Overview of Elementary Language Curriculum
Our alphabet has a fascinating history, and it is with the story of “Communication in Signs” that the elementary language program begins. What part did Phoenician merchants play in the development of written symbols? What did Romans contribute? How is our alphabet different from Chinese characters? These are some of the questions the children may pose for further research. In addition, language is more than a fascinating subject of study in itself. It is the vehicle of human communication, the way in which we exchange ideas, thoughts and feelings. Thus, the language curriculum covers in depth written and spoken language, reading, grammar and research, the keys to both self-expression and the acquisition of knowledge.
For Montessori children, writing typically precedes reading. In the primary classroom, children often develop writing skills, and these, combined with the desire to communicate, lead to many varieties of written composition in the elementary classroom.
In addition to the story of written language, stories about oral language, such as “The Story of Human Speech” and “The History of the English Language,” are presented to the children. The teachers use storytelling across the curriculum to convey information and to model the power of spoken language. Children are encouraged to discuss and share their ideas with one another and with the larger group. Many choose to share their reports orally, recite poems and produce plays.
Most children begin reading in the primary classroom. In the elementary program, they continue learning to read and truly begin reading to learn. Books of all literary types are available in the classroom. Both fiction and non-fiction serve to expand the children’s knowledge and awareness. Adults and children read orally and silently throughout the day, and the children develop a love of literature. They discuss shared readings of stories and books, following a seminar format. This involves preparation of the reading and a willingness to listen and discuss, respectfully, ideas about the text.
The study of grammar in Montessori is unique. Having been introduced to the “function of words” in the primary classroom, elementary children study the parts of speech in more detail. What work does a pronoun do and how is it related to the verb? If its place is changed in the sentence, does the meaning remain the same? Each part of speech has a distinctive, colorful symbol. Children place these symbols above the words of a poem or a prose passage to “see its grammatical structure.” Later, they begin to analyze the style of different writers using the grammar symbols.
Visits to the library off-campus with parents give the children opportunities to find out more about language. They learn to use reference materials, and they come to appreciate the library as a source of many kinds of information. Their language research may involve the comparison of works by a particular author, the derivation of idioms, or a multi-cultural study of similar folk tales. Library visits are one of many kinds of language explorations children undertake beyond the classroom.