The indispensable role that third-year students play beautifully illustrates the wisdom and benefits of letting children lead the classroom. The Grade Threes are critical to the success of our Montessori Lower Elementary learning community, helping establish academic, social and behavioural ideals by acting as role models, and providing expert guidance to younger peers.
Even during the first week of school, their leadership was apparent and invaluable. The Grade Threes each led different brainstorming sessions focused on formulating our classroom constitution, which is a student-generated body of rules and responsibilities that all children in our class agree to honour. Each third-year student worked with younger classmates to come up with ideas on how every person in class can show care for one another, care for our work, and care for our environment. They were excellent at scribing for their peers, and coming up with examples on how to use constructive language in the process.
Our third-year students are regularly sought out by their classmates for help in lieu of the teachers, and are articulate, fair enforcers of classroom rules and procedures. They are given real responsibilities, including the administering and checking of spelling quizzes, and the regular monitoring of playground equipment. Leadership opportunities are also often actively incorporated into their academic lessons, with follow-up work (and ultimate assessment of mastery) being presentations and lessons on the subject matter or concept given to younger peers. Doing so not only reinforces their own understanding of the topic, but also offers rich opportunities to develop confidence and communication skills. They are always so thrilled and excited to create fun and inventive ways to share their knowledge, often incorporating drama or art in the lesson for their classmates.
“If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – the Dalai Lama
When children enter their Elementary years, they become distinctly social creatures. The vibrant period between six and twelve years old is a time of increasingly-important friendships and building relationships beyond the family and the home. The opinions of one’s own peers become very important, and in conjunction with this, the children’s moral compass – their sense of justice – is simultaneously being carefully calibrated.
As such, the Elementary years are a crucial time for the child to build key life skills in communication, conflict resolution, compromise, and collaboration. Perhaps even more importantly, this is a critical time for children to begin to learn the value of compassion.
The early portion of the first term is focused on community-building: boundaries are explored and determined, and the seeds for a friendly and collaborative class are sown. The children played an active part in determining the expectations to which they are held (and to which they hold one another) by working together to formulate the class constitution. This collection of rights and responsibilities was generated by the children themselves, and is ultimately signed by every child in class.
COMMUNICATION AND CONFLICT-RESOLUTION
The class meeting is conducted on a weekly basis. During this meeting, the children learn to listen to their peers, and to offer and accept praise with grace and courtesy as they publicly share their thank-yous and compliments. They also learn how to honestly and respectfully acknowledge their own mistakes and to offer apologies to their classmates. The rest of the meeting is spent discussing classroom issues that have been jotted down by the children in our “classroom concerns” journal. Individual students are able to express concerns about issues that affect the majority of the class, and the children brainstorm to find collective, effective solutions to their problems.
COLLABORATION AND COOPERATION
Collaborative learning is an enriching and essential part of the classroom culture. The children frequently work in pairs or in small groups, simultaneously applying and developing social skills alongside academic concepts. They learn to take turns, value each other’s strengths, support each other’s weaknesses, and work together towards a common goal.
Cooperation is not limited to classroom work or lessons. Solving practical problems as a community can offer learning opportunities that are just as rich and valuable as any academic lesson in the classroom. The children all have jobs in the classroom and work together to keep it clean, organized and functional for all of the young citizens sharing it. They learn to help each other when assistance is needed, to respond to conflicts with care and constructiveness, and to actively play their valuable role in cultivating a peaceful and effective classroom community.
COMPASSION AND CARE
Empathy and compassion are facilitated by the structure of the classroom and even the curriculum. Intellectually, children are presented information that is comprehensive and vast: They learn about the universe first through the Great Lesson, and then become more and more specialized in their inquiry. Cross-curricular learning reinforces knowledge that we are small parts of an immense and vast whole, and that we each have an important purpose in that deeply connected universe.
Philanthropic projects are encouraged, and Elementary children naturally want to reach out beyond their classroom into the world. Students have the opportunity to brainstorm and plan charity projects – learning fantastic organization skills in the process – that enable them to contribute and give to others who are in need. We currently have a few projects being planned by groups of children in class; they are all completely voluntary, and the children are so excited to be able to actively give to causes that are close to their hearts. Watch out for some charity projects soon!
In the Lower Elementary classroom, we are not only cultivating inquisitive, motivated students – we are also cultivating responsible, kind and confident people of character. Life skills in collaboration, communication and compassion will not merely complement a child’s academic skills or talents; they are integral to a person’s ability to become a successful and happy human being.
With the optimism and energy of a new school year, we welcome students and families to the Lower Elementary Downstairs (LED) class at Montessori By The Sea!
The children of LED truly enjoyed their first day back at school. Most of the first day was spent simply establishing classroom routines, giving the children time to explore familiar materials on the shelves, and getting to know each other. After initial introductions, we began the day with an exciting and rather “mysterious” exercise that emphasized the uniqueness and individuality of every person in the class; please feel free to ask your child about the very special “person inside the box.”
This week, the class will be working together to form our classroom constitution, which is a collection of rules and principles that every member of our classroom community will agree to honour. The third-year students will each lead a group of younger students in articulating ways in which we show how we care for our work, each other, and for the environment. This exercise not only helps set clear expectations for the classroom, but actively involves each child in contributing to the community. Just as the students work hard to enrich their minds and foster good work habits, they also work to build the foundation of a respectful, peaceful classroom community.
We are also looking forward to focusing on the First Great Lesson, the Story of the Universe, in the coming week. This comprehensive story offers children a fundamental point from which to launch their own inquiry on the origins of our universe and our planet. The children engage in a little bit of the lesson – and its exciting experiments – over the course of several mornings. This gives them the chance to digest the great scope of the story, covering states of matter, the laws of physics, and fundamental geological concepts, and the time to delve into independent streams of study.
Dr. Montessori believed that the ultimate purpose of education was to enable a child to discover his or her purpose in the universe. It was thus quite fitting that one of the children asked the following question today:
” Why are we here on Earth?” (A very deep question for the first day of school.)
Curiosity is one of the pillars of a vibrant and thriving Lower Elementary environment; it is critical to the development and growth of every human being. Relentless inquiry and the importance of always asking questions took centre stage at the end of our morning today, as the children collaborated to fill our inquiry wall with their biggest questions. We discussed how curiousity was one of the most important things they could bring with them to school, and the children responded with some deeply thoughtful and truly delightful questions (including the musings of our budding philosopher quoted above): “What is the t-rex scared of?” “Who was the first man to wear shoes?” “How big is Jupiter?” “Why is our planet the only one we can live on?”
We enjoyed a brilliant beginning in LED today, and we all look forward to wonderful year full of curiousity, creativity and collaboration!
Please mark your calendars: This year’s Parent Orientation Evening will be taking place on Wednesday, September 30th, from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.; all families are cordially invited to attend. We will begin the evening with a Lower Elementary Program overview for parents in both classes. After this, parents will continue to the LED classroom to discuss more specific information about daily routines and procedures. This evening will be a valuable opportunity to better understand your child’s classroom, to ask any questions about the curriculum and the program, and to also connect with teachers and other parents in the school community. Families who are new to the Lower Elementary Program are especially encouraged to join us for this evening.