Montessori children are known for their lovely manners, for their delightful questions and for their ability to keep their beautiful classrooms in order.
They seem to thrive upon order and routine as they absorb the simplicity and functionality of their carefully-constructed environments.
To a parent observing in the Elementary classrooms, it must seem at times that our children are now evolving in reverse. One look at their cubbies and at their attempts to keep them straight and we tend to shake our heads.
Because of the way the mind develops during our Elementary years (ages 6-12), we are switching from work on external order (neatness) to work on a much more complicated internal order (right and wrong, classification, logical order of an argument, or of the organization of a presentation for others), so our work sometimes looks very chaotic, when really we are making sense of things. It may seem that we are just arguing to be arguing, when we are sorting out what the rules, ideally, should be, and what they can be for the task at hand.
There follow several examples of the Elementary mind at work, then some examples of the Elementary teachers’ efforts to help us get organized. Maybe this will help you understand that things are not always what they seem, and, as one of our teachers has added to the end of her email messages, “You know, a butterfly is not always a butterfly.”
Elementary cubbies. Hey, nothing is falling out!
This is how we sort the things we have stored and straighten our cubbies.
Deciding which piece of unfinished work should be done next is very important. Otherwise one could end up with an exploding unfinished work folder!
Thinking of someone else and taking action about this thought comes naturally, though sometimes we are very caught up in our own conversations and don’t notice that someone needs help. We accept this either way.
Sorting finished from unfinished work helps us to get a collection of finished work together to show our teacher when we meet to talk about follow up work and new lessons we’d like to tackle.
Assembling Geometry Sticks to make various kinds of triangles is so much fun, we try to use all of the sticks.
Labeling triangles that have been built and classified by angle and side takes a little time, but we really like putting our collection into order and seeing how many of each kind we can make!
Making sense of a demonstration in geometry involving Solids of Rotation involves asking questions, listening to the teacher’s answers and using our imaginations.
Here, we are finding the area of two different triangular prisms by first drawing their faces on a large sheet of paper and thinking about them.
Working together our entire collection of fossils and shells was organized quickly. We talked it over a lot and helped each other.
We can make associations based upon characteristics we see in the specimen and in the photo and they don’t have to look identical to give us a clue at this stage.
Pairing specimens with photos and reading the captions helps with classification. Later, we’ll refer to the Timeline of Life and put them in chronological order.
Finding information in a book using the index is very satisfying.
After reading, sometimes we take notes and sometimes we just plunge right into an illustrated report.
Setting up some references to read widely on a topic of interest involves some planning. It helps if what you want is to get an overall view of the subject and find a narrow area for an actual report.
Imagining information from a long timeline in a clock format takes some work. Sometimes we create another chart to make it more concrete for ourselves.
Moving from a rough draft, with proofing marks from a friend and an extra note or two in the margin, to a final draft means a little investment of time with the pencil holder — and usually with the pencil sharpener, too.
Sometimes we tell ourselves the story we heard from the teacher over and over as we create our own timelines. This one is about the first humans and their inventions.
We work together to make decisions like where to start the words with a different prefix.
We sometimes face a dilemma about space when we are ordering pins for identifying all the capital cities on a continent. We have to decide whether to get another mat or to simply set the pins closer together. You might think this is a simple matter, but at the moment, it can seem quite important and complicated.
Boundaries and rules must be set and agreed upon before a game of soccer can be played in the park.
Sometimes we create a new game involving trees and how many times players can touch them.
We are willing to follow the rules we have had a part in establishing.
Passing along a skill like “How to Record a Science Experiment” is a pleasure when it involves a visiting Primary child. We remember how it felt to be new.
There is a lot of information about rules and classroom traditions, too, that we gradually introduce to our visitors from the Primary classes.
Sometimes we make something out of almost nothing. We are very proud of the diorama that emerged out of our reading about the ballet. All we needed was an old box and a little ingenuity!
We solved the problem of storage for our class yoga mats by sewing individual yoga bags which we can hang on our coat hooks.
Another coat-related activity involved sorting the coats we brought to United Way. This was a huge job.
This is how we use the lunchbox shelf made by one of our fathers. It works well to keep our placemats off the floor and available when we need them.
It is an example of how the adults can and do help us create systems to organize our materials and personal belongings.
There are even visitors’ hooks in the hall so that when friends visit, and when parents come to observe, they can feel right at home.
An inviting shelf gives the idea of how pretty our classroom can be when we put things away where they belong and dust and wipe our assigned shelves during “cleanup time” at the end of the work day.
Here a teacher sits with a few children to help with work journal organization. We write the date, the time and the name of the lesson we receive (or are practicing on our own) so we can see how we are spending our days.
One teacher’s own planning and recording corner serves as a model for us. It looks like everyone has to organize the job they do. We are not the only ones!
When we need more information, we use the telephone to make plans to go out. We usually bring a clip board with questions to ask and paper and pencil to take notes. This is a great way to learn about the latest developments (and to show the adults how well they can trust us to make a good impression.)
The adults have helped by establishing science equipment storage.
We would have a terrible time remembering and repeating all of the science demonstrations we get without the “Experiment Cards.” Here, two of us create a model of mountains with and without grass to demonstrate erosion in a large pan with the help of an Experiment Card.
The adults sometimes make an experiment book available in addition to the “Experiment Cards” — one of our favorite pieces of material. Sometimes we find experiment books at the library and bring them in, too.
There is a place for everything we need for the basic Geography experiments, States of Matter, Work of Air and Water, etc.
Sometimes we make a new, unexpected discovery, which is a lot of fun. Here, the gas generated by a chemical reaction is trapped in a baggie taped with electrical tape. it’s not pretty, but it was a smashing success. We were proud of ourselves.
A small version of each chart can be created and saved in this special spiral sketchbook with room for a story. Some of us like to keep a record of all the charts we’ve presented and their stories in this way.
When we create big charts and timelines (which is the usual way) we roll them up and keep them like this to preserve them until they are finished. Then, we either put them on display, take them home, or both.
We have created some pretty spectacular events when our work at planning and our teacher’s help at organizing have come together. For example, here is a class sitting down to a fancy Italian luncheon, complete with invited guests!
Ta-dah! Reports and charts presented in costume, amazed another class earlier this year. The topic, “Nocturnal Animals” was interesting to everyone. Even those who had seen us working on it didn’t know all the fascinating facts we had assembled.
A salt map of Italy showed topographic features, major cities and rivers. This was a group project that required some intense effort — and some adult help with the hot plate!
Perhaps this is much more than you wanted to know about the Elementary Sense of Order and how our efforts can seem to be a little chaotic, when really they are marvelously orchestrated events.
Come visit us and see if you can tell the difference. Look long and hard because we don’t always come out and say what we are thinking when we are comparing and contrasting, weighing the merits of a course of action, or making a decision with friends in a process that looks like a big argument. Sometimes our work space can look a little messy, especially when several of us and our work journals are involved and we are building a model or a diorama from recyclable materials.
When you can tell the difference between a box of trash and a box of recyclables you have arrived.
When you can see order in our apparent chaos, you have arrived. Welcome to the Montessori Elementary!
Thank you for reading our blog.