The Elementary Environment
The Elementary Montessori program offers an exciting research-based style of learning that fosters the development of core academic skills, independent work and study habits, and cooperative work and social skills. Elementary children work in small groups on a variety of projects which spark the imagination and engage the intellect. The appetite of children at this age to understand the universe and their place in it directs the elementary work toward all aspects of culture.
Elementary studies include geography, biology, history, language arts, mathematics in all its branches, science, music, and art. Exploration of each area is encouraged through trips outside the classroom to community resources. This inclusive approach to education fosters a feeling of connectedness to all humanity and encourages the natural desire to make contributions to the world.
The Elementary Program provides both lower (1st through 3rd grade) and upper (4th through 6th grade) elementary curriculum. Within the overall elementary curriculum, the distinction between the two levels is less about the materials and more about the changing expectations, responsibilities and experiences, and a deepening of understanding as the student matures.
The open class work cycle is one of the most important components of the Montessori classroom. Students need adequate time to research, explore, and analyze in order to nurture the drive to learn and to achieve the greatest depth of knowledge which are, ultimately, the goals of a Montessori education. Montessori Academy of Naples preserves and protects the sanctity of the children’s work cycle in several ways including: use of Association Montessori International standards for guidance regarding outings, whole group projects, and use and access of outside resources both within the classroom and in the greater community; careful scheduling of activities such as art and physical education so they enhance rather than interrupt the work cycle; and valuing the role of consistent and timely attendance in supporting and maximize learning.
All children are dynamic learners. This is true of very young children, from infant to age six, who explore and absorb everything around them through all their senses. Very young children are content to repeat the same activity again and again to gain a skill. Very young children want to know the name of everything and accept the answers given. While elementary children have entered a different plane of development, dynamic interaction with the environment continues. There are, however, some noticeable differences. Elementary children want to know why and how something came to be. They want more than names. They want to know about the world and the universe, not just their classroom and their home. They are no longer content with repetition but seek variety. They are no longer readily assuaged by an adult’s answers but are willing to work hard to find their own answers.
Dr. Maria Montessori recognized the tremendous potential these innate characteristics housed in terms of learning. This drive to explore further, to question and to seek answers is the natural fuel for education and growth. In a Montessori setting, it is the driving force within the curriculum. The interests and energy of the child are used to teach everything from reading and writing, to math and science, to art, literature and music; hence, the research-based nature of the Montessori elementary program.
The structure of the environment is the key. Environment encompasses not only the physical environment, i.e. the materials and the curriculum, but also the social structure, expectations, and a schedule that maximizes opportunities to develop core academic skills, encourages research and exploration of areas of interest, and as well as study habits, for independent study and the development of work habits and . This structure includes the multi-aged group setting that allows for peer teaching, mentoring opportunities, and leadership development. Children often spur each other’s interest and development by sharing their own experiences and thoughts both socially and academically.
It is the role of the adult to prepare an environment conducive to learning. There are physical materials to manipulate that teach foundational skills and concepts in math, science, grammar, penmanship, etc… Indeed, all fundamental curriculum areas are represented with opportunity to practice skills in isolation for later incorporation into the student’s research. Conversely, the need to develop a specific skill may arise through the student’s exploration of a topic and their desire to represent their new-found knowledge in a particular manner.
Another key element of the prepared environment is the presentation of a series of stories called “The Great Lessons”. It is through the Great Lessons that the world is presented to the elementary child. These stories allow the child to experience the enormity of the universe and then slowly begin to explore the smaller parts that make up our world. Through these carefully designed presentations, language, math, history, geography, biology, etc… all the academic elements are introduced to the child in a way that sparks imagination and curiosity.
Community is another fundamental element in the Montessori elementary environment. The elementary student thrives on cooperative work. From the gathering of the group to fulfill a common goal such as planning and fundraising for an outing , to pairing with a others to study a common interest, extending into ones peer group and community is essential. Being actively involved within your classroom, your school, your neighborhood, or your local community, builds confidence and an awareness of social responsibility. It is empowering to realize your contributions, your efforts, and your work matter on a scale grander than yourself.