The Elementary Community cultivates your child’s imagination, reasoning skills, social development and great intellect by providing indificualizaed and small group lessons and projects
“The older child, who seems troublesome being curious over the what, why and wherefore of everything he sees, is building up his mind by his mental activity, and must be given a wide field of culture on which to feed. The task of teaching becomes easy, since we do not need to choose what we shall teach, but should place all before him for the satisfaction of his mental appetite”
María Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential
“In this intellectual period, the child’s questions are innumerable. He wants to know everything. His thirst for knowledge is so insatiable that, generally, people are at their wits’ end about it; therefore, they most(ly) choose the easiest way and simply force the child to be silent, and to learn only what we grown-ups consider useful for him. But, in doing so, we also destroy his spontaneous interest. Learning then becomes a tedious and tiresome business. The result is all sorts of deviations in the child’s personality.”
It should be realized that genuine interest cannot be forced. Therefore, all methods of education, based on centres of interest, which have been chosen by adults, are wrong. Moreover, these centres of interest are superfluous, for the child is interested in everything… A global vision of cosmic events fascinates the child and his interest will soon remain fixed on one particular part, as a starting point for more intensive studies. As all parts are related, they will be scrutinized sooner or later. Thus the way leads from the whole via the parts back to the whole.
Thus the child will develop a kind of philosophy which teaches him the unity of the universe. This is the very thing to organize his intelligence and give him a better insight.”
Maria Montessori, unpublished lecture, University of Amsterdam, 1950
Dr Maria Montessori described the type of education that Elementary-aged children need as ‘cosmic’. Her insight was to offer the emerging intelligence of the 6-12 year old a holistic framework for at the beginning of their education, rather than at offering fragments of knowledge to be pieced together in maturity. From the whole to the parts rather than the parts to the whole.
We offer the ‘whole’ through a series of five sequential oral stories, each lasting around 30 minutes, which are told over the course of 6 weeks: The Five Great Lessons
These stories are repeated once or twice a year, and children often come back to hear them again and again. Aside from offering a simple dramatic narrative to explain how things got to be the way they are today, the stories emphasise gratitude. Gratitude for the nameless people that went before us inventing the tools we take for granted today, gratitude for the unconscious service given by animals and plants one to another that makes it possible for life to continue, and a general sense of awe and the harmony and interconnectedness that exists between all things.
The stories open up the study of the Earth, life and the human story. They put into context the child’s work in maths and language. Each story is the starting point for the subjects of physics, chemistry, geography, biology, history, art, music, languages, geometry and maths. A growing complexity is offered in each of these areas, but always with the possibility, for example, of geography work morphing into biology, or maths becoming history.
Five Great Lessons
Dr. Montessori uses the Five Great Lessons at the elementary levels as an introduction to all topics, providing a “big picture” to demonstrate how the sciences, art, history, language, and geography are interrelated. Students are then introduced to increasing levels of detail and complexity within these broad areas.
THE STORY OF CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE describes how minerals and chemicals formed the elements; how matter transforms to three states of solid, liquid, and gas; how particles joined together and formed the earth; how heavier particles sank to earth’s core and volcanoes erupted; how mountains were formed and the atmosphere condensed into rain, creating oceans, lakes, and rivers. Students are introduced to lessons in physics, astronomy, geology, and chemistry. For example, they learn about light, heat, convection currents, gravity, galaxies, planetary systems, Earth’s crust, volcanoes, erosion, climate, and physical geography.
THE STORY OF THE COMING OF LIFE explains how single-cell and multi-cell forms of life became embedded in the bottom of the sea and formed fossils. The Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic periods are traced beginning with the kingdom of trilobites and ending with human beings. A timeline shows the beginning of invertebrates, followed by fish and plants, then amphibians, reptiles, and birds and mammals. This is the basis for lessons in chemistry, nutrition, categories of animals and plants, care and requirements of different animals, and their interrelationship within an ecological system. Students are introduced to formal scientific language of zoology, botany, and anthropology.
THE STORY OF HUMANS introduces human beings and their unique endowments of intellect and will. The aim is for the children to imagine what life was like for early humans. This is the basis for lessons in prehistory and the emergence of ancient civilizations. Students are introduced to an analytical tool to compare cultures, and how climate and topography influence culture and political geography.
THE STORY OF LANGUAGE describes the origin, structure and types of writing and speaking. It begins with a discussion of the Egyptians, who had two kinds of symbols – one for ideas and one for sounds. The story goes on to describe the Phoenicians, who used the Egyptian’s sound pictures but not their idea pictures. Next, it describes the contributions of the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. Students use grammar materials which help them examine how language is put together and to refine capitalization and punctuation. They are introduced to the study of the origin of English and Spanish words from other languages, the meanings of prefixes and suffixes, and different forms of writing such as poetry, narratives, and plays.
THE STORY OF NUMBERS emphasizes how human beings needed a language for their inventions to convey measurement and how things were made. The story describes how the Sumerians and Babylonians had a number system based on 60, which is the reason for our 60-second minute and 60-minute hour. Greek, Roman, and Chinese numbers are introduced, and how Arabic numerals are similar to numbers found in a cave in India from 2,000 years ago. The Indian numerals had something that no other number system had, the zero. This is the basis for learning mathematics, which is integrated into all studies. For example, large numbers are needed when measuring time and space in astronomy, negative numbers are needed when measuring temperature changes, and triangulation was needed to reestablish property boundaries after the Nile flooded Ancient Egypt.
When they arrive at the start of the day, many children already have a clear idea of what they intend to work on and get straight on with it. This is worth repeating: many children come in and start their work without any intervention or direction from their Guide. Often little conversations take place in the cloakroom between two or more children as they put on their indoor shoes, ‘Shall we do the Verb Grammar Box together?’ or ‘Do you want to carry on our rivers research?’
As working groups establish themselves at the start of the day, the children also look to see what presentations (lessons) they have that day. These are not scheduled for particular times. The timing of them is chosen by the Guide and is flexible to allow children are already deeply engaged to continue uninterrupted.
In a mixed-age community of around 30 children the Guide will likely have half a dozen quick conversations with those that need more support to get started, before gathering a small group for the first presentation of the day. Today that presentation is ‘Squaring a Sum’. The children fetch the materials the Guide needs from the shelf and gather around. Meanwhile the 25 other children work independently in small groups or individually. The 15-20 minute lesson is given, showing the children how to use the materials. The children understand that, once shown, their job is to use the materials to get really good at – in this instance – squaring a sum. At the end of the presentation 3 of the children start working on squaring a sum, others take out other work, and will come back to the maths material another time.
Meanwhile, three children started the morning continuing their work making paper. They have previously made a deckle and frame, and are now creating the pulp. Four others are using the History Question Charts to guide their comparative study of cultures in 3000 BCE, exploring the Sumerians, Egyptians and Neolithic Britain.
Nearby, an older child is spell-checking a story a younger child has just finished, offering positive comments about a character. At the same table two girls and a boy are labelling the Trinomial Cube with algebraic labels for each piece – a3, a2b etc. A small group of 4 children have hung their nametags on the board to say they have gone across the courtyard into the North Woods. They are looking for dry and succulent fruits, following on from a presentation the previous day.
Two children are reading on the sofa. Occasionally they share a sentence from the book they are reading that they think is funny. They are not disturbed by the sound of the tone bars a few metres away. Three children have invented a game to learn the note names. One of them plays a note (as part of a scale) and, without looking, the other two have to say the name of it. They giggle a little as they hide their faces to prove they are not looking.
One child is weighing a bearded dragon. When she has recorded its weight, she returns it and takes out the next animal. She is graphing their weights as a way of monitoring their health. Her friend invites her to join a group trying to classify all the species of the order cetacea.
Some of these activities may carry on for the whole morning, others – such as reading a book – may finish more quickly and other work then found. There is a flow and hum to the environment, much like that of an open plan office. Having completed the first presentation, the Guide may invite one or two children to get ready for One-to-One meetings, where the guide meets with them to review their week. The Guide asks what the child is most proud of this week. They look at the work together; discuss what is going well and anything that is proving difficult. Depending on the child, the Guide may ask what their plan is for the coming week, or agree clear goals for them.
The morning unfolds with this great variety of work interspersed with presentations by the Guide, One to One meetings and the myriad of other questions and conversations that make up Elementary community life.
At 11.45 a child rings the singing bowl to get everyone’s attention. Three children are about to present to the class their work calculating the volumes of all the planets in the solar system.
At 12pm one of the older children dismisses the children to lunch, asking them to name animals beginning with a particular letter in order to leave to wash their hands. The children lay the table, serve each other and wash up afterwards before heading into the courtyard or woods for ‘garden time’.
The afternoon unfolds in a similar way, perhaps with some singing or other short group at the beginning. At the end of the afternoon work-cycle the children complete their community job, tidying the room and caring for the plants and animals before they all settle down for ‘Read Aloud’ when the Guide reads to them for 20-30 minutes.
In the second plane of development (6-12 years) children quickly develop considerable physical strength and a intellectual curiosity about the functioning of the society around them. In development terms, nature and endowed them with the physical and intellectual means to explore beyond the four walls of a classroom. We support them in this quest, helping them little by little and step by step to plan and carryout out these forays into society, which we simply call ‘Going Out’.
“The foot is noble. To walk is noble. Thanks to the feet, the child who already walks can expect of the outdoors certain answers to his secret questions.”
The first instinct of the young Elementary child, when then want to go out, is to open the door and go. Whether the goal is to buy fruit or flowers, or visit the library, park or woodland, the 6 or 7 year old needs support to plan what is needed and establish exactly where they need to get to. Money, maps, coats and the plans of others all need to be considered. Whereas in the first Plane we help the child to act for themselves, now we help them to think for themselves, working out what they need in order to be safe and successful.
As the children get older, they arrange more complex visits which are likely to involve phone calls and internet searches are part of the process. These ‘Going Outs’ eventually extend into overnight visits.
Unlike traditional class trips, these visits are organised by the children and follow interests that they have. They are not ‘taken’ by the adult, instead they lead and an adult chaperones them.
Power of imagination
The first plane child explored the world sensorially with her absorbent mind. The second plane child’s exploration is different; it is powered by the imagination and the intellect. Now there are no limits of either time or space. Her explorations take her back into time and across continents, down to the tiniest atoms and cells and up to the stars. These are the years to stir up the imagination, to give the child a chance to see what is not there using her mind’s eye. Through this gift the child can see the great diversity of life; she can picture how humans beings came to be and how life, the world and the universe all function in an interconnected harmony.
The child of this age needs the extraordinary. They need experiences of wonder and mystery, and imagination is a tool for exploring this. Much of the extraordinary she encounters are the achievements of the wonderful mind of the human being. The children cannot know the Sumerian who invented the wheel, but through their imagination they can get close to that person, and experience gratitude for their contribution.
Stories hold a great appeal to all ages. Young children, in the first 6 years of life, tend to prefer stories about every day life in the here and how. But for these older children stories now hold a new magic, and many Montessori lessons for this age begin with a story that appeals to the imagination. Here’s one about photosynthesis:
Have you ever wondered how a plant eats? Well I’ve got a story about just that. The leaf makes the food for the plant. In each leaf there contains water, and in each drop of water we have two hydrogens and one oxygen. With the help of the sun, the green part of the leaf helps to separate those hydrogens and oxygens. Then the hydrogens are mixed with a gas that comes in from the air, and this gas is called carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide and the hydrogen are then cooked into plant food using light from the sun – this is why plants grow towards the light. Finally the oxygen that was not used is thrown away out of the leaf as waste.
A core element of the elementary curriculum that provides the children with the authentic necessity for sheltering, feeding, and caring for themselves for five days and four nights within a secure organization under the close supervision of the guide and assistant who allow them to use their practical skills of menu-making, grocery listing, shopping, packing, setting up camp, cooking, cleaning, striking camp, packing, and returning, while pursuing plans they have made for themselves of science and nature activities and field trips