Upper Elementary

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Ages 9 to 12 // Grades 4 to 6

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 Peace Curriculum

It is the great work of the Elementary child to develop a strong self-concept and find a place in the community. Therefore, as in the Lower Elementary, the academic and social mission of the Upper Elementary program inspires a dual sense of responsibility in which students learn to take care of their own needs while growing in sensitivity and responsiveness to the greater good. The result is an atmosphere dominated by an expectation of caring for oneself, for each other, and for the communal physical environment. In such an atmosphere of mutual respect the student’s own inner clock of development sets the pace and direction of their social and intellectual movement towards independence. Consequently, the boundaries of the Upper Elementary child’s environment expand in response to the continuing 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 in search of lasting individual and community-oriented habits of heart, mind, and hands.


Mathematics in the Upper Elementary is presented in a scope and sequence prepared to stimulate the constantly developing abilities of the nine to twelve year old. The Upper Elementary student possesses a mind that has the ability to judge, decipher, deduct, and reason: thus, to think abstractly. This is a blossoming critical thinker for whom the journey from the concrete experiences in the Lower Elementary to abstract reasoning and calculation in the Upper Elementary leads to the exploration and grasp of complex mathematical and geometric concepts. Through the manipulation of familiar and more advanced materials, students continue to move at their own pace in a step-by-step progression toward more abstract operations and relationships. It is precisely these gifts of time and materials, along with the practical integration of math into the broader curriculum, that help students better appreciate the language of numbers and their functions while providing a leg up in the climb to abstraction in preparation for the next level of reasoning and calculation contained in the initial studies of Algebra.

Language Arts

In the Upper Elementary, language is the holistic thread that binds the Montessori curriculum and ignites the imagination. Throughout the three-year learning cycle, students develop essential skills and strategies common to all proficient communicators. They are guided toward awareness, and ultimately a self-monitoring, of their own thought processes when engaging the spoken or written word as it relates to their own depth of comprehension or that of their very own audience. As these habits of mind take root through introduction to, practice with, and internalization of the rules governing the use of language, the writing process, oral expression, literary analysis and dialogue, and the research process, students begin to experience the active creation and absorption of language as meaningful, sophisticated, and relevant tools for growth.

Cultural Curriculum: History, Geography, Life Sciences, and Physical Sciences

In the Upper Elementary students explore the advent of humans on earth and the development of human cultures. Students extend their exploration of other life on earth through the study of biology and botany. We weave ecological concepts into both of these studies. Important to the students’ understanding of the world around them is the study of the physical sciences. The physical sciences are integrated into our studies of history, life sciences and geography. For example, students study simple machines when we explore ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and we explore chemistry as part of our botany study and human body study. Physical geography is woven throughout the cultural curriculum as students explore how the physical world shaped human cultures. We give particular attention to economic geography during the Silk Road study and U.S. history. An interdisciplinary approach to learning is central to Montessori pedagogy.


The Elementary art room buzzes with energy! During the morning work cycle, this space supports both Upper and Lower El students’ ever-changing work needs. Pausing in the studio, you could see a scene like this: at one table is a 1:1 Upper El math lesson. Nearby, two students from Upper El build a diorama showing the layers of the earth. A circle of Lower El Youngers taking a handwork break practice knitting and teach a newcomer. Another table is bustling as the Lower El Olders paint covers for their hand-bound science journals. The art teacher offers support to the various groups, but also steps back to let them practice, help each other, and problem-solve.

In the afternoon, the Elementary art studio is focused on Art as a subject. Lower and Upper El each have hour-long afternoon art classes twice a week, giving students time to practice skills and develop chosen projects. The 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. (Visit the TAB website to learn more.)

Art begins with a teacher-led group lesson focused on studio care, technique, art-makers around the world, or the artistic process. After the lesson, students transition to Open Studio. While lessons encourage ongoing growth, Open Studio is where the really deep learning happens! Students independently choose their projects with the support of the art teacher, receiving 1:1 lessons as needed. They are given space to think independently, collaborate, practice what they love, and explore themes to their satisfaction. Many walk into Art describing a detailed project they are excited to begin or continue. The children are curious and engaged in lessons, but they are very eager to get to Open Studio! 

In any given week, dozens of small lessons occur during Open Studio to support student interests and needs in real-time, such as armature building, paper maché, attaching with strength, paint blending, knitting, crochet, embroidery, knot-tying, hand-sewing, linocut prints, drawing a cube, shading with charcoal, drawing the face, book-making, needle-threading, setting up a paint-space, watercolor layering, mask-making, cutting with craft knives, saws, and awls, bending with pliers, wood-carving, sweeping, and, of course, cleaning as a team.

By following their own creative instincts, the students are deeply motivated to practice important artistic behaviors: planning a project, problem-solving, adapting an ‘oops’, working with deep concentration, and reflecting thoughtfully on their process. They often inspire each other and waves of projects occur spontaneously, like the recent focus on detailed board games that swept through both Lower and Upper El. They spent weeks designing and building them, and loved playing them even more.

While every year is a bit different, group lessons focus on a specific medium for several weeks, including drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, printmaking, and fiber arts.

In Upper El art, students are shown techniques using more complex tools and processes, such as linocut printmaking, charcoal portrait drawing, and acrylic painting. 

The techniques learned in Upper El art are all put to use during follow-up work and Museum projects, where life-size murals may depict an extinct creature, and a study of birds may be illustrated using watercolors. These developing skills and increasing independence, problem-solving, and collaboration are also on display while Upper El students prepare their spring play, painting scenery, designing costumes, and building props.


In accordance with our School Diversity Statement, Hilltop Montessori School upholds that gender and sexuality are on a spectrum and all individuals have a unique experience that will be respected as a human right. Teachers acknowledge these subjects within their class communities in a supportive, inclusive, and scientifically-informed manner. Developmentally-appropriate lessons about gender and sexuality are a vital part of the Upper Elementary curriculum. 

Hilltop’s Upper El puberty-health curriculum is built on 30 years of research into effective sexuality education programs. It follows the National Sexuality Education Standards for what students should learn and demonstrate during the Upper El years, and is inclusive of all learners. Upper El health education begins in 4th grade and grows across the 3-year cycle to support the needs of each age group as they progress toward and through puberty. Youngers, Middlers and Olders meet in separate groups to engage with curriculum designed specifically for each group. Health is held once a week for up to 10 weeks. Lesson topics include the physical, social, and emotional changes of puberty, consent, positive self-image, coping with peer pressure, etc. In 6th grade, the Older’s health classes include at-home reading assignments and family discussion topics.

Students work with ‘class agreements’ to ensure all can participate in a kind, equitable space. Students can engage with discussions at whatever level they feel comfortable, and each lesson includes an anonymous question box. Please note that while students learn about the spectrum of gender and sexuality at age-appropriate stages, how they engage with it is personal. Students who wish to discuss their gender and sexuality may do so in a safe and respectful environment, but no student needs to disclose this information at any time.

If you’re interested in resources to support your own learning at home, excellent books include:


In music, the primary areas of focus are singing, dancing and movement, listening, singing and rhythm games, composition and improvisation. The goal is to combine musical skill building with the elements of spontaneity, improvisation, and creativity. In addition to the general music classes, there are a variety of ensemble groups to choose from, including recorder, percussion, and jazz/pop classes. Here students develop skills in small group musical interaction, improvisation, ensemble playing, and music reading. Musical work in the UE also plays a significant role in the classes annual performance, at all school gatherings, the community dinner, and “sharing” performances for the lower el and primary classes.

Physical Education

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 9-12 year olds these skills include Ultimate Frisbee, soccer, track and field, volleyball, tumbling, badminton, pilo polo, dance, circus skills, lacrosse, softball and mile run training.