Elementary School Curriculum
The core Montessori elementary curriculum integrates studies of the physical universe, the world of nature, and the human experience. In contrast to the traditional model in which the curriculum is compartmentalized into separate subjects with given topics considered only once at a given grade level, the main Montessori concepts are integrated throughout the ongoing curriculum. This means that younger students explore new concepts at a concrete level. When the same subjects are revisited in subsequent years, older students are able to understand and investigate familiar ideas more abstractly and in greater detail.
The integrated curriculum includes materials and activities for the development of understanding and skills in the following subjects:
Mathematics (arithmetic, algebra, and geometry);
Science (natural sciences, physical sciences, and environmental sciences);
Language arts (including phonics, spelling, grammar, sentence analysis, foreign language, creative and expository writing, and literature);
Social sciences (history, civics, economics, anthropology, sociology, geography);
Cultural life (music, drama, and visual arts); and
Physical education and health.
The integrated curriculum encourages students to make connections between topics—such as scientific discovery and historical context—and to put their educational skills to use. For example, a student working on a science experiment understands the discovery of penicillin in a fungal mold. Taking her learning a step further, with the teacher’s guidance, she then explores penicillin’s possible impact on World War II when it was first widely used to treat soldiers wounded on D-Day. In the process, the student engages language, arts, and communications skills to document and share her findings.
In this way, the student guides the path of his/her learning by engaging special interests and his/her own learning style. The Montessori teacher functions as a critical resource in this process, always ensuring that the student's research and findings are valued and teaching the lesson that we live in an evolving universe where growth, development, and adaptation are essential for existence. The Montessori classroom is rich with resources to stimulate the student to explore deeper in order to understand their world more clearly—cultivating lifelong learning skills.
Montessori’s Integrated Curriculum: The Cosmic Education
The integrated curriculum is the central guiding theme of Montessori education at the elementary level. The term “Cosmic Education” refers to the interrelatedness of humanity and the earth. It is both a philosophy and a guide for the development of an interdisciplinary curriculum. The concept of cosmic education goes beyond the “bits and pieces” approach. It presents a comprehensive whole picture of the world—a world in which the student sees himself as being a part.
The foundation for the integrated curriculum is an organizing vision of the universe on a grand scale, called Montessori’s five Great Lessons:
The Origins of the Universe;
the Time Line of Life;
the Time Line of Humans;
the History of Mathematics; and
the History of Language
These lessons set out a macrocosmic framework into which all the concepts, values, and academic lessons are organized. The central theme unifying all the Great Lessons is the concept of the order and interrelatedness of all elements of the cosmos. Dr. Montessori saw the grand scheme of the universe as not only awe-inspiring, but also as a great teaching tool.
Establishing the student's understanding of and appreciation for the great cycles of nature—which maintain harmony and order while allowing for change and development—underscores Montessori’s core value of community stewardship. This theme of the evolutionary nature of the cosmos builds from the basic idea of interrelatedness and shows the significance of each element and species, its contribution to the whole, and the responsibility this implies.
The impact and magic of these first lessons, while telling a grand story and setting the stage for later work, is also designed to involve the student—giving him a sense of importance, place, and responsibility in his world. So, the academic lessons also fundamentally cultivate the student's character.
The study of history starts prior to the dawn of life, with the development of the solar system, life on earth, the development of humans, early civilizations, and recorded history. The student sees the long development which preceded the arrival of humans and then the long labor of humankind to accomplish all that is here for us to enjoy today.
In general, curricular concepts are presented in an historical format—that is, they are presented in the order in which the concepts were developed by humankind. When possible, lessons are directly related to the person and era in which the concept, discovery, or invention emerged or occurred. Writing plays and acting out the drama of the discoveries, inventions and new concepts is an integral part of the curriculum. At every turn in the curriculum, students are active participants and the arts bolster the academic curriculum in creative and often unexpected ways.
Science studies, including anatomy, physics, environmental studies, botany, and chemistry, are structured in such a way as to give the student a sense of classification so she can relate to the interrelated facts of the natural world. In fact, the system of classification approximates the order of evolution. The ultimate goal is to help the student cultivate an ecological view of life and a feeling of responsibility for the environment.
The first science experiments are designed to give the student the basic knowledge to understand the development of the solar system, the earth and its configurations, life on earth, and the needs of plants and animals. Although each individual life of earth (both plant and animal) seems to be selfishly fighting for its own survival, each takes only what it needs, and, in turn, makes its contributions to the ecological whole. The student sees these themes echoed in animal and plant communities in the classroom (such as the coexistence of various fish, snails, and corals) and in the outdoor classroom and garden (such as the co-dependence of fruiting trees on pollination by bees).
Throughout his/her scientific and historical education, the student sees the struggle of living communities to develop and maintain themselves and how this struggle benefits us today. The student begins to understand his/her role in the development of our living community, and cultivate the drive to understand it and the sense of responsibility to protect it.
Montessori materials for Mathematics (arithmetic, geometry, and algebra) continuously build on skills acquired at a concrete level, such as working with complex physical puzzles that concretely apply geometric principles. This continuous integrated curriculum allows the student to discover abstractions and their applications both in classroom math work (when studying geometry lessons) and in applying these concepts to other areas of study, such as chemistry or genetics.
The Hayward Twin Oaks Montessori School curriculum specifically addresses the Mathematics objectives set forth in the California State Standards. Number Sense and Operations and Geometry receive especially strong and effective emphasis in the Montessori curriculum. Students use a math textbook to guide core content skill development in relation to the California State Standards.
Language Arts (speaking, writing, reading, grammar, literature, and poetry) and the Performing Arts (fine art, music, and dance) are regularly integrated into the larger curriculum, allowing many opportunities for practice and reinforcement. For example, a history lesson on Abraham Lincoln may involve a class play which is written, directed, performed, and discussed by the students, raising important issues of political risk or the social climate around the Civil War. Or a botany lesson may involve experimenting with varietals of peas in the school garden, understanding the genetics of snap peas, learning the history of the monk Gregor Mendel and the discovery of genetics, and an art project illustrating the genetic linkages over generations. At every step of the integrated academic curriculum, students engage actively with the material and with each other.
Hayward Twin Oaks Montessori requires strong competencies in the development of expository essays and comprehension of diverse types of reading material. Other areas of emphasis at the elementary level are expository writing and practicing the writing process; guided reading with non-fiction texts; comparison between texts; interpreting and using media for communication; and genre, author, and illustrator studies.
The Peace Curriculum: Cultivating World Citizens
The human relations curriculum uses the theme of “Fundamental Needs” as its organizing concept. Through this perspective, the student sees that the needs of humans in all places on earth and throughout history are the same. Ignorance of this concept of basic equality can breed fear and prejudice. A primary goal of Montessori education to is help students learn to live in peace and harmony with all people and to establish an innate awareness that they are citizens of the world and stewards of their own communities.
To this end, world geography, international cultural studies, second languages, ethnically diverse classrooms, and world history are central to the Montessori curriculum. We want students to revere the dignity of the human spirit and to develop appreciation of differences in ability, in color, in culture, in beliefs, in thought, in ways of doing things, and in dress and in physical appearance.
The Montessori Peace Curriculum strives to convey a deep understanding that all people share the same fundamental needs and tendencies and that difference arises simply from different ways of addressing those needs. When the student can see that the needs of humans are the same, then he can respect and appreciate the variety of ways in which those needs are met. With this understanding of our human community, open-mindedness flourishes.
A primary focus of Hayward Twin Oaks Montessori School is to expose student to the natural world and guide them towards an appreciation of our natural world so that they recognize their unique role as stewards of the earth. The school emphasizes outdoor experiences and will provide extensive outdoor activities as an integral part of the learning environment. These opportunities may involve an outdoor classroom where larger experiments, art projects, and performances can occur and a school garden to compliment the science, environmental education, and nutrition curricula.