By Emily Peters, Lower Elementary Teacher
A Montessori elementary environment prepared with the qualities of elementary children in mind makes life and learning a joy. Elementary students, whose physical characteristics include lost teeth, disheveled hair, and a more lanky appearance, possess certain psychological qualities as the basis for what Maria Montessori called Cosmic Education.
During their first plane of development, in primary classrooms, children absorb the environment through their senses. But during the second plane, in the elementary classroom, children understand how the components of the environment work together as they develop the capacity for abstract thought. What are the other key qualities of a Montessori elementary student?
You can see these characteristics in action inside a Montessori elementary classroom at Arbor. Teachers inspire students with Great Stories and lessons, while students use their minds, hands, and hearts to discover, create, and be of service to each other. Students learn and practice the social skills necessary to collaborate and compromise, and the time management and organizational skills needed to work independently. Students enjoy freedom of movement, make independent work choices, and gather needed materials for their group work.
Imagination and Storytelling
The defining quality of the second plane child is the imagination, so story-like lessons are appealing. Teachers use allegory and imagery in their Great Stories and reveal large charts and timelines engaging the children’s imaginations. For example, one impressionistic chart illustrates the story of photosynthesis as if the leaf were a food factory, and another chart gives the impression of what might happen if the earth did not rotate. Though not required, children like to recreate these charts at times.
After performing a scientific experiment that illustrates how hot air rises and cooler air rushes in to take its place, elementary students can imagine this taking place on a grand scale in the form of wind. An observer in an Elementary class sees the results of children’s creative intellect in dioramas, timelines, contraptions, miniature architecture, pottery and artwork related to what they have learned. Teachers encourage children to conceive an idea and work on it until it becomes a reality.
The Reasoning Mind
Another characteristic of the elementary child is the reasoning mind. To appeal to the reasoning mind, lessons begin with a question. As the lesson continues, the teacher continues to ask questions during the lesson instead of delivering information pedantically. Elementary children are allowed and encouraged to think for themselves; to explore and discover why, how, wherefore, and what. We want to develop their critical thinking skills for the future.
Children in the second plane are also constructing their social personalities. As they do, they develop a sense of morality. They become conscious of right and wrong, and learn what gifts they can offer their community. Montessori elementary environments create structures for harmony, such as a class contract written and agreed upon by the children. Students in a Montessori community spontaneously help others and defend their own rights, as well as the rights of others. Hero worship develops at this age, as they admire qualities in others who have made a difference in people’s lives.
We offer elementary students opportunities to go outside the classroom’s four walls to work in their community: interviewing local heroes or experts in their neighborhood; sharing their compassion and defending the rights of others through letter-writing and fundraising; or working at the local community food bank or assisted living residence.
The defining characteristic of an elementary class is group work. At this age, children possess what Montessori called a “herd instinct” and often form groups based on common interests. Teachers deliberately foster opportunities for collaboration. It is developmentally appropriate that lessons are presented to small groups of children with varying abilities and ages. Before leaving the lesson, the children decide which groups will work together and each group’s tasks.
Students energize each other intellectually, help one another, and take responsibility for their group. Even a perfectionist must become friendly with error by engaging with others, rather than working alone and insisting others are not up to their standards. Beautiful hand-rendered work requires time. If group work ends in one big product, a healthy discussion ensues about who will keep the final product.
Children practice collaborating, communicating, defending positions, persuading others, delegating, and learning to compromise. Group work allows children to stretch their mental strength and develop tenacity, persistence, dedication, and a love of work.
The elementary program offers your child an unparalleled opportunity for growth in this new period of life. Imaginative, social, and creative, the elementary child needs an environment with appropriate freedom and limitations, an expansive curriculum to support their curiosity, and teachers who will prepare them for the challenges of the future. When they learn to believe in themselves and their abilities, they will do their very best for a lifetime.