“The children are sewing special, secret little holiday crafts,” said Noeleen about some busy activity in Lower Elementary South recently. “It’s a concept most of them learned in Casa when they learned to sew on a button, so they already know how to do this, which is great because they can thread a needle better than I can with my old lady eyes. It’s activities that they found; they have two to choose from. Each one is a little bit different. What’s nice is it’s all three ages helping each other out. Just like any Montessori material, they can go to the shelf and take it out whenever they want. It’s very collaborative; there’s always two or three working together so it’s been great.”
“Sylvia is working on another part of the secret thing,” added Noeleen. “They’re using old Christmas cards and there’s a lot of measuring and geometry involved in this, that you’ll see when they go home. It was a bit of a difficult concept so she started with the older students and they seemed to get the hang of it. They also wrote a little message in French that they had to translate.”
Noeleen noted that as part of their French language education, Sylvia speaks French with the children, as much as she can, throughout all of the projects they do with her.
“We have ongoing French projects,” Noeleen explained. “They’ll talk about French projects and at this age the French projects tend to be baking. The children have to choose the recipe, it’s a French recipe, translate it into English so they can understand it, and usually, if it’s, say, cookies, the recipe will be for 8-12 cookies, but we have over 12 children in the class, so they have to learn fractions and multiplication because they’ll often double the recipe to suit the number of children in the class, so there’s a whole lot of math going on there. They do some shopping and have to be accountable for money and their change.”
Children in Lower Elementary also learn about money in the Montessori environment.
“The year ones, if they haven’t been exposed to it before, we start talking about Canadian coins — the value and the name. The second level of that is being given an amount of coins and determining the value of them. The next level is what she is doing here: there’s a basket of objects she can choose [with price stickers attached] and we start adding the price of those objects, so we have to introduce the decimal point and determining that everything to the right of the decimal point is coins and everything to the left of the decimal is dollars. We have a great piece of material that they really get into in Upper Elementary called the Decimal Chequerboard.”
See this Upper Elementary update from a few weeks ago for an explanation of the Decimal Chequerboard.
Children in Lower Elementary at DVMS also learn to use a variety of tools to help them learn to spell and write.
“The younger students learn alphabetical order. As they get older they figure out how a dictionary can be a very helpful tool for them. Here they’re using their alphabetical order skills to figure out where the word would be. They know the guide words are at the top of the page, and then they have to find the word on the page. They’re trying to figure out what part of speech a certain word would be, so it’s a great tool when they’re using it for grammar. The other thing that’s great is when they look at the definitions in a dictionary, which meaning of the word is it referring to? They also see ‘Oh, wow! A word can be a noun and a verb’ We’ve had a lot of discussions about that.”
Working with the dictionary is also a part of the larger approach to learning to spell in Lower Elementary. Noeleen explained the approach to learning spelling:
“We’re looking at spelling rules. We’re at about week 8, I believe, and right now we’re looking at changing the ‘y’ to an ‘i’ and adding ‘es.’ It’s basic rules that they keep in mind and then you hear them say ‘Wait, wait, wait, we have to change it; we can’t just add an ‘s’ ‘ We slowly start to hear things like that.”
While a Montessori elementary environment is often a very busy, bustling place, students do have opportunities to work quietly and independently.
“Some students work well in a busier environment, with their friends surrounding them, but once in a while they recognize that they need time by themselves and we have a few single tables in the environment where they can do that,” said Noeleen in explaining the scene above. “They just need a little extra time to be quiet and need a little extra concentration. When we have class meetings or I have a conference with a student we use those little flags and they’re very respectful of it; sometimes I have to wave it front of them, but…
“I think it’s great, at a young age, that they learn what their learning style is,” Noeleen continued. “I constantly throw that back to them: ‘Where do you work best?’; ‘What do you think is best?’; and you can see this being put in place here.”
Remember long division? If you want a quick refresher, Lower North is full of experts.
“When they come from Casa, most children have been introduced to division. They’ve gone through the Golden Beads and the Stamp Game for that. We have a great piece of material called the Racks and Tubes that they keep working on division with, and then we start looking at long division. This child has worked through a few pieces of material — the Stamp Game, Racks and Tubes — worked with division facts, multiplication facts, and has now got the process of doing long division, and loves helping out someone who is just learning that. We start off with equal sharing and then get into having to do some exchanging. She’s a master of it.”
You have seen this material in Lower North updates before, and it is still a big part of the work that goes on.
“He is working with the Fundamental Needs of Humans. It’s material we start with in year one. We realize that when we learn history, there’s always basic needs that every human has had: shelter, food, clothing, defence… . He is working with the fundamental need of art and asked if he could make his own booklet. It’s a matching job where there’s a picture, you can see the first one is a cave drawing, a little card that says ‘Pre-History,’ and then there’s a closing activity where there’s a card and the word is missing, so he has to read it and figure out it’s talking about pre-history. He’s laid them out so there’s pre-history, Egyptians, Greeks, Middle Ages, Renaissance, and modern times. He’s gone back and made a little drawing in his own booklet and is writing in his own words what art was like in each period. It’s a neat material.”
The Lower Elementary gym program is also a big part of every day, not just gym days. They are taught new skills and fitness by DVMS parent Lisa Petrisor, and have opportunities to practise them as part of their daily activities.
“We have gym Wednesdays. It’s mixed-age over two periods, so about 13 kids in each group. This term they’re working on basketball. It’s great because some of them have never been exposed to the game before while some of them have been playing it for a while. In the classroom environment, we have a material — a basketball and a timer — and they can go before class starts to practise and reinforce their skills. Anything they’ve worked on they can take off the shelf and go to the gym to work on more.”
Check out this gallery on our Facebook page of a basketball game between DVMS Upper Elementary students and Upper students from Fairview Glen Montessori school that took place at DVMS this week.
Finally, the holiday season also presents the opportunity to cover the basics of writing a letter and addressing an envelope.
“We are doing old-school writing, before emails and texts — how to write a letter. I gave the students a choice. They didn’t have to write to Santa, they could write to whomever, but Santa’s a popular person. They already wrote letters. They learned how to address a letter, what a salutation is, the body of a letter, the closing, and a signature. Here, we’re looking at how to address an envelope. We talked about postal codes, what to capitalize, and the next part will be a trip to the post office to post the letters. In the new year, we’ll be looking at how to send thank you letters for some wonderful presents received over the holidays.”