ELEMENTARY Philosophy Paper for Parents
Maria Montessori based her method on the idea of following the child. If your
child has been in the primary class, you have an idea of what this entails. Your
child has been learning to be self-sufficient in his work and thoughts. The
children in the primary classes are also absorbing information from their
environment and ordering it in their growing minds. Their love of learning is
blooming as they are trying new works and repeating their favorites. Montessori
developed a method in which the child could grow in an independent and positive
manner. Just as this ideal begins in the primary classes, it follows through
into the elementary years.
Montessori said the goal of education is, "the development of a complete human
being, oriented to the environment, and adapted to his or her time, place, and
culture (Lillard 3)." She studied the children as whole human beings. Rather
than educating just a part of the child, she believed that it was highly
important to guide them to be self-sufficient people in the world that they live
in. This begins in the primary classes. The children begin by learning basic
practical life activities. These basics are the foundations not just for the
elementary curriculum, but also for life in general.
The Four Planes of Development
Montessori believed that learning occurred in four phases. These are what she
called the Four Planes of Development. There are three things that occur in each
phase. First, there is a specific goal of development. There are milestones that
the children step up to in each phase. The second is that of a direction to meet
these goals. This pertains to how the children go about understanding the
information being presented to them. The third are the sensitivities in each
phase (Lillard 9). There are certain concepts that the children are sensitive to
or can absorb more easily in each phase. The curriculum is molded around this
idea to allow the chance for each child to absorb the information that is
appropriate for him.
In the first plane, ages 0-6, the child is highly sensitive to language. It is
at this age the child learns to communicate to society around them. The child at
this level can absorb new words quite easily. He also has a strong need for
order. The child in this first plane is learning basic skills. These include
washing hands, pouring water, scooping, tracing, etc. All of these works are put
together in order to train the child's eye to move from left to right. This is
all in preparation for reading. This is one of the main goals of this age. Also,
the child is working on his fine and gross motor skills. The child goes about
reaching these goals through repetition. The child at this age loves to repeat
works and through this process, imprints the concept in his mind. At this age,
the child has a tactile sensitivity. The sense of touch is extremely important
to him. It is through this sense that he is able to gain many impressions such
as how to form letters and numbers, the difference between land and water, etc.
In this first phase, the child has acquired and assimilated a lot of
information. At the end of this phase, the child is eager to gain more
In the second phase, the child is entering upon a different realm altogether.
The child now has a strong need for reasoning. Instead of knowing "What?" He
wants to know "how" and "Why?" It is at this age that the child is sensitive
to acquiring facts. He wants to understand the relationship between things.
Instead of through repetition, as in the first phase, one of the means that a
child uses to acquire information is research based. The child is encouraged to
find out more on their own with guidance. Information is imprinted now through
research and repetition. At this age, the child is concerned with fairness and
justice. This is one of their sensitivities at this age. They are also concerned
with community. The 6-12 child is also very social. As we will discuss more with
the Cosmic Curriculum, the child wants to know how they fit into their society.
They want to know what they can contribute.
In this phase, the child is making the passage form concrete to abstract
thinking. The child is still sensitive to language but there is now more focus
on analysis. "Why do we use this word instead of another?" and "How are they
different?" The children are now seeing that different words mean different
things and coming to understand syntax. This in itself is an abstract concept.
The children come to learn these concepts in ways that are not as concrete as
before. In mathematics, the mind is also refining itself. It too is capable of
grasping more abstract concepts. The child is still able to manipulate the
material but its form takes on a more abstract form than before. This passage to
abstraction is continuous through out the phase and is one the important goals
of the phase.
The Elementary Curriculum
The Elementary Curriculum is centered on one main concept of study. This
study is called the Cosmic Curriculum. The goal of the Cosmic Curriculum is
to facilitate the child in answering the question, "Who am I?" We have already
discussed that the child is starting to see himself in a community. He is now
trying to see where he fits in. Many adults still struggle with this question.
They struggle unconsciously for years before it actually confronts them in
adulthood. To help the child answer these inner questions, we "give the child
the universe" (class notes).
By teaching the story of the world, whole to part, we can give the child an
impression of what came before and what is capable of becoming. He then has an
impression on which to build further information that he is introduced to. This
curriculum begins with the introduction of the Great Lessons. These Great
Lessons deal with The Creation of the Universe, The Story of Life, The Beginning
of Man, The Story of Language, and The Story of Numbers. With these stories, all
aspects of the curriculum, including math, language, history and geography, and
science, are integrated together. This connection makes an impact on the child.
The impressions that they gain facilitate them in all learning that they do in
and outside of the classroom.
As we discussed before, community is important to the child of this age. The
concept of "going out" into this community is a fundamental part of this
curriculum. "Going out" helps the child find their place in society and answer
their questions about what they have to contribute. Again, impressions are made
on the child, which will last through out their lives. They are learning by
doing and being part of their society. The Cosmic Curriculum is the binding that
ties all of the other areas of the classroom together and most importantly help
the children grasp a sense of Who they are and how important they are to the
future of the world.
The teachers in the primary and elementary class have the same purpose. Rather
than acting as teachers, they serve as aids to the child's discovery of the
world. It would be more appropriate to call them guides. The guides are a
"link to the environment" (Lillard 23) of the classroom as well as the outside
environment. They also serve as models for the child in the way of grace and
courtesy. The guides (teachers) carefully observe each child in order to
discover what the specific needs and interests of the child are. From these
observations, the teacher is able to develop a curriculum order that is
specially suited for each child.
The Prepared Environment
The prepared environment is one that is especially suited for the child's age
group. The environment is set up in a way that the child can be successful.
There are no obstacles presented that might inhibit the child's development. The
prepared environment is simple and orderly. In the elementary classroom the
materials are set up to teach as well as to present more questions for the
child's further research. For example, a material dealing with biomes in
geography can lead to the questions of Who lives in this biome? What part of
the world does this biome occur in?, etc. The children can then choose to
research this topic and learn even more. The environment is also set up to
prepare the child for real life. The environment of a Montessori classroom is
highly important because of the fact that it acts as a door to the world around
them. The children learn through their environment through to the outside world.
Freedom with Responsibility
Montessori called freedom, "The key to the process of development." Sitting in
desks does not contain children in a Montessori classroom. Because movement is
important to this age, the child is free to move around the classroom. Through
movement the child is accomplishing further learning. The child is also free to
choose works as they come in interest to him. This freedom does not mean that
the child is able to run loose without control. From the first years in the
primary class, the children learn self-control. This self-control is what allows
the class to function in a productive state. The child is proud of this
responsibility. It is something that they take pride in. They feel proud of the
responsibility that they have over themselves and the environment. This is a
form of their independence. This independence is important to their development.
The children learn to be responsible before they achieve total freedom. The idea
of freedom acts as an unspoken voice in the class. From self-discipline comes
independence that transforms itself in to responsibility. The teacher represents
a guiding force of this concept and acts as a model for this self-discipline.
All of these aspects allow the classroom to have an organized, "normalized" and
The Elementary Child
The elementary child has a growing need of independence. The Montessori
Curriculum accommodates this by giving the child opportunities to be productive
and independent. One way is through the practical life and sensorial areas. The
sensorial are of a primary class has transformed itself to the real living world
in a Montessori classroom. The children are working with objects that they would
find in the world outside of the classroom. For example, they are feeling an
actual earthworm, working with the binomial cube as it applies to mathematical
equations, using all of their senses to take in all information from the world
around them. In the practical life area, they are now doing more intense works
that involve many steps such as cooking and cleaning. These areas directly
prepare them for what they will confront in real life. This is one of the main
purposes for these areas as they help to educate the whole human being.
During the years that Maria Montessori was developing her educational method,
there were many wars going on between men. This made a deep impression on her
and the development of her method. Montessori believed that when you educate the
child, you educate the future of humanity. With this, she made peace education a
base in her curriculum. The children are guided to work cooperatively with each
other and to settle disagreements in a peaceful way. This is accomplished by
sessions at the peace table and using the talking stick. The children learn to
communicate with each other. Communication is something that is lacking between
leaders of the world today. By learning how to communicate now, the child will
have a better sense of conflict resolution in the future.
These are the main aspects of what the Montessori Elementary program is.
Montessori developed her method by observing the child. It is from these
observations that she was able to develop a curriculum specially suited to each
Plane of Development. With each new plane comes added responsibility and growth.
All then help to educate the whole child in order for him to take his place in
by Natasha Siva-Shook, Elementary Teacher
Works Cited: Polk-Lillard, Paula. Montessori Today, Shocken Books, New York: 1996