Working with Elementary Kids

Working with elementary kids is both fun and challenging. Once they can read and write independently, the world really opens up to them in terms of learning and research. Kids this age are generally curious, helpful, and ready for lots of new presentations.

Workplans and Choices

I use monthly workplans in elementary, but I also try to incorporate a lot of choices into a typical week. The children are free to choose from the workplan in any order they’d like, and can work independently or in small groups as desired. The one requirement for choices is that it be something that’s already been presented to them.

To start the day, we usually have a short “line time”. We talk about the date (looking at a calendar) and the weather. I write this sentence for them on a dry erase board: “Today is [day], [month] [date], [year].” So today I wrote, “Today is Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006.” Then they copy that down on their own paper. This gives them a chance to practice capital letters, ordinal numbers, days of the week and months of the year, punctuation, and of course just generally become familiar with the calendar.

The children receive a lot of presentations in these early months of the school year. Sister Mary always recommended doing math and language presentations in the morning, and cultural in the afternoon. That worked really well in a multi-age classroom, since smaller groups could be pulled out of the larger group for math and language for grade-specific presentations. In the afternoon, most of the cultural presentations were to the entire group.

Most definitely, a 3rd grader will learn something different from a volcano demonstration than a 1st grader. But, they can still both be given the same presentation. The differences come out in the type of work they will do afterward – the 1st grader may only copy down one of the volcano definitions, while a 3rd grader may choose a specific volcano to research.

Our Homeschooling Elementary Set-Up

As a teacher, I have a mental picture of what a Montessori elementary class should look like. Initially I felt like that’s what I should be re-creating in our house. After panicking when I tried to envision doing that, I realized it wasn’t going to be possible. I decided instead to use two small cabinets and change much of the work each month. So to start out I concentrated on putting out work that would (mostly) be used in September, (using the elementary workplans as a guide).

Here is a picture of one of our elementary cabinets:

One thing I like about this cabinet (from Target’s “organize-it” line) is that it has doors with handles. This means it can be closed when we’re not working (nice since this is in our front hallway). Also you can use a child-proof latch on the handles, which keeps toddlers out. Every morning my son opens up his cabinet and chooses a work. Our front hallway is large and has a big rug, so he can put his work rug right there and work. He uses a rug from the Azoka Company, specifically the Large Classroom Mat. I like the larger size because it gives him plenty of room to work.

The work in the cabinet is:

Top shelf: Word Study Cabinet and Movable Alphabet. Those two items will probably stay there all year, as there are so many things you can do with them. The Word Study Cabinet is just for Level 1. I found the cabinet at the Container Store. In it I put: Animal Homes, Young, and Sounds (Set 1 and 2 of each). Long Vowel/Short Vowel Sets 1 & 2, Adjective and Adverb Matching, Contractions Set 1 & 2, Antonyms, Synonyms, and Compounds Set 1 & 2. I plan on making a similar cabinet for Levels 2 & 3. I have other Word Study cards for Level 1 but I’ll just put those in individual containers when the time comes.

Middle shelf: Language and Math. These items rotate often. Right now, for October, there’s a Money Matching Set 2, Traffic & Safety Signs, Polygon Cards, Tens Roman Numerals, and sticks and addition signs to make addition problems with the bead bars (the stick is the line under the two or three bead bars that you’re adding together; the answer goes under the stick).

Bottom Shelf: A box of bead bars (I purchased them from a mom on eBay who makes them by hand; sadly she doesn’t sell them anymore), Addition Equation and Answer Tiles, with an Addition Finger Chart, and a Multiplication Bead Board.

Making the Most of the Elementary Classroom

I think elementary kids do very well with a balance of liberty and discipline. They do need some limits, but they are often able to make good choices on their own. I also think it’s important to balance the idea of “following the child” with the obvious requirements – reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic – that we know they need to learn.