The Elementary Program at Montessori Family School is comprised of two parts:
- The Lower Elementary Program for children in grades 1 through 3.
- The Upper Elementary Program for those in grades 4 through 6.
In the Classroom
At MFS the Lower Elementary classroom, as roughly 40 students, two experienced Montessori teachers and two assistant teachers. This low student-teacher ratio allows students to receive individualized attention and instruction.
The single Upper Elementary classroom, meanwhile, has about 30 students and two teachers.
In accord with the Montessori “cosmic education” principle, subjects are taught in an interconnected way that encourages students to engage in multi-disciplinary thinking. Students are taught to make direct use of newly acquired knowledge, whether it comes from science, history or literature, rather than simply memorizing it. Students are also encouraged to pursue their interests, and are given support for studying those interests in depth, on their own.
In the Montessori system, cultural study encompasses the traditional disciplines of social studies and science. So in the Lower Elementary Program, children begin their “cultural” work by taking a macrocosmic look at the universe, starting at the beginning of time. Using a timeline to organize their study, they examine the Big Bang theory, the formation of the earth, and the beginning of life, which they look at first on the atomic and cellular levels. As their study of the “Time Line of Life” proceeds, they are introduced to increasingly complex plants and animals, and end with the study of mammals and flowering plants. Along the way, they learn about the history of life forms, and the emergence and development of species. All learning is linked to allow students to attain a broad comprehension of how the sciences of botany, history, zoology, physics, chemistry, and geography all fit together, and have developed in an interrelated manner.
Montessori hands-on math materials provide a concrete foundation in the four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This knowledge allows students to develop problem-solving skills and place math in a real-life context. Students are also introduced to the study of time and measurement, estimation and logic.
The Lower Elementary Language Arts Curriculum provides students with an understanding and appreciation of reading and literature, writing and grammar, punctuation and spelling, homophones, antonyms, root words, alphabetizing skills, and research.
Practical Life Studies
Students rotate through a series of jobs that enable them, as a group, to take care of their classroom. These jobs can range from caring for class pets, to setting up for, and cleaning up after, a daily class snack, to managing recycling, and cleaning up the play area outside the classroom.
The Upper Elementary Program continues the work introduced at the Lower Elementary level. Continuing their work on the Cosmic Education Curriculum, students, over three years, study the course of human history: from ancient civilizations, to the Middle Ages and the age of exploration, to the civilizations of the Americas, and, finally, those of California. In their science studies, they follow a three-year sequence of earth science, physical science, and then biology.
Montessori math and geometry materials support the students’ move into higher-level thinking in this area of study. Once the four operations are mastered, students move on to study fractions, decimals and percents, problem solving, algebra, logic, graphing, probability, the metric system, and different base systems. Geometry materials, meanwhile, give them a strong foundation in the study of plane figures, area and volume and formulas for computing each; students are also introduced to the concepts of congruence, similarity, and equivalence.
The Language Arts Curriculum expands the study of grammar and creative writing, including poetry, fiction, expository writing, research, playwriting, songwriting, and the writing of restaurant and movie reviews, as well as memoirs. There is also an in-depth literature curriculum that introduces students to reading novels, and discussing them in literature seminars.
Practical Life Studies
Students run morning classroom meetings, and manage snacks and classroom clean-up. They also develop their practical life skills through such special projects as a once-a-year “restaurant night.” Under their teachers’ guidance, they prepare and serve a restaurant-style meal to their parents, managing everything from the invitations, to the menu and shopping, setup, food preparation, service, and clean-up. The project raises money for charity; the most recent beneficiary was Heifer International.
In order to provide a well-rounded educational experience for its students, MFS provides a range of enrichment classes, covering a wide array of subjects. Teachers provide weekly art, music, Spanish, and physical education classes. Students also go on field trips to places of interest around the Bay Area, visiting museums and botanical gardens, attending music and dance performances, and much more.
The cornerstone of the MFS social curriculum is the “class meeting.” The students set the agendas for and hold class meetings, which are used to discuss and solve problems together. No issue is too big or too small to merit the group’s attention. They resolve issues of social exclusion, work out game rules that make everyone feel safe and included, and learn how to speak honestly and openly to each other without projecting blame. These social skills often set them apart from other children their age, as they learn to deal with social and emotional issues with empathy and respect at a very early age.
The Lower Elementary classrooms have a buddy system, with each first-year student assigned a third-year “buddy,” who helps him or her understand the classroom and learning materials, and assists with schoolwork as needed. The younger students look up to their buddies, and look forward to the day when they’ll be buddies assisting younger students. Each first-year student also has a sixth-year buddy who visits the Lower Elementary classroom weekly, and provides help, guidance, and support.
Upper Elementary students also take part in a range of community service projects, each of which is selected by the class members themselves. They work at community food banks, and collect food and clothing for people in need. Social justice and community service are issues dear to the hearts of children at this age—and they are very capable of independently promoting and carrying through on projects of their own initiation.