Curriculum ~ Lower Elementary
The study of geography is broken down into two subsections: (a) physical geography and (b) political geography. However, the Montessori approach to education has a connectedness between all areas of the curriculum. One area ties into another while the door is opened to a different, yet related component.
Physical and political geography blend together as the teacher presents a lesson on the Fundamental Needs of People. It demonstrates that all people have the same fundamental needs and places an emphasis on the similarities among the human race. Children are taught to respect people from other races, countries, and religions. The geographical factors influence how people live as they adjust to their environment.
At this point, the teacher involves the class in a study of life and culture on earth. The curriculum then branches into different directions, such as: (a) geography, (b) culture, and (c) history. Children are taught history parallel to the concept of time. Discussions and further studies include paleontology and archaeology, and still further back through time to the beginning of time, or the creation of the universe. The cycle is complete.
Also, the lessons of the universe are related to the Montessori philosophy of Cosmic Education. It begins with the creation of the universe. This plants another seed of knowledge. The child begins to assemble questions of: (a) spirituality, (b) morality, and (c) social consciousness. The Montessori presentations begin with the introduction of the whole subject first and followed by more detailed lessons. This concept helps the child to recognize that first he/she is a citizen of the world, and then a member of a country and society. They begin to realize that it is all connected to responsibility.
The Montessori philosophy of Cosmic Education would not be complete without the 3 year curriculum of the universe. By working with hands-on materials, and impressionistic stories of creation, the child develops a new sensitivity toward: (a) himself, (b) other people, and (c) the environment, or the Earth. The child develops a consciousness to respect and care for life and the environment, and to become a steward of the earth.
Geography is the study of Earth in all its diversity. When students study Geography, they learn how the physical arrangement of the Earth contributes to our history. Montessori Geography studies are integrated with history and science. We begin with general topics and progress to more specific concepts. Children learn about the development of the solar system, Earth’s land, water, plants, animals, and people.
Rather than provide route lessons with a lot of facts and information, Montessori Geography provides a hands-on approach that engages students. This helps children to develop new ways of thinking and sharpens their memory. Children learn how geological forces helped with the formations of oceans and the atmosphere. Thus, we explain continental drift and tectonic plates, volcanoes, earthquakes, ice ages, and the formation of mountain ranges. We also study the hydrosphere, which includes learning about oceans, rivers, lakes, and the water cycle. To study the lithosphere, land forms provide an understanding of the geographical features that distinguish each country.
Land and water globe represented in a miniature scale is used to recognize that Earth is shaped like a sphere. The continents and school globes help children develop map skills as they learn about the seven continents of the world. Puzzle, outline, and pin maps are used to allow students to identify continents, countries, oceans, and biomes that are the flora and fauna native to each continent.
Children receive detailed study of the United States. Within our Montessori studies, our students are taught to respect and take care of the environment and develop a foundation of global awareness.
The Montessori method of teaching math to Lower Elementary students is revolutionary. The curriculum takes the children from manipulating the concrete materials, to doing math in the abstract form with pencil and paper. Each work is sequenced so that the child builds upon a concept learned in the previous work. The child is taught division using the stamp game, so the concept of HOW division works is established first—the child can SEE how they are dividing up one number by another number, by manipulating the concrete material. It is only after the concrete materials are introduced and learned that the child moves to the abstract, computing in their head or using pencil and paper only.
One of the most interesting facets of this curriculum is the variety of materials available to learn the same concept. For example, addition, one of the first and most basic concepts taught in Lower Elementary Math, is usually initially taught using the golden beads, then using the stamp game, then the snake game and so on, until the process is completely understood. All of these materials provide the child the opportunity to learn addition. The same is true for subtraction, multiplication and division—there are several works that can be used for the same process until it is completely understood. Multiplication can be taught with the stamp game, then the bead frame, then the checkerboard, then the golden bead frame, each work adding a concept (such as an additional digit). If one particular work doesn’t capture the attention of a student, there surely is one that will. Fingercharts are used to aid in memorization of math facts, and makes what is usually a tedious duty, fun! Fractions and decimals also have specific, concrete works to guide the children in grasping these difficult concepts. The geometry materials, which include, but are certainly not limited to; the exploration and study of lines, angles and shapes, capture the attention of the children easily.
In the math curriculum, the child is given an isolated item to learn, one concept at a time so as to not overwhelm—to help the child maintain order and learn in a progressive fashion. If a child has not mastered one work, another one using the same concept is offered, so that by the time they are ready for the next step, success is ensured, which in turn makes the child feel happy, and proud of him or herself.
Reading is a critical skill in everything we do. The Montessori Reading curriculum is a unique balance of phonics and whole language. The elementary classroom supports activities that gear themselves naturally toward the development of reading, writing, and speaking. In our phonics program, the children are taught the specific soundsthat letters and groups of letters make. Montessori materials such as sound boxes, phonogram lists, word family cards, phonogram command cards, and phonetic reading books are used in a sequential manner to teach these skills. Whole language reading is based on books and materials that would be found in a library media center, classroom based library, and on Montessori language and grammar shelves. For example, the children use “leveled readers” to help promote reading fluency. These books are used individually or in reading groups, and are usually shorter books that are specific to a certain reading level. In this way, the children can choose books that fit their own level and interests. Leveled readers compliment our phonics reading approach, since the writing increases phonetic difficulty as the reading level goes up.
Our classrooms also rely on classic literature and Literacy Circles which focus on “content” over reading skills or phonics. In this approach, children are exposed to quality authors, quality writing, and “real-world” stories through fiction, nonfiction, plays, and poems. Reading comprehension, and critical thinking skills are fostered through group discussions, open-ended questions, and written responses. Supplemental reading also occurs with many Montessori “works”. The children frequently work with Grammar boxes, Sky Scrapers, dictionary research cards, S.R.A. Reading Laboratory stories, and SRA Specific Skills workbooks.
Personalized assessments are regularly provided to demonstrate student growth. Teachers consistently rearrange reading groups, and refine the guided instruction provided to the student.
The reading program goal is to foster a joy of reading, and to help all students develop personal strength and confidence in their abilities and in their reading skills.
The Montessori science curriculum comes alive with a host of hands-on projects and activities which encourage the children to explore and investigate. Our indoor science lab and our unique outdoor classroom provide children the opportunity to have concrete observations and direct contact with nature. These experiences cultivate children’s curiosity with the universe by allowing them to explore areas such as botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, mineralogy, and meteorology. Individual classrooms are set up with interest centers that are filled with intriguing science materials such as artifacts, zoological specimens, grow-labs, microscopes, life-cycle models, and other hands-on Montessori materials. A view inside the classroom may include: self-directed experiments on solid, liquid, and gas; children watching seedlings develop into plants and recording data, students using 3-part-cards (science nomenclature) to classify plants and animals, children using models to study the planets, or children researching a topic of interest. These activities will then be extended to our outdoor classroom or on field-trips where the students can gain more knowledge about their discoveries.
The subject of science is an integral part of our curriculum that supports the Montessori goal of fostering a child’s understanding and stewardship for the earth. Learning science has the potential to instill a lifelong interest in observing nature and discovering more about our connection to the world.
Writing is taught like any other subjects in our Lower Elementary Montessori classrooms with students learning concepts through lessons from their teachers. For example, students can add numbers when they are taught how to add, and after much practice, they feel confident when they add. From there they want to move on to higher levels of work after they master a skill. Writing is taught in this same logical step-by-step process. Students will progress as their mastery permits.
The students will be learning the writing process with the 6-Trait Writing goals that help each child become a strong and independent writer. The writing process steps are: prewriting (planning), writing a first draft, revising (improving the writing), editing (correcting for style and accuracy), and publishing (sharing the writing with others). The students will learn that by following these steps, they will produce a high quality of writing.
6-Trait Writing is a logical approach via looking at writing one trait at a time. Focusing on one trait at a time helps writing activities become more manageable and interesting. With practice, the children can learn to be more critical of their own writing and can make improvements in the quality of their writing. 6-Trait Writing includes Ideas, Organization, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Voice, and Conventions. The students also are exposed to many different types of writing – expository, descriptive, journal, persuasive, and poetry.
“Words are the building blocks of my world.” –Kaylee Schuler (former student at DCS Montessori Charter School)