary years have given him the freedom to develop as a unique individual. He has experienced the challenges and rewards of working with a group of other children of different ages and has seen his skills and talents put to use in many group projects. He has developed proficiency in all areas of academic endeavors and looks forward to the new opportunities beyond Montessori elementary. He loves and trusts the adults with whom he works. Above all, he is flexible and adaptable.
These skills, the culmination of the 6-year Montessori elementary program, will help him to easily assimilate into new academic and social situations in high school, college and beyond.
The Montessori Guide utilizes three essential tools to assist the child in their path of accountability and success in class.
The child’s journal is a written account of their day. It is the first great lesson the child receives on their first day of class. As in all lessons, each child is given and monitored on this lesson each day and given appropriate on-going guidance inline with their pace of learning this tool. As children, in the process of their own self-construction, arrive to a place of responsibility, this tool will show a daily account of how they spend their time daily. This includes the date, times, name of work/lesson, often including “down time” or “going outs” or perhaps illustrations in the margins. The child finds his/her best handwriting skills and is inspired to “specify, clarify, quantify and beautify” their journals. When ready, the child will move into composition-style books, personalizing them if they choose.
The child will come up with several creative ideas to fulfill this responsibility, incorporating creative writing, pictographs, collages or structured and formulated sequencing of mathematical concepts. Each child’s journal becomes their own work of art, place for record keeping and scheduling of future interest or projects.
The teacher monitors the child’s path to embracing this responsibility. She brings the class together as a community gathering, asking questions, discussing details, and observing the self-construction that is indicated in the child’s journal.
Children, having the expectation set in their classroom culture, arrive daily in their community gatherings with their journals updated. They eventually behave as a family would, looking out for each other, encouraging each other, older children offering assistance to those facing difficulty with this responsibility, all in-turn creating a collaborative and unified classroom environment.
The teacher knows and understands the expectations set forth by the “outside” community on what the child must know. This often takes the form of state and/or local standards and curriculum, common core or specific elements of private sector settings.
In order to implement this tool successfully, the teacher synthesizes these expectations into her classroom. She provides the lessons in the Montessori methodology but is aware of not allowing them to take over the classroom environment.
The work is offered to the child as any material would be and in the process these societal expectations are talked about in passing and occasionally, when appropriate, addressed directly for those children moving on to various educational paths.
The teacher meets with each child daily in a “casual” manner. She uses this time to talk about the child’s journal, his/her work and lessons. The teacher guides the child in a manner that allows him/her to evaluate himself/herself. It instills within the child the sense of self-awareness and self-accountability. Often children will ask for the next lesson after analysis of his last lesson in that area. This process plants the idea that he/she is in charge of his/her own construction. The teacher, when the child is ready, makes a plan with the child on when the lesson will occur.
Children that are older and extremely responsible may meet with the teacher less often and many times will plan out meetings on their own with the teacher. Their meetings generally are to “check-in” with the teacher and share their work.
In all the meetings the teacher reviews the work quickly and always listening to the child’s self-evaluation. The teacher offers loving guidance to enable the child to think of alternate solutions, improvements, and suggestions to be responsible for his/her education. The skillful teacher plants the seed of suggestions but never imposes or dictates the end result. She notes the areas that do not meet the expectations and will find various methods to inspire higher levels and/or if appropriate, will kindly let the child know he/she can do better. Ultimately, the child sets his/her own self-evaluated expectations.