My Experience At A Montessori School - Lower Elementary

My time spent in the Lower Elementary classroom has been extremely necessary this year.

I have visited the school three times, and each time, I spent time in the lower elementary. During my first two visits, I was in all three classrooms and the time in L.E. was spent checking out the shelves, seeing the placement choices of where materials were and how the organization was. I also tried my best to see what, if anything, I didn't know about yet - much more the first time than the second, and trying to watch the children when possible. I will say, though, the children at this age were not my main focus for the first two trips. If you have read my post on The Romance of Montessori, you will know that my third trip was ALL about the lower elementary classroom and observing the children in the environment.

*Interesting information for you to think about - on one of my visits, the U.E. (upper elementary) teacher just happened to be in the L.E. class for a moment. She was able to talk a little bit with me, and I asked her what she thought would be the most flexible material to buy, and what I should 'definitely' make sure I have. In her opinion, the stamp game was absolutely on the top of the list! She said that with it, you can do all four operations, and that it was definitely worth the money spent on it. I have not purchased the stamp game, however, because you can get it for FREE at Montessori Print Shop in the free downloads! :)

Now on to what I observed:


THE LOWER ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM


photo credit - amherst bulletin news

The lower elementary classroom is very easily just a step up from the primary. Where you might see one or two small tables in the primary work area (outside of where they eat, of course), there were several small tables and child sized desks/tables for each class in l.e. (there were two classes side-by-side in one large room - which means at any one time, there are three-four teachers and about 40 children approximately!). Where the primary class has things very clearly divided in to the sensorial/language/mathematics/practical life categories, it gets a little bit intertwined in the lower elementary. Practical life as a 'work' becomes practical life as a team effort. The different cleaning tasks involved in the school day were, in this school any way, divided out among students and I imagine it's on a rotation schedule of some kind. I tried to take notes the second time I was there on the specific placement of where they put materials. I am sure that your decisions of where to place your materials are very much controlled by the space you have. There's not a great deal else to say about the environment itself - by this age, the children are used to a prepared environment and how to handle themselves.


THE LOWER ELEMENTARY CHILD


photo credit - dcsmontessori.org


I will try not to overwhelm you in this one - My post  - The Romance of Montessori - was written after my last visit to the l.e. class. The first thing you can expect of the lower elementary child is that they know how to choose the materials they need off the shelf, complete their work cycle, and put everything away. I am going to group these in to three groups again:

(1) The Normalized Child
(2) The Semi-Normalized Child
(3) The Newbie


(1) The Normalized Child

These children were on task. They weren't loud, although they did talk to each other in passing. These children were able to follow their lesson plans for the day, moving around to get what was needed without interrupting others as they worked. They were everywhere :) I enjoyed watching them as they were able to walk about the room without interrupting, give their full attention to the teacher as she gave individual/group lessons, and they looked as if they were right at home. At this point, the children have a work plan. They decide the Friday before what they will do the next week, and when. This way, they know what they must do, and still have the option of when they want to do it. This does not limit them, I don't believe, only ensures that they do accomplish what needs to be done in a weeks' time to make sure they are moving along. I asked the head teacher for this class what a workload each day looks like for them. She told me what they do, although I don't know if this is handled the same way across the board with a l.e. class. I guess it could just depend on the school. She said that a 1st year l.e. student is usually required to complete 5 works in a day. A second year would have about a 7-work requirement, while a 3rd year has a 9-work/day requirement. She also said they are able to watch, and if they notice that someone is doing a work that takes considerably longer than the average 15 minutes to work on, they can account for that. She said they do 2-3 Math works in a day, 2-3 language, and intersperse Science, Culture, Geography, Geometry etc. in between. And, of course, there individual presentations and group lessons.

(2) The Semi-Normalized Child

These children were the ones who most likely fell in to the same category in primary. They know how to do their work completely, yet aren't always as graceful about it. Sometimes they need more prompting than others, and tend to be louder and a bit disruptive at times, and may hinder the other children sometimes from being able to fully concentrate. Now please - PLEASE - don't think I am saying this in a critical, criticizing way. The truth is, my older two would probably fall in to this category most of the time. They aren't always loud, but do tend to interrupt (even if it is good intentioned) and distract others by talking to them or calling them away from their work.

(3) The Newbie

In this class, I think of the newbie as the first grader that has just moved up from the primary class. I imagine by the end of the year, this would  be a moot category, for it takes time to adjust to a new classroom, I'm sure.  From what I observed by a few children that I recalled being in the primary class last year, these students at the beginning of the year may tend to walk around a bit more, observe a bit more (sound a little like a first year primary???) and take a little longer to get their work completed. They probably depend a lot on the older students to help them find what they need or answer questions about things that they don't know yet. They may even need a bit of prompting on what they can move on to do, as far as choosing a work.


THE LOWER ELEMENTARY TEACHER


photo credit - mdtl.org


Once again, this is the busiest person (or persons) in the room. The head teacher, especially, because she/he is responsible for giving new presentations, checking work that can't be checked by the assistant teacher (the classrooms I visited had one head teacher and one assistant). My last trip, I mentioned to one of the two head teachers that I wanted to really be able to watch the interaction in the classroom and see how she was able to keep all the kids busy and working. Her answer - "That's the hard part." That one little comment she made was so liberating! I realized that it wasn't just me that found that was one of the hardest things. From where I sat, I was able to view both of the lower elementary classrooms, and both teachers and their assistants.   Here is where I may sound brutally honest - one teacher was overwhelmingly patient with her students, and the other seemed to not be quite as much. Now that I have said that, it seemed like one class was running a little smoother that day than the other, which may explain it. I watched the more patient of the two teachers the most, just from the angle I was sitting at, and she did have to give warnings, and she did have to dismiss a young child from a group presentation in Geometry. I loved that she didn't make a big deal out of it, just told him he was excused because he didn't need to interrupt the lesson, and moved right on to finish teaching. And, kept one eye moving around the classroom at the same time.

My Lower Elementary Child - Hoss :)


I have learned several things about my own children through these visits, and I think I will save that for the last in this series!

You can go here to see my first post in this series, all about the Primary Class.

The next in this series will be my observations in the Upper Elementary Class.

As always, I hope this is a blessing and help to someone else, but if not - it still helps me! The thought of helping someone else is wonderful, but putting my own thoughts down is also a great help to me!

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