Dr. Montessori referred to her elementary curriculum as Cosmic Education. The word, cosmic, derives from the Greek word, kosmos, which means “ordered world”. Camino Montessori maintains this tradition by referring to our elementary curriculum in the same way.
At Camino Montessori, “Cosmic Education” is the essence of our educational framework. Our practice is guided by the natural needs and tendencies of children. This cosmic approach attracts the attention and imagination of children, which leads to engagement, interest, and motivation, which, in turn lead to true learning. Our unified and integrated curriculum uses themes, which are referred to as “Great Stories”, designed specifically to engage the child’s curiosity, and to provoke within them an awakening sense
- of time–When did all of this happen?
- of place—Where did everything come from?
- of purpose for being—Why am I here?
These fundamental questions are universal, and at this age the child is beginning to think more abstractly about life. It is also during these years that the child’s sense of justice, fairness, and life outside of the immediate family are emerging to the forefront of thought, intention, and action.
To Accomplish these goals, Camino Montessori offers 3 Programs for 3 distinct age groups:
- Primary Classrooms (Pre-K to Kindergarten) 3-6 year old children
- Elementary I Classrooms (1st Grade to 3rd Grade) 6-9 year old children
- Elementary II Classrooms (4th Grade to 6th Grade) 9-12 year old children
In addition to providing the Montessori “Cosmic Education” framework as our curriculum, we also view the following essential (core) elements and characteristics as equally important in maintaining the integrity and authenticity of our instructional practices.
- A Community of Learners Montessori classrooms are composed of two, three, or more age levels into a ‘family-oriented’ classroom community. Children of mixed age levels and of different abilities work together for several years. Typically, only a small portion of older students, who are developmentally ready, move on to the next level. Children learn with and from one another in a caring community, and this is true of moral domains of learning as well. Interdependence is equally as important as independence. Our focus is on ‘inclusion’ at all levels.Since Kindergarteners are typically the “elders” of the Montessori primary level (ages 3-6 years), including them in our first Elementary I level is a compromise we must make due to initial funding restraints and requirements. Although our vision includes adding a primary program, it will be several years away. We will continually evaluate and implement the most optimal groupings based on the needs of our students as our program matures.
- Attitudes and Behaviors that Reflect Cooperation and Collaboration Children and adults are expected to treat one another with kindness and respect. Students will be taught and encouraged to use cooperative strategies for learning and as a guide for their behavior. Because children are encouraged to learn at their own pace, teachers will avoid comparing students against one another, and work to minimize this type of competition within the whole school community.
- Mindfully Prepared Teachers & Learning Environments We will ensure that our classrooms are warm, inviting, and aesthetically pleasing spaces. Emphasis will be on promoting a strong sense of community in which children are learning how to live and work in partnership with their peers and adult mentors. Elementary classrooms will be democratic, focused on consensual decision-making, and are run to a large degree by the children, with adult guidance given as necessary to ensure order and safety. We believe in promoting an emotionally safe environment, where students are able to take risks in all areas of their learning. We envision classroom environments where children learn to do things for themselves, solve problems together, learn how to master new skills and knowledge, and engage in their own self-discovery as individual members of humanity.Since the child learns to glean information from many sources, instead of being continually directed by the teacher, it is the role of our teachers to prepare and continue to adapt the environment and to link the child to it through carefully planned lessons. All materials and resources within the classroom will be set out and displayed for easy access by the child. The hands-on materials will be arranged in a logical sequence, for example, from the most simple to the most complex, or from the most concrete to those that are more abstract. We believe that an especially important aspect of the Montessori materials is that they offer multiple levels of challenge and can be used repeatedly at different developmental levels. Montessori learning materials are tools used to guide children into logical thought and discovery.
- A Flexible Schedule Our daily schedules will allow for flexibility, and provide for at least one uninterrupted 2-3 hour work period (“Great Period”). Children will be supported in selecting their own work, and progressing at their own pace. We believe that when group lessons are kept at a minimum, periods of concentration are protected, and children are exposed to the amazing amount of work at the elementary level, not only are the state curriculum requirements easily met, but our children will work and learn at a much deeper level, often surpassing typical benchmarks.
- A Personalized Instructional Approach The focus of activity in our classrooms will always remain on the current community of students—who each one is, what their interests are, as well as their unique styles of learning. We expect our teachers to act as “guides” who provide direct and indirect learning experiences whenever possible. Our teachers are always in the role of “model” as a lifelong learner.Camino Montessori will nurture and respect all intelligences and styles of learning. Learning begins with the child, and each child is unique. Montessori teachers are taught to use specific scientific observation techniques in order to continually assess each child’s interests, abilities, and styles of learning. Effective observation provides the teacher with the appropriate insights to ensure that all aspects of the learning environment are conducive to positive growth and development. Teachers are committed to their own continued growth and education, and continually review their practice in terms of current research and “best practice”.
- Hands-on and Experiential Learning Camino Montessori classrooms will not be text-book driven, nor will they rely too heavily on workbooks and seat work. Rather, emphasis will be placed on direct, personal hands-on contact with educational materials and/or concrete models that bring abstract concepts to life, and deepen our children’s level of investigation, exploration, and discovery.
- “Spontaneous Activity” Children have an innate tendency to touch things and explore their environment. Our school environment will be one that encourages children to move about freely within reasonable limits of appropriate behavior. Our students will be supported to choose work that captures their interest and attention. Our teachers will also strive to draw their attention and interest in new challenges and areas of inquiry. Although we promote an atmosphere of spontaneous activity, our students will be aware that there are basic skills and competencies which they are expected to master in spite of their possible lack of interest
- Active Learning & Participation Our students will be viewed as active participants in their learning process, and they will be offered choices in their activities, which are fueled by their need to be competent and to have some sense of control. Children will be encouraged to progress at their own pace, moving on to the next step in each area of learning as they are ready.Our students will play a vital role in helping to design the curriculum, formulate questions, seek out (and create) answers, thinking through possibilities, and evaluate how successful they have been.
- Self-Directed Opportunities for Learning & Activities Our students will be encouraged to work independently, alone and/or with peers, with minimal teacher-direction once they have been introduced to a new concept or skill.
- Control of Error & Self Discovery At Camino Montessori, we will strive to facilitate children’s independence and ability to learn at their own pace. Many learning activities (specifically those utilizing Montessori materials) are designed with built in control of error (self correction), which allows for more independence and self-discovery of errors, and which not only deepens the learning, but facilitates a sense of ownership for one’s learning. This characteristic is one of the essential keys to developing a habit of working toward quality, mastery and precision.
- Clear and Precise Instruction and Guidance In many cases, learning tasks are carefully and logically sequenced and programmed so that each new step is built on what the child has already mastered. All of our lessons and learning activities are specifically designed to increase the child’s self-confidence by minimizing frustration, confusion, and uncertainty.We promote deeper levels of understanding as a primary outcome of learning—learning how to learn. Facts and skills do matter, but only in a context and for a purpose. Our curriculum is integrated and organized around global themes (“Great Lessons”) which present students with real problems, real questions, and opportunities to share what they have learned through projects. The point is to not merely challenge students, but to invite them to think deeply about issues that matter and help them understand ideas from the inside out.
- “Freedom within Limits” Camino Montessori children will enjoy a considerable amount of freedom of movement and choice, however, within well-defined limits on the range of their behavior. Working in cooperation, students will be actively involved with establishing ground rules for the community. Camino Montessori believes in a positive discipline approach that is guided by a deep respect for the child and responds appropriately to where they are in their development. Research shows that we learn best when we have a sense of control in the process. We consider the child’s elementary years to be the “sensitive period” for developing one’s sense of fairness and social justice.
- Intrinsic Motivation Critical to Learning We wish to continually promote a love for learning (“joyful scholars”) and our focus is always on this long-term disposition rather than just improving short-term skills in order to move to the next level. Research shows that children learn best when they are interested and actively engaged. Therefore, we will not adhere to the conventional practices of assigned homework, external and arbitrary grades, and excessive and/or unnecessary testing. To ensure our learning tasks are implemented with purpose and application in mind, our guiding question for our educational policy and practice will always be, “What’s the effect on students’ interest in learning, their desire to continue reading, thinking, and questioning?”
- The Child as a Spiritual Being Our teachers will consciously design social communities and educational experiences that cultivate the child’s sense of wonder, independence, self-respect, love of peace, passion for self-chosen work done well, and the ability to respect and celebrate the interconnectedness of all people and life. We believe that children in this stage of development want to explore meaningful roles in society. That they want to know how everything came to be, the history of the universe, the world, humans and why they behave the way they do. They ask “big questions”, and want answers. Our curriculum is designed to “capture the imagination of the child in pursuit of the answers to these fundamental questions and inspire a passion for learning”. (Duffy, Children of the Universe: Cosmic Education in the Montessori Elementary Classroom, 2002) We educate for good character and a strong sense of morality, continually nurturing and encouraging their desire to help others and to make a difference.
- Stewardship of the Earth At Camino Montessori we seek to instill in our children a reverence for our planet–its nature, its systems, its interdependence, its diversity of life—as well as a deep sense of stewardship for the environment based on the conviction that each of us has responsibility for the beauty of the land and the health of our ecosystems. (N. Rambusch & J. Stoops, The Authentic American Montessori School).
- Universal Values All Camino Montessori personnel will seek to instill in all of our students basic universal values and essential patterns of polite behavior and social mores within the core of the child’s personality. These values include self-respect, acceptance of the uniqueness and dignity of each person we meet, kindness, peaceful conflict resolution, compassion, empathy, honor, individual responsibility, and courage to speak from the heart, and to “do the right thing.”
- Social Development Our classrooms will offer social settings based on a strong sense of community—a microcosm of society and democracy. Emergent skills will be harnessed for the good of the whole group. Cooperation and collaboration will be encouraged as a way of supporting one another in efforts of learning and mastery. Comparisons between children will be avoided. The individual will be viewed as an integral member of the group. There is an expectation that all children will develop over time, and that they will master the social system and curriculum to the best of their ability. Non-violence, non-aggressive behavior, and respect for self, others, and property will be the norm of our school.
- Global Awareness and Understanding To a large degree all Montessori schools are “international” schools. They not only tend to attract a diverse student body that represents many ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, but they actively celebrate cultural diversity. Our curriculum is international in its heritage and focus, and consciously seeks to promote a global perspective. We believe that the study of at least one foreign language and culture is critical to developing global awareness, and plan to offer a strong Spanish language and cultural program.
- Social Responsibility A spirit of service to others is a core value at Camino Montessori. Our students will be provided with support and many opportunities to not only learn about, but to take action and participate in service oriented experiences, ranging from daily contributions within the classroom and school environment, to community, national, and/or globally focused outreach.