The Montessori elementary curriculum was developed as an integrated whole to serve the developmental needs of children from ages 6 to 12. Maria Montessori termed this period the Second Plane of Development. The continuity of the curriculum allows individual children to move through the various subject areas at the pace that is best for them, building confidence and genuine self-esteem. Just as all of Dr. Montessori’s insights, the division of the elementary into two stages, 6-9 year olds and 9-12 year olds is based on the student’s developmental needs as they move towards adolescence. The work in the lower elementary is done with extensive Montessori materials allowing the children not only to experience the depth and breadth of the curriculum, but also to become comfortable with their own learning styles. The upper elementary students, ages 9-12, transition to more abstract thinking relying more heavily on books and other resource material as they strengthen the work begun in the lower elementary.
Characteristics of children in the second half of the Second Plane of Development (ages 9-12):
In the Second Plane of Development, the reasoning mind is very important.
For every answer the children have a question, “Why?”
By the time they reach the Second Plane the child has achieved a certain degree of independence and will continue to strive for more independence.
Exploration is another characteristic of this age level and often the child wants to go beyond usual expectations for their age level.
The child often turns outward to broader society and the world beyond him or herself.
Friends become increasingly important to children at this age.
The children sometimes create secret languages.
Children often become more adventurous and daring.
Some children become “untidy” with personal belongings.
During this stage of development, the children’s conscience becomes keener; they develop better ideas of right and wrong and often seem to have a better understanding of rules and regulations.
Hero worship is another characteristic of this age.
Children have enormous potential of intellect and a tremendous power of imagination during this stage of development.
The following is an outline or overview of the Upper Elementary curriculum. Please note that the subjects covered are presented over a 3-year period.
OVERVIEW OF THE UPPER ELEMENTARY LANGUAGE CURRICULUM
Our alphabet has a fascinating history, and it is with the story of “Communication in Signs” that the elementary language program begins. What part did Phoenician merchants play in the development of written symbols? What did the Romans contribute? How is our alphabet different from Chinese characters? These are just some of the questions the children may pose for further research after hearing this story. In addition, language is more than a fascinating subject of study in itself. It is the vehicle of human communication, the way in which we exchange ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Thus, the language curriculum covers in depth written and spoken language, reading, grammar and research, the keys to both self-expression and the acquisition of knowledge.
For Montessori children, writing precedes reading. In the primary classroom, children develop cursive skills, and these, combined with the desire to communicate, lead to many varieties of written composition in the elementary.
In addition to the story of written language, stories about oral language, such as “The Story of Human Speech” and “The History of the English Language,” are presented to the children. In addition, the teachers use storytelling across the curriculum to convey information and to model the power of the spoken language. Children are encouraged to discuss and share their ideas with one another and with the larger group. Many choose to share their reports, orally, recite poems, tell jokes and riddles, and even write and produce plays.
Most children begin reading in the primary. In the elementary, they continue learning to read and truly begin reading to learn. Books of all literacy types are available in the classrooms. Both fiction and non-fiction serve to expand the children’s knowledge and awareness. Adults and children read orally and silently throughout the day and the children develop a love of literature. They discuss shared readings of stories and books, following a seminar format. This involves preparation of the reading and a willingness to listen and discuss respectfully, ideas about the text.
The study of grammar in Montessori is unique. Having been introduced to the “function of words” in the primary, elementary children study the parts of speech in more detail. What work does a pronoun do and how is it related to the verb? If its place is changed in the sentence, does the meaning remain the same? Each part of speech has a distinctive, colorful symbol. Children place these symbols above the words of a poem or a prose passage to “see its grammatical structure.” Later, they begin to analyze the style of different writers using the grammar symbols.
Visits to the library give the children opportunities to find out more about language. They learn to use reference materials, and they come to appreciate the library as a source of many kinds of information. Their language research may involve the comparison of works by a particular author, the derivation of idioms, or a multi-cultural study of similar folktales. Library visits are one of many kinds of language exploration children undertake beyond the classroom. They may to a museum, a poetry reading, or a play. Conversely, they may invite a calligrapher, an author, or a native German or any other foreign language speaker to come into their classroom. The children often initiate, plan and organize these outside studies themselves. In so doing, they practice their language skills of letter writing, telephoning and interviewing.
The History of Writing (key lessons on topics such as cave paintings, the Rosetta stone, heraldry, paper making, contributions of Charlemagne)
Sentence construction (Types and kinds of sentences as well)
Kinds of paragraphs (descriptive, narrative, expository, persuasive)
History of literacy genre (drama, letter writing, etc.)
History of English literature (British and American)
Study of a selected author
Introduction to foreign languages and independent research
Other community resources (museum, theaters, universities, local newspapers, etc.)
OVERVIEW OF THE UPPER ELEMENTARY MATH CURRICULUM
Mathematics is a human invention, an activity in which other animals do not engage. It is a language and a tool. The “Story of Numbers” helps children understand the power of mathematics and motivates them to continue exploring numbers and even invent their own!
Progression through the Montessori math curriculum is not strictly linear. Instead, Maria Montessori envisioned elementary math as a beautiful three-storied Renaissance palace. The first floor consists of the numbers to ten, place value and the four operations. The second floor is dedicated to the memorization of math facts. The third floor is where the children study hierarchy, that is, how the numbers in the decimal system are related and grouped. Initially they work with numbers from units to millions. Later the limit is infinity, or rather, there is no limit. Inside this palace, the children are free to climb from one floor to another; exploring different concepts of math simultaneously.
Children frequently ask for the biggest problems possible. They also enjoy writing their own BIG problems. The younger children practice using the materials representing whole numbers, fractions, and decimals, and through repeated experiences with them, they “discover” algorithms or concepts by themselves or under the guidance of the teacher.
Dr. Montessori places great emphasis on the study of geometry, and all the math materials have a geometric aspect. Children in the lower elementary classrooms study lines, angles, and plane figures, as well as linear and cubic measurement. In the upper elementary the children use boxes of cubes and prisms, which they previously manipulated in the primary classroom, to cube a binomial or trinomial. Through their studies, the students are able to discover abstract concepts of algebra, using materials that once were a part of their sensorial experiences only.
The upper elementary children also take great delight in further study of different systems of numerations, both those used by ancient civilizations, and other possible systems, such as base two or base twelve.
UPPER ELEMENTARY MATHEMATICS CURRICULUM
The History of Mathematics
Key lessons on the history of mathematics (e.g. the invention of the zero)
Work with different systems (Babylonian, Roman, Mayan, etc.)
Comparison of number systems (number bases vs. place-value)
Numeration and Concepts of Numbers
Writing and reading large numbers – expanded notation
Rounding to nearest ten, hundred, thousand, etc.
Properties of Numbers: commutative, associative, distributive
Problems using whole numbers, fractions, decimals, percents, and integers
Problems involving traveling: velocity, distance, and time
Money problems (purchasing, figuring tax, interest, tip and check writing)
Geometry problems (angles, perimeter, area and volume)
Other practical applications of math (weather, sports, nutrition, etc.)
Interpretation and construction of tables and graphs (line, bar, circle)
Use of calculators and computers to record and relay data
OVERVIEW OF THE UPPER ELEMENTARY BIOLOGY CURRICULULM
Plants and animals are an essential part of the elementary environment. Some reside in the classrooms. Others visit. As children observe and care these living things, they acquire the experiential basis for their future understanding and love of biology. They further extend their knowledge by going out to wildlife sanctuaries, arboretums, and nature parks to view animals and plants in their natural habitats.
With this foundation, children become interested in studying the wide variety of life forms on our planet. They read, “Who am I?” stories about the lives and characteristics of plants and animals. They examine specimens of different invertebrates and vertebrates. They perform plant experiments that demonstrate the basic functions of each part of a plant.
Although the plant and animal kingdoms receive the most attention, all five kingdoms of living organisms are introduced: Monera, Protista, Fungi, Plant and Animal. Children study the anatomy, physiology, and classification of living things using classroom resources such as books, card material, and charts. They write reports, ranging in complexity from a simply study of one organism, to a more advanced study of several organisms. Similarities and differences are noticed.
Out of the comparative study of life forms, the children make connections between present-day organisms and their predecessors on the Time Line of Life. As conditions on Earth changed, organisms that were more complex evolved. In satisfying its needs, each creature seemed to contribute to, or create a niche for, another. As insects evolved, so did flowering plants. Furthermore, these interdependencies still exist today. A lichen breaks down the rock upon which it lives, creating soil, in which mosses can grow. The interdependencies of all things in the universe is stressed, with people being the most powerful living thing, but also the most dependent. An appreciation and sense of wonder unfolds as the harmony of creation is revealed.
Evolution and comparative physiology of animals by phyla
Classification of animals by division, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species
Vital functions of plants with emphasis on photosynthesis, transpiration, tropisms and reproduction
Evolution of plants
Classification of plants
Living & non-living components
Roles of living things: producers, consumers, decomposer
Mineral cycles (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon)
The role of humans in maintaining the environment
OVERVIEW OF THE UPPER ELEMENTARY GEOGRAPHY CURRICULUM
Geography, the study of our home, the Earth, opens the door to the elementary curriculum. It sets the stage for an unfolding drama, in many acts, of Earth’s story, from its inception to its present state. The initial geography lessons are given to the six year olds as exciting stories. Accompanied by scientific demonstrations and impressionistic charts, they strike the child’s imagination. They instill in his emergent reasoning mind a desire to embark on an exploration or our world.
We begin with the story of “The Creation of the Universe” – to give a vision of the whole. Then we move to more detailed studies of Earth and its place in the universe. Geography is this fully integrated with the physical sciences. In fact, as the children learn about the Earth and its place in the universe, they form an intellectual framework for all their studies. From the non-living world to the succession of life forms, to human beings, and the development of their unique abilities, children study all the sciences and humanities in relation to one another.
Human consciousness comes into the world as a flaming ball of imagination. Everything invented by man, physical or mental, is the fruit of someone’s imagination. In the study of history and geography, we inspire the children to explore. Maria Montessori called her course of studies for elementary children “cosmic education.” There are two principles involved in this concept. First, we always begin with a study of “the whole,” which gives the children a unique vision and a holistic foundation for their education. Second, we emphasize that each part of the cosmos is related and contributes to the whole. As the children study geography and other subject5s, they become interested not merely in the world and how it functions, but in their individual roles and what part they might play in the continuing story of humanity.
After geography lessons, the children’s questions are greeted with enthusiasm. They lead to conversation, experiments, and reading. Research and reports may follow. In this way the children’s interest and understanding develop. They actively engage in the study of the sciences, using the resources available within the classroom, around the school environment, and in the community. For example, “the age of volcanoes” section of the creation story often leads to a study of extinct volcanoes and the “Ring of Fire,” or it could lead to the study of the rock cycle. Children may initiate further studies beyond the classroom, such as a visit to a natural science museum or an interview with a geology professor. The older children may also plan field studies away from home, such as diamond hunting in Arkansas or biking in the Grand Canyon.
UPPER ELEMENTARY GEOGRAPHY CURRICULUM
The study of the universe and the history of astronomy
The solar system and deep space
Newton’s law of motion and gravitation matter and energy
Potential and kinetic energy
Gravity and motion
Electricity and magnetism
States of matter
Elements and the Periodic Table
Atomic and molecular structure
Relationship of the Earth and the Sun
Rotation and revolution of the Earth and their effects
Cultural studies (including Rome, Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, China)
Detailed study of the 7 continents
Regional studies of the USA and North America
Natural resources and their distribution
Production and consumption of goods
Global trade and interdependence
Banking and currency exchange
Use of Scientific method through experimentation
OVERVIEW OF THE UPPER ELEMENTARY HISTORY CURRICULUM
Maria Montessori wished for children to recognize the contributions of great and unknown persons to modern civilization. Rather than focusing on the study of wars and political leaders, we thank the inventor of the wheel and the medieval scribes for their contributions to history. According to Dr. Montessori, each child has a significant role to play as contributor to the family and society.
The child’s personal sense of time is the starting point for the history curriculum. By noting the passage of days, months, and birthdays, the children develop this awareness of time. Children create a personal and family time lines (as part of their birthday celebration or as a personal interest) as a precursor to their work with the time lines of human history. We also develop an historical sense of time through the Time Lines of Life and Early People, and then the BC/AD Time Line. These visual aids, presented with stories, specimens, and artifacts, help the children understand the evolution of life and development of civilizations.
In upper elementary, the children study this panoply of history in detail, and there is particular emphasis placed on American history. During their research, the children make links between classical and modern civilizations.
At both levels, the children engage in field studies to enhance their understanding and appreciation of history. They often read the literature of a particular civilization or study their own language and sometimes they write and perform plays based on historical events or literacy figures.
UPPER ELEMENTARY HISTORY CURRICULUM
The history of the universe and geological time periods
Key lessons of the Time Line of Life
Early human history
Significance of the Coming of Human Beings
The First Time Line of Humans
The Second Time Line of humans
Study of humans evolution: Australopithecus, Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, Homo sapiens sapiens
Civilization: Meeting the Physical and Spiritual Needs of People
The agricultural revolution and literacy
Selected ancient civilizations (such as Babylonians, Egyptian, Chinese, Mesopotamian, Roman, Greek, Mayan, and Incan)
The Middle Ages
The Renaissance and the Enlightenment
Story of the United States of America
American historical time line
Key lessons (colonial history, the new nations, westward expansion, social upheaval, the age of industry and invention, the modern age)
Study of Native American Life
Michigan time line
Exploration of other states history and geography through research and reports
UPPER ELEMENTARY FINE ARTS CURRICULUM
Artistic Awareness and Sensitivity
Exploration of natural and man-made objects and environments
Discovery of art elements: line, color, shape, value, texture, forms, space, and pattern
Principles of art (relationship of elements): unity emphasis, balance, variety, proportion, movement and rhythm
Creative Expression through Art Materials and Tools
Expression of ideas and feelings in a variety of media: drawing, painting, printmaking, constructing, sculpting, collage, modeling 3-D forms, and using fibers
Experimenting with carious media to understand their properties and to develop skills in using them (drawing media, painting media, sculpting media)
Production of group art projects (sometimes for exhibits in local community: displays, class gallery, art sales)
Viewing and discussing contemporary and historical works of art and architecture
Analysis and evaluation of works of art (primary sources and visuals); developing an aesthetic sense through positive criticism