In the child’s seventh year, there is a passage from a sensorial experience of the world in which absorption, exploration and eventually classification of the relationships between concrete objects shifts outward. The gaze widens toward a more abstract, intellectual plane of understanding. The child becomes orientated toward discovery and investigation at a level that is deeper, more essential and more cosmic in nature.
This notion of a cosmic education is the keystone in a Montessori Elementary program. By cosmic we mean the idea of connecting one’s inner life to a relationship with the universe outside ourselves. The purpose is to develop, through a holistic, enquiry-based education, an open, interested and generous spirited person who can conceive of the endless possibilities that exist within the elements and forces of nature from the smallest atom to the vastness of the universe and to foster the creative expression of human ideals.
This is also the point at which the social creature really emerges from the soul of the child and peer groups become an extended family. In a small school setting, these friendship circles are keenly felt and may last a long time. Together, this little group begins to explore the outside world in “going outs” and widens their experience in community settings in each other’s company. It is here that the importance of a richly furnished prepared environment will guide these relationships in a positive direction. At the same time, the child’s internal compass seeks to find an orientation to the world that is just and fair. This concept takes paramount importance and forms the bedrock of an education of character, so it is important to give it due consideration within the discourse of a child’s education at this age. To summarize, the central underlying tendencies in development now include:
- an inclination to break from a closed environment and seek outside relationships and interests
- the passage of the mind into the realm of the abstract
- an orientation of the self toward a moral code
So what happens in a lower elementary classroom? Since Montessori seeks to be entirely answerable to spotlights in child development, this period is dedicated to fostering cultural literacy. From their casa experience, children arrive well prepared for literacy and numeracy. They are reasonably fluent and capable of working collaboratively or individually and are now free to develop their research skills. Fundamental skills and core knowledge are built upon in mathematics, science, grammar, geography, and history however much of the work is framed within Dr. Montessori’s Five Great Lessons which explore the cultural aspects of human development. These include:
- The Coming of the Universe and the Earth– This is the first presentation to a child and it rolls out over months to encompass a vast array of scientific topics such as: astronomy, meteorology, matter and chemistry, physics (eg magnetism, electricity, friction, motion, energy), geology (minerals, rocks, landforms, volcanoes, earthquakes, ice ages, eras), and geography (maps, latitude/longitude, landforms).
- The Coming of Life (eg. biology, botany, habitats, fossils, classification)
- The Coming of Human Beings (“a mind to imagine, a heart to love, a hand to work”) uses the timeline of human history, exploration of the arts, social studies, discovery and invention, technology and epochs and eras in human life
- Communication in Signs (alphabets, languages, myths, poetry, musical forms and literary analysis and composition)
- The Story of Numbers (continued work on all four operations, algebra, statistical analysis, scientific notation, geometry, patterning, money, application of equations and budgeting and reconciliation of the class bank)
Intertwined and interdependent, these lessons provide a framework upon which presentations are layered and research is undertaken throughout the child’s elementary experience.
This year, Holly and Katherine will co-teach Lower and Upper Elementary in a newly renovated shared space which includes a science lab and space for expansions to the biome curriculum, art and cultural studies. The children will also continue to be tutored in visual art, storytelling, vocal and instrumental music and drama each week. Fridays are dedicated to scientific study with mornings in High Park and afternoons in the classroom.
A Day in Lower Elementary
Children in Lower Elementary complete a set of daily tasks which include follow up work in each subject area. When they arrive in the morning, students review their plan for the day with their teachers then begin to work independently right away. Teachers move through the room presenting new work individually or in groups in all subject areas and children are expected to complete follow up assignments that are either on the shelf or developed in collaboration with their peers. Tasks are completed to mastery as opposed to marked and this is undertaken at the child’s own pace. All students have weekly poetry recitations and spelling tests to complete as well. Larger projects on human civilizations, biomes and scientific topics are assigned throughout the term to the group and work on these is reviewed with the class in conference at the end of the day. Going out plans, the class bank, and issues of personal concern or group dynamics are also reviewed at this time.
Students are encouraged to follow their interests in research both individually and in small groups. They collect information, assimilate it into “reports” (poems, dioramas, hand made books, diagrams, plays and inventions are all examples of “reports”). They then present/teach what they have learned to their peers and teachers. Sometimes the information is gathered from books, sometimes through primary research or experimentation and at other times through “going outs” where children venture out into the community to do portrait sketching at the AGO or visit a farmers’ market to talk to the honey-seller about the pollinator crisis. On Fridays, we spend the morning in the forests of High Park doing studies in botany and zoology.
Upper Elementary Program
Upper Elementary is meant to be a collaborative and largely self-directed experience. Students develop a weekly work plan and check in with their teachers regularly but the dynamic is more collegial than prescriptive.Their sense of wonder and curiosity has been actively fostered since the age of two so by the age of ten, the questions are bigger, their scope of understanding has widened and more “field time” is required. At this point, the work the students are undertaking has grown outside of the materials in the classroom and the role of the teacher is to facilitate and guide them in principle while they grow their understanding and analysis of their topic. Orchard’s focus on the natural sciences really comes together here with expert tuition from the field, dissections, and larger scale gardening projects that create a practical context for study.
Critical thinking skills and group work are highly stressed as the development of character is our key objective. At this point in their education, children are expected to complete and present work to the class in all culture subjects on a regular basis however, they set their own timelines and are responsible for meeting them. They are graded for the depth of understanding and presentation of their work. Their geometry portfolios, math books and spelling lists and grammar exercises are reviewed weekly. This year, they will also participate in a number of workshops that relate to the peace curriculum and will be required to log volunteer hours.