Elementary aged children, typically, can be characterized by their questioning minds, their ability to abstract and imagine, their moral and social orientation and their unlimited energy for research and exploration. They move from the concrete through their own efforts and discovery to the abstract – thus greatly expanding their field of knowledge.
In a research style of learning, elementary children work in small groups on a variety of projects which spark the imagination and engage the intellect. Lessons given by a trained Montessori teacher direct the children toward activities which help them to develop reasoning abilities and learn the arts of life.
Children, at this age, are driven to understand the universe and their place in it and their capacity to assimilate all aspects of culture is boundless. Elementary studies include geography, biology, history, language, mathematics in all its branches, science, music and art. Exploration of each area is encouraged through trips outside the classroom to community resources, such as library, planetarium, botanical garden, science center, factory, hospital, etc. This inclusive approach to education fosters a feeling of connectedness to all humanity, and encourages their natural desire to make contributions to the world.
At the Elementary level, children in a Montessori classroom still use materials similar to those found in the 3-6 class as manipulatives with their work in maths. Throughout their Montessori experience, whenever a child learns a new maths concept we initially give them physical materials with which to work, so that abstract math concepts become tangible. Through the materials, concepts such as factoring or squaring and cubing are physically brought to life, and by working with the materials, the children gain a stronger understanding of mathematical principles that can be very complex when first approached abstractly. Only after the child has internalized the reason and processes behind a maths concept do we move on to teaching it in the abstract. In the six-year period of elementary the children will study multiplication, division, both common and decimal fractions and using the four operations with them, squaring and cubing, along with finding the square root and cubed root. They will also work with exponential notation, ratio and proportion, working in non-decimal bases, and be introduced to algebra.
Geometry is another area that uses materials to make abstract concepts visual and tangible. Also, as the elementary child has such a profound capacity for imagination, we tell them stories based on fact as to how and why we have the laws that we do. They will hear stories about the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, and Greece and their contribution to Geometry. For lessons, they will learn about polygons and lines, congruency, equivalence, and similarity between polygons, along with the types of angles, how to measure them, and the relationship between angles. They will also work with circles and the parts of circles, how to calculate the radius, diameter, and circumference. Area and volume are also studied along with how to calculate both for different shapes and forms.
In the Montessori Elementary classroom biology is split into two areas, botany and zoology. In botany, they will learn the functions of the different parts of the plant such as the leaf, roots, stems, flower, fruit, and seeds. At each step along the way they are given real materials to study and examine, and will conduct many different experiments that highlight the certain function of a specific part of the plant. The Montessori biology programme is full of experiments which are designed to capture the imagination of the child and encourage further exploration. For example, the children will see that roots grow towards water, or that leaves give off oxygen. Once they have begun this exploration, they will also be introduced into scientific classification of the Kingdom Vegetalia. Zoology is split into the study of vertebrates and invertebrates. For vertebrates, the children will explore and research the differences between the five classes.
In the Montessori Elementary classroom, Geography is one of the most dynamic areas of study and is meant to really capture the child’s imagination and encourage deeper study into the laws the govern our natural world. The children will hear stories about the creation of Earth, and will conduct many different physical science experiments. They learn about the nature of the elements, the relationship between the Sun and the Earth, why we have seasons and how our weather is formed. They will also explore the types of winds we have and their relationship to precipitation. They also study the effect that water has on the physical world. The material is presented in such a way so that the children see that even the smallest pebble of sand, or huge gust of wind serves a purpose. They see that everything is interconnected, and without one seemingly insignificant aspect, the physical world wouldn’t function the way it does today.
When the child enters Elementary, one of the first things they will do in their study of language is to hear both the stories of spoken and written language, which sets the foundation for all the work that they will do. Again, these stories are meant to inspire the child and help them realize both spoken and written communication have evolved from nothing. Once these stories have been told we begin to work with word families such as compound words, prefixes and suffixes, along with others. We then go on to study parts of speech and what Montessori referred to as sentence analysis. In these two areas the children learn about nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. while sentence analysis deals with subject, direct and indirect object, etc. The goal of approaching these together is to refine the child’s use of language so their spoken and written communication skills become more clear and descriptive. In the elementary we also teach written composition and expose the children to a wide variety of classical and contemporary literature.
When addressing history, Montessori first looks at the developmental changes that the elementary child is going through in the transition from the 3-6 class to the 6-12 level. The child now has an imagination, a desire to look up to others, a desire to work in groups, and a reasoning mind. As soon as children enter the elementary they are consistently being exposed to history through the Great Lessons and stories that are told in all the other areas of study. They are told about the evolutionary process of animals on earth. They are told stories about how humans came to be and how through working together, have accomplished the achievements that have brought us to where we are today. When we teach history in a Montessori Elementary classroom we stress that people have always had to work together. We also teach them about people in the past who have had a positive effect on humanity so that, they, the children, might be inspired to do their part in having a positive effect in the future.