The elementary child differs considerably from the primary child. The 3-6-year-old child is an egocentric sensorial explorer, touching, tasting, feeling the environment concerned with the here and now and questions of what and where, but the elementary child is a social being, interested in doing what Montessori called the “great work” intrigued by questions of why and how and equipped with an imagination to continue the journey of constructing himself. What are his noble pursuits? Solving giant math problems, writing plays and performing them, doing science experiments and presenting them to the class or drawing plans to build something…and then building it.
The concrete materials at the end of the sequences in each area of the Children’s House form the beginning of the sequences in the areas in the elementary so there is no interruption in the work of the child. Everything is integrated. The same beads which illustrated units, tens, hundreds and thousands and everything are found in the math area of the elementary. At the lower elementary level, students continue concrete work and move gradually toward abstraction. Lessons are given in small seminar groups by the Guide, and children also learn from one another. Collaboration among students is encouraged.
Students record their work in a diary and meet with the guide for a conference weekly bring their finished and unfinished work to the meeting. From this discussion the student formulates a plan for the completion of work and asks for lessons in specific areas. The guide offers help and guidance for future work choices.
Presentation days are scheduled weekly. Students who have completed a project, written a play, poem or story, prepared a culinary masterpiece, painted a painting, solved a difficult math problem, or done an interesting science experiment present their work to their peers. The only stipulation is that they must have gone through one critique before presenting their work to the class. Students learn how to refine their finished products, and the other students who attend the presentation learn how to be a good audience.
Weekly class meetings provide a forum for discussion about a variety of topics from issues involving the class to concerns in the local community to problems facing the planet. Students learn how to problem solve, take on causes and get along with one another.
“Going out” is unique to Montessori elementary programs and refers to going beyond the four walls of the classroom to learn. When a child or a group of children has exhausted the resources in the classroom, she visits an expert, or goes to another library or museum to find out more. The student makes an appointment with the expert or the director of the library or museum, gets a map of the city, figures out the best way to get to the destination, calls from a list of approved drivers, formulates the questions to be answered, takes a tape recorder, and travels the destination instructing the driver where to go. Once the interview is completed, the student writes a thank you note to the driver and the expert. The easy course would be to hook the student up to the internet and let her surf for the afternoon, but think how much the student will miss out on…map skills, communication skills, writing skills, listening skills, grace and courtesy skills, just to mention a few.
All the subjects are integrated in an elementary classroom. A visit to an elementary classroom at Raintree will find children composing music on the tone bars, painting with watercolors, practicing the violin, solving square root problems with concrete materials, classifying plants in the garden, and diagramming sentences. There is an emphasis on open-ended research, and there are no Montessori textbooks. Montessori said, “Don’t show children pictures of flowers. Go to the garden and grow real flowers.”