The Junior Level Curriculum
At the Junior Level, students continue to refine their physical skills and to learn and improve in the areas of caring for themselves (including nutrition and food preparation), socialization and interaction with others, and caring for their environment. Children are given more responsibility for keeping their classroom in order, and working out their disputes with others. Skills of performance and public speaking are honed as students present the results of their research and other works to the class, and group activities provide opportunities to experiment with, and learn about, the dynamics of leadership and group interaction. Gardening, outside or in our new greenhouse constructed by the Middle School students, provides opportunities for the children to experience first-hand the connection between environment and nutrition, and to refine their knowledge of botany and ecology.
Cultural studies in the Junior Level classroom flow from themes developed in what Maria Montessori called the Great Lessons. These lessons, presented with highly impressionistic stories and materials, offer the child a panoramic view of the universe and a sense of humanity across time. The great questions that arise from this view serve as a blueprint for further study in all cultural areas. The use of hands-on materials, coupled with developing reading, writing and research skills, allow the Junior Level student to ask and attempt to answer questions no less profound than “How did the world begin?” “Where did we come from?” and “Why…?”
From the Great Lessons introducing the Creation of the Universe, the Timeline of Life, the History of Writing and the History of Mathematics, Junior Level students are propelled into the study of time, calendars, and time lines; the fundamental needs of humans; civilizations; and geography, including physical and political geography and map-making skills. The study of the physical sciences expands into a general exploration into the process of scientific inquiry, and specific consideration of the laws of attraction and gravity, properties of matter, the solar system, and the formation of the earth. The Primary Level study of plants and animals is built upon, as the children learn more about the Five Kingdoms of Life, the external parts of plants and animals, body functions, and ecology.
As the basis for all communication, there is no area more integrated with the balance of the curriculum than language. While still presenting the child with the practical tools for encoding and decoding words, sentences and paragraphs, the study of language is never seen as an isolated exercise. Geometry is language. Botany is language. Math is language. In this way, the students never lose sight of the power of language as a means of conveying ideas. During the Junior Level years, students progress from emergent readers to independent and proficient readers, using phonetic decoding, contextual clues and sight words. Vocabulary and comprehension are enhanced by learning to use dictionaries and other research tools, and by grammar studies including parts of speech and sentence analysis.
Writing study moves from physical proficiency to areas of composition, including revising and editing, factual and creative writing, development of ideas, and research skills. Mechanics such as handwriting, punctuation, and spelling continue to receive attention. Consideration is also given to such literary devices and themes as cause and effect and character development, which are considered in the context of the students’ own creative writing, as well as the writings of others and oral storytelling.
With intelligent simplicity, the Montessori math materials give children a sensorial experience of the abstraction that is mathematics. The math curriculum allows students to do hands-on work with concrete materials. While stressing the importance of computational proficiency, this process leads to a conceptual understanding of math and lays a foundation for eventually working in abstract terms.
The progression from concrete to abstract continues throughout the study of the decimal system, quantities, patterns, and concepts; computation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division); problem-solving (static and dynamic); estimating and graphing; fractions; and measurement (money, time, temperature, linear, volume and capacity, weight).
Traditionally, the study of geometry is undertaken in later years as an abstract series of rules, theorems, and propositions. Maria Montessori saw geometry as firmly rooted in reality, and built a curriculum that uses concrete, sensorial experimentation, leading students to concepts through their own creative research. The point of the work is not so much determined by the result as by all the work the child has done to reach that result. In this way, students explore lines (and relationships between lines, such as convergence and divergence, parallelism, intersection), angles (types of angles, parts of angles, measurement, addition and subtraction), polygons (with an emphasis on triangles), and concepts such as congruency, similarity, and equivalence.