Young children, Toddler and Primary Students, have a natural urge to partake in the activities of daily living and be a participating member of family life. Simple chores adults may take for granted fascinate the child, engaging them in the meaningful learning of life skills. Practical life activities help children develop coordinated movement, awareness of the environment, orderly thought patterns, independent work habits, and responsibility. The lessons in Practical Life include:
Preliminary Exercises – preparing the fine motor skills for more challenging activities (spooning, pouring, stringing, etc.)
Care of the Environment – learning to use, respect and care for the tools in the space where the child lives and learns (food preparation, sweeping, dusting, washing, polishing, etc)
Care of the Person – learning the basics of self care skills (hand washing, nose blowing, dressing, nutrition, etc.)
Grace and Courtesy – learning social skills (walking carefully, communication, manners, table setting, hosting a guest, etc.)
Elementary Students continue to pursue practical life skills at more challenging levels. Activities at the elementary level include gardening, cooking and food preservation, meal planning, sewing, woodworking, electricity, and plumbing. Handwork crafts are also a focus at this level including knitting, beading, leatherwork, weaving, metalwork, and other traditional crafts practiced worldwide.
Grace and courtesy lessons include public speaking, party planning and setting up for a formal meal, learning to work as a team, developing leadership skills, learning how to conduct a formal meeting, learning how to write formal letters, budgeting and financial planning, and basic entrepreneurial business skills.
The materials and activities at the Toddler and Primary level are iconic Montessori. They allow children to pursue their natural tendency to classify sensorial impressions and sort by size, shape, color, touch, sound, and weight. The sensorial materials isolate specific qualities, have a built in control of error, allow for repetition, and make abstract qualities concrete. Sensorial activities lay a foundation for math, geometry, geography, botany, art, and music.
Elementary Level students may refer back to these familiar materials to build on more advanced concepts but typically students are learning to become more abstract at this higher plane of development. Development of the senses in the elementary student continues not as its own task but rather as a part of specific curriculum areas such as classifying minerals in Earth Science or baking with spices in Practical life.
An introduction to mathematics at the Toddler level is given through simple counting exercises such as counting the plates when setting the table, counting the children as they line up, and through counting songs and rhymes.
At the Primary level, children’s mathematical sense is built on the strong foundation of the sensorial materials where many fundamental concepts, such as length, volume, gradation, sequencing, grouping and so on, have been already experienced via the senses. These activities make the abstract concepts of mathematics concrete for hands on learning. Each activity isolates a particular concept and integrates with other activities to form a strong foundation for further exploration.
Beginning Primary math activities include 1 to 10 (sequences, quantity, numeral names, combinations of ten, basic arithmetic), teens, tens, introduction to the decimal system, and the operations of addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. Children explore fractional equivalences and the fractional names with manipulative materials. They use a wide variety of two and three-dimensional geometry materials and learn the basics of geometric nomenclature. They see and explore binomial and trinomial patterns in certain materials and gain a visual and tactile impression for later work when they will use such patterns to explore the concepts of squaring, square root, cubing, and cube root during the elementary years. The emphasis is always on examining patterns and sequences and the connections between arithmetic and geometry in order to help children develop their mathematical minds from an early age.
The Elementary level mathematic curriculum revolves around the “Great Lesson” of humankind’s invention of numeration and measurement systems. This story and timeline is a key that opens the door of the imagination to the world of mathematics and geometry. At the Lower Elementary level, students often investigate the number systems of civilizations as diverse as that of the Egyptians, the Romans, and the Mayans. Ancient measurements such as the cubit and the span are presented and used. Upper Elementary students research mathematics, geometry, and invention in the Hellenic world (with a particular focus on ancient Alexandria) and elsewhere. Specific skills, concepts, and lessons during these years include the decimal system and mastery of the four operations of arithmetic, study of multiples and factors, geometry, fractions, decimals, percent, money, time, statistics, graphs, pre-algebra, and beginning algebra.
Toddler and Primary children are immersed in language the moment they enter the classroom. Spoken language is encouraged as children communicate with each other individually, in small groups, and in large groups. A library of books is available for enjoyment and information. Stories are read and told individually, in small and large groups.
At the Primary level phonemic awareness is taught through hands on activities and games, the alphabet is learned with fun and interesting sorting and matching works; handwriting is practiced through tracing shapes, sandpaper letters, and using chalkboards; moveable alphabet letters are used for writing words, and labels are used all over for word recognition. Reading for four or five year old children in a Montessori program usually follows an immersion in writing activities, mostly done using the moveable alphabets. The children spontaneously synthesize all of the phonemes they have learned and the sight words they have been given and often discover one day that they can read! In addition to a wide range of suitable fiction and non-fiction books in each classroom, there are vocabulary cards in relation to every subject area (nomenclature of everyday objects, geometry, science, world cultures, etc.). Enrichment of vocabulary across the curriculum is a constant focus in the Primary classroom. Another daily occurrence is reading aloud to the children as a group. Introductory activities in areas of grammar, syntax and word study form a part of the early language work. Dr. Maria Montessori described the five to seven year old children as “word lovers,” such was their great interest in language at this age. The concepts of noun, verb, preposition, subject, direct object, etc. are introduced in playful activities using a miniature environment and a variety of movement games. The Montessori grammar symbols used throughout the Elementary Program are first introduced at this age.
Just as in the Math curriculum the Elementary level Language curriculum begins at age six with a “Great Lesson” called “The Story of Communication in Signs”. The lesson takes students through the development of written language from pre-alphabetic signs right up to the printing press. In the Lower Elementary years, the history of spoken language is presented and the story of our Roman alphabet is told. Different ancient alphabets (e.g. hieroglyphs) are studied. There are both instructional and self-teaching materials so students can explore, memorize, and practice writing in different alphabetic forms.
Specific elementary level lesson areas include word study, grammar and syntax, composition, reading, reference and study skills, & listening and speaking skills.
The study of the nine principal parts of speech spans the three Lower Elementary years. Parsing of prepared sentences, one’s own writing, and the writing of given authors is done using card material and colored grammar symbols. Classification of nouns and adjectives and the basic verb tenses are also presented. Students work on the classification of simple sentences and familiarity with the parts of a sentence, such as predicate, subject, direct and indirect objects and adverbial phrases. Sequential Montessori materials are used for these studies.
The study of the structure of a paragraph begins in the Lower Elementary program and continues into the early Upper Elementary years. Students have opportunities for a wide variety of creative writing, which includes various forms of poetry, short story, fairy tale, and nature writing. They also write reports in areas such as zoology, geography and history. The mechanics of writing including punctuation and capitalization, and basic spelling rules are a major focus of the Lower Elementary years. The development of beautiful handwriting is emphasized beginning with cursive writing (already begun during the Primary years) and then later with print. Keyboarding skills are begun in the third year of the Lower Elementary program.
Students read from selected fiction in school on a daily basis. Nightly reading at home is also encouraged. Students may borrow books from the school library. Classroom Guides read aloud to the class on a daily basis. The work students do in the various subject areas involves the reading of words, phrases and sentences using the specific scientific nomenclature of the subject. There are many reading exercises connected to the grammar and syntax activities. Students are introduced to interpretive reading exercises. These exercises involve dramatic interpretation of a piece of literature. During the later portion of third year Lower Elementary students begin to read and discuss the Junior Great Books classic stories, which then continues into the Upper Elementary years.
Toddler and Primary level sensorial exploration and experimentation are key tools as children learn about the natural world. For example, sand and water tables allow for open-ended work while other activities isolate individual concepts such as sink and float, magnetism, botany, etc. Care for plants and animals overlap with practical life activities and teach science as well as responsibility.
At the Primary level basic skills of science, such as measuring, comparing, classifying, and keen observing, are carefully prepared and practiced. This work is accompanied by extensive classified nomenclature. For example, Primary age children learn the scientific nomenclature of the parts of a flower, such as the calyx and corolla. Classification systems such as living/non-living, and vertebrate/invertebrate are also taught. Children study the basic characteristics and nomenclature of plants and animals. They learn to name common domestic and wild plants and animals, and they work with materials to learn fundamental classifications such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Children are also introduced to some basic concepts of physical science, such as floating/sinking, magnetic/non-magnetic. Non-fiction books related to science are read aloud to the children, and they have classroom responsibilities for the care of indoor plants, as well as feeding the birds outside. The children also plant, tend to, and harvest their own classroom gardens.
During the Elementary years, every aspect of science is introduced through stories of discovery and with reference to the etymology of the scientific words (i.e., Gk. bios – life; logos – speech – literally “to talk about life”). Various scientific disciplines emerge from and relate back to the Great Lessons of the origin of the universe and the earth, the story of life on earth, and the ingenuity of humans throughout history. The adventure of scientific discoveries is seen as part of a Great Story reaching back to the beginning of time and the student is empowered through activity and research to see himself as an actor in this story.
Students learn how the galaxies are formed and about types of galaxies, as well as how our solar system and planet were formed. They study the relationship of the sun and earth and moon, using various Montessori charts and materials. They learn about the movements of the earth, the seasons, solstices, and equinoxes.
Students learn about the layers of the earth and the formation of land masses, and conduct experiments in order to understand the processes of weathering, erosion, and mountain formation. They are introduced to the science of geology, the classification of rocks, and the formation of fossils. All of their Earth Science work is interrelated to their studies in history, geography, and biology. Students make basic weather observations and learn to identify cloud types.
The primary focus of this area of science during the Lower Elementary years is the study of the three states of matter and the properties of each. Experiments creating mixtures and solutions introduce some fundamental concepts and nomenclature in chemistry. Energetic forces such as magnetism, gravity are introduced. All of these concepts are explored through simple and safe experiments in order that students can gain an impression of various principles of matter and energy. They also study simple technology as part of their history studies. As part of their study of primitive technology, students will often construct models of historic devices such as a catapult, a bow, or a Roman arch.
Students enter the Montessori Lower Elementary classes from our Primary program with knowledge of significant Life Science classified nomenclature, particularly in the areas of botany and zoology. We build on the great developing interest in living things by opening the students’ minds to the whole span of the Time Line of Life on the Earth. From this historical perspective, we introduce them right away to the Five Kingdoms of Life. This grand scheme of biological classification is explored in a systematic and rigorous fashion over the six years of our Elementary program, culminating in the Chinese Box material, which classifies the major life forms on earth.
Students learn about the five main classes of vertebrates and various orders within these five classes. They learn how to do research about these creatures – their anatomies, characteristics, and how they live. They also learn the major phyla of invertebrates and work with prepared materials and many books about these creatures and their importance in the earth’s ecology. Students learn about the basic needs of animals and about the habitats and biomes in which they live. They compare by looking at the similarities and differences across the groups and noting various aspects of external and internal anatomy, including body covering, circulation, and respiration. All Elementary classes maintain bird feeders, for which the children are responsible. Some classes have fish, reptiles or invertebrates cared for by the students.
This is an important age for the study of the life functions of plants. We use impressionistic charts and plant experiments in order to help students gain an understanding of how plants meet their needs for water, nutrition, and sunlight. Care of indoor and outdoor plants, with attention to specific needs, is a daily responsibility. Students study the uses of plants for food and shelter by different cultures throughout history and throughout the world today. Looking at the Time Line of Life, students learn when the evergreens, grasses, and flowering plants appeared on the Earth. They begin to learn to use field guides to identify local flora, and continue to build their vocabulary by learning more details of botanical nomenclature.
Students study the anatomy of the human skeletal, circulatory, and digestive systems. They also study particular details of human anatomy, such as types of teeth, the parts of the eye, and the parts of the ear. Basic practices for good health, such as hand washing, how to safely sneeze or cough, and the importance of daily exercise, are both taught and encouraged on a regular basis. Students are introduced to the fundamentals of good nutrition and the food pyramid. We help them to understand the nutritional reasoning behind our school’s guidelines for healthy snacks and lunches.
Over the course of the six Elementary years of Montessori education, students learn how to observe from nature and from experiment, gather data, and record their observations. They learn how to use various measuring tools, such as scales and thermometers. They are taught how to use a hand lens and microscope, including how to prepare a microscope slide. Older students are introduced to the basics of writing a lab report and such skills as recording data on a table and using scientific notation. Books are always available in both the classroom and school libraries, as well as ready Internet access in the classroom and library.
These materials help the child learn about the facts of the material world. Working with the sensorial, language and cultural materials related to geography is an important part of the work of a Montessori Primary classroom. The very young children are introduced early to a sandpaper globe where they can have a visual and tactile experience of the Earth. Other sensorial materials and puzzle maps are used by the children to explore the continents of our world, the countries of each continent, and the states of our own country. They also create key land and water forms such as lake, island, and peninsula. Geography vocabulary is given both orally and with prepared nomenclature cards that are used by the children as an integrated part of their language work. The children are introduced to the diversity of international cultures by means of stories, songs, celebrations, pictures, and artifacts.
Elementary students are given key lessons on the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. These lessons are followed by experiments, classification exercises, and nomenclature work related to each of these areas of study. Students work with Montessori pin maps to explore further the countries, flags, and capitals of the world. They draw outline maps that isolate various physical features and economic resources. They also study time zones. The study of the interdependencies of human beings in society is begun. For example, students learn to trace an item of food from its original source through various stages of production, the flow of goods to the market, and the many people who participate in the process
History and Cultural Studies
The Toddler and Primary students celebrate diversity of our world through language, music, art, traditions, food, stories, and history. A variety of cultural themes are integrated into all curriculum areas. Peace education is an integral part of the Montessori classroom and begins with respect for, understanding, and acceptance of differences as well as the celebration of the unifying aspects that connect us all.
History is the central organizing discipline during the Montessori Elementary years. Every subject is encountered in relation to its historical origins and evolution. We strive through a sequence of inspiring tales to help students see where they fit into the great chain of history from the beginning of time. In particular, our interdisciplinary approach to the history of the universe, planet earth, and the contributions of the great civilizations gives our students a deep awareness of the grandeur of the human endeavor. Humans are seen as adaptive, inventive, and resourceful. A sense of gratitude for the contributions of all our ancestors is fostered.
We appeal to the emerging reasoning mind and powerful imagination of this developmental plane by telling great stories framed in the form of fables, but with rich scientific and historical content. Students use concrete organizational frameworks as an aid to understanding relationships and sequences over time. These include timelines of the development of life on Earth and the progress of the early humans and their civilizations, as well as charts illustrating key scientific or historical principles. We also use core classification materials that guide the research of any culture or civilization in any time or place. These materials focus on how different people throughout history fulfilled their fundamental needs. These would include their types of food, shelter, clothing, artistic expression, religion, government, and education.
Elementary students are introduced to five Great Lessons: the Great Story of the Origin of the Universe and the Earth; the Story of the Coming of Life on Earth; the Story of Early Humans; the Story of Communication and Signs ( the History of Language); and the Story of Mathematics. These Great Lessons open their minds to all areas of study and are followed by key presentations that inspire them to research, to conduct scientific experiments, and to create artistic representations of various aspects of our historical past. Parallel to this work, six, seven and eight year olds begin to use materials to develop the understanding of the concept of time along with the initial introduction to the historical underpinnings and etymology of the words of the days of the week, months of the year, and seasons
At the Toddler and Primary levels informal and formal music education occurs through singing, listening to music, introduction of instruments, introduction of musical notation, and exploration of sound.
Elementary students build on their primary foundation and engage in a rich and creative music program that is integrated into the daily happenings of classroom life. They sing, read music, and compose using instruments available in the classroom environment. Using teaching methods from various cultures as well as music from around the world, students are part of a holistic musical experience. The synthesis of known best practices all center around experiencing and exploring musical concepts and expression by creating, performing and responding to music – the essential artistic processes.
The structure of the Elementary music program involves twice weekly lessons with a music specialist, opportunities for daily classroom practice, integration of music into all curriculum areas, formal performances as musical ensembles, and visiting “guest artist” performances for inspirations and connection to our rich local music resources.
A range of art materials and activities are available to students in the classroom. Art activities in the Toddler and Primary classroom are chosen by the child from the art shelf according to interest. There is a progression in the artwork as the child’s skills develop. Cutting exercises move from very simple to quite complex exercises. Pasting work is followed later by collage. Coloring with various media (crayons, pastels, charcoal) is available. Painting on an easel, watercolor, and clay work are presented. Handwork, including sewing and embroidery, is taught. Seasonal inspirations using different media are a prominent feature in our primary classrooms.
All elementary classrooms have a range of materials available to the students. Many art projects take place in the classrooms. The students may also illustrate and create clay or other artistic expressions as part of their research projects. The art process is a rewarding experience that allows each student the freedom to explore and experiment with various media and techniques. It is through this process of self-exploration that they begin to make connections between the artistic world and their natural environment. Students begin with the basic elements of art (line, shape, color, texture, space, value, and form) and progress to the more complex throughout the elementary program. These basic elements are the building blocks of art and are incorporated into every lesson. Over time, students begin to make connections between them and begin to develop their own visual vocabulary. Each lesson is given a name, and demonstrations are used to ensure the use of materials in a safe and responsible manner. Once the art lesson has been demonstrated, students are allowed the freedom to create and express themselves in an individual way.
At all levels, care of the body is equally as important as challenging the mind. At the Toddler and Primary levels movement is built into all Montessori activities allowing the child to develop gross motor as well as fine motor skills. Yoga and other types of more formal exercise are built into daily group times. There are at least two periods of gross motor activity time each day with activities that include running, skipping, swinging, navigating an obstacle course, ball play, group games, sledding in the winter, and activities using other props such as parachutes and ribbons.
At the Elementary level individual and group daily movement, gross motor and skill building activities, health and fitness education, and team building opportunities occur throughout the day. In addition, rotating physical education specialists present “themed” units to students such as soccer, karate, dance, ropes course activities, yoga, and more.
Universal Values and Global Perspective
Montessori deliberately teaches children not only appropriate patterns of polite behavior, but seeks to instill basic universal values within the core of the child’s personality. These values include self-respect, acceptance of the uniqueness and dignity of each person we meet, kindness, peacefulness, compassion, empathy, honor, individual responsibility, and the courage to speak from our hearts. The Montessori philosophy is international in its heritage and consciously seeks to promote a global perspective.