Elementary Program

Philosophical Overview

The Great Lessons are at the center of Cosmic Education, the elementary Montessori curriculum. Elementary children use their imaginations and reasoning minds to explore the universe. The adult acts as a storyteller of the truth, inspiring the children and guiding them as they acquire the skills to pursue their interests with dedication, rigor, and joy. “The stories present not only the changes the earth has undergone since its beginnings but also the ways in which each new animal or plant affects all the others. The stories inspire awe and wonder about the ecology of the natural world. They also build a sense of the importance of making a contribution to the continuing stream of human progress…” in search of what we call the cosmic task.

Each child’s experience is enhanced by key lessons opening doors to new areas of investigation. Much of the work of the elementary child is collaborative. The child learns in partnership with others and at different times, each child is both a teacher and a learner. The children become prepared, both spiritually and intellectually, to make a positive contribution to our world. Freed and supported by the trust of the adults, the elementary child is independent, self-motivated, and imbued with a love of learning and a respect for self, others, and the environment.

Through Dr. Montessori’s plan of Cosmic Education elementary students enter deeply into the process of researching, classifying, and organizing areas of history, science, geography, geometry, English language, and mathematics. Ignited by the materials and lessons presented in the prepared environment, the imagination of the child is able to explore widely and deeply into all elements of the universe.


The elementary level spans an important period of development in the life of a child between the ages of 6 to 12 years. We have organized this developmental period into class groupings that serve children from ages 6 to 9, the Lower Elementary and class groupings that serve children from 9 to 12, the Upper Elementary. We have established these class divisions for practical reasons but recognize that the boundaries between them are porous and our educational approach addresses the imperatives of the developmental level rather than arbitrary age groupings. Thus the approach used at both levels is quite similar.

The child between the ages of 6 and 12 is in an age of deep investigation and the consolidation of knowledge. The Lower Elementary student builds upon foundational skills that began to flower in the Primary and strengthens and consolidates them throughout the early elementary years. These skills support the elementary child as he/she uses them to extend and broaden explorations of interest and to challenge his/her personal limits throughout the course of her elementary years. Dr. Montessori’s recognition of the vast potential lying within each and every human being informs and guides our work with the children. We place faith and trust in the inner drive of children to purposefully explore and master the cosmos. Our curriculum is called “Cosmic Education.” This phrase refers to the breadth of learning that happens within the classroom as well as the interconnectedness that lends structure and coherence to the implementation of our philosophy. Knowing that the universe itself is interrelated, we believe that understanding any one part connects the student to the whole. Students have freedom of choice and uninterrupted time to explore their own interests. The teachers serve as guides and facilitators for the children’s explorations as they acquire skills, pursue interests, and develop their unique potential.

The classroom is a rich academic and social environment. Children work alone and in collaborative groups to explore topics in language, art, music, mathematics, geometry, geography, history, biology, earth science, and physical science. Their studies are inspired by Montessori lessons and invigorated by their own interests and enthusiasm. Children and teachers work together to ensure that the students master the basics of an age appropriate curriculum while exploring areas of personal interest. The students record their work choices and set appropriate goals. Regular meetings with their teacher encourage students to use the freedom of the classroom with responsibility. Teachers guide the students in setting goals for worthy work. The children are free to choose appropriate work. They are not free to choose not to work. The children’s passion for learning often leads them to exceed an adult’s expectations, and we hope to foster this independence. Too many requirements stifle the initiative and creativity of the children; insufficient guidance allows them to flounder. We strive to help each child find the balance that works to free his or her potential.

Children explore the cosmic story of the beginning of the universe. This story provides a framework into which all subsequent lessons in various disciplines will find a meaningful place. Students use their powerful imaginations and reasoning minds to investigate the formation of stars, planets, and the solar system. They explore the beginning and evolution of life on earth, culminating in studies of human beings. Investigation of human beings leads into the study of early humans, the needs of humans, and the development of civilizations. Students are introduced to the many fields of human exploration: geology, physical science, biology, geography, and history. Students are able to explore these topics in great depth and also weave them into a larger vision of the cosmic whole.

Language is the foundation for discovery and communication. Elementary students learn the history of the English language and study grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling. Students read literature and poetry from a wide range of genres and eras. Students continue to hone their reading and writing skills, becoming proficient in both creative and expository writing. Students also have many opportunities to develop oral language skills. Formal presentation of written work, as well as informal opportunities to argue and debate ideas in class meetings or classroom work time helps the students become confident and competent in expressing themselves with grace and clarity.

Every human being possesses a mathematical mind in search of order and pattern. In the Montessori classroom this power is nurtured to aid the child in constructing a deep understanding of mathematical concepts and fluency in applying these concepts to a range of situations. Concrete learning materials assist the children in building abstract understanding of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra.

The arts are a vital part of the child’s self-expression and cultural exploration in the Montessori classroom. Students are free to choose art activities that have been presented to them to develop their skills and often integrate the arts into many aspects of their exploration. Both the classroom teacher and an art specialists support children in this process.

Art lessons provide an opportunity for students to work with an art specialist to further develop their understanding of the elements and principles of art. They explore working with a variety of media, working methods, and problem solving methods. In addition historical and cultural elements are also studied. It is important that all students see themselves as artists and that they have regular and consistent practice in order to develop their skills to a level of personal satisfaction.

Music is an important part of the elementary Montessori experience. Weekly lessons given in a child-centered approach that emphasizes the child’s role in the creation of music. Students work on improvisation, composition, ensemble work, singing, movement, and music literacy. Students participate in their own musical or theatrical projects with the guidance of the specialist or classroom teacher.

Students participate in Physical Education. This provides an opportunity for all students to develop competence in many movement forms and proficiency in a few. Students take part in activities that demonstrate how to achieve and maintain a healthy level of fitness thorough a physically active life style. Respect for self and others sets the tone for all students no matter what level of skill they have attained. Students are expected to be inclusive in their play and supportive of their peers so that everybody has an equal opportunity to experience all facets of any game. It is the combination of individual skill building and team cooperation that leads to a satisfying experience for all students.

Collaborative work is at the heart of the Montessori process. The classroom environment is organized to offer maximum opportunity for the children to learn from and with each other. Older children are positive role models and mentors for the younger students. Class meetings and group discussions help children navigate the challenges of establishing friendships and working together in a positive and supportive community. Group work builds skills of communication, empathy, responsibility, appreciation of diversity, leadership and cooperation.

Montessori students have many interests. Often these interests extend beyond the walls of the classroom to “going out” explorations into the broader community. These student or teacher initiated trips allow children to access resources from the rich diversity of the Carlotte region and to experience first-hand the interdependence of citizens in an urban community. Students are encouraged to choose appropriate destinations to pursue their personal interests more deeply. They make the arrangements for the visit and learn about their topic of interest. In addition, they engage in the life of the larger community. They are exposed to the numerous individuals whose work makes our society possible. They also learn and practice the norms of behavior expected in the broader society. Going out helps students continue to explore the possibilities of their own future contributions to the knowledge and functioning of society as a whole.

*Originally written by Pat and Larry Schaefer, Lake Country Montessori School, Minneapolis, MN