Once children reach the age of 6, they become interested in the questions of “how” and “why” about everything–from stars and planets to rivers and trees to the cycle of life. Montessori Elementary education encourages these explorations through the five Great Lessons, stories that encompass the breadth of human knowledge. We move from the creation of the universe to the coming of plant and animal life to the arrival of humans. We then focus on the fruits of human innovation: language and mathematics.
Our elementary classrooms hum with activity and social connections. Students feel empowered to follow their own passions and interests. They work to create a respectful, welcoming community. They speak up when they think something is unfair or unjust. Along with the Montessori-trained guide (lead teacher) and the classroom assistant, they create a community of joyful learning.
As in the Casa program, all elementary classrooms are mixed-age environments. Our two lower elementary classrooms (grades 1 through 3) each have 24 to 28 students . Our upper elementary classroom (grades 4 through 6) has 24 to 28 students. The school day is 8:30 to 3:30; before and after care is available from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm.
Dr. Montessori called her Elementary curriculum Cosmic Education to acknowledge the interconnectedness of all fields of study and of all elements of the world. As students contemplate the narratives of the world and of human life, they begin to find their place in the global community and develop ways in which to make their own unique contributions. This creates a sense of peace and belonging for all students.
The jumping off point for learning starts with one of five Great Lessons–an engaging story that grabs children’s interest and makes them want to learn more. These lessons help them delve into these areas of Montessori curriculum: physical sciences, life sciences, social sciences, language and literature, mathematics, the arts, and foreign language. Elementary lesson details follows below.
Elementary children also have a “going out” program where, in small groups, they turn the surrounding community of the Twin Cities into an extension of their classroom. Students decide that they want to learn more about something in particular, then plan and execute a trip (including finding transportation and a chaperone) to seek out the information or experience. They may venture to a public library to gather resources, interview an expert at a local university, go to an ethnic restaurant, or visit an exhibit at an art museum. Through this experience, they gain independence, confidence, and important life skills.
The first Great Lesson describes the Creation of the Universe. Together, we learn about the composition of the earth, its elements, and the sun and air and water. We experiment and test things we are learning about.
The second Great Lesson, the Coming of Life, tells the story of how plants and animals developed on earth, from single-celled organisms to the vast diversity of life on our planet. Children then springboard to studies of all of the life sciences through a variety of approaches and materials that help them relate parts of plants and animals to their functions and understand and predict why biological processes happen.
All of the Great Lessons in Montessori education use history as a tool to explain the development of the world and human society. The third Great Lesson in particular describes the arrival of humans on our planet. Through the modes of history and geography we trace civilization and map the world in all of its geographical and political forms.
Once we establish the advent of human civilization, we begin to study the most profound human creations. In the fourth Great Lesson, guides tell the story of spoken and written language. Students become aware of the many functions of language and its power. They write in a variety of forms (essays, illustrated books, poems, letters) and about subjects that interested them.
The final Great Lesson focuses on the history and development of mathematics. We learn how humans have used their reasoning powers to invent, discover, and solve problems. Similarly, we ask students to invent and solve their own problems through creative means. While students are introduced to all chief mathematic functions, they are more importantly given a sense of adventure and a drive to explore numbers without limitation.
The arts are woven throughout everything the children do and learn about through the Great Lessons. Children are encouraged to respond to all of the Great Lessons in a variety of ways, from paintings to plays to songs. They learn techniques to make illustrated, bound books. They write plays about what they are learning in math and science. They learn and play on the Montessori tone bars the music of ancient civilizations.
In addition to learning spoken language and Chinese character formation, students explore Chinese culture, history, poetry, and art. Like all other elements of Cosmic Education, a student’s exploration of Chinese occurs throughout the day in conjunction with other lessons.