“I remember setting foot in that Montessori classroom. I sat down on a chair … near the door. I had just stepped into someone’s living room. Or was it a science laboratory? Or maybe an office building. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was different at first, but this was unlike any classroom I had ever seen. It felt different too. Peaceful. Purposeful.”
--Trevor Eissler, Montessori Madness
Montessori elementary classrooms are fundamentally different from traditional elementary school rooms. In fact, they are so different that it can be hard to understand how they work, and why they are so great at helping children thrive.
There are five big differences that enable Montessori Elementary children to succeed:
Teachers are guides, not lecturers. They individualize instruction to keep each child optimally challenged.
Children have choices, there’s no one-size-fits all curriculum. Students are encouraged to be curious; they are engaged and love learning.
The classroom is full of materials instead of textbooks and worksheets. Children learn to solve problems and think, instead of repeat memorized jargon.
The day has two 2 – 3 hour work periods, instead of a schedule where activities are constantly changed.
Children learn with and from each other, in a mixed-age environment. Instead of competing with each other, they grow into a community, and practice all-important social skills every day.
The elementary program offers a continuum built on the Primary experience. The environment reflects the needs of children in the Second Plane of development and offers what Dr. Montessori refers to as Cosmic Education, which is the tool designed to meet these needs. The objective of Cosmic Education is to spread humanity’s knowledge before the child and the method provides the whole first with the details following after. Cosmic Education helps the child learn how they fit within the universe and to answer big questions, such as “How do I relate to living and nonliving things?” At this level, the Montessori philosophy, methods, and lessons are designed to show the child their responsibility toward the world we inhabit. The philosophy of Cosmic Education is enacted at the start of each academic year with the Five Great Story Lessons: The Creation Story, The Coming of Life, The Coming of Human Beings, The Story of Language, and The Story of Numbers.
Studies are integrated not only in subject matter but also in the manipulative materials.The role of the Elementary guide is to facilitate an interdisciplinary elementary program where no subject is taught in isolation. Our elementary program is a six-year plan with a course of studies that includes life and physical sciences, history, geography, English language, mathematics, geometry, art, music, and Spanish.
Classroom work is enhanced through “Going Out,” which are trips outside the school to local museums, nature centers, libraries, and theaters in search of further enhancements to the curriculum or the child’s personal study. Throughout these years, students increasingly learn how to manage their own studies and time, having been given opportunities to make choices and act independently during these important formative years.
At the International Montessori Academy, our Elementary program is enhanced by incorporating additional lessons in STEM and Music education. Children begin violin lessons in the afternoons at age 5 and continue their instruction three afternoons a week as a part of our Elementary curriculum. Once a month, children also enjoy participating in a short, interactive cultural presentation given by a member of our community.
STEM and Montessori are highly complementary, with their emphasis of hands-on experimentation and interdisciplinary learning. Children are sensory-motor explorers, meaning they learn best by moving and using all their senses. Montessori education leads the child to be able to solve problems, to think for herself, and to work both independently and collaboratively. The addition of STEM-focused presentations will add a more explicit level to the integration of their work in math, biology, earth sciences,, architecture, and geography and will intentionally take children through the thought/action sequences of asking, imagining, creating, and improving steps of problem solving and critical thinking. IMA is also developing food-gardens and the Elementary children will have a voice in planning the space and the crops, giving them a real-world application of their botany, earth science, and math lessons.