Children at the Elementary I level are starting to realize that the world is an enormous, interesting place. They are primed to study continents, cultures, science concepts, math, language, and great literature. Cultural studies are the heart of the Montessori curriculum. At this stage of development, the Elementary I child’s curiosity leads them to asking the big questions about life. The cultural studies are not taught as isolated disciplines but are part of a bigger picture guiding students to understand the wholeness of life. “Great Lessons” are the cornerstone of the Elementary I curriculum; these lessons provide the child with a vision of the world and her/his place within it. Great Lessons span the universe from its origin to the arrival of humans. The lessons are presented with great care and preparation and with a sense of awe. The stories are meant to spark the children’s imaginations and sense of wonder. They also suggest a level of gratitude and sentiment for the wondrous way that nature works. Teachers use impressionistic charts, timelines, experiments and dramatic representations to give students a greater understanding and depth of meaning to the great order of the universe. Moral lessons are naturally manifest through the study of man. These lessons help students gain a greater appreciation and respect for life, a heightened degree of human empathy, recognition of and reverence for the contribution of individuals, and a fundamental belief in worthy progress and the universality of the human condition. From this grand view, careful steps are taken during the elementary years to deepen an understanding of life and helping children define their role in creating their own existence. The classroom becomes their portal to the universe. The Elementary I environment is prepared to provide children with the material, information, and opportunities to discover the interconnectedness of the universe.
The Elementary I Montessori classrooms are language-rich environments that build on the foundation laid in Primary. For children, the ability to speak opens doors; the ability to read opens the world. Elementary students explore the history of language, both written and spoken, literature, informational test, grammar, and syntax. Montessori education utilizes a holistic approach to reading. This tact includes phonemic awareness, thematic units with an emphasis on cultural subjects, literature circles, and informational-based reading opportunities and the research process. Teachers use shared and guided reading, one-on-one or in small groups. Strategies for comprehension are emphasized through discussion groups, reports, projects and research. Comprehension books and test preparation books are also used to strengthen reading comprehension skills. Each new skill builds on another and forms a solid base, which leads to ease of integration with other subjects. Writing a research project or explaining the process of solving a math problem is easily achieved as a result.
The story of writing is one of the “Great Lessons.” This particular lesson sparks students’ interest in reading great literature and further motivates them to tell their own stories through creative writing, reports, drama, poetry, and song. Children are introduced to the rules of human communication through word studies, work in the Montessori Grammar Boxes, as well as beginning logical sentence analysis. The goal of the Montessori language curriculum is not to teach grammar but to give a concrete representation and foster a love and curiosity for the function of words. Maria Montessori described the role of language in traditional education as forcing children to speak and write when they have nothing to say. She stated, “The child must create his interior life before he can express anything; he must take spontaneously from the external world constructive material in order to compose; he must exercise his intelligence fully before he can be ready to find the logical connection between things. We ought to offer the child that which is necessary for his internal life and leave him free to produce.” By complete engagement in the Montessori environment, we free the children’s creative process, giving them the means to write and tell their own story, other people’s stories, and only those a child’s imagination can create.
The Montessori math curriculum is process oriented and progresses from one level to another of increased difficulty. Teachers prepare an active learning environment with specific Montessori manipulative materials that build a strong base of math concepts, from concrete to abstract. The hands-on materials allow children to learn through trial and error, self-discovery, cooperative learning. The children move through the curriculum, mastering math concepts at their own pace. All Montessori math materials lead the child from an understanding of the concrete to abstraction in accordance with the belief that process and understanding must come before memorization. The geometry curriculum includes geometrical thinking. Children learn basic terms of plane and solid geometry. They begin to associate the relationship between lines and angles. Experimentation with other materials leads children to their own discoveries of spatial relationships.
The Elementary I environment is a place where students are the main focus, and their learning needs and desires are the driving force. It is a safe and secure place for children to fall in love with learning, with themselves, and with the world around them. The classroom is abundant with genuine smiles, eye contact, hugs, laughing, and listening; it is replete with respect for individual differences and open communications. It is an environment that emphasizes compassion, problem solving, and conflict resolution. We focus on understanding our values and the qualities we wish to develop within ourselves. We nurture friendships, generosity, courage, forgiveness, patience and love for learning. We continue to practice Grace and Courtesy as we celebrate our commonalities and are uniqueness.
The Montessori method focuses on the acquisition of strong organization, time-management, and study skills through daily practice and choice. Children are beginning to grasp the concepts of time during these years and are beginning to plan their day independently. They learn time-management and learn to meet due dates for work. Field trips are an integrated part of the curriculum. They are an opportunity for students to engage with the greater community and find learning opportunities outside the classroom.