In this post I hope to outline some of the resources our family will be using over the coming years as we begin our Montessori-inspired lower elementary studies.
Our oldest daughter is currently 6 years old and, if she were going to traditional school, would be entering the first grade this fall. One of the biggest changes moving from primary-level studies to lower elementary is she will begin using a work plan this year. My hope is this will help foster personal responsibility and accountability, while also allowing her the freedom to plan her days.
I will preface this post first to say that during these uncertain times, planning is difficult and I implore everyone homeschooling to remain flexible. Observe your children, consider both their needs as well as your own, figure out what is working and what isn’t. Life’s too short to steadfastly cling to a certain curriculum or plan of study that isn’t joyful.
Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.Plato
Secondly, our home does not and will never resemble a Montessori school. I choose to draw bits and pieces from various educational philosophies that suit our family’s needs at any given time. In the coming years our educational philosophy at home will strive to do the following:
- Provide our children the freedom to explore their natural interests, thereby respecting their unique personhood
- Foster a love of learning and storytelling
- Highlight the fundamental needs of all peoples
- Explore the ways in which we can be good citizens and responsible stewards of the Earth
- Inspire a reverence for all life
- Prioritize inclusivity and diversity
- Focus on life skills
- Be a collaborative learning environment
Above all, though, I make sure to include our children in the decision-making process. This year our oldest daughter has stated she would like to do the following:
- Create a cookbook
- Play board games every day
- Learn how to use a sewing machine
- More fully explore how plants and trees grow
- Continue learning more about the human body, particularly the immune and digestive systems
Unlike a classroom setting, we rarely have a ‘formal’ 3-hour work period in our schoolroom. This isn’t to say that our children are not working, though — far from it! But at the ages of 3 and 6, both our daughters prefer to spend most of their time playing and exploring outside or engaged in practical life activities or playing with their friends. They love to be involved in big, meaningful projects and enjoy collaborative learning.
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I hope to share more about how we are structuring our homeschooling days in a separate post, but in the meantime I really wanted to highlight some of the resources we’ll be using this year in case anyone else is looking for some Montessori-friendly options for ages 6-9.
Every day we try to accomplish what we refer to as our daily riches. For this coming school year we’ll be prioritizing the following:
ART APPRECIATION: We’ve been using A Year in Art: The Activity Book for the past year now as part of our daily rhythm. Because its perpetual, it can easily be used year after year. We’ll also begin more formal artist studies this year.
POETRY: Every morning we read a poem from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year. I encourage our oldest (6) to write down any poem that’s especially meaningful to her or one she would like to remember by recording it in her work journal. I model this by doing the same thing myself.
HYMN: We are currently using Ambleside Online’s suggested hymn rotation.
AFFIRMATION: Our daily affirmation corresponds to our peace studies. You can read more about the resources we’re using in the Peace Education section below.
BOARD GAME: When discussing our plans for the upcoming school year, our oldest daughter specifically requested we play at least one board game each day. It’s included on our list of riches to ensure games remain a priority in our lives.
LITERATURE: While I haven’t finalized our read-alouds for the upcoming year, here are some of the top contenders:
- Thornton Burgess’s animal adventure books
- Ann Turnbull’s Maroo of the Winter Caves*
- Frances Durkin’s Histronauts series*
- Marguerite Henry’s Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin
- Louise Erdrich’s The Birchbark House series
- Michael Dorris’s Sees Behind Trees*
- Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and her companion books*
- Debbi Michiko Florence’s Jasmine Toguchi series*
- Michael Hutchinson’s A Mighty Muskrat Mystery series*
I like to preview our read-alouds first, and with COVID’s impact on our library I’m running behind this year. Books marked with an asterisk are those that I haven’t been able to read yet, so I can’t be 100% certain they’ll work for our family. Although written primarily for children in the first plane of development, you can read more about some of the criteria I consider when selecting books for our children in How to Select Children’s Books in a Montessori-Inspired Home. If you’re interested in more read-aloud options for your family, here are some of the other books we’ve enjoyed over the past few years.
BIBLE STUDY: We are reading Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Children of God Storybook Bible alongside My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories. We’ll also be reading the Loyola Kids Book of Saints as part of our peace education curriculum.
All of these things are pretty easy to casually integrate into our day. We tend to do our art appreciation, poetry, hymn and affirmation over breakfast. Oftentimes we’ll read aloud from our literature selection over lunch. Our board game and Bible reading tend to occur later in the evening as part of our bedtime routine.
There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving. The wood reveals that it is not only the trees that exist, but a whole, interrelated collection of lives. And this earth, this climate, this cosmic power is necessary for the development of these lives. The myriads of lives around the trees, the majesty, and the variety are things one must hunt for, and which no one can bring into the school.Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence
Not included in the above list is our commitment to spend as much time outdoors as possible. We challenge ourselves to spend at least one hour outside daily, and on the days we are successful we color in our corresponding leaf on our annual tree as green. On the days we’re not able to get outside for at least an hour we color in the day’s leaf as brown. Too many brown leaves in cluster is a visual reminder we need to try harder.
This year is also our first year participating in the 1,000 Hours Outside Challenge, so while an hour outside daily is our minimum we do try to strive for several hours outdoors a day. Truthfully, it’s easy for us to meet this goal when the weather is nice, but I’m having to work really hard on cultivating a better attitude about being outdoors when the weather is inclement.
As part of our ongoing character education, begin a formal study of virtues. I have selected to use The Family Virtues Guide: Simple Ways to Bring Out the Best in Our Children and Ourselves alongside the Virtues Project’s Educator’s Guide and Cards this year. Each week we’ll be highlighting the importance of each virtue. We’ll intentionally seek out examples and models of these virtues among ourselves, our friends, our family members, and in the stories we’ll be reading together.
To do well, it is necessary to aim at giving an idea of all the sciences, not in precise detail but only as an impression. The idea is to ‘sow the seeds of the sciences’ at this age, when a sort of sensitive period for the imagination exists.Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence
Introduce the Great Lessons. Michael Dorer’s The Deep Well of Time will be our primary guide.
Begin nature study. We’ll be using Stephen Moss’s The Bumper Book of Nature: A User’s Guide to the Great Outdoors for inspiration alongside John Muir Laws’s curriculum, Opening the World Through Nature Journaling: Integrating Art, Science, and Language Arts.
Foster environmental stewardship through stories and activities that align with our history and literature readings. I’ve selected to use Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.
Some of the topics we’ll explore this year include:
- Trees + Wind and Weather + Seed Dispersal
- Migration + Animal Survival
- Energy: Forms, Sources, and Conservation
- The Seasons + Seasonal Plant Cycle
- Forests, Trees, and Plant Succession
- Farming, Gardening, and the Nutrient Cycle
- Insects, Flowers, and Pollination
- Fresh Water and Its Inhabitants
- The Seashore
Begin the lower elementary mathematics scope and sequence. I’m using Cultivating Dharma’s Montessori Elementary Mathematics I Album to help guide me.
Use games to help reinforce math facts. For early math games, we currently like the following:
Continue Beast Academy. Our daughter began working with the 2A Guide and Workbook earlier this year. Beast Academy is self-directed learning at this point. She currently enjoys working through the problems alongside me. You can read more about Beast Academy here.
Use Math Games Lab for Kids: Fun, Hands-On Activities for Learning with Shapes, Puzzles, and Games. With a tactile and kinesthetic learner I’m always looking for fun hands-on resources, and I can’t wait to explore this book more in depth over the coming year.
Periodically use Khan Academy to determine overall grasp of mathematical concepts. Our daughter typically requests to ‘play’ Khan Academy 1-2 times per month. Since it’s aligned to Common Core, it also allows me to quickly see which math topics are being covered in a traditional classroom setting.
Begin the lower elementary language arts scope and sequence. I’ll be use Cultivating Dharma’s Montessori Elementary Language Album as my primary guide.
Incorporate creative writing prompts and activities. We’ll be using DK’s Write Your Own Book as a springboard for these exercises. Sometimes my daughter chooses to write her own stories, and other times she prefers to narrate her stories to me while I transcribe.
Play games to reinforce reading, spelling, and vocabulary skills. For early elementary language games we really like the following resources:
- Super Genius Reading 1 and Super Genius Reading 2
- Phonics Dominoes – Blends and Digraphs
- My First Bananagrams Game
- Word on the Street Jr.
- Making Words by Patricia Cunningham
Begin writing letters to family members as part of our family history project. We will be using Bob Greene’s To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come as inspiration. This will be a joint language and history project that will hopefully be continued for many years. In addition to fostering a closer connection with family members, our daughters will be able to practice their letter writing, storytelling, and interviewing skills while compiling what is sure to become a treasured family heirloom.
When the child was very small it was enough to call him by name for him to turn around. Now we must appeal to his soul. To speak to him is not enough for this; it is necessary to interest him. What he learns must be interesting, must be fascinating. We must give him grandeur. To begin with, let us present him with the world.Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence
Begin our study of history with the Great Lessons. We’ll be using Absolutely Everything: A History of Earth, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots, and Other Things Too Numerous to Mention by Christopher Lloyd as our main text. It aligns with the Great Lessons and provides an interesting, albeit brief overview of a plethora of topics from around the world. This year we’ll begin with the creation of the universe and work our way forward through early modern history.
Delve further into the early history of the Americas. I’ve selected to use Before Columbus: The Americas Before 1941 by Charles C. Mann (with selective editing since the book is geared for older children) as a resource alongside the first part of Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. We’ll also be reading the first two books of Louise Erdrich’s The Birchbark House series. The plan is the following school year we’ll continue with Kadir Nelson’s book and finish up the remaining books in the Birchbark House series.
Incorporate a plethora of picture books that correspond to each to topic. There are way too many to list here, but if you’re interested in that resource please send me a message and I’ll work on releasing it. As mentioned above, we are privileged to have access to a wonderful library system that is usually able to provide us with most of the picture books we desire (pending the impact of COVID of course).
Keep historical reference books on hand for our children to explore. I ultimately decided to purchase A Child Through Time: The Book of Children’s History by Phil Wilkinson and When on Earth? History as You’ve Never Seen It. Other reference books will be borrowed from the library on an as-needed basis. Oh, but how I wish I could buy all the books!
Create a timeline. As we work our way through history, we’ll create our own timeline to be used as a reference.
Geography + Culture
Continue biome studies. Our oldest will begin working with Waseca’s North America portfolio book this fall, and we will continue to work on our embroidered biome maps. At some point I hope to begin making felted wool biome play mats as one of our handicraft projects this year.
Continue to encourage open-ended use of art materials. You can read more about our art station here as well as some of our favorite art supplies here.
Schedule a designated time each week for art prompts. We’ll continue to use A Rainbow at Night: The World in Words and Pictures by Navajo Children throughout the coming school year. When the libraries re-open I plan to request Paint Lab for Kids for additional ideas to incorporate into our special family art time.
Begin nature journaling. Journaling will go hand-in-hand with our nature studies. Those resources are listed above. I’m using The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling for myself.
Both our children love handicrafts. Here are some of the projects we’ll be embarking on this school year:
- Embroidery: Creating Constellations
- Embroidery: Creating Biome Maps
- Wool Felting: Creating Biome Play Mats
- Papermaking: Creating Paper
- Bookbinding: Creating Books
Dedicate Fridays to special projects and favorite topics of study. This essentially means that I schedule no presentations on Fridays. We’ll continue with our Daily Riches and read-alouds, but the rest of the time will be reserved for our daughter’s special projects and topics that she would like to learn more about, encouraging her to begin conducting research on her own and assisting her in locating the resources and materials she needs.
Whew! I didn’t mean for this to be such a long post! But if you’re homeschooling lower elementary students at home this year, I hope our planned curriculum has given you some ideas that may be helpful to you. Here are a couple more resources that I’ve found to be extremely helpful when planning our curriculum:
- Montessori Compass’s Comprehensive Scope and Sequence (Infant – Age 12), separated by curriculum category
- You Can Do It All: Managing the Elementary Montessori Curriculum with Michael Dorer (Video Series)
If you’re still looking for a homeschool planner, please consider the All-in-One Printable Homeschooling Planner and Recordkeeping Binder. It’s designed to be a customizable and flexible solution that’s a perfect fit for families with up to 6 children. You can read more about it here: A Detailed Look at the All-in-One Homeschool Planning and Recordkeeping Binder.
As always, if you have any additional questions please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. I would love to connect with other Montessori-inspired homeschooling families who are also navigating the elementary years! And, lastly, I wish you the best of luck on your homeschooling adventure. May we all stay in good health and have a fun and exciting year ahead!