Elementary Curriculum: Independent Thinking, Intellectual Growth
When you enter the Elementary classroom at Crabapple Montessori School, you’re stepping into a learning laboratory. Children are experimenting with information gathered from the broad-based curriculum. The learn-by-doing principle is expanding as children at this age are developing the ability to think beyond the physical into the realm of the imagination.
Every day is different, and the children are always engaged in the learning process. You might see a child working out a mathematical problem on a long scroll of paper that allows the limitless pursuit of curiosity. Or a child photographing and recording the activity of others as she serves as the reporter for the weekly newsletter the children publish. One group of children might be working in the garden so that another group in the kitchen will have the ingredients necessary to prepare a delicious creation the whole class will soon enjoy. When the kitchen area is not being used for cooking, it is the site of scientific investigations in chemistry, physics, biology, or botany.
At any given time, individual or small groups of children are engaged in researching topics that are meaningful to them. When you visit the classroom, you might hear an interpretative reading exercise. This simple, fun exercise strengthens reading, punctuation and grammar skills and helps develop creative writing abilities.
Parents who spend time in our community and begin to understand the Montessori curriculum and how the class is structured often say, “I wish I could have gone to a Montessori school when I was a kid.”
The Montessori Elementary curriculum, for children ages six through 12, builds on the Primary curriculum and inspires students to become independent thinkers. Their work frequently involves research, discussion, and large-scale projects. The teacher introduces an area of study with a presentation of key information or material and then guides the children in individual or small-groups that explore varied facets of the subject. The spontaneity of exploration sparks the imagination and engages the intellect.
Preparing to make the best contribution in a competitive society
The Elementary teacher is in continuous contact with each child offering honest reflections and soliciting discussion about whether the child is working up to potential. Each child is encouraged to ask himself: “How much can I do?” (Not, “How much do I have to do?”) And, “How well have I done it?” (Not, “Was it good enough for an A?”) This approach helps develop a sense of personal responsibility that is not limited by constant comparison to others. Later in life, this personal responsibility will help them make their greatest contribution of talent and wisdom in the competitive 21st century.
Essential topic areas illustrate the storyline of humanity
The elementary curriculum covers the following nine essential topic areas, emphasizing the interconnectedness of each.
Nine Building Blocks of Elementary Curriculum
Language in the elementary program is more than just reading and writing, it’s an immersion into the history, grammar, etymology, and spelling of language. Writing develops in conjunction with exploration, research, and experimentation, as children want to share what they have discovered.
Creative writing allows children to acquire a valuable tool for self-expression very early in life. Witnessing older children reading and writing spontaneously, the younger ones are highly motivated to perfect those language skills which still need work. With carefully structured presentations and appealing follow-up work, the teacher and the child work together to accomplish this goal.
The basic skill building in reading and writing is done individually or in very small groups. Early language work in Montessori is exciting, not a chore or an opportunity for failure. Children acquire the mechanics of language along with a sense of its history and spirit. They experience oral and written forms of poetry, prose, drama, dialogue, discussion, debate,and research. The teacher carefully selects a treasury of special books for the classroom. Reading aloud to the children is a daily practice.
History begins with the concept of the passage of time, then geologic time and the study of civilizations throughout history. This subject is linked with other areas like geology, geography, biology. For example, children learn about the history of languages and mathematics.
Children love to hear the stories of the past, and stories are used to spark interest in all subject areas. Natural history materials, such as an elaborate timeline of life, show children the dramatic and colorful spectacle of life forms and their development. Human history is presented from a perspective of the basic human needs (food, shelter, protection, transport, spiritual, and expression) and the varieties of ways different peoples have fulfilled these needs.
This framework guides the child’s research and reveals both the unique attributes of different cultures and the universality of all. The study of history reveals the fascinating connections and interdependencies, not only among various peoples, but between mankind and the changing physical environment.
Mathematics begins in preschool with a progression from concrete experience to abstraction. The concrete Montessori materials are appealing to children, ingeniously designed to be experienced and manipulated in a way that reveals principles and concepts. Through both physical and mental activity with this material, the child acquires a profound basis for mathematics.
The materials and methods of the Montessori classroom reinforce the child’s tendency to count, compare, compute, and measure. During the elementary years, a sequence of lessons brings the child naturally and gradually to the point of understanding abstract mathematical operations.
The structure of the decimal system, the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and other key concepts follow this same pattern. Once they have a firm understanding of the concepts, children move toward memorization, keeping track of their own progress and work both in teams and individually.
By using the Montessori math material, most children experience many concepts traditionally taught much later, including fractions, squared and cubed numbers, multiples, and factors. The Montessori geometry materials offer children an open-ended field of exploration that allows them to discover important principles and relationships. Later in their education, when they learn the formal rules of geometry, it’s like meeting old friends again.
New knowledge is always applied to the environment, for example, finding right triangles in the floor, walls, and furniture. It often extends to the creation of a piece of handwork as well.
Geography study begins with theories on the origin of the universe, in which the principles of physical science are revealed. Then children explore volcanoes, the work of water, wind and air, and the basic physical properties of matter that have shaped the world we inhabit.
Children learn through demonstrations, field activities, and experiments they perform by themselves. The relationships of earth, sun, seasons, and zones of climate are studied along with economic and political geography.
A basic principle of the elementary program is that we give first the “big picture”– answers to the fundamental why’s and how’s – and only then work toward the more particular, the more local.
Biology builds on the fascination children have for plants and animals. The emphasis is on understanding plant and animal behavior and physiology. The basic needs of plants and animals including water, food, defense, and reproduction provide the framework for investigating how unique varieties have adapted to the environment throughout time.
Children’s observation and discussion of different plant and animal species forms a foundation for understanding biological classification and learning scientific methods for observing and exploring.
Art in Montessori education is an important form of self-expression and part of the daily life of the class. The teacher gives basic lessons to small groups of children in the mechanics of using media like watercolors, chalks, pastels, clay, colored pencil, collage.
The supplies are available on the shelf for the child to use during the work time, and children often access the art supplies to illustrate and decorate their work in other curriculum areas. Since art, like any other work, is not limited to short “art class” periods and projects, a child’s creativity has a chance to grow and bloom as a part of everyday activity.
Music is as much a part of the classroom environment as pictures on the wall. Ear training with both the diatonic and chromatic scales begins in preschool. In the elementary program we build on these experiences, introducing children to reading and writing music. Beautiful singing is a part of every day in the classroom.
Cosmic Education was the way Dr. Montessori exposed the older child to an imaginative and reasoning exploration of the universe and its components, and introduced the child to his or her place and responsibility in society. History, which is the story of the human being and our achievements, is at the center of Cosmic Education.
Dr. Montessori called the child “cosmic agent.” She said that the child between the ages of 6 and 12 needs to be given a cosmic viewpoint – the sowing of seeds to ignite the child’s interest in the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all life.
Through what’s known in the elementary Montessori terminology as the five Great lessons, the doors are opened to the drama of the universe.
The first three Great Lessons set a pattern of rule and order for the child:
- Coming into being, the creation of the universe, which involves the reaction of chemical elements and the substance of matter (liquid, air, and the appearance of our world).
- The coming of life, furnishing our world with plants and animals, and a way for each kind of life to behave differently and for existence to continue.
- The coming on earth of the human being with special gifts unique to them: intellect (the power to reason, think, know, and understand) and love (the power to will and choose the good of others – to serve). These are the qualities we bring to the child’s awareness, and we awaken the child’s desire to use them. With the coming of the human being, we move on to the other two great that lessons draw the attention of the child to the two great achievements of people: the language of communication and the language of invention.
Physical Education is a needed outlet for the elementary child’s increasing energy. The teacher is educated in flexibility and strength training for children and is responsible for incorporating this into the school week, typically during the 45-minutes recess when the teacher guides children in doing stretches, laps, and exercises.
Activities as diverse as yoga, soccer, and basketball are taught at different times during the year. Our emphasis is always on skill building, to develop consciousness and control of movement, to enhance personal confidence, and to teach the techniques and values of teamwork and cooperation. The study of nutrition and the human body are included in this part of the curriculum.
Descriptive excerpts for the Elementary curriculum are adapted with permission from Childpeace.org.
You’re invited to visit Crabapple Montessori School to see learning in action in a Montessori classroom! Call us at 770.569.5200 to schedule a time. We serve students in Alpharetta, Milton, Roswell, Canton, Woodstock, Cumming in north metro Atlanta.