What is a Lower Elementary Montessori Curriculum?

Maybe you have a child entering a lower elementary Montessori classroom or you are interested in Montessori education. Nevertheless, whatever draws you here, I hope I can shed some light on what a lower elementary Montessori curriculum entails.

A lower elementary Montessori environment is for elementary-aged children from 1st through 3rd grade. A Montessori environment is a place where the student’s developmental needs are considered. Montessori classrooms are typically composed of mixed ages, which supports the characteristics of a second-plane child (6 to 12 years old). A Montessori classroom is an environment where the younger children look to the older children as a model for what they are to do. The elementary years are full of small group lessons, commonly called presentations, as well as lots of group work and big elementary work!

Montessori bead cabinet with colored bead cubes

Overview of Elementary Montessori Classrooms

Cosmic education is the plan Dr. Maria Montessori developed for the 6-12-year-old or second-plane child. Dr. Montessori observed that 6 to 12-year-olds need a cosmic viewpoint. They need to see and understand the universe. The Montessori Elementary curriculum aims to help the child to understand the universe.

Practically speaking, this is done with Montessori materials, a Montessori teacher trained in the Montessori method, and the Montessori elementary curriculum they come to know in their training.

Montessori schools have a morning and afternoon work cycle. The morning work cycle is a unique part of Montessori education, among other things. In the lower and upper elementary classrooms, the work cycle is three hours (ideally). Additionally, in these three hours, the child will make a work plan for themselves and will likely receive a presentation(lesson) from their guide (teacher).

The work cycle has flexibility in terms of what the child does and when. For example, the whole class will not all be doing math at the same time. Some children will work on math while others are working on biology. The children have the freedom to work at their own pace, while still being responsible for the work they need to accomplish. The work cycle allows for greater development of the whole child and aims to meet each student’s developmental needs.

The Need for Proper Training

Reading this blog post will by no means give you everything you need to run a Montessori elementary program. However, I do hope it helps you understand the vision and scope of the lower elementary-level curriculum. The adult needs to go through proper teacher training so they are equipped to teach in a lower elementary classroom.

In the next sections, I will outline some of the focuses in each subject area in the lower elementary curriculum. However, remember that each school is different, there are various Montessori training styles as well, which will cause variations. At any rate, this is not an exhaustive list, as we are aiming to give children a cosmic viewpoint. You can always present more. What I list below are some of the guiding topics and ideas that I am trained to present as well as my own experience teaching in a lower elementary classroom.

Subject Areas of the Lower Elementary Curriculum

Language Arts

  • Parts of Speech/Function of Words (noun, article, adjective, verb, preposition, conjunction, pronoun, adverb, interjection)
  • Word Study – (prefixes, suffixes, synonyms, antonyms, word families, contractions)
  • Sentence Analysis – (Subject, direct object, indirect object, adverbial extensions, clauses, etc)
  • Verb tenses
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Literature
  • Spelling
  • Handwriting
  • Etymology

Arithmetic

Metal fraction plates sitting on a table, child using fraction pies in a measuring frame. 3 pieces of paper on the table with colored fraction pieces on them.
  • Place value into the millions
  • Basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division)
  • Memorization of basic facts
  • Squaring
  • Cubing
  • Multiples and factors
  • Money
  • Measurement

Geometry

Close up of a child's hand moving a paper person cut out across a pink stick. Paper label says "divergent line"
  • Point, line, surface and solid
  • Geometric solids
  • Congruence, similarity and equivalence
  • Angles (constructing, bisecting, operations with angles)
  • Lines
  • Shapes
  • Perimeter
  • Area

History/Cultural Studies

  • Fundamental needs of human beings
  • Study of civilization
  • Telling time
  • History of human beings with the use of timelines

Physical Geography/Physical Science

  • Sun and Earth
  • Three States of Matter
  • Phases of the moon
  • Physical Geography
  • Political geography
  • Land and water forms
  • Studies of geology

Biology/Life Sciences

  • Botany (Leaf, root, stem, fruit, seed, flower)
  • Plant classification
  • The Scientific Method
  • Zoology – Body Function of Animals
  • Vertebrates and Invertebrates
  • Animal classification
  • Ecology/Eco Systems

Music, Art and Physical Education

  • Rhythm and tempo
  • Grading and matching sounds
  • Scales
  • Book making
  • Different art mediums
  • Control and movement

The Great Lessons

There are five Great Lessons in the Montessori elementary curriculum. These five lessons help lay a strong foundation for all of the work that comes in the elementary classroom. Furthermore, these new lessons are unique to Montessori schools and are not found in traditional schools.

  1. The Story of the Creation of the Universe – “God With No Hands”
  2. The Story of the Coming of Life (The Timeline of Life)
  3. The Story of the Coming of Human Beings
  4. The Story of Communication and Signs
  5. The Story of Numbers

Going Outs/Field Trips

The outside world is an extension of the classroom. Thus, it is important to prepare the children with the tools to be able to go out into the world on going outs or field trips. In effect, these trips are intentional outings planned by the children as part of their work in the classroom.

Benefits of the Lower Elementary Montessori Curriculum

Close-up of a Montessori small bead frame. A child's hand touching one bead with one finger.

The Montessori curriculum is an integrated approach that aims to present the big picture of the universe, like with the telling of the five great stories, as well as dive into the details. Through the use of hands-on materials children are able to come to understand abstract concepts, such as long division or how tectonic plates shift during an earthquake.

The Lower Elementary Montessori curriculum is an integrated curriculum that also focuses on practical life skills such as time management skills, establishing a daily routine, fostering appropriate social interactions, and supporting children in knowing how to make independent work choices. The concrete materials that Maria Montessori created support fine motor skills and respect the child’s need to explore to gain a deeper understanding of abstract concepts. Children are not vessel that can be filled up with wisdom and knowledge from the adult. They need to be the ones to do the learning. As the prepared adult we can prepare the environment and guide them to the things they need to learn but then they themselves do the learning through exploration.

In my personal opinion, the Montessori environment is a peaceful place where small groups of lower elementary children have the opportunity to foster community and explore through the integrated curriculum that is presented by elementary teachers.

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