“The beauty of the elementary years in a Montessori school is that the curriculum is geared to the sensitivities of the children, rather than to the demands of the adults.”*
At Village Montessori School at Bluemont (VMS), the Montessori Elementary program provides learning experiences and activation that nurture the older child’s sense of wonder, appealing to their expanding interests, and support the sensitive periods of the elementary child so often ignored.
If the idea of the universe is presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest; it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying.
Elementary Montessori is different in many ways from the experience of the early childhood program. It is designed to meet the changing intellect and personality of children of ages six to twelve. While different, elementary Montessori is built upon the foundation of the earlier years. This is the time when we see Montessori children begin to blossom into “joyful scholars.”*
“It is self-evident that the possession of and contact with real things brings, above all, a real quantity of knowledge. Instruction becomes a living thing. Instead of being illustrated, it is brought to life. Experience is a key for the instruction given inside the school.
There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all of the life to be found around them in a real forest.”*
– Dr. Maria Montessori
The Foundation and Focus of the Elementary Curriculum
Maria Montessori and Mario Montessori designed the Elementary ‘cosmic curriculum’ to be the foundation of the elementary years. This curriculum was designed to answer the “Who Am I?” question. Montessori believed that “the elementary age is the sensitive period for Cosmic Education” (Duffy, Children 22). It is during the second plane of development, which is between the ages of six and twelve that “the child needs to enlarge his field of action” (Montessori, Childhood 3). During this time, “the need for abstraction and intellectual activity makes itself known” (Montessori, Childhood 5). Also, the child experiences “a turning toward the intellectual and moral sides of life” (Montessori, Childhood 5). The elementary child is in his sensitive period to answer the question posed by Maria and Mario Montessori in their cosmic curriculum.
Montessori approached the cosmic task by telling stories. Therefore, she and Mario developed the five great lessons. These five great lessons aid the child in answering the “Who Am I?” question. This question can be broken into three sub-questions: “Who am I?, Where am I going?, and Why am I here?” (Duffy, Children 5). Part of the presentation of the five great lessons involves “story and study” (Duffy, Children 34). The guide or teacher tells a story that sparks the interest of the child to research a specific topic. Along with research, science experiments and lessons are integrated into the story telling of the five great lessons. Montessori believed that it was important to “sow the seeds of the sciences” during the child’s elementary years “when a sort of sensitive period for the imagination exists” (Montessori, Childhood 23). Also, the great lessons help a child make sense of the universe. Montessori believed that “if the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying” (Montessori, Educate 6).
The Sensitive Periods of the Elementary Child:
- Justice & Morality – Children are extremely concerned about right, wrong and fairness. They love being involved in problem-solving and discussions that revolve around rules and fairness in the classroom community. “Class Meetings” provide an important forum for these discussions.
- Social Relationships – During the elementary years, children make much deeper friendships and explore relationships. They work and learn, together, to run the class, master new skills, and complete team projects in which they discover each other’s ways of contributing to the group.
- Money & Economic Value – Elementary students begin to study economics and create their own small businesses. They learn how to set goals, earn money, and spend wisely.
- Abstract Use of the Imagination – Elementary Montessori students expand their learning through the use of their imaginatioms. They often stage re-enactments of events they have studied, or create imaginary places with climate, plants, animals, shelter, and clothing that would be present there.
- Use of Tools & Machines – They may create tools to accomplish necessary tasks, just as people did long ago. The laws of physics are put into practice as children work with pulleys, levers, and other types of machines.
- History & Time – During the elementary years, children become much better able to understand time. Using their imagination, they are able to explore and understand events.
- Human Culture & Membership in the Human Family – Elementary children study other cultures from the perspective of the common needs of humans. They investigate the ways that different people meet their needs for shelter, food, clothing, spiritual development, beauty, and protection.
- A Sense of How the World Works – Elementary children are intensely interested in scientific principles. They experiment, using these principles, to find out how the world works, and begin to discover the natural order to things.”*
*Used by permission, from Joyful Scholars: Montessori for the Elementary Years by The Montessori Foundation.