THE WORLD AS A CLASSROOM
Children in the 6-12 age group are starting to realize that the world is an enormous, interesting place. They are primed to study continents, cultures, scientific concepts, and great literature. The world becomes their classroom.
The carefully developed elementary curriculum guides the child through identifying, classifying, and researching all of the fascinating concepts in each chosen field of study. The areas of practical life, language, math, geometry, botany, zoology, geography, and history are all represented in the classroom, with materials that lead the child to abstraction of the fundamental concepts in each area.
The math area begins with the Golden Bead material to teach beginning math concepts (place value, quantity/symbol association, and concrete addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). The materials bring a “hands-on” quality to the classroom, with children learning through trial and error, self-discovery, and teaching from other children. The materials quickly move the child to an abstraction of math concepts, including problem solving, fractions, borrowing and carrying, graphing, measurement, long division, and algebraic equations. Geometry is a fascinating area of Montessori. Actual wooden shapes are used to master the terminology of all of the plane figures and solids. Matching cards are used to introduce types and positions of lines, types and positions of angles, and special characteristics of shapes. Experimentation with other materials leads children to their own discoveries of spatial relationships, including congruence, symmetry, and equivalency.
Practical life, which was a separate area in the 3-6 classroom, is now integrated with the day-to-day care of the classroom and its inhabitants. Tasks may include preparation of snack and daily meals and watering of plants and care of animals. Elementary children dust the shelves, organize and straighten the materials, sweep and vacuum, and keep the classroom neat and clean.
The language area includes a comprehensive spelling curriculum, word study (including antonyms, synonyms, homonyms, and compounds, as well as the parts of speech), creative writing, and research skills. Reading of every kind is highly encouraged, as children are introduced to poetry, folk tales, non-fiction, and classic literature. Children are also given many opportunities to read out loud – giving a presentation they have written, or dramatizing the work of another author.
Botany and zoology encompass a wide field of biological study. Matching cards are used to learn the characteristics of many plants and animals, and charts aid in the classification of the plant and animal kingdoms. After this first knowledge is gained, children begin to research on their own, using their knowledge of specific plant and animal species.
Geography and history include the study of civilizations and countries. Wooden puzzle maps of each continent are studied, with children learning the names, flags, animals, cultures, and geographic features of each country. History begins with the
study of time, including clocks, calendars, and timelines. As various fundamental needs of people (like shelter, transportation, food, and clothing) are explored, the children research and chart changes in these needs over time and across cultures.
The classroom also includes a set of experiments or demonstrations that illuminate basic physical and chemical science concepts called “The Universe Experiments”. Like much of the classroom, science topics are integrated into every part of the classroom allowing the children to explore their interests, research their passions and design their own experiments.
There are specific times designated for the study of the basic concepts of music and art using the Montessori philosophy of discovery and independent study. However, these too are integrated into the work the students do with their cultural studies subjects. The children are taught how to use materials and concepts, then encouraged to employ these skills in their
presentations and daily work.
Currently we have many cultural studies and language materials translated into Portuguese and French available to children throughout the day. These materials are supplemented with additional instruction in each language usually following a cultural or scientific theme. The students use their foreign language skills to further their understanding of different cultures and their first language.
Dr. Maria Montessori summed up the 6-9 classroom thus: “The elementary child has reached a new level of development. Before he was interested in things: working with his hands, learning their names. Now he is interested mainly in the how and why…the problem of cause and effect.” It is now the job of the elementary teacher to provide the child with the materials and information to discover the interconnectedness of the universe. An elementary Montessori classroom is a warm community: a multi-age, stimulating environment with highly trained teachers and materials that invite exploration and research. Children learn to face challenges with confidence, and begin to find their own place in the world around them.
Children in an elementary classroom begin to keep a record of their work. This can take the form of a journal, a work plan, or chart. In some classrooms, the children draw up contracts where they agree to do certain work during a week or month. The child still has the freedom to choose their own work, as well as choosing to work with another child or in a group. Keeping track of their work helps them make good work choices, and lets the teacher see which presentations have been done and which are still needed.
All teachers, assistants and staff keep observation notes as well as records on each students’ progress. We use these notes to help guide us through the curriculum and inform parents of their child’s overall progress throughout the year.