Language in the Upper Elementary

Language is a huge area of study. It includes “learning to read” and then” reading to learn”, grammar & syntax, plus factual and creative writing. Each of these categories is in itself huge.

Montessori’s language curriculum is consistent with her principles of following the child, giving key lessons and independent follow-up work according to the interests of the child. In the Lower Elementary a child has three years of:

  • Grammar and Syntax
    • Word Study
    • Parts of Speech
    • Logical Analysis of Sentences
  • Simple Factual Writing
    • Using question prompts
    • “Who Am I?” riddles
    • Reports about anything that the child is interested in.
  • Reading Instruction

In the Upper Elementary all of these studies continue, but with important differences. There are many ways we approach grammar. For word study, we have a series of packets with action cards for areas like alphabetizing, affixes, synonyms, and many others. We have a series of command cards for each of the parts of speech that the child uses independently. For logical analysis we use the logical analysis boxes, but also get into analysis of complex sentences, clauses, and other advanced structures.

Reading instruction is “reading to learn”. We do book clubs and use the reading materials and activity suggestions from our purchased curriculum. This, however, is a small part of the overall reading in the UE, which is done for the writing we do.

Writing plays a huge role in the UE. Factual writing is much more complex than in LE. As we have the children for three years, we organize the history/geography studies into a rotating curriculum. In Year A we focus on Wisconsin, in Year B we widen the focus to the USA, and in Year C we throw the focus wide open to include the whole world. We expect the children to choose their own topics within these areas, read various sources about it, teach them how to write a proper research paper, cite their sources, and grade the papers using a rubric which scores on content, feel, tone, sentence structure, word choice, grammar/spelling/writing mechanics, length, and use of references. Creative writing takes many forms. We practice writing poetry, story writing, and dialogues to name a few.

Montessori Cosmic Education is intentionally cross-curricular. Reading, writing, history, biology, geography, mathematics, and geometry bleed together on a daily basis. Our students learn WHY they are learning skills and what they will be necessary for in life; because we follow the child’s interest, their years in Montessori, writing about a vast amount of topics that they have chosen, prepare them to pursue a career that follows their heart’s desire.

-Beth Milhans, PEN Newsletter, February 2017

Independence Within the Child

The Montessori classroom fosters independence. Maria Montessori observed a drive in a child to do things on their own. We recognize that drive by providing safe opportunities for exercising it. Independence does not mean abandoning the child to their own devices. Fostering independence in Montessori classroom happens through showing a child how to use carefully prepared environment, providing tools for the self-mastery which in turn builds self-confidence and self-esteem.

Children can only construct themselves. An adult is there to assist in their sacred work by providing just enough guidance and assistance where it does not become hindrance to their development. We should always give them reasonable choices- ensuring they cannot get hurt. We should always provide them with self-mastery objects that they can handle (each child is different), we should show them how, then give them time and an accessible environment.

Giving a child the opportunity to master self-care, caring for the environment or a new skill should always be in the area of their personal ability for success and not so difficult so as to become frustrating. At home we can help a child by allowing them to start with small chores that are thought out with their personal ‘range of success’ in mind. Slowly we can make those chores more complex; all the while observing their comfort level and sense of accomplishment. We praise, but very carefully. Building one’s self-esteem and sense of accomplishment should come from realization of one’s own powers (abilities) not from pleasing others. Creating routines into a day are good building blocks for future of security and knowing how to help one-self. Independence, ultimately, helps one become a confident adult who can make good decisions on their own that are based on their reality. We help a child accomplish this, by realizing that the time to gently nurture their independence is while they are still small.

-Saša Sokolovic, DMA PEN Newsletter, January 2017

Love Nature

Image result for love of nature

The influx of technology has provided us with so many opportunities. With the swipe of our fingertips we can look up anything, order rare items, and our children can independently learn and play quietly. Although these things fulfill some of our need for forward momentum and intellectual growth there is another human need they cannot satiate. In 1984 Edward Olson coined the term biophilia to describe the tendency humans have towards connecting with nature and other forms of life. Humans, especially the young child, have an urge to be immersed in and connected with nature.

In his book “Last Child Left in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” Richard Louv discusses a growing national trend to keep children inside out of fear of harsh or unsafe conditions in favor of indoor and often technological stimulation. He stresses the importance of providing our children with experiences outdoors to foster their innate love of the natural world. In the book, Louv offers actions and discussion points for connecting children and communities to nature.

Louv suggests specific ways that spending time outside supports the child’s healthy development. Think about making a fort out of sticks in the woods. There is no one right way to build the fort—possibilities are endless and creativity is not only allowed, but necessary for success. The child will have to manipulate large objects, moving blood and focusing the mind. The stimulation (or lack thereof) in a stand of trees reduces stress and can act as a powerful form of therapy. The immense variety and diversity found in nature provide endless sensorial experiences to enrich the child’s understanding of the world.

This week, the trees glistening with the weight of snow reminds me just how beautiful each component is. The bare branches stand strong against the harsh winter; meanwhile, the dancing snow shows us the playful side of cold, windy days. Montessori recognized the human desire to be surrounded by nature and now more than ever it is necessary to encourage this tendency in our children and ourselves. So while indoor technology may offer easy refuge from harsh conditions, we owe it to the children to continue to prioritize providing them with the enrichment only nature can fulfill.

“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.” (Maria Montessori, Childhood to Adolescence)

-Sarah Shay, DMA PEN Newsletter December 2016

DMA 2017 Summer Camp

Summer brochures are now available online. Registration for the camp is due by May 5th and is open to all students. We hope you can join us this summer!

DMA Summer Camp: Children’s House

DMA Summer Camp: Elementary


Cultivating Creative Confidence Through Conversation: Talking With Your Children About Their Artwork

“A little confidence in creativity leads to a lot of confidence in everything else” –David Kelley, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

As an artist and art teacher, I spend a lot of time engaged in conversations about creativity. So often, in my discussions I hear adults say “Oh, I’m not creative” or “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body” or “I can’t even draw a straight line” or something that completely dismisses their inherent human creativity. When I probe these statements further, I find out that most adults have experienced what I dub as an “art trauma.” This is the moment when one decides to throw in the creative towel because the perceived risks are too great. Most people can remember this exact moment in their childhood. It usually has to do with what someone said or responded to their artwork.

For example, this summer I was talking to a parent of one of my students who adamantly insisted that she was not creative. After I told her my theory of “art traumas” she told me her story. She remembered the exact moment. She was in the 4th grade and had drawn a bear to express her feelings about a particular experience. She was so proud of her artwork, but when the teacher came around she gave her a disgusted look and said, “Ugh, what is that?”. She remembered feeling incredibly crushed and vulnerable after she had worked so hard and was so proud of creation. After this moment she decided to creatively shut-down as a way of self-preservation. Unfortunately, I feel that this can be a typical experience of many adults.

Correspondingly, Pablo Picasso once said, “The creative adult is the child that survived.”  It is my goal as an art teacher that all my students “survive” to become creative adults. That they feel confident in their creativity, curious about the world, feel comfortable taking risks, and become active participants in re-imagining a better world regardless of the result. One way I make sure that this happens is by the language I use when I talk to them about their artwork. When we talk to children about their creations we need to make sure we encourage their innate creativity instead of extinguishing it. In the rapidly changing 21st century, the most important asset we have is our creativity.

As a parent you can encourage creativity in your children by thinking about the questions and comments you make while a child is creating. The table below can provide you with some examples of how to encourage the creative process and what to avoid.

Inappropriate Questions and Comments Explanation Appropriate Questions and Comments Explanation
What is that?


It can be very disappointing to a child if you can’t figure out what they’ve created. Ask open-ended questions and let them tell you what it is. What can you tell me about your piece of work?


This allows the child to share what they have been working on in their own words. This also allows you to avoid guessing what they’ve created if you are unsure.
I love that dog you painted.


Never assume you know what they’ve created. Try to avoid being too specific until the child has given you information. What gave you the idea to create this?


This encourages children to think about what they’ve created and will allow them to tell you their idea behind the creation.
You must have been sad when you wrote that.


Do not assume you know what a child was feeling when they created something. Let them tell you — it will give them a chance to discuss their feelings but not feel uncomfortable.


What is your favorite part about it? How were you feeling when you created this?


These open-ended questions give children a chance to think about what they like about their piece of work. They might choose the topic or the color or something completely different. It also is the best way to give children the chance to discuss their feelings without pressure.
It looks like you need to work on your cutting skills.


Try not to judge or critique a child’s skill level when they are working on a creative project. There is a time for skill-building activities; you can easily discourage their creativity if you constantly point out the negative. What title would you give it?


This question give you an idea of what makes this piece important to the child. It also gives them ownership over their work.

One of the best ways to help prepare our children for the future is by cultivating their creativity. One way this can be done is through the conversations we have with them, especially about their artwork. Today’s children will likely grow up in a world very different from that of the present, working in careers that do not yet even exist, using methods and technologies that not yet have been invented, and valuing commodities that not yet have been created (Trilling & Fadel 2009). As a society we cannot afford to have our children’s creativity crushed by “Art Traumas”.

To thrive in the future, we need people who can think creatively and find innovative solutions to problems. As author Ken Robinson explains, “Creativity is the greatest gift of human intelligence. The more complex the world becomes, the more creative we need to be to meet its challenges.” Talking to your children about their artwork can be one way of ensuring their inherent creativity flourishes as they continue to grow.

-Jenny Urbanek, DMA PEN Newsletter November 2016

Works Cited

Isbell, Rebecca and Sonia Akiko Yoshizawa. Nurturing Creativitiy: An Essential Mindset for Young Children’s Learning. National Association for the Education of Young Children 2016
Kelley, Tom, and David Kelley. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Random House, 2013.
Robinson, Ken. Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. Capstone, 2011
Trilling, Bernie and Charlie Fadel. 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. Jossey- Bass, 2009.
Virtual Lab School. Cultivating Creativity and Innovation: Experiences and Activities, 2016.    Accessed 09 Nov. 2016.