Montessori primary or elementary schools are often organised into two classrooms 6-9 year olds and 9-12 years olds. In Britain, where most children start in reception classes at the age of four we often find classes organised in 4-7 and 7-12 age groups. This organisation is determined by the UK compulsory school age, children must start school after their fifth birthday. The Great Lessons are at the heart of Montessori primary education which guides the child towards understanding of his/her role and place in the universe and provides some answers to questions such as Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?” and “What is my role?” Children work alongside their teachers on assessment of their work. There are no formal examinations or tests in Montessori primary classrooms.
In the lower primary/elementary class
children focus on developing their literacy and numeracy skills as these will provide them with tools to access learning in other areas of the curriculum. By the age of six most children are capable of co-operative play and enjoy being part of a group and contributing positively to this group. The Great Lessons, focusing on the creation of the solar system, evolution of life on earth and emergence of early civilisations are at the heart of the Primary curriculum. Social cohesion is the focus of Montessori elementary classes, and responds to the children’s sensitive periods for moral development, social justice and imagination. Children demonstrate a highly developed sense of fairness, compassion and empathy for others. Regular excursions into the wider environment make a significant contribution to the children’s learning. They also participate in organised games and physical education activities, and often learn another language and have access to specialist music, art and dance lessons. They begin to use technology to access information and to support independent study of the Great Lessons.
In the upper primary/elementary class
the children continue to develop their literacy and numeracy skills and research the Great Lessons by learning about the great civilisations, physical and economic geography of their continent and country as well as principles of ecology by exploring the cycles which occur in nature. Rudimentary chemistry and physics are included. Working as part of a team on projects agreed, planned, implemented and evaluated by the group makes a significant contribution to the children’s learning as they continue to learn more about the Earth and the Universe and our responsibilities for the planet. Extended trips, often organised by the children themselves, under the supervision of their teachers, also contribute to their practical skills and provide opportunities to develop initiative and to embrace challenges. The language, music, art and science lessons started in the lower elementary are explored further and in more detail with the flexibility to encourage individual research.
Learning is focused on:
Daily numeracy and literacy activities, which are planned and agreed with the teacher at the beginning of the day and which the child then manages at his/her own pace. The older children manage and take responsibility for their weekly plans.
Learning about the world by exploring history, geography and biology when following the Great Lessons – learning about the creation of the solar system and evolution of life on Earth and progressing towards study of the great civilisations.
Taking of responsibility for oneself and gradually learning to care for and help others.
Being respectful to oneself, others and the environment, learning about the interdependence of the living world and our responsibility for it. Respect and peaceful co-existence continue to be encouraged.