ELEMENTARY (GRADES 1-6)
Elementary Classes are Multi-Age Group Communities
There are many reasons why Montessori classes group children of several grade levels together:
- Montessori allows children to progress through the curriculum at their own pace,there is no academic reason to group children to one grade level.
- In a mixed-age class, children can always find peers who are working at their current level.
- To accommodate the needs of individual learners, Montessori classrooms include a curriculum to cover the entire span of interests and abilities up through the oldest and most accelerated students in the class. This creates a highly enriched learning environment.
- In multi-level classrooms, younger children are excited by the interesting work in which the older ones are engaged.
- At the same time, in multi-level classrooms, older students serve as tutors and role models for the younger ones, which helps them in their mastery (we learn things best of all when we teach them to someone else) and leaves them with a tremendous sense of pride.
- By working with children for three years or more, teachers get to know them extremely well.
- Finally, there is a strong sense of continuity in the elementary Montessori class because the families remain at the school for many years.
Elementary Montessori Educators Serve as Mentors, Guides, and Friends
The best elementary Montessori teachers tend to be renaissance men and women; individuals who are equally interested in mathematics, the sciences, the arts, architecture, literature, poetry, psychology, economics, technology, and philosophy. They provide a blend of structure to ensure that the “basics” are mastered while encouraging the children to strive to their fullest potential.
The elementary Montessori curriculum is very demanding and requires teachers to have a broad and thorough education of their own. The lessons range from the history of mathematics to the physics of flight, mineralogy, chemistry, algebra, geometry and linguistics.
But beyond this, elementary Montessori educators need patience, understanding, respect, enthusiasm, and a profound ability to inspire a sense of wonder and imagination. Such teachers are very rare but absolutely magical!
The Montessori materials and the Passage to Abstraction are important at the elementary level. Learning continues to be a hands-on experience, as students continue to learn through discovery.
The advanced elementary Montessori materials move on to more complex and abstract concepts in mathematics, geometry, and pre-algebra. The goal is to lead students away from a dependency on concrete models that visually represent abstract concepts towards the ability to solve problems with pen and paper alone. Part of this is made possible by the growing child’s brain’s ability to grasp abstractions,but it has been greatly enhanced by the practice of concrete materials.
Similar hands-on materials help students understand grammar, sentence analysis, geographical facts, and concepts in science.
Learning How to Learn
At the elementary level, Montessori students learn to think for themselves.They are encouraged to do their own research, analyze what they found, and come to their own conclusions. Montessori teaches students to think, not simply to memorize, give feedback, and forget. They literally learn how to learn, discovering that the process of learning can, and should, be as natural as breathing! Students become fully engaged in the learning process.
Rather than present students with the “right answers”, Montessori teachers ask the “right questions” and challenge them to find new solutions or discover the answers on their own. This is yet another element of the Montessori program that prepares children to succeed in the real world of ideas, enterprise, and challenging perspectives. Learning the right answers may get children through a test but learning how to learn will get them through life.
Children must be inspired to contribute to the betterment of the world.The science curriculum throughout the school year works
on projects that care for the environment, planting trees and flowers, growing seed in seed carts and directly into the many garden beds and so much more. It is common for our students to adopt an acre of rainforest in Costa Rica, sponsor an endangered animal in Africa or support an environmental organization, such as the National Wildlife Federation. We encourage the children to support environmental connections: conserve water, flick the switch, close doors to contain heat or cooling, avoid disposables, create recycled art, reuse and compost.
Each year we choose a habitat or animal that needs to be adopted in order to assist in it’s preservation. We are members and active participants with many environmental agencies such as Jane Goodall Foundation called “Roots and Shoots.” This organization’s goal is to bring together youth from preschool to the university age to work on environmental conservation and humanitarian issues. Many other organizations we interact and work with are; International Union for Conservation of Threatened Species, The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (orphan elephants in Kenya), Gorilla Doctors (dedicated to saving mountain gorillas), Save the Elephants (an elephant crisis foundation), The Audubon Society (dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitat, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
Montessori schools strive to create global understanding
- We attract teachers from all over the world.
- It is normal to find an international student body in our school.
- World geography, International cultural studies,and world history are central to the elementary Montessori curriculum.
- Elementary Montessori students begin to understand the global economy.
Is Montessori opposed to competition?
No. Dr. Montessori simply observed that competition is an ineffective tool to motivate children to learn and work together in school.
Traditionally schools challenge students to compete with each other for grades, class rankings, and special awards. For example, tests are graded on a curve developed from the rankings of the students in that class. Students are constantly measured against their classmates, rather than considered for their individual progress.
In Montessori schools, students learn to collaborate with each other rather than mindlessly compete. Students discover their own innate abilities and develop a strong sense of independence, self-confidence, and self-discipline. In an atmosphere in which children learn at their own pace and compete only against themselves, they learn to not be afraid to make mistakes. They quickly find that few things in life come easily, and they can try again without fear of
Dr. Montessori argued that for an education to profoundly touch a child’s heart and mind, he must be learning because he is curious and interested, not simply to earn the highest grade in the class.
Montessori children compete with each other every day, both in class and on the playground. Dr. Montessori, herself an extraordinary student and a very high achiever, was never opposed to competition on principle. Her objection was to using competition to create artificial motivation to get students to achieve.
Montessori schools allow competition to evolve naturally among children,without adult interference unless the children begin to show poor sportsmanship. The key is the child’s voluntary decision to compete, rather than having it imposed on him by the school.
Homework, Tests, Grades and Competition
Many parents have heard that Montessori schools do not believe in homework, grades, and tests, which is a misunderstanding of what we do and believe.
Because Montessori believes in individually paced academic progress and encourages children to explore their interests, rather than simply complete work assigned by their teachers, we don’t assign grades or rank students within each class according to their achievement.
Providing structure-setting high but individually tailored expectations.
Montessori children normally work with a written study plan for the day or week. It lists the tasks that they need to complete while allowing them to decide how long to spend on each and what order they would like to follow. Beyond these individually tailored assignments, children explore topics that capture their interest and imagination and share them with their classmates.
Montessori children usually don’t think of our assessment techniques as tests so much as challenges. Most elementary teachers will give their students informal individual oral exams or have the children demonstrate what they have learned by either teaching a lesson to another child or by giving a formal presentation.
Montessori educators frequently argue that standardized testing is inaccurate, misleading, and stressful for children. Further, they argue that formal testing is not necessary, since a really good teacher who works with the same children for many years and carefully observes their work, knows far more about their progress.
However, in our culture, test-taking skills are just another part of a student’s education that they need to develop mastery.
We regularly offer students quizzes on the concepts and skills that they have been studying.
Standardized tests do not offer an accurate measure of a child’s basic skills and knowledge. There are many issues, including how well a given test captures a sense of someone’s true skills and knowledge. Any given testing session can be profoundly affected by the student’s emotional state, health, and to a large degree, what they really demonstrate is how well a student knows how to take this kind of test.
Homework in our elementary Montessori class does not involve busywork assignments, but rather extensions and enrichments of the curriculum. We encourage the children to freely pursue projects that interest them at home,while other children prefer assignments or challenges. In either case, the Montessori version of homework will rarely be boring and will challenge students to think, explore,and pursue tangible projects that give them a sense of satisfaction.
Mastery of Fundamental Skills and Core Knowledge
Elementary Montessori students explore the realm of mathematics, sciences and technology, great literature, history, world geography, civics, economics, anthropology, and the basic organization of human societies. Their studies cover the basics found in traditional curricula, such as the memorization of math facts, spelling lessons, and the study of vocabulary, grammar, sentence analysis, creative and expository writing, and library research skills.
Sometimes, because Montessori places so much emphasis on cultivating children’s sense of curiosity and wonder, parents may get the impression that students can simply do whatever they wish, avoiding subjects that they dislike. This is certainly not the case in a run well Montessori classroom.
Dr. Montessori’s ‘’Great Lessons”
The Great Lessons are five key areas of interconnected studies traditionally presented to all elementary Montessori students in the form of inspiring stories and related experiences and research projects.
The Cosmic Curriculum
The Great Lessons include the story of how the world came to be, the development of life on the Earth, the story of humankind, the development of language and writing, and the development of mathematics.
Traditionally presented every year the elementary class as an inspiration to new and older students alike, the lessons, studies, and projects surrounding each of the Great Lessons normally span months and the questions that the children pose and their efforts to find the answers to their own questions may continue for many years.
Individually Chosen Research
Elementary students are encouraged to explore topics that capture their imagination. Most former Montessori students look back on this aspect of the elementary program with particular fondness.
Montessori is a library research-based curriculum. Elementary Montessori students rarely use textbooks. The approach is largely
based on library research, with children gathering information, assembling reports, teaching what they have learned to their fellow students, and assembling portfolios and handmade books of their own.
Montessori students are taught how to use reference materials, libraries, and the Internet to gather information and uncover facts. Their oral presentations and written research reports grow in sophistication and complexity every year.
Learning By Doing
Elementary students make their studies come alive through a host of hands-on projects and activities. For example, a small group of students who are interested in studying endangered animals of Africa might build a diorama of The Serengeti. It is quite common to observe children constructing models of these endangered animals, their individual habitats and so much more.
In summary, the habit of academic excellence stems from a strong sense of self-confidence, a joyful approach to life, and deeply held core values. When held as a basic value, a passion for excellence allows children to develop their full potential and to achieve amazing things wherever life brings them!