Lower Elementary (1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades)
Dr. Maria Montessori developed an expansive, enticing curriculum which flows from, builds upon, and adds to many of the skills learned in the Montessori primary (3 to 6 year old) classroom. She seems to have left no stone unturned when she developed lessons in language, math, geometry, history, geography, physical science, life science, the arts, practical life, and peace education. A description of the classroom is helpful before going into more detail about the curriculum covered.
Like the Montessori primary classroom, the Lower Elementary class is a multiage classroom. It is for children age 6 to 9 years old, corresponding in age to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. Children each have their own special abilities and aptitudes which can be developed in the classroom because, by its nature, the classroom is set up for children to develop at their own pace and follow their own interests. Underlying the desires of the child is the triad, or three-fold structure, of the prepared teacher, the prepared environment, and the normalized child.
The prepared teacher is a teacher who has received training in the Montessori philosophy and curriculum through a recognized teacher-training center. It is the teacher’s job to know the lessons and how to present them, observe the children, and introduce lessons for which the children are ready. Dr. Montessori called her teachers guides or directresses. The teacher has the responsibility of noticing what interests the children. The teacher also tries to make lessons children may not like as enticing as possible.
The prepared environment is one which is equipped with the manipulatives (hands on materials) developed by Maria Montessori. It is also an environment in which the spirit of the child is respected.
In order to do a lesson, children go to a shelf, get a lesson and work on it. Then they have a teacher check their work, and correct it if necessary. Then they put it away. Children choose their next lesson. Lessons are done individually, in small groups, or as a whole group (entire classroom) lesson. Reading out loud, reading comprehension, and math are especially individualized. Some lessons such as geometry or compound words are presented to small groups, often divided by grade level, to allow for effective classroom management.
A “normalized child” is a term originated by Dr. Montessori which means a child who is responsible for his or her own learning and responds in a positive way to the opportunities of the classroom. It is a child who is absorbed in his or her work. It is a child who learns with willing interest. These children are able to be independent within the prepared environment. Often, they are children who already have experience in the Montessori classroom because they were in a 3 to 6 year old class.
In lower elementary language work, the children work in reading out loud with Rigby Readers. They do reading comprehension work, usually daily. Other lessons include: handwriting; writing and journaling; research; phonograms to learn the sounds of the English language; grammar, including all the parts of speech (noun, verb, conjunction, etc.); sentence diagramming and sentence elements (subject, predicate, direct object); spelling word study (compound words, suffixes, prefixes); punctuation; alphabetizing; and syllables work. Language is a huge area!
In mathematics, children learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide whole numbers. Near the end of lower elementary, children learn multiplication with partial products and are usually introduced to long division. In fraction work, children work with fractions of like denominators. They learn to add and subtract them. They also learn to multiply and divide them by whole numbers. Children learn to recognize proper, improper, and mixed fractions, and explore equivalency.
In geometry, children learn the names of the solids. They learn all the plane figures and eventually learn their parts (base, altitude, vertex, etc.). They also learn about rays, lines, and angles. They learn how a triangle can be equivalent to a rectangle even though they have different shapes.
Maria Montessori and her son Mario Montessori developed lessons which help a child know his or her culture and where they fit in the world. To that end, they are called the cultural curriculum. They include history, geography, physical science, life science, the arts, music, practical life, and peace education. History gives the whole picture to the child by studying the Big Bang and the creation stories of many cultures. In history we study the coming of life on Earth and the geological eras. We look at the timeline of life. In geography, we study all 7 continents during the 3 years of lower elementary. We study the biomes and animals and people of a continent. Then the children choose individual countries to research. Physical science can include an introduction to the elements, the solar system, and the earth. It can also include simple machines. In life science, we study botany and zoology. The children learn many, many parts of plants and animals.
The lessons are often interdisciplinary. Geometry could include drawing. Art touches on botany when we make seed mosaics. Art touches on physical science when we make paper mache models of the planets. Geography includes tracing (related to good handwriting). Journal writing has a lesson in silent e or phonograms like “ch.” Children learn with all their senses. They lay out a math lesson on a rug. They touch the math, they write it, they verbalize it to their teacher. They hear the numbers when they verbalize.
The lessons Maria Montessori developed spread like a banquet before each child in the class. Like guests at a banquet, children will choose some morsels of knowledge and not others. Our goal is to fill them up with good things from the banquet, making sure they have a well-balanced diet and leave room for some of the sweet desserts they desire.