Montessori education arose from Dr. Maria Montessori's detailed observations of children at different stages of their development. Its essence is to create an environment that allows children to exercise to the fullest those inclinations and interests most prominent at each particular stage of life.
Voyager Montessori School's elementary program provides a rich and extensive academic program which includes unlimited opportunities for students to develop socially and emotionally. It is organized into two 3-year programs: the lower elementary program (for students 6-9 years of age) and the upper elementary (for students 9-12 years of age). For our first year, we will be accepting students into our lower elementary program. Each year thereafter, we will be adding an additional grade until we also have a full upper elementary program. Classroom size will ultimately range between 12-24 students in order to allow for the development of peer collaborative work.
Elementary children want to explore the universe through the use of reason and imagination. They stretch to imagine the nearly unimaginably big, the extremely ancient. Their curiosity is directed not just at the basic facts, but at the "why" and "how." A Montessori guide inspires children to use the rich environment, which has been specially prepared to encourage self-directed learning.
To accommodate the nature of the child at this age, the curriculum is both open-ended and highly integrated, allowing deeper exploration than in a 'unit' approach. Children experience that skills, knowledge and learning disciplines do not exist in a vacuum, but that they draw upon each other.
Think of it as customized education. The individualized nature of the program allows each child the flexibility to pursue individual interests and to progress at his or her own rate. Children work with concepts they have learned by developing projects. In this way, children grow in their ability to set goals and evaluate their own work. They begin to understand their own strengths and challenges in learning and become confident in their abilities so that they freely express curiosity, ask questions, and problem-solve. Since the teacher knows each child very well and keeps detailed records of their work, testing is unnecessary. Test-taking is taught in the upper elementary as a life-skill.
The elementary years are critically important, not only for the acquisition of knowledge and skills that will stay with these children for a lifetime, but also for the development of their attitudes toward learning, toward themselves and toward others. Voyager Montessori School emphasizes cooperation, collaboration, and respect for other's rights and feelings.
Dr. Montessori called the curriculum for the elementary child a "Cosmic Education," emphasizing the interconnectedness of the many aspects of the world children observe and study. Connections excite children, stimulate their imagination, and give them a sense that they already know a great deal and can easily master new topics. The Montessori child feels that it is all accessible – this infinite, fascinating world of things and ideas. Above all, they are not dependent on a teacher for all their information; they learn both the habit and methods of finding out more on their own.
The Montessori elementary curriculum helps children appreciate the wonder and beauty of the natural world and also the historic accomplishments of humanity. From this, they can develop a sense of their own place in the Universe, their individual responsibility, and their potential to enhance both the natural and cultural environments in which they live.
Their studies of nature and people emphasize the tremendous diversity that abounds in the world, which ultimately leads to an attitude of tolerance and respect.
Dr. Montessori wrote that at this age, "the closed school can no longer be sufficient" for the children. So, in addition to class field trips, 'going out' becomes a regular occurrence for the children, whether it be a simple trip to the library or a well-planned visit to interview a journalist at Estes Park News.
Just as students are encouraged to understand the original source of information, so they come to understand that answers to their questions do not lie within the classroom walls – or with the teachers. This is an important part of what makes learning "real" and meaningful to the children.
Montessori education emphasizes the interconnectedness of the many facets of the world to be studied and does not artificially divide school work into separate 'subjects.' Understanding that children love stories of the past, the teachers in Montessori elementary use stories to spark the children's interest in all areas. Even in mathematics and language, children are presented stories of the great discoveries and inventions by which our predecessors built the powerful tools of language and numbers.
Maria Montessori described the "mathematical mind" as a universal human attribute. 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 to practice them. By using the Montessori math materials, most children experience many concepts including fractions, squared and cubed numbers, multiples and factors, taught much later in traditional school settings.
The elementary child, exercising their powers of reasoning and curiosity, learns the fascinating history of language from the distant past to the present. The teachers share how language continually changes, that it reflects history and the interlocking subjects of the classroom. The children are conscious of language wherever they go.
Reading, writing and spelling skills blossom through work with materials and activities in all subjects. Writing develops in connection with explorations, research and experiments, as children want to share what they have discovered. Creative writing allows all children to acquire a valuable tool for self-expression very early in life. Reading becomes the most important means to satisfy their interests.
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.
The history of life, both before and after the arrival of humankind, is inextricably linked to other subjects such as geology, geography and biology. The study of history reveals many fascinating connections and interdependencies, not only among various peoples, but between people and the changing physical environment.
Lessons begin with theories on the origin of the Universe, in which principles of physical science are revealed, and then proceed to examine the forces that 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. Demonstrations, field activities and experiments are employed to help 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.
There is emphasis on understanding plant and animal behavior and physiology. The basic needs of plants and animals (e.g. water, food, defense, 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.
Techniques and media for artistic expression are taught. Children use colored pencils, clay, paints, collage and other media to illustrate the work they do in all subjects. Since art is not limited to art class periods and projects, children’s creativity has a chance to truly grow and bloom as a part of everyday activity.
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, as well as a means of self-expression and experience in performing for others.
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 teach activities such as yoga, soccer skills and basketball skills at different times during the year. 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.