Elementary programs (grades 1-6) fall within what Dr. Montessori called the “Second Plane of Development” (ages 6-12).
During the Elementary years of a child’s development, there is a shift from the concrete, sensorial exploration in the First Plane of Development (birth-6 years) to the expanding global vision during the Second Plane of Development (6-12 years). The Elementary student is beginning to see the interconnectedness of all things. The Montessori materials and curriculum, along with a respectful and individualized learning environment, support the student’s desire for learning about their world.
Planes of Development
In Lower Elementary, which includes grades one, two and three, the child is mastering basic skills as well as beginning to explore his/her world. Children work at their own pace, challenging themselves and being challenged by their teachers and each other. There continues to be a definite sequence to how materials are presented and a chronology for the child to follow. As in the Children’s House, children receive lessons in both large and small groups and individually, and may choose to work alone or with a friend.
Developmentally, Lower Elementary students are exploring the concepts of right and wrong, practicing problem-solving techniques, and learning how to be respectful, contributing members of the classroom community. Helping students both to feel heard and to be able to hear others is a basic part of Peace Education at this level. Class discussions and grace and courtesy lessons provide children of this age with many opportunities to explore these concepts in a comfortable atmosphere of acceptance and trust.
At the heart of both Lower and Upper Elementary is the concept of research. Children have an introduction to research in Kindergarten, and as they move into Lower Elementary, research becomes an opportunity for children to explore areas of particular interest to them. Children are taught how to find resources, take notes, write a report, and develop a presentation for the class. The process of children gaining confidence in their ability to find answers to their questions is critical in a Montessori classroom.
As children move to the Upper Elementary level, which includes fourth, fifth and sixth grades, they are ready to embrace larger issues and more abstract concepts, conduct deeper research, and assume greater responsibility both in the classroom and in the larger school community.
At the Upper Elementary level, all curriculum areas are integrated. Math climbs through practical math (measurement, statistical analysis, trigonometry, calculus). Students participate in literature groups, in which a group of students read a book together and create a project around the book, and in Writers’ Workshop, which helps them to hone their writing skills through frequent practice and directed exercises. Continuing the tradition begun in Lower Elementary, they have 30 to 45 minutes of D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time daily. Students receive either individual or group lessons daily in a variety of subjects.
Students work with the teachers to set their educational goals for the week, and take responsibility for accomplishing them. These executive skills of organizational development are essential to explore at this age before moving in to secondary education and beyond. At the social emotional level, Upper Elementary students continue their passion of discussion while developing a sense of the gray areas. These years are full of negotiation, within the world and with each other.
A culminating event of each school year in Upper Elementary is the camping trip. In May of each year, the entire class participates in a three-day, two-night trip. For the past few years, the destination has been an ecology school or nature camp in New England. The trip is an opportunity for the students to venture out in the world together and bond as a group while experiencing in-depth nature-based classes and activities in a unique setting.
“An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities, and leads him to self-mastery.”
–Dr. Maria Montessori