Lower Elementary (Ages 6 to 9) and Upper Elementary (Ages 9 to 12) are companion environments defined by non-interference in the learning process; they are a continuum designed to accommodate the full range of possibility and potential and wonder of each child throughout this expansive plane of development (the age of fairness and justice and exploration) as well as a freedom of movement during the work cycle; it is a “cosmic age” of looking outward to the universe, backward to the dawn of time, and inward to one’s own role and sense of purpose; therefore, the classrooms provide students prepared and inspiring access to the necessary tools, materials, adults, technology, the outdoors, and one another so as to meet their imagination and thirsts head-on. These too are hands-on spaces that thrive on attention to order and care; most importantly, they are where students come to construct their own learning and, in turn, themselves.
Work and Social
The academic and social mission of the Lower Elementary is to respond to the six to nine year olds’ changing needs, abilities, and sensitivities at this profoundly new and dynamic stage of development. The presence of age old tendencies to explore, to orient oneself, to order the environment, to imagine, to think in abstract terms, to be exact, to communicate, and to work with the hands all suggest inherent movement towards both social and intellectual independence. Consequently, the boundaries of the Lower Elementary child’s environment are expanded to accommodate the great strides being made toward the ability to reason, both cognitively and morally, as well as the irresistible pull to seek one another’s company and form groups of all kinds. Students develop self-esteem and learn to think for themselves by becoming fully engaged in the process of their own learning: through the nurturing of lasting individual and community-oriented habits of heart and mind.
Mathematics in the Lower Elementary is presented in a scope and sequence prepared to match the developing abilities of the six to nine year old. Initially, the elementary child builds upon the vocabulary of math and the understanding of numeration, counting, size, and shape introduced in the primary classroom. Familiarity with the four basic operations — addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division — is also methodically expanded through the use of a progression of manipulatives. Through extensive practice, the maturing lower elementary student develops the ability to perform arithmetic abstractions independent of the materials. In turn, mathematical learning at this level concerns the acquisition of facts and the facilitation of numbers, but more importantly, the preparation for abstract reasoning and calculation at the Upper Elementary level.
Montessori education uses a holistic approach to reading. The 6 – 9 year old classroom is a language rich environment in which literacy is developed through phonemic awareness, cultural studies, reading groups, and the research process. Reading instruction takes place in small groups or on an independent basis. Strategies for comprehension are emphasized and imparted across the curriculum. Writing development includes direct attention to the writing process as practiced through journaling, research writing, and creative writing in all its forms.
In the Lower Elementary program the child is given a cosmic vision of the origin and interdependence of life, of partnership and cooperation, and of each part of creation possessing its unique and critically important task. While being introduced to, and developing an appreciation for, the vast array of human differences — cultural, geographic, political, and economic – the six to nine year old also comes to see that humanity is rooted in a common set of fundamental needs. The Montessori cultural curriculum strives to nurture reverence and instill a sense of wonder for the grandeur and mystery of life, and assist the child in gaining an appreciation for his or her special role therein.
The goals of the lower elementary art program are to foster visual awareness, aesthetic appreciation, creative expression, and imaginative thinking. Students learn technical skills while they create unique and personal works of art. They learn the language of visual design (line, shape, color, etc.) to help them develop fluency of expression. Art is also an integral part of the academic program, with projects deigned to enhance classroom studies. The art program also includes the exposure to and discussion of reproductions of works of art, and an annual visit to the Brattleboro Museum. These activities help students connect their own art making to wider social and historical context. Finally, the art classes implicitly and explicitly promote awareness of the natural work as a source of imagery and inspiration, establishing a bridge to issues of environmental protection.
In Lower Elementary music class the primary focuses is singing, dancing and movement, listening, singing and rhythm games, percussion and improvisation. Simple rhythm instruments are used to accompany songs, experience ensemble playing, and develop rhythmic skills. Weekly “sustained silent listening” helps students understand different styles, instrumentation, and improvisation in recorded music. The goal of the class is to combine musical skills building with elements of spontaneity, improvisation and creativity. In addition to the general classes, third graders also participate in a recorder class. Here students develop skills in small group musical interaction, improvisation, ensemble playing and musical reading. This allows for stronger connections with individual students, and better assessment of the students’ progress, strengths and weaknesses.
The Physical Education program at Hilltop is guided by the seven components of physical fitness: speed, agility, strength, power, endurance, flexibility and coordination. Within the scope of a semester all P.E. activities address one or more of these components. Careful focus on attaining competency in all areas over time will ensure that a student is successful in achieving a healthy fitness level. For as fitness improves so does the level of skill development. For the 6-9 year olds these skills include tumbling, dancing, ball skills and manipulating a wide variety of small equipment.