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One of the world’s national leaders—it was Gandhi—announced not long ago that education must become coextensive with life, and not only this, but he said that the central point of education must be the defense of life. - Maria Montessori
The Practical Life curriculum includes care-taking, respecting the environment, sewing, budgeting, and learning life lessons, such as respect for oneself and others, self-control, teamwork, and sharing. These things, when taken in totality, enable the students to feel comfortable taking control of their lives and feeling confident that they can handle many situations in the future.
Less obvious are the day-to-day practical life lessons that the students impart to each other or that they learn through daily class life. These lessons include how each person must respect others even when there is a conflict between them. That there are ways of saying a message respectfully and disrespectfully and that everyone is working together as a team so students must help each other in order to have a productive and successful day. Students also learn how to take care of conflicts between two other students by demonstrating conflict resolution skills acquired throughout their years in the Montessori classroom.
The underlying structure and order of the universe must be reflected in the classroom if the child is to internalize it, and thus build his own mental order and intelligence. - Paula Polk Lillard
Language comprises nearly every aspect of the Montessori classroom and pervades every work: from math problems to scientific researches to art, language is an integral part of every student’s day. The language curriculum begins with learning the sounds and names of the alphabet and then moving on to reading full books adapted for use of phonetic and sight readers. When ready, the students then move on to learning phonograms, the dictionary and the study of words. They also begin classifying the language into its grammatical parts, as well as analyzing and diagramming sentences.
Writing is also a very important part of the Montessori curriculum. The students begin by writing the daily message, but quickly learn that they can become authors by using what they are learning and what they know to write stories. Although the stories may start out with what they did that day, they gradually turn into what they might have done, or wish they had done; and finally, become something that is derived completely from their imagination.
Eventually, through the connections made across the curriculum, the students begin to see the relationships among words. For example, the geometric “octagon,” the mathematic “octillion,” the zoologic “octopus,” and the physic “unniloctinium” become a source of interest and then of research once discovered.
With their thorough grasp of the language, their ability to question and their confidence that no subject is too difficult, the Montessori classroom becomes a laboratory of exploration for each student with no limits and no barriers.
"The exercise which develops life, consists in the repetition, not in the mere grasp of an idea." - Maria Montessori
At the 6-9 level, the students have gone beyond the initial recognition and correspondence between symbol and quantity for numbers well into the thousands and are ready to begin exploring ever larger and more complex arithmetic concepts. The Lower Elementary classroom focuses mainly on providing a strong foundation, not only in the base 10 system, but also in the mathematic operations, fractions, algebra, telling time, and money.
Every advance made by the students is built on a solid foundation gained in their previous years and in the repetition that is always encouraged by the diverse and attractive materials. These materials serve as an aid in comprehension, a control of error, and a source to return to if certain concepts become too challenging. However, they also clearly delineate when a student is ready to leave the materials behind and work abstractly. It is up to the teacher, then, to see when the child’s level of development has reached its last ascent—that towards abstraction. At this time, the materials become a hindrance and are no longer used for that particular work. The child’s enthusiasm for the work remains and there continues to be the prolonged attention that leads to voluntary repetition.
Geometry is basic to both man-made and natural objects; therefore it is easily a natural part of any classroom. To learn and explore 90º angles, for example, opens up avenues of thought previously unknown to the students. They begin to see very familiar objects in a new way and are unstoppable in their efforts to find out even more about those things that they have only recently seen with eyes towards exploration and investigation.
Starting from the very first day, the students learn to classify the shapes of the metal insets they have been working with since pre-school. The shapes they know so well, such as the square, triangle and circle, are approached in a slightly new way at the elementary level by getting more in-depth into the types of these objects.
By the end of a Montessori student’s three years in the lower elementary classroom, he/she has been introduced to lines, angles, triangles, quadrilaterals, and polygons, as well as the more complex exploration of all these shapes. The students are now able to classify well-known objects in their environment with the additional ability to place that object in its historical, practical, or natural context. They can see beauty in both man-made and natural objects and can see the similarities between the two. Additionally, they are now able to appreciate their environment in a new way and to possibly feel as if they are not only a contributing part of it, but an essential one as well.
The history and geography curriculum in the 6-9 classroom makes it possible for students to conceive of a world outside of their own city and state. It also can create a desire to see the geographic features they learned about and to discover for themselves the impact that the ever-changing scientific discoveries have on the perception of history.
…the more the children know the more they will see and then the further they will walk. To explore, one needs to be filled with intellectual interests, and these it is our business to give. - Maria Montessori
The study of geography at the 6-9 level involves the study and exploration of the continents and oceans, the world’s geographic features, the world’s biomes, and the differences in language, food, religion, culture, holidays, flora, fauna and landscapes of six of the seven continents—with a modified study of Antarctica.
Whereas in the Pre-school classroom, the students focused on learning the geographic nomenclature, the elementary student is ready to explore each continent in-depth and write reports based on the political and natural characteristics of a chosen country.
We do not see only with our eyes, and culture is not made up of what we see alone. - Maria Montessori
History in the Lower Elementary classroom begins where cosmology and paleontology leave off—with man-made history. Beginning with the Needs of Man, the students learn about the changes made to various spiritual and materials needs across time. The exploration and discovery of the history of communication, homes, light, clothing, instruments and transportation are just a few of material needs that the students learn about. Spiritual needs, such as art, beauty and religion, are also explored by finding examples of these for different cultures and people.
"He absorbs the life going on about him and becomes one with it…" - Maria Montessori
The physical sciences involve the study of all non-living things on Earth. Students are fascinated by these sciences because, all together, they tell how the world works. Now, when the students ask “why?” they learn that there is an explanation for the many questions they have about the world around them. In the 6-9 year old classroom, these sciences include astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, geology, physics, and chemistry. From the very first lesson, the students learn the meanings of these words and all that is involved in the scope of their study.
As a whole, with the physical sciences, the students can experiment with their environment and become comfortable with the terminology and the study of those sciences. The students are not intimidated and, instead, feel confident in further exploring these sciences.
"We often forget that imagination is a force for the discovery of truth. The mind is not a passive thing, but a devouring flame, never in repose, always in action." - Maria Montessori
The study of living things, biology, is generally a fascination for students. It encourages curiosity in the world around them, which, in turn, promotes care and concern for that world. Students come in with a basic knowledge that there are animals and plants everywhere and they feel somewhat certain that they could recognize which is which, if necessary. By the time they leave the 6-9 classroom, they are aware that there are two more classifications than just the two they knew and they can recognize many life forms from each of the four kingdoms.
Additionally, the students are aware that some of the things they once thought of as rocks (coral) are animals; that things they may have thought of as plants (mushrooms) have their own kingdom (the Fungi); and, that one of the smallest animals in the world (amoeba) can only be seen through a microscope. This broadening awareness in their world helps shape the students’ perspective not only of themselves, but also of their place in the world.
ART, P.E., & MUSIC
The extra-curricular subject areas are a vital part of any Montessori classroom. Each of these “extra” courses, whether it is art, music, P.E., language studies, etc., has a role in providing the student a framework for him/her to develop and grow in any direction he/she wishes to go. In addition, much needed life lessons are begun in these courses, which can provide a foundation for each student to make wise, yet sometimes very difficult, choices now and in the future. Lessons such as teamwork, inclusivity, harmony, peace, etc., come across very clearly when the students are depending on it in order to, for example, complete a musical production.
From the Montessori perspective, each of these courses are so much a part of the actual “work” day that they are generally incorporated into the lesson in order to make them complete. With the combination of these courses, tolerance, sharing and giving comes across as not only possible, but necessary for the best work to be done.