Elementary Community

This prepared environment is designed for children ages 6 to 12 years.

The Montessori philosophy underlying the Elementary program is called 'Cosmic Education,' as it includes everything in the cosmos. As the child moves from the Children's House to the Elementary Community, the absorbent mind of the first six years gradually gives way to one that is ready for more complex abstraction and synthesis of ideas.

The foundation in sensorial work in the Children's House leads to the more specifically conceptual work of the Elementary Community. The curiosity for objects and qualities (e.g., color and dimension), which children developed and refined in the Children's House, becomes in the Elementary Community extended to the universe around them.

Prepared Environment: pathway to cognitive independence

The Elementary environment is organized to facilitate individual and group-based research, individual and group lessons, as well as quiet time and space for reading. The classroom and furniture (desks, chairs, and bookshelves) are divided in accordance with the elements of the curriculum: mathematics, science, history and social science, literature, books in Mandarin or Japanese, and a general reading corner.

Students do individual (or collective) work in areas where they have ongoing projects. The teacher keeps track of student progress in a log and gives lessons based on close observations; these lessons are given when a student or group of students are ready for them. When not following a lesson, students use their daily log to organize their project-based work, record their research in designated notebooks and binders, and manage their time.

Storytelling: Capturing the Imagination

Montessori teachers awaken the students' curiosity through 'The Five Great Lessons.' Each lesson is designed to make the students wonder, ask themselves questions about the world and ponder how it works. Students spontaneously start wanting to investigate volcanoes and whales and solar systems and water. These lessons/stories introduce the history of life on earth, of humans, language, and math.

Through these encompassing vistas, which include the whole of human experience within the story of the earth, students begin to glimpse the connections between things; eventually, this spark turns to an impetus to carry out a research project: they design science experiments, go to the local library to do research, organize their thoughts, they write reports, and develop ideas for further research plans.

Classification

The work of categorizing and organizing sense perceptions conducted at the Children's House level continues at a higher level of abstraction in Elementary. For example, the geometric insets are used to understand and manipulate more complex geometric figures and concepts; with practice, students learn to recognize basic shapes in architecture, objects from daily life, and integrated designs. The Botany Cabinet leads to research on plants featuring the given leaf shape, their habitats, growing conditions, etc. The Children's House classification of animals into the five classes of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians), which children practiced through the use of nomenclature cards, is now integrated within the larger five kingdoms (Protista, Monera, Fungi, Plant, and Animal). Each kingdom is explored by researching specific examples, writing descriptive summaries, detailed drawings, and charts as the student sees fit.

Language

Clear and effective communication that is grounded in respect and appreciation is the essence of the language curriculum. Students develop fluency from regular word study (antonyms, synonyms, homonyms, compounds and parts of speech), consulting reference materials, and reading literature in a broad spectrum of genres, including poetry, folktales, non-fiction, and the classics. Reading is also reinforced through reading aloud, reciting poetry, and giving presentations on individual research projects. Developing fluency and joy in writing is the ultimate goal of the language curriculum. First, students learn about the process of writing by exploring the mechanics of the language: they manipulate concrete symbols representing each element of grammar and use them to analyze sentences. Second, students learn to organize ideas and rephrase information after consulting relevant reference materials. Lastly, students explore both creative and expository writing through the regular production of stories, poems, reports, and plays. The curriculum encourages students to cultivate a passion for presenting their knowledge and expressing various perspectives through writing.

Second Language Learning

Clarity of expression and precision in description are key to the teachers' communication with the students. By offering a daily model of accuracy, the teachers help reinforce high standards of expression, which students internalize and strive for in building their vocabulary and range of idioms in the second language.

In both oral and written communication, students instinctively seek to express themselves in the way a native speaker would: through examples gleaned from research done in the second language and idioms acquired from communicating daily with teachers and peers in either Mandarin or Japanese.

Mathematics

While students initially continue to learn about the four operations through the use of concrete materials, their consistent, regular and spontaneous use gradually reinforces the concepts. Before long, students become ready to conceptualize the operations in the abstract, with less and less need to refer to the concrete learning materials.

Research and Going-out

The Elementary environment marks a transition from learning with the help of concrete objects to learning through the use and manipulation of abstract concepts. This move from 'the known' (i.e., that which is concrete, tangible and ready at hand) to 'the unknown' will send the student on a quest to encyclopedias, tables and charts that are readily available within the environment, to more specialized research tools in libraries and actual artifacts in museums. Class presentations help the students reconnect to a familiar environment and feel grounded.

Social Interaction

The Elementary prepared environment is a place where students are encouraged to work with and support one another. This spirit of collaboration and cooperation fosters solidarity and mutual respect. This daily positive experience reinforces trust in social interaction and shows students that working together is a learning journey in itself, with its own rewards. Students for whom close and respectful interaction with peers is a normal, daily experience are more likely to seek and replicate this successful model as they become older.