Maria Montessori saw much need for reform in the educational system of her day, just as we see the same need for reform in our educational system today. Her goal was to develop the whole personality of the child, and her system is based on a strong belief in the spontaneous working of the human intellect. Her three primary principles are observation, individual liberty, and preparation of the environment. These principles and their various practical expressions with children are gradually becoming part of our educational system.
Primary Education"The passage to the second level of education is the passage from the sensorial, material level to the abstract ... The child in the second stage needs wider boundaries for his social experiences...It is also at this age that one can notice the judgement of acts as right, or wrong or unfair ...
These three characteristics - the child's felt need to escape the closed environment, the passage of the mind to abstract, and the birth in him of a moral sense - serve as a basis for a scheme at the elementary level."
- Dr. Maria Montessori
Mastery of Fundamental Skills and Basic Core KnowledgePrimary Montessori students explore the realm of mathematics, science, and technology, the world of myth, great literature, art, music, history, language, world geography, civics, economics, anthropology, and the basic organizations of human societies. Their studies cover fundamentals featured in traditional curriculums such as the memorization of math facts, spelling lessons, the study of vocabulary and grammar, sentence analysis, creative and expository writing, and library research skills. They also learn life skills, health, and work on their physical development and skills through integrated activities.
Individually Chosen ResearchElementary students are encouraged to explore topics that capture their imagination. Students rarely use textbooks; they are encouraged to research areas of interest through independent reading and library research. Children gather information, assemble reports, and teach what they have learned to their classmates.
Maria Montessori called her plan for the elementary/primary child the "Cosmic Curriculum." "Cosmic" in this context means comprehensive, holistic, and purposeful. The goals of Cosmic Education go far beyond the usual goals of skill development and knowledge acquisition to address the development of the whole person. Children who complete the Cosmic Curriculum have a clear understanding of the natural world, of human knowledge, and of themselves. These children are prepared to leave childhood behind and to enter adolescence as independent, confident, responsible, emotionally intelligent individuals, balanced in physical, intellectual and social achievements. They are academically and practically prepared to pursue self-education in many areas; to make responsible decisions and act on them in a responsible way; to recognize limits and give, ask for, and receive help, as needed.
The Broader Goals of Cosmic Education
Cosmic Education must be understood within the context of Montessori's overarching vision of human development. Montessori believed that the world was, in fact, a highly purposeful and ordered place - a place where all things worked in harmony to evolve to higher and higher states of consciousness and spiritual perfection. The world of war, ignorance, injustice and economic deprivation was a world that had very seriously deviated from its intended purpose and its normal path of development. Montessori also believed that the way back to a better world was to follow the clues she had found in the development of the child. "The secret of childhood" was that even in a deviated world, children still carried within them the blueprint of normal, healthy development - and that blueprint, amplified by many individuals and projected outward into manifestations of culture, was also a blueprint for a healthy world
Montessori considered two things to be necessary for the creation of a peaceful human being: an awareness of interdependence and a sense of gratitude that comes from it. Throughout the many lessons in the elementary curriculum echoes a message: be grateful to those of previous generations who have faithfully, lovingly, and expertly done their work in the world so that you may have life and the benefit of their knowledge! This looking back in gratitude to all the participants in the drama of cosmic evolution is a subtext that plays constantly in the background of the elementary classroom.
In the children's ongoing experiments with community, gratitude is one of the antidotes to aggression, overweening pride, and ostracism of those different from oneself. Moreover, Montessori is careful not to limit this gratitude to human beings alone, but extends it to all the elements and forces of nature, the plants, the animals (extant and extinct), the rocks, the oceans, the forests - even the molecules and atomic particles. The child who comes to see him/herself as the beneficiary of such cosmic largesse cannot but feel, as an adult, both a rightful sense of importance and purpose as well as a sense of responsibility to find and live joyfully into his/her own vocation.
Montessori also believed that human beings were only able to wage modern warfare and cling to outmoded, oppressive forms of government because they failed to understand the economic, cultural, and spiritual interdependence of all peoples - indeed of all things on the planet. Cosmic Education constantly stresses the interconnections between all content areas and, in the study of history and culture, seeks to delve beyond superficial racial and cultural differences to show how all human beings are driven by the same set of
Montessori saw the second plane as the time to open up the world to the child, and she was determined to do so in a way that did not reproduce the intellectual fragmentation of traditional curricula - the practical consequence of which she believed to be the obscuring of interdependencies and interconnectedness, leading to an inability to truly understand the political and cultural reality of the modern world. Instead, Cosmic Education presents the world as a beloved place, a place where the children through inspired academic work also come to appreciate the ongoing story of humanity because they can begin to orient themselves in it.
"Presenting the Universe to the Child"
Building on her insight into the importance of imagination in the elementary years, Montessori proposed to "present the universe to the child" in the form of an epic story. All elements of the curriculum would then be related to this story of the universe. In practice, this narrative is told as a set of five stories, the Great Stories of Cosmic Education.
Rather than following the traditional "structure of knowledge" by presenting facts as belonging to biology, zoology, botany, history, geography, physics, chemistry, religion, etc., the Great Stories present a holistic vision of knowledge, drawing on material from the various disciplines as needed. Characteristically, Montessori takes the children from the whole to the parts and back to the whole again. In this way, each academic area emerges naturally from the whole narrative and continually refers back to it.
Above all, Cosmic Education does not present the universe as random and objectified -- as something that has "just happened." Instead, the Great Stories tell of how each particle, each substance, each species, each event has a purpose and a contribution to make to the development of all others. Montessori also wants the child to understand the debt of gratitude that human beings owe to all other parts of the universe; for without them and their special contributions to the interconnected whole, we could not live.
Areas of Study
The Great Stories are told near the beginning of each school year, and each one serves to introduce a major branch of human knowledge from which the teacher will be presenting formal lessons. These areas include geography and physical science, biology, history and anthropology, language and the arts, and mathematics.
THE GREAT LESSONS
I. The Creation of the Universe and the Coming into Being of the EarthIn the beginning there was only the "deep" - indescribably dark and cold. Then appeared a fiery cloud fused in light and heat, which included all substances of the Universe. Every little particle was given a set of laws to follow. Following these laws all the elements were created, some becoming solids, others liquids, others gases. They joined to form the stars, our sun, and the earth.
On the Earth the particles did their dance over millions of years. The heavy ones sank to the center, the lighter ones floated to the outer edge and cooled. Volcanoes erupted to release the hot substances inside, spewing a huge cloud of dust into the air. Eventually things cooled and settled. More gases became liquid, liquids became solids. The rocks cooled. The Earth itself shrank and wrinkled. Mountains were formed as well as pits. The rain filled these pits to form the oceans.
a.) law of likes and dislikes for other particles b.) reaction to temperature - These 2 laws were the basis by which substances were created and which
state (solid, liquid, gas) they assumed.
II. The Coming of LifeThe order of the Earth's creation was breaking up. The seas were filling with salts. A new form appeared on Earth to help chaos from returning. This new form could eat and grow and was given the special characteristic of being able to multiply and make others of its own kind. It cleaned up the seas by feeding on the salts dissolved in the waters.
At first this form had one cell. Then multi-cellular creatures appeared. Then there were life forms with organs. Each new set of creatures increased its efficiency.
The seas started to become enclosed by land and some were drying up. Living things were forced to become less dependent on water. So now there are plants, insects, and amphibians that could live on the land. Once on land, the continued progression of life led to the reptiles which developed dry skin and shells around their eggs. They could live in warm areas where there was enough food. Birds and mammals appeared that were better equipped for the cold weather. This new species cared for their young. The others did not.
Finally Human Beings appeared. They were poorly equipped in relationship to the other creatures. They had no fur, nor claws, but they did have a mind and love, which made them unique.
III. The Coming of Human Beings HumanBeings were different from all other life forms. They were unique in that they possessed the gifts of the Mind, Love, and the Hand. Their ability to think made early Humans wonder about things. They saw the stars and make up stories.
With their gifts Human Beings were able to do a great many things plants and animals could not. They found many things to eat. They made clothes for themselves and made houses. What they made depended on where they lived.
Human Beings could love each other. But they could not only love their parents or children, but could also love people far away whom they had never met. Human Beings are very special, and each person is very special.
IV. Communication in SignsPeople needed to communicate their discoveries (where they found food, shelter) to one another and someone came up with the idea to draw pictures. People made pictures of what was important and what others should know.
Egyptians began carving and painting pictures on stone. Then they discovered a special kind of paper from a plant that grew near the Nile River. Now they also used brushes and pens on this paper. Some of their pictures represented objects, ideas, or sounds, so it was all a bit confusing.
The Phoenicians sailed around trading their goods and Tyrian purple. They used only sound pictures as this was a much easier way to write. They used marks for the sounds.
As time went on, the Greeks changed the Phoenician letters.
Eventually the Romans changed the Greek letters. They used 26 marks and called it the alphabet. "Thank you Phoenicians for giving us the gift of letters!" This made it possible for us to let people know what we want to say even if they are far away.
This is the story of the sand paper letters!
V. The Story of NumbersPeople needed a way to convey things they counted. They needed a language for their inventions (time, calendar, measurements).
Some people counted only one and two, but most counted more.
Some used stones and notches on sticks. The Mayan people used stones.
The Sumerians and Babylonians made wedge-like marks on a clay brick with sticks. These marks were called Cuneiform.
The Egyptians made other signs. The Chinese had different ones too.
The Greeks made their own signs. They took the first letter of the name for the number and used it as the sign for that number.
The Romans used their own numerals. We still see some of these today - on clocks or buildings.
Numerals similar to ours were found cut inside of a cave in India. We call them Arabic numerals, but the Arabs don't use them. They came to Europe from an arithmetic book which the Indians sold to the Arab traders. The Europeans thought it was simple and used it. The Indians also gave us the zero. With the zero we developed our number system.
From the time people began to print books, the numerals looked more like the ones we use today.
Common Elements of all 5 Great Lessons
Going Out of the Classroom
Children of elementary age develop interests in all directions. Their passionate pursuit of understanding naturally leads them out of the confined space of the classroom, its books and materials, and into the world itself to experience things first hand. Such organized forays into the world to pursue studies begun in the classroom are known as "Going Out."
The elementary age child must be given real situations in which to exercise will and judgment. Moreover, in order for the child to have a sufficiently rich experience of the world and a sufficiently rich body of experience, it is necessary that much of the child's learning take place outside the classroom. Going Out differs from traditional fieldtrips insofar as it is initiated, planned, and executed by the child, not the adult, and it arises spontaneously from the interest and work of the child, not from a plan of instruction made by the adult.
A "going-out" for a young elementary child might be as simple (from the adult perspective) as a trip to the public library to look for books not available at school. An older child who is more experienced and able to take on more responsibility might organize a trip to a university to interview a zoologist or an astronomer, a trip to a hear concert of Indonesian music and dance, or a trip to a horse breeder STABLE to learn about trail rides for people with disabilities.
GeometryMaria Montessori described the "mathematical mind" as a universal human attribute. The materials and methods of the Montessori classroom reinforce the child's tendency to count, compare, compute, and measure. The child begins in preschool a progression from concrete experience to abstraction. The concrete materials are appealing to children, ingeniously designed for revealing principles and concepts, and are made to be experienced and manipulated. Through both physical and mental activity with this material, the child acquires a profound basis for mathematics.
During the elementary years, a sequence of lessons brings the child naturally and gradually to the point of understanding abstract mathematical operations. The structure of the decimal system, the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and other key concepts follow this same pattern. Once they have a firm understanding of the concepts, children move toward memorization, keeping track of their own progress and work both in teams and individually. By using the Montessori math material, most children experience many concepts traditionally taught much later, including fractions, squared and cubed numbers, multiples, and factors, for example.
The Montessori geometry materials offer children an open-ended field of exploration. These materials and the lessons which accompany them permit children to discover important principles and relationships. When, later in their education, they learn the formal rules of geometry, it's like meeting old friends again. A student may learn nomenclature for the types and parts of polygons, circles, angles, and lines. New knowledge is always applied to the environment (e.g., finding right triangles in the floor, walls, and furniture) and often extends to the creation of a piece of handwork as well. With the principles of geometric equivalence, the child acquires a key which unlocks a whole field of creative work and which prepares him for the study of area.
LanguageThe child in preschool loves words and is busy absorbing language. Enriched vocabulary, poetry and prose-reading, and word play are all part of the environment. Young children delight in learning to make the symbols which represent their speech and to interpret those made by others. Thus the keys to writing and reading are acquired with the joy of discovery.
The elementary child, exercising her powers of reasoning and curiosity, learns the fascinating history of language from the distant past to the present. We show that language continually changes, that it reflects history and the interlocking subjects of the classroom. The children are conscious of language wherever they go.
Grammar is made accessible to young children with the aid of colourful materials which employ symbols familiar from preschool work. In etymology, word study (synonyms, affixes, compound words, word families, etc.), analysis of sentence structure and of the parts of speech, the children find many activities in which to apply their vocabulary and their creativity with language. At the same time, they become more conscious of its structure. Discoveries in grammar, word study, and etymology quite naturally give rise to topical spelling lists; thus the children's spelling drill and dictation is assisted by their knowledge of the words' origins, meanings, and functions.
Reading, writing, and spelling skills blossom, not only through these activities, but through the work in all subjects. Writing develops in connection with exploration, research, and experimentation, as children want to share what they have discovered. Creative writing allows all children to acquire very early in life a valuable tool for self-expression. Reading becomes the most important means to satisfy their interests. Witnessing older children reading and writing spontaneously, the younger ones are highly motivated to perfect those language skills which still need work. With carefully structured presentations and appealing follow-up work, the teacher and child work together to accomplish that goal. This basic skill-building in reading and writing is done individually or in very small groups. In general, early language work in Montessori is something exciting, not a chore or an opportunity for failure. Having acquired both the mechanics of language and a sense of its history and spirit, the child them experiences poetry, prose, drama, dialogue, discussion, debate, and research, in oral as well as written forms. The teacher carefully selects a treasury of special books for the classroom. The Junior Great Books Program is introduced, and the children learn to have very focused readings and discussions. Reading aloud to the children is a daily practice.
HistoryThe history of life, both before and after the arrival of humankind, is inextricably linked to other subjects such as geology, geography, and biology. Thus it might be said that history is the framework for all fields of study in Montessori. Even in mathematics and language, we tell children stories of the great discoveries and inventions by which our predecessors built the powerful tools of language and number. Children love stories of the past, and in Montessori elementary we use stories to spark the children's interest in all areas.
Natural history materials, such as an elaborate time line of life, show children the dramatic and colourful spectacle of life forms and their development. Human history is presented from a perspective of the basic human needs (food, shelter, protection, transport, spiritual expression, etc.) and the variety of ways in which different peoples have been able to meet them. This framework guides their research and reveals both the unique attributes of different cultures and the universality of all. The study of history reveals many fascinating connections and interdependencies, not only among various peoples, but between people and the changing physical environment.
GeographyWe begin with theories on the origin of the Universe, in which principles of physical science are revealed, and then proceed to examine the forces which have acted over the ages to shape the world we inhabit. Children explore volcanism, the work of water, wind and air, and the basic physical properties of matter. We employ demonstrations, field activities, and experiments the children learn to perform on their own.
The relationships of earth, sun, seasons, zones of climate, etc., are also studied along with economic and political geography. Each topic offers a number of possible side trips which a student may follow. A basic principle here and throughout the Montessori elementary program is that we give first the "big picture"-- answers to the fundamental why's and how's-- and only then work toward the more particular, the more local.
BiologyChildren are fascinated by plants and animals. It is not unusual for our preschool children already to have learned the names of many of the flowers, trees, birds, and mammals that surround them in the world, as well as the parts of flowers and the very beginnings of biological classification.
In the elementary, the emphasis is on understanding plant and animal behaviour and physiology. The basic needs of plants and animals (e.g. water, food, defence, reproduction) provide the framework for investigating the unique varieties from the point of view of adaptation, both to contemporary environments and throughout time. Children's observation and discussion of differences build up the stores of experience with which they further their understanding of biological classification.
Music, Art, Drama, Physical Education
Music, art, drama and other cultural forms are part of the daily life of the class. Music, for example, is as much a part of the classroom environment as pictures on the wall. The work with ear training with both the diatonic and chromatic scales begins in the preschool. In the elementary we build upon these experiences, taking children into the beginnings of reading and writing music. Beautiful singing is, of course, a part of every day in the classroom.
Rather than art projects, we teach techniques and media for artistic expression. Children use colour pencils, clay, paints, collage and other media to illustrate the work they do in all subjects. Since art, like any other work, is not limited to short "art class" periods and projects, children's creativity has a chance to truly grow and bloom as a part of everyday activity. Music and art history and appreciation are also included as a part of the children's study of human culture and can lead to "going out" to attend a performance or visit a gallery.
Drama is a very noticeable part of a Montessori classroom. It is a special love of many children this age, and serves a number of purposes. Making an original play or skit about something they have recently learned is one way in which children truly make knowledge their own. It can also be the occasion for earning to write dialogue, or how to stage or perform in a play. Students also may research and create character performances as part of their study of history, especially in February and March, Black History and Women's History Months.
Children are physically active continuously throughout the day. Nonetheless, there is a need for the aerobic activity and skill development that physical education provides. Staff members teach activities as diverse as yoga, soccer, and basketball at different times during the year. We also schedule one series of off-campus physical activity, such as gymnastics or ice skating, for which we lack the facilities and expertise to provide here. Always our emphasis is on skill-building, to develop consciousness and control of movement, to enhance personal confidence, and to teach the techniques and values of teamwork and cooperation.
After MontessoriMany parents observe the school and say, "it's a great program, but what happens when they leave Montessori at age 12, or perhaps earlier? How will they adjust to more traditional schools?" We are confident that, although children will notice the differences between schools, the self-motivation, self-discipline, and love of learning which children experience and make a part of themselves here, will serve them well in whatever environment they find themselves later in life.