Maria Montessori based her method on the idea of following the child. If your child has been in the early childhood 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 early childhood 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 early childhood 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 early childhood 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 information.

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 Teacher
The teachers in the early childhood 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 early childhood 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 productive flow.
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 early childhood 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.

Peace Education
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 society.

by Natasha Siva-Shook, Elementary Teacher

Works Cited:  Polk-Lillard, Paula. Montessori Today, Shocken Books, New York: 1996