The transition in a Montessori school from the Primary level to the Lower Elementary is particularly remarkable, and requires our special attention.
Maria Montessori developed an educational model to offer information and experiences during the times when it matches the child’s actual interests and ability to easily learn material.
Typically, readiness for this transition happens at the time when the child is losing their first baby teeth. Certainly, children will cling to some of the comforts of infancy while entering fully into the amazing time of life we call Childhood (with a capital C)!
Socially, the requirements of this phase are very different from early childhood. For one thing, fairness is a major issue. Children start to regulate and edit the rules of their own games, as well as create elaborate contingencies to account for different situations. Excuses are not easily tolerated and children expect other children to be accountable. (There will be do-overs, but only if you really deserve them).
Don’t be surprised to see your Elementary age child exhibiting new ways of behaving that are different than when they were in Primary classes. This is a normal part of their development, expect to see:
- Your child, who may have been so diligent about quietly working in Primary class, might be more interactive in the Elementary classroom.
- They may be much more talkative as they seek to foster social connections.
- They will likely be negotiating and problem-solving as they learn to handle social situations.
- They will participate in collaborative work and group lessons more often.
To support this stage of development you can:
- Encourage your child to problem solve, help them discover their own ways to maneuver through social situations rather than rescuing them. This helps them develop practical social skills.
- Encourage them to be themselves as they seek to find their place in the social group. Authenticity is a great trait at any age.
- Avoid outside tutoring. We know it’s tempting for parents to start their children on lessons outside the classroom to help them excel academically. But at the Elementary age, the most important thing for your child to learn is to “love learning.”
- We encourage children to do their very best every day. This fosters a sense of persistence and commitment that goes beyond just getting good grades.
- We emphasize independence by inviting children to select their work each day, helping them discover their purpose and talents. [Extra work can send your child a mixed message of feeling it is unimportant to concentrate in class because they are just going to work more at home. Or they may feel learning is hard, frustrating work instead of joyful discovery. Finally, they may get confused by different teaching methods, impeding their learning instead of helping.]
- Encourage reading at home. Reading together fosters parent-child bonding, which is always worthwhile. It also equips children to become more comfortable with a vital skill that fosters their learning for a lifetime. Reading also helps children develop empathy, an important tool for both self-regulation and successful social interactions.
There is a BIG difference from the atmosphere in the Primary classes. You can almost feel it in the air when you walk into the Lower Elementary: this age group means business. This is also true of the educational environment, and it is also a change from the Primary classroom. There is a great level of care and respect for the child, but they are no longer in the fragile and formative stages of early childhood, they are of course, still developing, but if they were given the emotional space to construct themselves in the Primary class, they are now ready to handle some increased expectations and responsibility for their own learning.
These differences often come as a shock to both parents and children. At age six, the child has spent half of their entire lives in the Primary class. They have mastered it and they are quite comfortable. This is wonderful and exactly what needs to happen for a child. They need to completely master each stage of their development and then, of course, move on.
The Elementary classroom does require the six year-old to get out of their comfort zone. This is the first of many times in their educational career when they will be asked to do so. But, one of the wonders of Montessori education is how it prepares our children for real life. By the time our children reach the Upper grades, they will have learned to take on new challenges with ease. They will develop a confidence and awareness of their own abilities, they will know their own comfort zone, but will not be afraid to reach beyond it in the quest for personal growth and a desire to know their own potential.
The first step is always the hardest. But, for our children, it is a necessary step in the right direction, and will lead them to both maturity and fulfillment.
– By: Heather Ayers.