In these classrooms, the child is free to move about the room at will, to talk with other children, and to work with any equipment. He is not free to disturb other children at work or to abuse the equipment. The children are taught a respect for others and for their environment. The wide range of activities from which to choose is divided into the following areas: practical life, sensorial, math, language and cultural subjects.
A central part of practical life is the snack area. Located in this area are small tables and chairs, a hand washing sink, a serving counter, table washing trays, brooms, mops, and a dishwashing sink. The child decides when he will eat snack, and then proceeds to wash his hands, set the table, serve the snack, eat, and clean the table and dishes. Also in the practical life area are shelves containing a variety of activities such as spooning, tonging, pouring rice, pouring water, cutting vegetables, grinding herbs, juicing, washing a shell, doll or clothes, buttoning, buckling, tying bows, sorting, polishing, folding, sewing, caring for plants, drawing, painting, cutting and gluing. Practical life activities also extend beyond this area into every aspect of the school. These activities include exercises in grace and courtesy, personal care, and care of the environment.
The sensorial area contains materials designed to develop each of the child’s senses by isolating one sensorial property, such as shape, weight, texture, or pitch. With this work, the child builds his intellect through the refinement of his senses, and he also prepares for math by repeatedly working with sets of ten as most of the sensorial materials are.
The math work develops from manipulation of concrete quantities and then to the use of symbols to represent the quantity. The child has many opportunities to manipulate quantities of one to ten, and then he easily moves into manipulating quantities of two and four digit numbers.
The language area contains a library of books for relaxed reading. There are also many sets of vocabulary cards on many subjects with which the children can match pictures and match words, and then make their own little books. The area also contains a variety of exercises for writing, alphabetizing, and sorting objects by rhyming, initial, middle and ending sounds. When the child is ready, he will begin to build words with the moveable alphabet, and be rewarded with the opportunity to read sets of phonetic readers.
In the geography area, children work with puzzles of the Earth, its land forms, continents and countries. The children love to pour water into land forms, and make their own continent maps. In the science area, the child works in groups or individually with very simple amazing science experiments. Each child has their own garden and a resident botanist and the gardening moms to help.
Children have weekly Spanish lessons from a native speaker and love to work independently making Spanish vocabulary books. All children participate twice a year in a music program in which they sing and dance to American folk and religious music in November, and to music of other cultures in May.
The child enters the elementary classroom excited about the new academic challenges, the greater responsibility he feels for his environment and the people in it, and his curiosity about the larger world. Every morning the child diligently works to develop the skills of phonics, reading comprehension, word study and handwriting. By playing with miniature environments, such as the farm or forest, the child builds an understanding of the parts of speech. He then uses this understanding to analyze sentences in English and Spanish. In math, the child uses concrete materials to solve addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems. He then moves on to discovering visual patterns with multiplication and division with materials such as the checkerboard and square of Pythagoras. The child moves from experiencing geometric shapes sensorially, to defining, comparing and measuring these shapes.
Each school year begins with the traditional stories called the Great Lessons. These stories introduce the history of math and language in addition to each of the fields of science in such a way as to spark the imagination in the child. The afternoons are then filled with group science experiments and independent work which support these stories and fulfills the child’s curiosity. Oral spanish lessons, art and PE are also enjoyed in the afternoon. The children frequently make presentations to their peers and also participate in three drama productions per year, with one being in Spanish. They perform American historical dances as well as dances from other cultures, from the Viennese waltz to Bhangra or Punjabi dance. They accompany many of the songs and dances playing instruments taught to them by a teacher certified in the Orff Schulwerk method.
Often using extensions of Montessori materials experienced earlier, the older elementary student moves into advanced studies in language, math and geometry. In language, the student continues studying the parts of speech and sentence analysis, now including the conjugation of verbs. All of this is done in English and Spanish. Spelling and creative exercises are regular weekly activities. For the love of reading, these students meet together once a week for a tea party book club.
Extensions of the math materials used in earlier years lead into the study of algebra, square roots, cubing, and decimal fractions. A great deal of math time is spent in the study of geometry. The students build geometric shapes and solids and measure lines, angles, area and volume, looking for equivalencies and ratios. The Montessori curriculum is organized as a program of integrated studies, and the studies of early man and ancient civilizations will include the study of simple machines, technology, language and art. In the fall, older students research and give a presentation on one period of American history, and all students then participate in the production of an American history play. Older students also play the role of delegates to a model United Nations conference. They research a world problem, present their solution and participate in debate.
Science involves further study of geographic phenomena such as volcanoes, winds and ocean currents, the classification of rocks, and, as well, the classification of the five kingdoms of life. Students build molecules and follow their changes as elements move through the water cycle and the five biogeochemical cycles. Like the lower elementary students, these students perform American historical dances as well as dances from other cultures, from the Viennese waltz to Bhangra or Punjabi dance. They accompany many of the songs and dances playing instruments taught to them by a teacher certified in the Orff Schulwerk method.