Elementary Curriculum

The Montessori Elementary Curriculum (6-12): Dr. Montessori called her plan for the elementary student “Cosmic Curriculum.”  “Cosmic” in this case means comprehensive, holistic, and purposeful.  The goals of the elementary curriculum go beyond skill development and knowing facts to the development of the whole person; socially, emotionally, and academically. It has been observed that children who complete the Lower and Upper elementary curricula have a clear understanding of the natural world, of human knowledge, and of themselves.

Lower and Upper Elementary Areas of Study

  • Geography and Physical Science
  • Biology
  • History and Social Studies
  • Language and Mathematics

Lower Elementary Curriculum

In the Lower Elementary classes, the children work more concretely, with more reliance on the Montessori materials.  In this second plane of development the 6 – 9 year-old child is seeking independence, confidence, responsibility, and emotional intelligence.  In the Lower Elementary classroom each child is prepared to make responsible decisions and actions; to recognize limits and give, ask for, and receive help, as needed.

Upper Elementary Curriculum

The Upper Elementary curriculum serves a more independent and capable learner.  The 9 – 12 year-old child’s mind is maturing and becoming more capable of undertaking ambitious, multiple-step projects requiring collaboration with his or her peers.

The Upper Elementary lead teacher becomes more and more a consultant to each child, helping them organize and find resources…

Austin Montessori School, 2014

  • The Great Lessons
  • Key Lessons
  • The Prepared Environment
  • Balanced Literacy
  • Going Out of the Classroom
  • Peace Table
  • Grace and Courtesy

The Great Lessons are the introductory lessons that set the stage for the three-year cycle in lower and upper elementary and provide a “big picture” to demonstrate how the sciences, art, history, language and geography are interrelated.  The five Great Lessons are an important and unique part of the Montessori curriculum that are designed to be exciting and awaken a child’s imagination, curiosity and wonder of creation. Often the Great Lessons are used to paint a broad picture before moving to specific areas of study.

First Great Lesson

(Dubinsky, 2010)  (montessorisynergies.com)

The Beginning: The first great lesson shares stories of the origins of the universe and our planet, Earth.  Teachers use impressionistic charts and scientific experiments to tell and show the basic physical properties of matter.  This first great lesson serves to create the background story or foundational knowledge of the study of physics, chemistry, astronomy, and geology.

Second Great Lesson

The Time Line of Life:  This time line shows the beginnings of life on planet Earth from the simplest organisms through the appearance of human beings.  The origin of life is presented, with each organism a contributor to a vast system of life and how it interacts and relies upon the physical properties of Earth to survive and create.

Third Great Lesson

The Coming of Humans: This timeline focuses on the development of humans from the earliest beings through the use of tools.

Fourth Great Lesson

The History of Language:  This is the story of the origins of language, writing and communication, and humans’ incredible ability to commit their thoughts to paper.

Fifth Great Lesson

The History of Mathematics: This lesson involves the use of mathematics as an example or expression of a more refined human mind. It discusses human interdependency, including the shared needs of humans.

In the Montessori classroom the lessons are called key lessons. There are over 4,000 key lessons in the lower elementary curriculum and the upper elementary curriculum.  The difference between a key lesson and a lesson in a traditional public school is the students in the Montessori classroom gather in small groups of three to five and sometimes just a single student is taught a lesson.  In a traditional public school all students, up to 28, typically gather for the same lesson.  Another difference is the teacher is telling the key lesson from memory using pictures, charts, books, and the materials of the curriculum to teach from.  Montessori students do not typically have text books.  Instead of textbooks, Coastal Montessori Charter School students use composition notebooks, folders with brads and student journals.

After a student is introduced to a new key lesson the student is asked to practice this lesson by himself and sometimes with a classmate.  Practicing the work and replicating what the lead teacher demonstrated allows the child to think and act out the concept.  This practice leads to mastery, which then allows the student to become the teacher for other students.  Teaching a lesson allows the student to think critically about the lesson because the student they are teaching will have questions and want to know why.  This is a great way to challenge the student to be resourceful as well as a knowledge seeker.

The prepared environment is unique to a Montessori school.  In a Montessori classroom the teacher is asked to be a scientist who prepares the environment and the child.  A prepared environment is a work of art.  Each lead teacher places materials on nearly 20 shelves.  The materials are set on the shelves in order based on content area, Math, Language, Geography, as well as complexity.  Every item on the shelf is placed so the child may easily access it.  Materials are at the child’s level, labeled to make sense to the child, and stored in baskets or drawers in order to keep the work separate and self-contained.

Teachers will change the environment throughout the year in order to keep materials rotating, which keeps the curriculum novel and interesting for the students.  The cultural shelves, in particular, are changed regularly as are the science shelves in order to provide a variety of experiences for the student.

The teacher is second to the environment in a Montessori classroom.  The goal of the teacher is to connect the child with the environment and to reduce any obstacles the environment is presenting, in order to enable the child to interact with the environment freely and with purpose. Below is a quote from the founder of Austin Montessori in Texas, Donna Bryant Goertz, serving students the Montessori way for nearly a half century.  She is a respected visionary, Montessori voice, and teacher with a unique perspective on children who are not yet peaceful, the title of her 2001 book on social development in the classroom.  She once said to CMCS Director Dr. Hunt that in relation to classroom management and discipline she worries about the child doing the bullying as much if not more than the child being bullied.  She is committed to looking at children who are not yet peaceful as normal, meaning misbehavior is normal.  Instead of naming the misbehavior we should observe the child and determine the need that is not being met causing the negative expression we name misbehavior.

Donna Bryant Goertz

To the degree that I work through the environment, I tend to give support. To the degree that I work directly on the child, I tend to present an obstacle. Relationship is the most potent offering I can make to the child. The highest relationship I can offer the child is to observe him and link him to the environment.

Donna Bryant Goertz

Coastal Montessori Charter School is committed to ensuring the lessons given are not only authentically Montessori they are also aligned with Common Core standards.  Reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade is both a charter goal of CMCS and a goal of the South Carolina Department of Education.  Lead and assistant teachers facilitated shared, guided, and independent practice in both reading and writing.  The goal of Balanced Literacy is to explicitly teach students strategies that will increase students reading fluency, writing fluency, as well as comprehension.  Lower Elementary lead teachers and assistants use Running Records to capture a child’s independent reading fluency and comprehension.  By listening to students read and marking down what strategies each child knows and uses while they read tells leads and assistants what they need to introduce and practice with the child to improve the child’s fluency and comprehension.  The Running Record score for all Lower Elementary students will always be shared on the three Progress Reports throughout the year.  Wordly Wise is used in the Upper Elementary classrooms to enhance students’ vocabulary development.  The goal of Wordly Wise is improve students’ written and oral communication.

Lower Elementary classrooms use leveled readers to build students confidence as readers.  The goal of leveled readers is to give students a book that is at their level of development.  Young readers have fewer words and more pictures to support the child’s understanding of the vocabulary, characters, and plot. Spellwell is used in the Lower Elementary classroom to support spelling development and syntax or the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences.

Upper Elementary classrooms use book clubs to introduce students to good literature and how to think and question when reading a chapter book with many characters and a more complicated story line.  Book clubs allow students to read in smaller groups and share in the story.  Different people have different perspectives on the events of a story and the meaning behind each.  Book clubs foster intelligent conversations about emotions, challenges, successes, and existence.

Students of elementary age develop varied interests.  Each student’s passionate pursuit of understanding leads her or him out into the world to experience things first hand.  Coastal Montessori Charter School supports students when they ask if they can organize a mini-field trip for a handful of students studying the same concept.  For example, if one child was trying to determine the flora and fauna of the marsh, instead of reading about it in a book she could ask the lead teacher to organize a Going Out to Hobcaw Barony with a scientist well-versed in the inhabitants of the marsh terrain.

The elementary age child must be given real situations in which to exercise will and judgment.  Moreover, in order for the child to have a sufficiently rich experience of the world and sufficiently rich body of experience, it is necessary that much of the child’s learning take place outside of the classroom.

Austin Montessori School

Living through several wars, Dr. Montessori’s development of the Montessori teaching method sprung from her conviction that peace was the ultimate goal of humanity. She was a champion of peace and civil rights and was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Maria Montessori

Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.

Dr. Maria Montessori

Each CMCS classroom has a peace table.  The purpose of the peace table is to promote peaceful communication even at a time of difference.  Students are able to bring a problem to each other peacefully by sitting around a low lying table with a sand timer.  Each person around the peace table has two minutes to tell his or her side of the story.  After two minutes are up the next person shares and so on until each person has told his or her story just once, without repetition.  An adult initially mediates these peace table talks helping to restate some of students’ stories, ask questions, and facilitate a resolution.  A mediation is also available on the peace table.  It is color-coded and provides each participant in the conversation words they can use to communicate without judgment and come to a healthy solution each child agrees is fair.  Over time, the goal is for students to bring a problem, communicate it, and mediate a healthy solution without an adult needing to be present to facilitate.

Manners are taught and practiced at Coastal Montessori Charter School.  Being of good character makes for a more balanced-psychology as well as a more peaceful community.  Lead and assistant teachers show each child how to be a good friend, a caretaker of the environment and nature, as well as a motivated learner.  Grace and courtesy lessons include teaching children how to appropriately ask if they can play or join the group or help with the research project.  Grace and courtesy are also an awareness of our actions and words, selecting choice words we know are supportive over words that are destructive.  It is working through a problem and honoring the process as opposed to isolating either the problem or the people involved.