For children between the ages of six and twelve, CMC’s fully-implemented Montessori program will offer a dynamic learning environment where children are given the opportunity to explore, create, and develop to their full potential. As described in more detail below, the educational innovations that form the basic structure of the Children’s House (our program for 3-6 year olds) — a cohesive sequence of lessons and hands-on learning materials, a balance of individualized work with trained Montessori educators, called guides, and independent exploration, mixed-age learning communities, and individualized assessment — are adapted to meet the needs of older children at the Elementary level. Our program encourages elementary-age children to develop their newfound capacities for abstract thought, complex social interaction, planning of independent learning projects, and understanding of the universe beyond their experience.
A Cohesive Sequence of Lessons and Hands-on Learning Materials
The eight areas of study in the Elementary classroom - mathematics, geometry, language, history, geography, biology, music, and art - map out an ambitious and exhilarating goal for Elementary students: an exploration of the cosmos and humankind’s place within it. This big goal captivates the minds of young scholars, infusing Montessori Elementary communities with a passion for both discovery and skill mastery.
Students begin each school year with a series of five whole-group lessons called The Great Stories. Presented by an educator trained in Montessori Elementary level, called a guide, The Great Stories incorporate demonstrations, specimens, and timelines to weave captivating narratives that cover the creation of the universe, development of life, human beings, language, and mathematics. Individually, each story fosters exploration in a particular subject area. Collectively, The Great Stories spark the children’s imaginations while setting the stage for the Cosmic Education Dr. Maria Montessori envisioned for children of elementary age.
Each of the eight areas of study in the Elementary classroom follows distinct sequences of lessons, materials, and independent project possibilities. This ensures that the classroom guide is able to observe and direct each child’s individualized path through the learning opportunities in the classroom. As an integrated whole, the curriculum also enables children to see how the areas of study are interconnected and how exploration and skill building in one area can support learning and skill building across the classroom.
A Balance of Individualized Work with Adults and Independent Exploration
The work offered students in Montessori Elementary environments is a carefully choreographed balance of guide-led lessons and independent work. As in the Children’s House, this innovative structure allows the classroom guide to observe and respond to the individual needs of each student in their charge while also making it possible for the classroom to benefit from the shared use of a single set of Montessori learning materials.
In the Elementary classroom, this balance is designed to fit the needs and tendencies of older children in several important ways:
Elementary children are typically offered lessons in small groups of two to six students. This takes advantage of and helps to build elementary children’s newfound skills in areas of socialization and collaborative work. It also prepares students to engage in work for small groups based on their recent lessons, independent of the guide.
Lessons offered in the Elementary classroom are typically longer and cover more ground than lessons in the Children’s House. This takes advantage of the elementary child’s developing ability to remember, plan, and organize their work. Typical lessons in the elementary classroom will offer students multiple avenues of independent exploration.
Third, children and adults in Elementary classrooms take advantage of student journals and/or diaries to plan, schedule, and record achievement of both lessons and independent follow-up work. Recordkeeping systems are built to meet the needs of each individual student and community of learners but typically include the use of a calendar and at least weekly one-on-one planning meetings with the classroom guide.
In order to support elementary-age students’ desire to explore their world and understand their place within it, fully-implemented Montessori elementary programs also offer students unique opportunities to engage beyond the classroom. Instead of planning and scheduling whole-group field-trips on students’ behalf, adults in Montessori elementary classrooms compile a set of community resources and contacts for students to explore as their classroom work and interests dictate. Students then plan community trips and other adult interactions beyond the classroom in close collaboration with supervising adults, typically volunteering parents. The resultant “Going-out Program” is a blend of student-initiated and adult supported small-group field-trips, interviews, and in-school presentations — offering children the freedom to experience the community and sources of knowledge and wisdom beyond the classroom while developing important life skills.
For example, a group of six-year-olds might be encouraged to take on responsibility for budgeting, sourcing, and going shopping for food and supplies for a classroom pet. A group of nine-year-olds interested in the history of working with stone might contact and arrange a visit from an expert in stone-age tools and weapons in the fall and then plan to visit an expert in pre-industrial masonry at the local historical society in the spring. A group of eleven or twelve-year-olds might plan regular volunteer hours at a community garden to work alongside experienced adults and bring skills and inspiration back to school gardening projects. Another group of older children might make plans to help members of a senior living community explore their family trees. Like so many other facets of the Montessori Elementary classroom, the Going-out Program gives children the opportunity to build skills and knowledge at their level of interest and ability. It also offers students valuable experience in planning outings and visits, communicating with strangers, budgeting, and navigating modes of transportation and public spaces — all while under the supervision of caring adults, of course.
Mixed-age Learning Communities
Elementary students enjoy the same benefits of mixed-aged learning communities as younger students enrolled in fully-implemented Montessori programs. The youngest members of the community benefit from the example and guidance of older children — their proximity to the activity of older children offers them inspiration for their own developmental trajectory. Older children are, in kind, offered extensive opportunities to develop leadership, mentorship, and teaching skills while solidifying their own skills and knowledge.
In addition to gaining a more developed perspective on where they have come from and where they are going, elementary students in particular benefit from a learning environment built around collaboration over competition. The classroom guide assesses each child’s progress through observation of their work habits and products, including the small group lessons in which they have participated and the follow-up work in which they choose to engage. In a classroom where children of different ages are following their own individualized trajectory through an integrated and holistic curriculum, there is less opportunity for any individual child to become pigeonholed as either at the “top” or “bottom” of their class. It is usually possible for the guide to find a small group of children ready for the same level of challenge in any particular area. Without grades or rankings for students to compare, the fact that some students may need to repeat some lesson before moving to the next challenge is rarely remarkable. When the guide observes a particular small group is ready to work through the content of more than one lesson during a particular session, it is likely to totally escape the attention of the other students. The mixed-age classrooms and individualized assessment methods used in fully-implemented Montessori learning environments allow students to focus on each other’s strengths and abilities in collaborative exploration.