The Second Plane of Development
Maria Montessori divided human development into Four Planes of Development, each defined by sensitive learning characteristics. The second plane, characterized by Montessori as “the Metamorphic Age,” is from age 6 to 12. This is the period of intellectual growth, socialization, reasoning, imagination, cultural interest and a heightened sense of social justice. To address all these needs, the Lower Elementary curriculum must be vast and engaging. At Unity Academy of Chicago, the Lower Elementary curriculum builds on the goals of the Primary curriculum and offers learning opportunities in harmony with the teachings and values of Islam.
The following are the highlights of our program:
- Multi-age classrooms: Our Lower Elementary classroom consists of multi-age children from 6 to 9 years of age. Children progress through the curriculum at their own pace. Since a Montessori environment fulfills the academic and social needs of the children, the curriculum is designed to accommodate an entire span of interests and abilities, from that of the youngest child to the oldest.
- Academic preparation: The children are taught in a holistic and interdisciplinary manner. The Great Lessons are magnificent stories that span great vistas of time and space. They give the children an understanding of the cosmos. The children learn by working with hands-on materials designed to inculcate a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts or skills. The skills learned in mathematics and language arts are integrated with botany, zoology, history, geography, geology, chemistry, physics and practical life. The curriculum is aligned with Islamic studies, individualized Quran lessons and Arabic. The program cultivates the curiosity of the children while nurturing a sense of wonder in them.
- Hands-on materials: The Montessori curriculum is based on hands-on materials which isolates concepts and leads to exploration and discovery. Within most materials there are built-in features that allow children to find and correct their mistakes. Teachers present materials by following a logical scope and sequence. They are the guides who connect the child to the materials and let them practice till they are able to abstract the concept.
- Close-knit community: Our classroom is a close-knit community of peers who are learning to play their part in this world. The class community is a source of “life lessons.” Values like social responsibility, spiritual awareness, community service and ultimately global citizenship are the outcomes we are striving to instill in the children.
- Global citizenship: We strive to raise children with a sense of sympathy, tolerance and a deep awareness of their place in Allah’s cosmic plan and help them see their role in it. We strive to foster a higher sense of awareness of being a global community with the moral responsibility of serving humanity.
The Lower Elementary Program
The Montessori Curriculum for Lower Elementary is a spiral curriculum based on arousing the curiosity of the children, leading them to make discoveries and learn through hands-on didactic materials. The areas of language, math, geometry, botany, zoology, geography, and history are all taught in an organized scope and sequence that drives the child towards abstraction of the fundamental concepts in each subject area.
The language area encompasses teaching reading and writing through phonetic analysis and mechanics of decoding, with a simultaneous emphasis on reading for comprehension and critical thinking. Grammar, punctuation, and word study for vocabulary building are taught. Creative writing, research skills, poetry and different genres of literature are important components of the language curriculum. Spelling work is individualized with several different spelling groups within a class community. Writing is an important part of each day with students writing research reports, stories, letters and other creative forms of writing for self-expression and communication.
The Montessori math curriculum teaches students to develop a logical and critical mind. Students are presented with concepts in addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, measurement, problem solving, money and time. With a range of Montessori materials, students gain conceptual mastery of math concepts. Through the three year cycle children move to more abstract materials, with procedures gradually moving from concrete to abstract manipulation of problems and ideas. We also work on memorization and calculation of facts, graphs and charts for developing data organizing skills.
The geometry curriculum for Lower Elementary builds upon the sensorial area in the Primary program. Students are introduced to concepts and nomenclature for lines, angles, triangles, quadrilaterals, angles, circles and three-dimensional solids. The concepts of symmetry, congruency, similarity and equivalence are introduced and practiced until a competent level of mastery is achieved.
The cultural area makes up a major part of the Montessori elementary curriculum. It includes the areas of botany, zoology, biology, history, geography and physical science. This area is presented through impressionistic charts, timelines, nomenclature cards and presentations that strike the imagination. The cultural subject area instills the concept of interconnectedness and purposeful creation of the universe in the learners.
In the area of botany, students learn about the structure, parts and functions of plants. They learn about the diverse types of plant life on our planet and how to derive connections between the world of plants and other living domains through research, demonstrations, and experiments.
In zoology, children learn about the classification of animals and their characteristics. Through nomenclature cards, stories and charts, students develop a deep understanding of the animal kingdom. The system of scientific classification is introduced. The children learn about the vital functions of both invertebrates and vertebrates. The Timeline of Life is studied as classes of animals are presented in the order in which the corresponding fossil evidence was discovered.
Through geography and history, children are given the opportunity to explore the universe, their world and different cultures of the world. Children work on the maps of the continents and develop a deep understanding about each continent through the study of the terrain, flora and fauna, and climate.
History is taught through the use of timelines and charts. In this area, students develop an understanding of their place in the world. Students are presented with the larger concepts first and then move on to the deeper details.
Astronomy lessons are given with an emphasis on the child’s place in the universe. Study of stars, planet research and the study of celestial bodies are examined.
The structure and formation of earth, types of rocks, volcanology, minerals, weathering, work of water, plate tectonics, oceans and mountains are a few physical science topics that are explored.
Practical life at the elementary level retains the important aspects of taking care of self, care of the environment, grace and courtesy and purposeful movement. However, at the elementary level there is an emphasis on connections and higher goals. Students perform jobs to take care of their classroom and school environment. Keeping the classroom environment clean is the responsibility of all the students. This gives them a sense of attachment and accountability towards their classroom environment. Elementary students routinely help to maintain their classroom and school environment.
Students engage in cooking, preparing and setting up snacks for their peers, washing dishes, loading and unloading dishwashers, folding laundry, vacuuming, taking compost out, taking care of the plants and gardening among other housekeeping tasks.
The students feel a sense of ownership and pride in community service projects such as raising funds for different causes. They engage in acts of charity – gathering food, clothes and toys to help the less privileged members of our society. Elementary students have a heightened sense of social justice, at times engaging in writing letters to raise awareness for social issues.
Grace and courtesy lessons take a complex turn, dealing with how to solve problems, facilitate peace among peers, stand up for the right things, and participate in class meetings. It is here that children learn sympathy, independence and interdependence, community involvement, social responsibility and peace-keeping, all important traits for building future global citizens.