Whereas in a Montessori preschool children work individually and focus on their own rich, inner development, the Montessori elementary student is considered a “child of the world.” These children are newly interested in developing and sustaining personal relationships with others and are beginning to look outside of themselves to find their place in the world. They are keenly interested in the world around them. This leads naturally to more group work, more collaborative projects and more emphasis on community involvement.
These ideas are most apparent in the following four aspects of our Montessori elementary program:
As far as we know, Montessori is the only educational philosophy that actually provides a specific curriculum for teaching peace. We believe, as Dr. Maria Montessori once said, “ Preventing conflict is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education.” Our peace curriculum emphasizes respect and responsibility for our fellow community members, our environment and ourselves. We have a garden that we plant and tend. We have daily group meetings that allow us to discuss community issues as they arise as well as plan how to use the (considerable) energy of the students to better our classroom community. The teachers model positive conflict resolution and facilitate when conflicts arise between students. Montessori lessons emphasize the interconnectedness of all things and invite the students to express gratitude for the people of the past who have helped our world, and hope for the work future generations will do. Daily lessons on conflict resolution and peacemaking emphasize empathy, active listening and compromise.
The Five Great Lessons are at the heart of the elementary curriculum and are five stories, told over several months, which start with the broad, sweeping topic of the universe and become more specific in focus with each story told. The First Great Lesson, “The Beginning of the Universe and Earth,” tells the story of how the universe came to be; the Second Great Lesson, “The Coming of Life,” investigates how life came to earth (beginning with bacteria and continuing through mammals, but not yet including human life); the Third Great Lesson is called “The Coming of Humans” and tells how humans evolved and brought their gifts to the world. The Fourth Great Lesson is “The Coming of Language” and the Fifth Great Lesson is “The Coming of Numbers.” The Five Great Lessons are also directly linked to our peace curriculum. They begin, for example, with study on the grandest scale-the entire universe-and continues as the focus becomes more and more specific, ending with humans and their history. The objective of these lessons is to nurture gratitude within the children-gratitude for the environment, for the people around them, for the people who came before us and for the opportunities we all will have to make the world a better, more peaceful place. We believe that gratitude is the basis for finding peace-both within our community and ourselves. A child who feels this gratitude and peace is open to learning new things with a tremendous passion and energy.
We don’t give tests. As Dr. Maria Montessori said, “Our aim is not only to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core.” We believe that the purpose of education should be to inspire a lifelong love of learning and that testing can seriously impede the development of this love within the child. Additionally, we question the validity of tests as an accurate measure of ability or knowledge. Without the artificial deadline of a test, students are free to explore ideas and concepts for as long as they need to fully understand them. Instead of using tests as a measure of student achievement or ability, our teachers closely observe the students as they work and keep detailed notes and records of where each student is within the Montessori elementary curriculum. Throughout the year the children will be saving their work in their classroom portfolio. At the end of the year the teacher and student collaborate in selecting pieces from the year to bind into a progressive, chronological portfolio. This allows everyone to easily view the child’s growth and achievements through the year. Our teacher truly know each student as an individual and have an in-depth knowledge of their academic abilities-both areas of strength and those that need further attention.
A central tenet of our Montessori philosophy is that the world is an important classroom-or laboratory- for the elementary child. We don’t assign homework for several reasons. First, we encourage our students to spend time with their families. This can be time at home, learning the work of running a household and enjoying each other’s company; time exploring the world through family outings and trips; and time spent engaging in sports activities. Additionally, the materials used in the Montessori elementary classroom are unique and specialized. They are usually multisensory (that is, they are tactile, visual and even auditory), so there are difficulties replicating the experience of these materials at home. And, finally, the benefits usually derived from homework (self-discipline, time managements skills and the repetition of key concepts) are developed in our elementary classroom as students decide how to balance their time between their various academic subjects. They keep records of where they are within each curriculum and make plans with their teachers each day about how they will spend their time.