Akron Montessori School’s Elementary Program is divided into both a lower and upper elementary. The lower elementary program is comprised of grades 1 – 3, and the upper elementary program is comprised of grades 4 – 6.
“If salvation and help are to come, it is from the child, for the child is the constructor of man and so of society. The child is endowed with an inner power which can guide us to a more enlightened future.”
The Elementary School Child
The child beginning elementary school has a unique set of psychological needs very different from those of the primary school child. Though the elementary child’s mind is still growing rapidly, his or her method of self-construction is more methodical and orderly than during early childhood. As the child gets older, the ability to absorb knowledge from the environment with no conscious effort, a phenomenon observed in the earlier stage of development, tends to diminish gradually. It is replaced by a new skill, the child’s reasoning ability, which becomes the basis for learning at the elementary stage. The preschool child’s preoccupation with building vocabulary is gradually replaced by an urge to understand the environment. The familiar questions “What is this?” or “What is its name?” the child used to ask when younger are replaced by “Why?” and “How?” The elementary child is also more sociable and imaginative and begins to develop a keen sense of right and wrong. If given the opportunity under appropriate conditions, this child will eagerly accept intellectual challenges to explore and experiment to gain a better understanding of the world around him/her.
The Prepared Environment
The classroom is designed to arouse the child’s interest in many areas of knowledge while letting the child pursue chosen activities without interruption. Materials are arranged under the areas of mathematics, geometry, language, biology, geography, history and music. Manipulative materials are supplemented by charts, time lines, encyclopedias, books and periodicals. Children work individually or in small groups. Each child learns to choose activities, complete tasks and pursue interests with no limit to the amount of work that the child may choose to do. The elementary child’s environment extends well beyond the classroom and connects to the outside world. The adult guide (teacher) acts as the director and facilitator who observes the child carefully and provides individual help as needed.
The Elementary Curriculum
The elementary curriculum is designed to serve the widening interests of the child who is driven by curiosity, a reasoning mind, and the desire to understand his/her universe. It reflects Dr. Montessori’s view that the child in this stage of development wants to know everything. We start by giving the elementary child a “grand view” of the universe and then go into detail by examining its components, composition and the process of evolution. The familiar subject areas of language and other fundamentals are presented in the context of the history of human beings. Science experiments are integrated into the main subject areas. The entire array of subjects is tied together by their origins and chronology, history being the core that links everything in the elementary program.
Presentations and Learning
The elementary program uses a variety of approaches for exploration and learning. Most topics in mathematics, grammar, geography, science and history are initially presented using Montessori materials that the child can work with. In addition to these materials, the elementary class uses charts, time lines, live plants, specimens, samples and models. Experiments are used extensively. Manipulation, exploration, experimentation and discovery are encouraged in the hands-on Montessori approach.
Initial presentations of concepts are made to small groups of two or three children at a time or on a one-to-one basis. Children of different ages work in the same environment. Children often team up and work in informal groups. While the students are carefully guided to explore all aspects of the curriculum, a child is not restrained from exploring any particular area in depth. The child usually stays for three years in the same mixed-age group: Lower Elementary (grades 1 – 3), and Upper Elementary (grades 4 – 6). The adult guide (teacher) carefully observes and encourages the child to excel in his/her strong areas while helping to overcome difficulties in weak ones. Thus, a child with some difficulties in one area, for example reading, is not held back in math or geography. There are no teacher-imposed interpersonal comparisons; a child is not evaluated based on whether he or she is doing “better” or “worse” than someone else. We view the child as engaged in the task of self-construction, which does not need external rewards. The child recognizes the intrinsic value of work and works to please himself or herself, not to please the teacher.
Children learn, at a very early age, the use of dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases and other reference materials. There is great emphasis on developing reading comprehension and expressing oneself through oral and written reports, models, and charts. Children learn productive and efficient use of time by maintaining diaries. Their freedom to choose work always entails responsibility and accountability. Feedback is given to the children in the form of comments and suggestions at weekly review meetings on a one-to-one basis rather than “pass/fail” grades. The child is given every opportunity to gain self-confidence and feel good about his/her abilities.
The Montessori elementary program ends when the child completes the third year of the Upper Elementary class, sixth grade. A child leaving the Montessori environment is a motivated, organized individual with a high degree of self-confidence and the ability to manage time, resources and effort productively. He or she has learned to complete tasks and be responsible for proper use of time and effort. The child will enter the next stage of learning with superior study skills, a relatively high level of knowledge, and strong self-confidence.