Montessori for Elementary Years

Why should my family continue to stick with a Montessori education for the elementary years?

Your daughter is turning five years old and the next door neighbor asks you if you have registered for kindergarten. You haven’t. Your daughter has been attending a Montessori school and you have been pleased with her progress and development. But you are not sure if she should continue on in the Montessori elementary program. For most families, the question triggers a variety of different emotions. Memories of “school” become more vivid for most of us. It is one of the few experiences we all have in common.

We remember our teachers, our lessons, our playground, the homework and the friends. We tend to believe that we received a good, if not, a great education. And if we are successful, it is hard for us to imagine that our elementary education didn’t contribute partly to our success. So, why should your family stick with a Montessori education for the elementary years?

There are five compelling reasons why a Montessori elementary education adds significant value to the future success of your child.

1. A Montessori elementary education does more than most traditional programs to develop independent and critical thinking skills.

Children who continue their Montessori education into the elementary years will continue to develop their potential as independent, critical thinkers. Beginning with infants and toddlers, Montessori environments guide children to become physically and emotionally independent and self sufficient. Young children are given the tools to set the table, prepare the snack and wash the dishes. Your child has washed dishes, sliced bananas, swept crumbs, and put her work back from the place she got it. She has also practiced problem-solving skills such as using appropriate words to express emotion, and used mechanisms like tally stones and peace roses to cope with interpersonal conflicts. In Montessori programs, elementary children learn to balance a striking degree of freedom with a sense of responsibility and self-determination. The children learn to allocate their time between academic responsibilities and caring for their classroom environment, and to understand the importance of developing and expressing their own opinions.

When 10-year-old Noah was asked to give his observation about the differences between his public school experience and his Montessori school experience, he said, “You can disagree with the teacher and not get into trouble here.” A group of 16 Montessori elementary children were asked to contemplate whether it is important to have their friends like the things they like. The children were asked to go to one side of the room if they agreed with the statement and the other side of the room if they disagreed. At first blush, all the children agreed with this statement. Then, one child, age 9, stepped out and said, “I’m changing my mind. I think that it is easier to make new friends who have things in common with me but when I have more time being friends with someone, I am able to disagree with them without hurting their feelings.” Her experiences in a Montessori classroom, where she was confident that she was valued as an individual, allowed this child to step out of a group, act independently from her peers, and think for herself.

2. A Montessori elementary education gives lessons and presentations that nurture the multiple intelligences of each child and capitalize upon recent scientific research.

The Montessori elementary classroom is prepared to honor the multiple intelligences of each child. Multiple Intelligences is the work of Howard Gardner who brought to light the various ways in which our brain learns. Come children are visual learners, some learn through logical reasoning and mathematical deduction and others may learn from the natural world. Gardner’s work has determined there to be 8 intelligences which predominate in some greater than others. Montessori elementary education addresses the needs of children who learn by doing, seeing, hearing, building, dancing, drawing, socializing and listening to their inner self because it follows the child and changes the environment to enhance learning.

It is common to see a variety of hands-on materials in every subject area. There are globes, models of the solar system, skeletons, sandpaper letters, calligraphy pens, and yes, there are beads. Beads are used to engage children kinesthetically. Beads are a visual tool to show abstract concepts concretely. And beads, especially the traditional glass beads, offer the child the beauty of color, shape, and texture. Aesthetics are extremely important in the Montessori classroom. Rooms are prepared very carefully, to be beautiful, calm and peaceful. Music may play softly in the background. There may be headphones in baskets on work shelves. An area is dedicated to the study of sound, tone and pitch. There are the Montessori bells, recorders, drums. Children are encouraged to sing, hum, tap and move their bodies rhythmically while working.

Children are invited to use their senses; to taste, smell, hear, touch and see. Instead of worksheets, Montessori classrooms have children working with food, smelling perfumes to explore how smells dissipate, listening to concertos, and knitting. Songs are sung, poetry chanted, plays recited, stories told. Students have access to an outdoor environment to study nature, watch birds or sit and listen to the sounds. Children who learn by doing are encouraged to do while children who learn by reading are invited to read. Montessori invites children to learn the way they learn best while strengthening the other intelligences they are capable of using so that they can reach their personal potential.

3. A Montessori elementary education offers children a wider array of academic work than traditional educational models in a safe and age appropriate environment.

Walk into a Montessori classroom and you may see children conjugating verbs in English, French or Spanish. You may see a group of students conducting an experiment to demonstrate the differences between acids and bases. You may even see a group of children knitting, discussing how to make patterns with a purl or a knit. Every Montessori elementary program will have works that expose, encourage and invite the child to learn concepts and ideas about history, geology, geography, mathematics, language, astronomy, ecology, chemistry, anthropology, astronomy, physics, biology, microbiology, sociology and geometry.

The geography curriculum, for example, distinguishes itself from a traditional program because it offers so much more in depth action and hands-on activity. Children who have been in a Montessori infant/toddler program or primary program have touched and seen the small globe of the earth. The globe is made so that each continent is elevated and coarse. The continents are sand papered giving the child a “feel” for the shape and size of each continent. The elementary program offers students opportunities to make continents and land forms. Classrooms have trays with water and clay so that children can mold, make and see the land form.

In an upper elementary classroom materials are given to the children to expand and deepen their knowledge. Children are given access to maps, compasses, graph paper, and over head projectors, helping students to understand the making of a planet, the concept of plate tectonics and the evolution of the cosmos. Traditional classrooms may touch upon concepts and ideas, but only the prepared Montessori environment gives children the breadth, depth and time to experience intellectual work without interruption.

4. A Montessori elementary education offers children a community dedicated to creating a peaceful world.

5. A Montessori elementary education does more to celebrate differences and understand of world cultures.