A great transformation happens in the child at the beginning of the elementary years. The child wants to explore society and the world, wants to learn what is right and wrong, and wants to think about meaningful roles in society. He wants to know how everything came to be — the history of the universe, our world, and humans – and how we came to be where we are today.
It is in the elementary classroom that the child uses the mind to explore ALL areas of knowledge, to conduct research, and to develop creative ways of processing, exploring, and expressing this knowledge. Unlike traditional schools, subjects in the Montessori elementary classroom are not taught in isolation. All the work is interrelated, and a child’s interest and developing passion in one area of study gradually leads to all of the rest.
While spontaneous group lessons form daily, the main work is still done individually. It is in the small group, however, where we see the children reach higher levels of independence and education one would not have thought possible unless observed. The children exchange thoughts, communicate their own ideas, and exhibit a desire to work. A small group facilitates child-to-child teaching.
As heard among many Montessori teachers: The teacher is in charge of the minimum, the child the maximum. The teacher gives a foundation, or basic lesson. From there, the children will research following their own interests.
In the photo above, Ms. Nancy guides her small elementary group in a discussion on human needs and wants.
This lesson allowed the children to think about their own needs and wants, while realizing others in the group may see needs and wants differently. The discussion welcomed a new vocabulary word: debatable. One child who lives at the beach felt a car was not a need since she can ride her bike or walk to her daily destinations. Another child felt medical care was not a need since we have nature to help us. From the group discussion, the children followed their own interests and wrote in their journals their personal needs and wants. As you could imagine, they were all different – the hallmark of Montessori education.
This foundation lesson on human needs will lead the students to create and finish a research project on Native Americans. They will research the human needs of a geographic region that interests them and find a way to express those needs. Not knowing where the children’s research will lead them is as exciting for the teacher as for the child.