Elementary Class Curriculum
Ages 6 to 12 years; Grades 1—6
Cosmic Education is the name Maria Montessori gave to her plan for the education of the second-plane child (ages six or seven through twelve.) She envisioned a coherent introduction to all human knowledge and culture, designed to help the children explore the universe and find their unique places in it.
This plan is unified by a series of "Great Stories" which introduce the overall scope to the child. There are 5 Great Stories, as well as lesser stories in each of the major content areas, including art, music and the atrium. Montessori believed that storytelling was an ideal way to introduce knowledge to elementary children, engaging both their imaginations and their developing powers of reason. The 5 Great Stories are:
- The God Who Has No Hands: An introduction to the creation of the universe as a framework for geography and Earth sciences;
- The Coming of Life: An introduction to the processes of life as a framework for biology;
- The Story of Human Beings: An introduction to prehistory and history;
- The Story of Our Alphabet: An introduction to oral and written language;
- The Story of Our Numerals: An introduction to mathematics.
All of these stories are accompanied by illustrations and charts, and many by scientific demonstrations. They are all told to the children in the first months of their elementary experience, and so are re-told each year to the returning children. They provide principles and images that help children build a context for the knowledge they acquire throughout the six-year elementary program
The Great Stories provide a context for all of the specific lessons, experiences, and projects in which the child will engage during her six years in the elementary program.
In the Montessori approach to language, the emphasis is on communication, whether oral, written, or even nonverbal. Language is a subject of exploration in itself and is also the vehicle for the transmission of all of Cosmic Education.
We use language studies to nurture competence in all children in the many areas of communication and self-expression. The adult's role in teaching language is to prepare the environment to be rich in language materials and experiences to guide children in a range of areas such as grammar, research, varied forms and genres of oral and written language, language as self-expression and foreign language study. The adult serves as a model for good spoken and written language and conveys their own fascination with the beauty and power of language.
Mathematics and Geometry
Math in the Montessori Elementary program is designed to encourage the child's self-construction and autonomous discovery, while introducing the sum of human endeavor in the field of mathematics. The role of the adult is to introduce materials for concepts, procedures, and nomenclature, then leave space for the children to work out their own discoveries and deep understanding. The approach brings three main areas of math to the children: arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. A unique emphasis on geometry in the elementary years helps introduce children to the logical processes and nomenclature used in algebra. An array of remarkable materials (far to numerous to list) brings each of these areas to life allowing children to discover the inner workings of the math procedures that they explore.
History is woven throughout cosmic education. It is never presented as simply a series of events or dates, but as a record of humanity's interaction with the universe. We begin with pre-history; the creation of the universe, the beginning and development of life on Earth, the development of pre-historic human cultures. We continue by trying to understand each culture in the light of its common fundamental needs and its unique gifts, what people from each culture have done to make life better for us and for humanity. We focus on gratitude to those who have gone before, both known and unknown, and on positive human contributions, without hiding challenges and human failures. Timelines, research, and hands-on projects are common vehicles for this area of study.
Geography (which includes Physical Science)
In Cosmic Education, geography is the study both of the natural world and of what people have done with it in order to meet their needs. It deals with the Earth itself, its place in the universe, its divisions, such as continents and countries, and the climate, natural resources, inhabitants and industries of its various divisions. Montessori geography is also a vision of the universe, and of the place of the child in that universe. Therefore we cover the usual physical, political, and economic geography, but also much more; topics such as Earth science, space science, and the interdependence of people and their environment are included in our geography program. Scores of materials and experiences comprise this inquiry-based approach to geography and science.
Life sciences are introduced through stories of plants, animals and the human body, and through stories of integrated ecosystems. Experiments and demonstrations form many of hte lessons in biology, with further research and experimentation encouraged by hands-on materials. Plants and animals in the classroom environment lead to observation and descriptive work, often done in great detail. Another emphasis in Montessori elementary biology is the introduction of scientific nomenclature and classification for the plant and animal kingdoms.
The foundation laid in the Primary classroom in the areas of art continues to expand and deepen for Elementary aged children. As their competency increases, new and varied art media are introduced that the children can incorporate into other areas of their work. If a group of children write an original play, that same group may design and create the set to enhance that play. A child who learns to knit may create a "prayer shawl" to give to another who is in need of care. A child who is fascinated with Chinese culture, may explore Chinese calligraphy or watercolor. Art history and appreciation of varied artists are also common lessons. Art includes growing in self-expression as well as the appreciation of art as a gift in our world.
Like art in general, music, including music theory, self-expression, and appreciation of others' music expands in the Elementary program. Singing, percussion, listening to various genres and artists continues and grows in complexity. A Montessori material, the Tone Bars, is introduced to give the older child facility with the "language" of music. It provides the basics of ear training, composition by ear and music theory, as well as movement to music and music appreciation. Coupled with the Moveable Alphabet of Music and musical nomenclature materials, the Tone Bars are also used to introduce notation, with children reading and writing down music, including their own compositions. Older children often delight in performance of vocal and/or instrumental music, and often focus particular effort on performance pieces for our school-wide liturgies and other community events.
All elementary children participate in a varied physical education program two afternoons a week with their class. Each year holds a variety of sports, games, exercises and physical experiences. In addition, children may choose to engage in numerous physical activities at any time during the daily work period. It is not uncommon to see an individual child or small group of children practicing yoga, juggling, or perfecting hop scotch in the hallway outside their classroom.