Cathedral Hill Montessori School

"Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment." – Dr. Maria Montessori

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Cathedral Hill Montessori School does not currently offer an elementary program which serves children beyond the kindergarten year. If you are interested in continuing a Montessori elementary experience for your child, please visit our page for AMI Montessori school recommendations or preview our list of Montessori Elementary schools.

Why elementary Montessori?

While many parents are drawn to Montessori schools for their academic excellence, individualized approach to learning, and beautiful classrooms, most people miss seeing a bigger picture of what is really going on in a Montessori elementary classroom and why it is beneficial for children to learn in such environment. To see beyond a favorable reputation and beauty of the classroom we need to look into Maria Montessori’s vision of elementary education.

Montessori elementary consists of two levels: lower elementary with 6-9 year olds and upper elementary with 9-12 year olds. Just like in the Children’s House, having children of mixed ages in one classroom facilitates collaboration, learning from peers, and development of leadership skills.

These skills develop gradually. During the first three years children get comfortable with their learning style and learn to use techniques and resources that work for them. For the last three years in elementary they strengthen and broaden the acquired skills and transition to more abstract thinking, while relying more heavily on books and other resources.

The Montessori method of teaching is one of a kind. It is based on physiological and psychological needs of a child. Dr. Montessori observed the tendencies and psychological characteristics of the elementary child and created an educational plan called “Cosmic Education” that correlated to these tendencies. These tendencies include: tendency for exploration, order, orientation, work, repetition, abstraction, exactness, and tendency to communicate with other humans. All these tendencies find an outlet in the way learning is organized in the Montessori elementary classroom.

I would like to draw your attention to the way the tendency to communicate is provided for in the Montessori classroom. Unlike a public school classroom where the teacher demands that the children do not interrupt the lesson by conversing with their peers, the Montessori classroom allows the children to use the powerful tool of language to discuss, debate and share their knowledge with eachother throughout their day. It gives them an opportunity to develop their interpersonal skills along with academic knowledge.

Besides these tendencies, children between ages of six and twelve have three characteristics that drive their development: they use reason and imagination, they have a “herd instinct”, and they are in a sensitive period for moral reasoning.

Let us examine the first characteristic – use of reason and imagination. The elementary children are interested not only in what things are but they also ask why and how questions. You might have observed this tendency yourself if you had a chance to interact with a 6 to 12 year old. A lot of learning in the Montessori classroom is done through oral stories told by the teacher. In these stories the teacher presents key facts that inspire the children to explore and expand their knowledge through independent research. They are given freedom to explore anything that interests them in detail. The teacher does not confine their interest by her own judgment or by a prescribed curriculum. However, I have to point out that the teacher does make sure that the children meet the requirement of the public curriculum in addition to any exploration they do on their own. Thus, the children are not only given freedom to express their intellect but also to develop responsibility for their own learning.

The second characteristic might also be familiar to the parents of an elementary child. Children of this age are deeply interested in society and the way it functions. In fact, they practice building their own miniature society. We often see elementary children following fashions of their peers, listening to the opinions of their friends and even making up their own language. In the Montessori classroom the teacher appeals to the “herd instinct” by giving group lessons and allowing work in groups and pairs. It is also supported by the freedom of communication in the classroom.

The teacher also takes advantage of the sensitive period for moral reasoning by inviting children to explore a multitude of ethical questions. Children of this age have a heightened sense of fairness and have a desire to understand what is right and what is wrong. This interest in morality goes hand in hand with their preoccupation with society and its laws. In the beginning of the year the teacher gathers the children to help them establish rules that will govern their miniature classroom society. During this dialogue children propose, debate and eventually agree on rules they are to follow in the classroom. The teacher’s delicate task is to guide the children in this process. She does so by explaining that the rules have to be respectful, fair to all, and serve for the common good. When children have freedom to come up with the rules themselves, they are more likely to follow them and to monitor that their peers do the same.

The theme of laws governing everything in the universe and their importance in maintaining order and harmony is one of the main ideas of Cosmic Education. It is supported by the idea that everything in the universe is interconnected. In her book “From Childhood to Adolescence” Maria Montessori gives a fascinating illustration of this phenomenon. Every day an immense amount of salts is carried to the oceans by rivers. Yet the oceans remain to be a habitable place for millions of organisms. The balance in the composition of water is restored by corals. Simply by existing and feeding on minerals in the water, corals provide an essential service to the rest of the life in the oceans. Corals are not doing their job alone. Montessori goes on to describe the intricate network of currents, algae and schools of fish that work together as one big mechanism. Such symbiotic relationships are present in every corner of our planet. When the child examines just this one episode of life he or she invariably touches on physical geography, zoology, mineralogy, physics, and chemistry all at once. Logically, the Montessori education does not categorize knowledge into separate subjects of study. All disciplines are interconnected and they are presented as such.

We want children to see this relationship of things not only in natural world but also in the world of humans. Through conversation about origins of civilization and human history in the elementary classroom children come understand that humans are one single unit through space and time: what is happening to people in one part of the world affects the rest; what happened in the past affects the present, which, in its turn, determines the future. As a result, the child realizes the impact of his own decisions on others and learns to be responsible for his actions. It is definitely a much-needed skill in our modern world of ethnical and religious disputes. It is the reason why the Montessori method is dubbed as “education for peace”.

The second main idea is to help children realize the value of intellectual and physical labor. Looking at the progress of human civilization they see how work had a positive impact on our life. When they discover facts about famous inventors and their inventions, they realize how lucky we are now to yield the fruits of their labor and to have an easier life. This discovery inspires them to contribute something to society through their own work. Desire to gain knowledge and skills becomes a logical consequence of this inspiration. Learning becomes a fun and exiting pursuit. The teacher helps children not only to access and process necessary knowledge but also to learn to recognize their strengths and use them in their future endeavors.

Both of these ideas lead the child to the understanding of his cosmic task. Just like corals have a cosmic task of cleaning the oceans of poisonous salts, each individual may find purpose and satisfaction in realizing his or her task of being a contributing and responsible member of society and the planetary ecology. Raising independent responsible and caring members of society is our hope for a better future for our children, and the Montessori method might help us with this noble task.