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In the Montessori elementary classroom, the children are given opportunities to learn to set their own goals, budget their own time, and appraise their own results.

Cosmic Education was the way in which Dr. Montessori exposed the older child to an imaginative and reasoning exploration of the universe and its components, and introduced him to his place and responsibility in society. Through what's known in the elementary Montessori terminology as the five Great Lessons, the doors are opened to the drama of the universe. First, its coming into being; second, its furnishing with plant and animals; then third, the appearance of human beings. With the coming of the human being, we move on to the other two great lessons. These two great lessons draw the attention of the child to the two great achievements of people, the ability to communicate with written language and the invention of a numerical system. History, as the story of the human being and our achievements, is at the center of Cosmic Education. Cosmic Education is not a scheme or a method of education, divided into subjects of a curriculum with pre­set time limits for study. It is the sowing of seeds to ignite the child's interest in the inter­connectedness and inter­dependence of all life.

Core Subjects

It is worth noting that while the division of the world into these separate “subjects” is perhaps a convenient way to write about our work at school, it is not the way children experience it. We emphasize the interconnectedness of the many things we study. For example: a child’s arithmetic problems will often deal with real questions arising in his own study of, say, history of geography, rather than some fairly irrelevant problem drawn from a text.

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Mathematics and Geometry

The materials and methods of the Montessori classroom reinforce the child’s tendency to count, compare, compute, and measure. The concrete materials are ingeniously designed for revealing principles and concepts, and allow the child to directly experience, explore, and manipulate mathematical concepts. 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, 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 groups and individually. By using the Montessori math material, most children experience many concepts traditionally taught much later, including fractions, squared and cubed numbers, multiples, factors, and algebra for example.

The Montessori geometry materials and the lessons which accompany them permit children to discover important principles and relationships through their own exploration. For example, a student may learn nomenclature for the types and parts of polygons, circles, angles, and lines. New knowledge is always applied to the environment (e.g., finding right triangles in the floor, walls, and furniture) and often extends to the creation of a piece of handwork as well. Using concrete materials like metal insets, children are guided to discover the principles of geometric equivalence, unlocking a whole field of creative work and preparing them for the study of area. Even the Pythagorean theorem is presented to the child with manipulative material of which the old Greek himself would approve.

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Language

Grammar is made accessible to young children with the aid of colorful materials which employ symbols that are carried over from preschool work. In etymology, word study (synonyms, affixes, compound words, word families, etc.), analysis of sentence structure and of the parts of speech, the children find many activities in which to apply their vocabulary and their creativity with language. These activities also give the children practice with reading, spelling, and developing their written language skills.

Reading, writing, and spelling skills blossom, not only through these activities, but through the work in all subjects. Writing develops in connection with exploration, research, and experimentation, as children want to share what they have discovered. Creative writing allows all children to acquire invaluable skills in self-­expression and reading becomes the most important means to satisfy their interests. Witnessing older children reading and writing spontaneously, the younger ones are highly motivated to perfect any language skills that still need work. Basic skill­building in reading and writing is done individually or in very small groups. Poetry is studied throughout the year and the children explore poetic forms in their creative writing. Reading fiction and nonfiction aloud to the children is a daily practice.

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History

The history of life, both before and after the arrival of humankind, is inextricably linked to other subjects such as geology, geography, and biology. Thus it might be said that history is the framework for all fields of study in Montessori. Even in mathematics and language, we tell children stories of the great discoveries and inventions by which our predecessors built the powerful tools of language and number. Children love stories of the past, and in Montessori elementary we use stories to spark the children’s interest in all areas.

Natural history materials, such as an elaborate timeline of life, show children the dramatic and colorful spectacle of life forms and their development. Human history is presented from a perspective of the fundamental needs common to all human beings (food, shelter, protection, transport, spiritual expression, etc.) and the variety of ways in which different peoples have been able to meet them. The study of history reveals many fascinating connections and interdependencies, not only among various peoples, but also between people and the changing physical environment.

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Geography

Geography includes the study of maps and political geography, but also encompasses many of the sciences, including earth science, physics, and chemistry, among others.  We begin by looking at 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. We employ demonstrations, field activities, and experiments the children can 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. Each topic offers a number of possible directions a child may choose to follow. A basic principle here and throughout the Montessori elementary program is that we first give the “big picture”­­ answers to the fundamental whys and hows­­ and only then work toward the more particular, the more local.

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Biology

In the elementary, the emphasis is 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. Exploration of both Linnaean classification and the tree of life system give the children familiarity with the dynamic world of biological science. Classroom pets, both visiting and permanent, and plants in the environment allow the children to directly explore and observe the different needs and life cycles of a variety of plants and animals and give them opportunities to take responsibility for the care of living things. 

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Spanish

Spanish is taught to the elementary students. Introduced by a native speaker and utilized by other adults in the environment, the language is integrated into the daily aspects of the class and the children are free to choose second-language activities as a part of their daily work. The children sing, play games, move and speak to reinforce their acquisition of and familiarity with the language. 

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Art

In Montessori education, we see art work as an important form of self­expression and a part of the daily life of the class. A teacher's approach is to give basic lessons to small groups of children in the mechanics of using a medium, then to have the supplies available on the shelf for the child to use during the work time. Children often access the art supplies to illustrate and decorate their work in other curriculum areas. Media commonly presented during the year include watercolors, chalks, pastels, clay, colored pencil, graphite pencil, charcoal, and collage. The skills the children have gained in their art lessons can then transfer to creating beautiful follow up work in other areas of study.  They might creawte dioramas or clay sculptures to enrich the presentation of their research in a given area. Since art, like any other work, is not limited to short “art class” periods and projects, children’s creativity has a chance to truly grow and bloom as a part of everyday activity. Music and art history and appreciation are also included as a part of the children’s study of human culture and can lead to “going out” to attend a performance or visit a gallery.

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Music

Music is as much a part of the classroom environment as pictures on the wall. The work with ear training with both the diatonic and chromatic scales begins in the preschool. In the elementary we build upon these experiences, taking children into the beginnings of reading and writing music and music theory through lessons with the tone bars. The children are all introduced to the tin whistle and learn a variety of tunes on the instrument. They play several concerts at school and in the community throughout the year. Weekly trips to see musical performances and composer/program studies also form a part of the music curriculum. Daily singing is an integral part of the classroom as well and supports a sense of harmony and community within the classroom culture.

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Drama

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. It can also be the occasion for learning to write dialogue, or how to stage or perform in a play. Students also may research and create character performances as part of their study of history, especially in February and March, Black History and Women’s History Months. After the new year, the class performs at a community auditorium to celebrate Martin Luther King, and in the Spring puts on a production led entirely by the students.

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Physical Education

The Ginkgo class takes regular trips to the public swimming pool on the city bus where they practice basic strokes, diving, and group games centered on building community and teamwork. Other physical education activities allow the children work on skill­building to develop consciousness and control of movement, to enhance personal confidence, and to learn the techniques and values of teamwork and cooperation. The study of nutrition and the human body are also included in our curriculum.

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Cooking/Food Preparation

At all age levels, we offer children developmentally appropriate lessons about food preparation, and present the experience of food as related to interaction with others, enjoyable awareness, and independence. We also use cooking activities as an extension of math (measurement and equivalence), science (reactions and botany), and social studies (food as reflection of culture). It is common for the Ginkgo class to plan and implement a special lunch for a holiday event, a special snack or lunch as an extension of studying another culture, and snack preparation for the class' daily snack. We emphasize good nutrition with whole grains, organic produce, and foods with limited additives.

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Gardening

In addition to plant propagation within the classroom, the Ginkgo class maintains raised beds in their outdoor garden space. Gardening activities are connected to the extensive botany curriculum in the classrooms. A variety of perennials aid with leaf, stem, flower, seed, and root identification. Annual vegetables are grown and cooked and consumed in class. The class also takes on small-scale landscaping projects on campus.

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