Montessori schools have 2 mixed-age elementary classes for 6 to 12 year old children. Children ages 6 to 9 (1st through 3rd grades) learn together in a lower elementary community. In their 4th year, students enter an upper elementary community for 9 to 12 year old. These classrooms provide rich opportunities for independent, hands-on explorations that lead naturally to abstract reasoning. Montessori elementary teachers hold Montessori teaching credentials specific to the age group they teach.
At this age, children have a driving intellectual curiosity and an immense appetite for knowledge; the Montessori elementary curriculum offers wide-ranging lessons that awaken interest and encourage independent exploration. Teachers stimulate children’s imaginative engagement with work through stories about the history of the universe, the coming of life to the earth, and the progression of human civilization. Lessons with the elementary Montessori materials offer children “keys to the universe.” As children delve independently into their personal interests, the teacher provides guidance and encouragement.
Elementary Math and Geometry
The Montessori mathematics program at the elementary level is designed to awaken both imaginative and analytic musings of the reasoning mind. The elementary math curriculum begins with “The Story of Numbers,” which offers a vision of math’s usefulness to humankind. Children use beautiful, hands-on materials as they work toward a precise understanding of the vocabulary of math, arithmetic, place value and algorithms of the four operations. Throughout the elementary years, teachers use questioning to encourage children to search for patterns and generalizations. As students acquire precision, vocabulary and an ability to discover patterns, they move naturally to abstract work on paper. Early explorations in lower elementary classrooms prepare students for more advanced work at the upper elementary level. In upper elementary classes, students explore patterns and algorithms of squaring and cubing; standard and metric measurement; ratio and proportion; factors, multiples and divisors; fractions, decimals, and percents; and problem-solving strategies. This work is a direct preparation for later work with algebra and geometry.
The elementary geometry curriculum, which begins with sensorial activities of the early childhood class, extends to include exploration, construction and manipulation of plane figures; study of lines, angles and shapes; theorems of Pythagoras and Euclid; and exploration of solid geometry. Nomenclature gives the children a working vocabulary for explaining relationships such as equivalence, congruence and similarity. The hands-on environment provides many opportunities to discover and apply mathematical equations for calculating perimeter, area and volume.
Elementary Cultural Studies: Science and Social Studies
Science and social studies in elementary Montessori classrooms are taught as interdisciplinary subjects. Earth science, physical science, astronomy, geography, biology and history are intricately interwoven in the elementary Montessori cultural studies curriculum. The teacher tells stories in order to engage the children’s interest, then gives lessons using a great variety of hands-on materials that encourage children to explore independently and follow their individual interests. The lessons share a common theme of harmony, order, and interdependence:
Each being in the cosmos prepares the environment for those who come after; Each works in harmony with all other beings; There is an underlying order in the universe; Children, as they do their work in harmony with each other, are part of that underlying order.
Science and social studies lessons not only inspire students to take on research projects, they help children develop observations capacities and skills in measuring, recording and describing. The lessons also encourage respect and love for the natural environment.
A study of the development of life on the Earth over the eons ties together the science, history, and geography curricula. Students learn about the relationships between culture and physical geography. Biology, geology, mineralogy, meteorology, astronomy, chemistry, and elementary physics are explored in the context of learning about the geological history of the world. The biology curriculum is a focus of great energy and enthusiasm in elementary Montessori classrooms.
Students learn how scientists classify plants and animals, explore plant and animal characteristics, investigate human anatomy and learn about ecology. The study of history begins with basic concepts of time in the child’s own world, then extends to a broad arena, including the fundamental needs of all humans, the unfolding of human civilizations, and history of Virginia and the United States. Children learn about economics as they explore how imports and exports tie the nations of the world together. History also provides children opportunities to hear and read stories of historical figures who provide role models, and who illustrate the gratitude owed by our generation to previous generations.
Elementary Language Arts
At the lower elementary level, children develop phonemic awareness and phonetic skills through a variety of hands-on activities. Beginning in first grade, however, the focus of reading activities shifts from introducing the fundamental skills of reading to helping students develop speaking, reading and writing fluency. Teachers continue to use spontaneous classroom discussions as opportunities to develop oral language skills and build vocabulary. As they use reading command cards throughout the classroom, children learn to read and follow directions and acquire reading fluency and comprehension skills. Each elementary classroom has a wide variety of high-interest books which also help students grow as readers. Students develop a rich vocabulary through work with Montessori nomenclature activities in geometry, science, geography, and history. As they research areas of interest or topics that have been assigned, they gain a broad background of knowledge that contributes to their growth as readers and writers.
Elementary age children develop composition skills through a sequence of writing exercises and through extensive exploration of grammar and the functions of words. Montessori elementary children typically write everyday, composing short stories, poems, plays, reports, and news articles. By age nine, research skills and the preparation of reports are major components of the language arts program. Students prepare both formal and informal written and oral reports, and have opportunities to develop persuasive speaking and writing skills in context as they take on advocacy projects of interest to them in the classroom, the school and the community.
“Going Out” of the Elementary Montessori Classroom
Montessori found that elementary age children thrive when on learning opportunities beyond the books and materials in their classrooms. Going Out experiences, organized by small groups of students, provide opportunities for students to pursue personal interests and learn about the local community and broader world beyond their families and school. Going Out experiences are different from traditional field trips because they are planned and carried out by groups of three or four children. The children research areas of personal interest develop a plan for a trip to expand their research opportunities, and then present their plan to the teacher for review.
A Going Out experience might be a simple as a trip to the local library in search of books not available in the school library. Older children might organize trips to local museums, universities or farms to interview adults working if areas of interest.