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.
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.
The Montessori cultural curriculum includes history, geography, life sciences, and the physical sciences. The great expanse of the cultural curriculum, covering everything from the cosmos to the atom, captures the imagination of the child at a time when their imagination is, as Dr. Montessori wrote, “the great power of the age.” The child explores the natural laws governing the physical world, the history of the earth, the incredible diversity of life on earth, and finally how humans have met their fundamental needs throughout history. The cultural curriculum inspires in the child both a feeling of wonder and a feeling of humility as he learns about all that came before him and all the life that surrounds him.
Hilltop’s Elementary Art program is based on the Teaching for Artistic Behavior method, or TAB, in which the student is the artist and the classroom their studio. Students learn techniques in a variety of media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, fiber arts, collage, and printmaking. They explore the elements and principles of design and learn about artists both local and around the globe.
Students independently choose their projects with the support of the art teacher, receiving 1:1 lessons as needed to support their process. They are given space to think independently, collaborate, explore themes deeply, and reflect thoughtfully on their process.
By following their own creative instincts, students are deeply motivated to practice artistic behaviors, such as planning a project, problem-solving, adapting an ‘oops’, working with deep concentration, reflecting thoughtfully on their process, and caring for their studio.
In Lower Elementary art, students are taught fine-motor techniques that support respect for one’s tools and a stronger product, such as sewing with a needle and sculpting using hot glue. They are taught age-appropriate techniques to give them confidence in a variety of media, such as building armature for a sculpture and drawing from a reference.
Lessons in Elementary Art often support the focus of the classrooms. In Lower Elementary, students may build dioramas of an animal in its habitat, learn about Indigenous Quechua weavers during the study of South America, and make paper during a unit on ‘essential needs.’
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.
“The first duty of an education is to stir up life, but leave it free to develop.” —Dr. Maria Montessori