Montessori Elementary Questions & Answers:
How do the students learn?
At the elementary level, Montessori students learn to think for themselves. After initial lessons that provide background material and basic ideas, they are encouraged to do their own research, analyze what they have found, and come to their own conclusions. Montessori education teaches students to think, not just to memorize facts, feed them back on a test, and forget them. The emphasis in Montessori education is on understanding and synthesis rather than on trivia. Students literally learn how to learn and become fully engaged in the learning process.
Questions from students are encouraged. We do not want children to be afraid of asking questions, because that’s how we learn and clarify misunderstandings. Human beings have always learned more from their mistakes than from their successes. By analyzing mistakes, we see new directions and imagine fresh approaches to our problems.
The questioning approach and the analysis of mistakes prepare children to succeed in the real world of ideas, enterprise and challenging perspectives. Why? Because although learning the right answers may get children through school, learning how to learn will get them through life!
Can students do whatever they want?
Because Montessori education places an emphasis on cultivating children’s sense of curiosity and wonder, parents may get the impression that students can do whatever they wish, avoiding subjects they dislike. This is certainly not the case in a well-run Montessori elementary class. Work is introduced and guided by the directress.
Montessori education is based on respect for fellow human beings. By focusing on what is good and decent within each child, treating children with trust and respect, and instilling in our students the value of self-discipline and hard work, we help them develop a positive attitude and approach to life.
Much of Montessori education centers on learning how to learn, to observe, to listen, to look for patterns and connections, to reflect on how pieces of knowledge fit together. If a child is emotionally handicapped by self-doubt, afraid of looking foolish, afraid of failure, then earning a grade or the approval of adults becomes an end in itself and the joy of exploring ideas and figuring out solutions to problems is lost. Students have many rights and responsibilities at school, including the right to work. With so many interesting choices in the classroom, enticing activities are commonplace.
Because we look at each student as a unique human being, complete with strengths and weaknesses and a distinct learning style, we know emotions and self-esteem play a critical role in the learning process. Above all else, a Montessori education is an education of the heart.
What is the effect of the multi-age class?
Montessori elementary class brings children of different age levels together. Usually classes will span three age or grade levels, with lower elementary encompassing grades 1-3, or ages 6-9, and upper elementary grades 4-6 or ages 9-12.
In a mixed age class, children can always find peers who are working at their current level. To accommodate the needs of individuals, Montessori classrooms have to include curriculum to cover the entire span of interests and abilities up through the oldest and most advanced students in the class. Younger children are constantly stimulated by the interesting work of the older students. Older students serve as helpers and role models for the younger ones. By working with children for three years, teachers get to know them and their families very well. Because of this intimate knowledge, review is minimized. There is a strong sense of continuity in the elementary Montessori class. With two-thirds of the class returning each September, orientation of new students becomes much easier.
How are the Montessori materials used?
The advanced Montessori materials are intended to introduce complex and abstract concepts in mathematics and pre-algebra, geometry, language, science, history and geography. The goal of the materials is to lead the child away from dependency on concrete models and towards the solving of problems abstractly.
This is possible because of the elementary child’s ability to grasp abstract concepts, but is enhanced by the clarity of the materials themselves. These “materialized abstractions” provide opportunities for the student to understand concepts not usually introduced until high school such as square root and the Pythagorean Theorem.
The special vocabulary of each subject is introduced by means of vocabulary lessons in the form of card material. Etymology is heavily stressed, helping students to decipher the meanings of unfamiliar words.
Do you offer opportunities to study art, music, foreign language and physical education?
The arts are normally integrated into the rest of the curriculum as modes of exploring and expanding lessons in academic areas. Art, music history and music theory are part of the curriculum. Physical education is integrated into outdoor play.
How can I know my child is being exposed to the basics? Will he be able to keep up with students in a conventional school?
The Montessori elementary curriculum is an enriched and challenging one that has been organized into three elements:
MASTERY OF FUNDAMENTAL SKILLS AND BASIC CORE KNOWLEDGE
Montessori’s curriculum evolved from the European tradition of academic excellence and offers a rigorous course of study during the elementary years. Mathematics, geometry, science and technology, myth and great literature, history, world geography, civics, economics, anthropology, and the basic organization of human societies. Studies cover the basics found in traditional curriculum such as the memorization of math facts, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, sentence analysis, creative and expository writing, and library research skills.
THE GREAT LESSONS
The Great Lessons are interdisciplinary introductions to the curriculum. Taking advantage of the elementary student’s imagination, they are given in the form of inspiring stories illustrated by demonstrations, charts and time lines. They are intended to motivate and “sow the seeds of culture.” Subjects of the lessons are the story of how the world came to be, the development of life on Earth, the coming of human beings, and the story of humanity’s two great achievements, language and mathematics.
INDIVIDUALLY CHOSEN RESEARCH
Students in the Montessori elementary class are encouraged to explore topics that capture their imagination. After initial background lessons, children gather information for reports based on their questions and interests. They are taught how to use reference materials including the Internet to prepare reports.
What if my child has learning problems? How are they evaluated and solved?
In the Montessori classroom, the student has many avenues of learning which include all the senses. As a result, learning problems are often minimized. Many of these problems are temporary or developmental in nature and disappear as a child matures. Persistent problems need diagnosis and special help. In this event, the teacher consults with parents and recommends sources for evaluation and diagnosis. CMS will make every effort to accommodate students with special needs if the proposed procedures fit within the philosophy and physical limitations of the Montessori elementary class. After consultation, alternative methods of schooling may be advised in certain cases to meet the needs of your child.
What is the role of testing? How are students evaluated?
Each January one week is spent focusing on test-taking skills. Younger students complete standardized test booklets together, discuss correct answers and test-taking strategies. Beginning at third grade age, standardized tests are formally administered.
Oral and written tests determine progress in math fact memorization. Spelling tests are given upon request and in connection with phonogram work. At the upper elementary level, true and false, short answer, essay and multiple choice tests are given for practice.
Work samples are chosen periodically and kept in a work portfolio. Work conferences are held with the teacher on a regular basis to discuss progress and future plans for projects and research. Parent-teacher conferences are held twice yearly, in November and March. Written progress reports are issued in January and May.
What is the role of computers in the classroom?
In the Montessori elementary classroom, the computer is considered as a tool, just like a pencil or an encyclopedia. Since technology is changing so fast, it is impossible to know what kind of preparation today’s students will need as adults.
Montessori believed “people skills” and basic skills need to be mastered before machines such as calculators and computers are used. Research on the Internet must be preceded by research in other books so the student can become familiar with the concept of key words, related subjects, etc.
Computers are most useful in the middle school and upper elementary class at the present time. At the upper elementary level, students can use computers to publish reports and stories and to pursue subjects of interest.
Do you give homework?
Other than asking students to read on a regular basis at home, we do not assign homework. We encourage families to teach their children life skills such as money management, shopping, home repair, cooking, cleaning and tidying, and car and lawn maintenance during the time the student is at home. Learning to get along in the family is the most important homework!