A Brief Overview of Elementary Montessori
Montessori Elementary is a program that grows out of respect for the mind of a rapidly developing child. No longer content to have physical independence (achieved in the 3-6 age class), the child now strives for intellectual independence. This is a time of insatiable curiosity and excitement for learning.
The world as a classroom
Children in the 6-12 age group are starting to realize that the world is an enormous, interesting place. They are primed to study continents, cultures, scientific concepts, and great literature. The world becomes their classroom.
The carefully developed elementary curriculum guides the child through identifying, classifying, and researching all of the fascinating concepts in each chosen field of study. The areas of practical life, language, math, geometry, botany, zoology, geography, and history are all represented in the classroom, with materials that lead the child to abstraction of the fundamental concepts in each area.
Practical life and language
Practical life, which was a separate area in the 3-6 classroom, is now integrated with the day-to-day care of the classroom and its inhabitants. Tasks may include preparation of snack and daily meals and watering of plants and care of animals. Elementary children dust the shelves, organize and straighten the materials, sweep and vacuum, and keep the classroom neat and clean.
The language area includes a comprehensive spelling curriculum, word study (including antonyms, synonyms, homonyms, and compounds, as well as the parts of speech), creative writing, and research skills. Reading of every kind is highly encouraged, as children are introduced to poetry, folk tales, non-fiction, and classic literature. Children are also given many opportunities to read out loud - giving a presentation they have written, or dramatizing the work of another author.
Math and geometry
The math area begins with the Golden Bead material to teach beginning math concepts (place value, quantity/symbol association, and concrete addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). The materials bring a "hands-on" quality to the classroom, with children learning through trial and error, self-discovery, and teaching from other children. The materials quickly move the child to an abstraction of math concepts, including problem solving, fractions, borrowing and carrying, graphing, measurement, long division, and algebraic equations.
Geometry is a fascinating area of Montessori. Actual wooden shapes are used to master the terminology of all of the plane figures and solids. Matching cards are used to introduce types and positions of lines, types and positions of angles, and special characteristics of shapes. Experimentation with other materials leads children to their own discoveries of spatial relationships, including congruence, symmetry, and equivalency.
Botany and zoology encompass a wide field of biological study. Matching cards are used to learn the characteristics of many plants and animals, and charts aid in the classification of the plant and animal kingdoms. After this first knowledge is gained, children begin to research on their own, using their knowledge of specific plant and animal species.
Geography and history include the study of civilizations and countries. Wooden puzzle maps of each continent are studied, with children learning the names, flags, animals, cultures, and geographic features of each country. History begins with the study of time, including clocks, calendars, and timelines. As various fundamental needs of people (like shelter, transportation, food, and clothing) are explored, the children research and chart changes in these needs over time and across cultures.
Keeping track of work
Children in an elementary classroom begin to keep a record of their work. This can take the form of a journal, a workplan, or chart. In some classrooms, the children draw up contracts where they agree to do certain work during a week or month. The child still has the freedom to choose their own work, as well as choosing to work with another child or in a group. Keeping track of their work helps them make good work choices, and lets the teacher see which presentations have been done and which are still needed.
Finding their place in the world
Maria Montessori summed up the 6-9 classroom thusly: "The elementary child has reached a new level of development. Before he was interested in things: working with his hands, learning their names. Now he is interested mainly in the how and why...the problem of cause and effect." It is now the job of the elementary teacher to provide the child with the materials and information to discover the interconnectedness of the universe.
An elementary Montessori classroom is a warm community: a multi-age, stimulating environment with highly trained teachers and materials that invite exploration and research. Children learn to face challenges with confidence, and begin to find their own place in the world around them.
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