Timeline of Civilizations

There is a Timeline of Civilizations that is so simple yet so striking for the elementary children - usually upper elementary, although many 8 year olds begin to work with it as well.

This Timeline of Civilizations is not available for sale at any of the Montessori companies (please do post a comment if you know somewhere that does sell it!). Perhaps there is a non-Montessori version that is simplistic and essential and to the point!

It takes all of recorded human history and marks down all of the civilizations onto one long piece of paper, spanning 6000 BC to the year 2000 AD. It can easily be extended to the current day.

How striking to have all of human history, all those great and small civilizations - all of us, right through to today and present-day civilizations - all of us on one piece of paper.

Perhaps even a bit more humbling and gratifying than the red line we have used in the early presentations and continue to use in the Black Strip and the Hand Timeline. Now we see the details - we see that all fits within that red strip.

This material is not meant to stir up a whole slew of new work, but like the Black Strip to be something of a consolidation for the older children, bring together previous details, before delving into new ones. These upper elementary are less apt to request repetition, but still need it - and this material fills that need.

Additional Images of the Full Timeline:

Follow the Child

A topic that deserves attention again and again as we journey with the child through life.

What does it mean to follow the child?

Those who do not fully understand Montessori or who are just being introduced to it, think that it means that we only do what the child wants to do. That if he wants to explore what happens when he climbs onto the roof and jumps off, that is what we do.

And if a child never wants to touch a lick of math, we don't do any math at all.

But that's not it.

We follow the child - not willy-nilly - but according to his actual inner needs. We then provide the keys of the fulfillment of those needs.

Every human being has the same needs and tendencies, but personalities and circumstances will shape how those needs are expressed.

Within the Montessori environments, particular to each plane of development, we provide various keys. We also provide the children with freedom and responsibility - freedom to make choices within an environment we have set for them; along with responsibility to make a choice (or lose the freedom to make a choice and have to be told what to do - something that yes we do in Montessori when absolutely necessary to the development of normalization within the child). Freedom to work as long as he likes and with as big of a work as he likes - with the responsibility to maintain the freedom of others in the environment.
"My freedom ends where your freedom begins."

We adults set the environment in such a way that the child chooses between various good things; if and when a choice for something deviant (start of bad habits, disrespect, and the like), we immediately step in. Following the child does not mean we follow the child down a path towards poor choices. We follow the child so that we see potential stumbling blocks and provide the child the keys to overcoming them. In some cases, that is physically moving the child; in some cases, that is immediately cutting in to what is happening with an instruction put the material away appropriately and come for a new presentation - immediately; in some cases, that is a conversation with the child at an age appropriate level; in some cases, that is changing up the environment so that the child gains success and self-control.

Sometimes, it is simply stopping all presentations and just loving the child.

When we follow the child, the child reveals so much to us - the wonder of the world around us, new connections we didn't see before or have forgotten from our childhood's. Every time we work with a child in humility and respect, we become a better person - a better parent, a better teacher. Better - greater than we were before. And more humble.

So, our responses are varied. But our goal remains constant: to provide the keys towards the fullest possible spiritual development of the child in our care. We follow the child to serve as a guide - and so the child can be our guide as well.

Benefits of the Prepared Environment

How does YOUR environment achieve these outcomes? Or do you see where you can improve?

What other outcomes do you see from a child in a properly prepared environment?

(from Primary Montessori Theory album)

Results of the Prepared Environment
The results of the prepared environment are many and varied and are not limited to the following:
  • functional independence
  • acquisition of skills
  • community and social cohesion
  • care of the environment
  • confidence
  • competency-based self-esteem
-      not the 'I am special, You are special' false outer self-esteem
  • respect
-      for other children
-      materials
-      other life
  • peacefulness
  • concentration[1]
  • keen sense of developed order –
-      carries over into other areas of life
  • feeling of security
  • sense of belonging –
                to something outside themselves
  • refined, graceful movements
  • love for learning
  • strong academic foundation
-      language, math
-      how the world operates (through sensorial)
  • strong connection to reality
  • able to follow-through – complete task
  • responsible
  • keen observers
  • appropriate risk takers –
-      not afraid to make mistakes
-      secure and safe environment
  • appreciation for nature
  • appreciation of other cultures
-      and for other types of differences
  • refined senses
  • joy
  • adaptability to new situations later

[1]  (“all learning depends on the ability to attend”)

Music is Part of our Lives

Music is part of our every day lives. It is not something separate, to take to a different room and only experience with a "specialist". 

Music must be part of your everyday natural environment, incorporated into your classroom

In this regard, music is nothing special – it is a part of all of us

It is something every child should have a firm knowledge of, whether they take special instrument lessons or not. 

Yes, it can be noisy if the bells and tone bars are ringing throughout class, 

but it is well worth it. 

Montessori Theory - 2

Thoughts shared with me via e-mail and other modes of communication:
  • It is required for trainees (to build this album) who are already fully dedicated to Montessori, in a course of study, working at Montessori schools. If it is important for THEM to have it, then it is important for US (homeschoolers, assistants, others who are wanting to do Montessori without access to a full training). 
  • Dr. Montessori herself did not depend on her own books alone when doing her courses; and her courses were not just "here is how to present the materials". The trainees still receive a LOT of what we today call "theory." So if she didn't depend on her own books for providing enough theory (and application of that theory), we shouldn't either!
  • A theory album pulls various writings together under one heading, so that all the writings (and oral traditions) on a particular topic can be seen together in one place instead of scattered across several books. 

Any other thoughts - yay or nay?

Why would the theory album be not so helpful to someone? That is my main question - I truly want to understand.

doing a puzzle without a frame
(tessellations, that is the point; Montessori details without the "big picture" - not so much)

Upper Elementary Curriculum

(edited below to add some links!)

What is included at upper elementary? What is the best scope and sequence to use?

Only the child can tell you that ;)

What is done in upper elementary will vary wildly - because it will depend on what was done in lower elementary. Some lower elementary children will have completed all the long division work; but almost all upper elementary scope and sequences have it there, not because you should wait until then, but because it should be reviewed and mastery assured.

The focus of upper elementary is to review everything from lower elementary and go deeper, go wider, do a LOT more personal and group research. This is the time to really pull things together. Lots of time and space for learning and exploring. Mathematics is one area that continues on, but still not with a specific lower/upper elementary break; geometry has all concepts reviewed either in practice or with album pages that go deeper; history reviews all concepts and adds just a couple of album pages specific to upper elementary; language is now about USING it, with the tail end of the analysis work.

If a child is starting elementary late, these experiences will be different - the children will work a bit longer - and that is ok! Just keep on going, following the child, don't hold them back!


Some online samples, not to muddy the waters, but to show the wide variety of experiences that any particular upper elementary child can expect:

Not a scope and sequence but a great blog by NAMC - linking just to the posts tagged as upper elementary. 

I do not recommend any scope and sequence that is strongly segmented by grade level - recommended ages are fine, but anything that says "this must be 4th grade" or "this must be 5th grade" is ignoring a small but important set of Montessori principles. Look for Scope and Sequences that give ranges - freedom to follow the child.
(ETA: Keys of the Universe scope and sequences do give some specific grades, but are suggestions to help you with the sequence - not to be following rigidly)

Issues with Using the Table of Contents as your Guide:

Unfortunately, no, you can't just look at a table of contents (most of the time) to get a general idea of scope and sequence because each album page might include anywhere from 1-15 (or more!) extensions, stages, activities, follow-ups, etc. that might last anywhere from a week to 6 years. Many AMI album pages have a specific list at the end of the album page for "9-12 year old follow-ups on this album page" - thus the child is expected to show some level of review (in a variety of ways within the classroom or homeschool, or just have a review presentation if needed) then is invited to further/deeper/wider follow-up work options. Same foundation - now let's take another path! But typically not all of those fine details are listed in the table of contents.

Issue #2 with the table of contents: various "chapters" (which are there for adult organization, not for child sequence) might be covered back and forth over the course of weeks or months. The first 4 chapters of the mathematics album for example are covered at varying times in lower elementary - with little rhyme or reason for when to jump around except "follow the child". The fifth chapter of mathematics is begun when the child is ready - any age; subsequent chapters as well, while still overlapping with one another.

SUMMARY: Build a strong foundation in the primary and lower elementary years; so you have lots of time to explore and learn and discover throughout all of childhood without being bogged down by "must-have" and "should-have-dones" - just keep moving along and enjoy the journey!

Montessori Cube Primer

There are many cubes in the Montessori environments :)

Found in Primary (3-6):

Geometric Solids

Bead Cabinet: cube for each number 1-10

Golden Beads: cubes of 1,000

Wooden Hierarchical Material: cubes of 1,000 and 1,000,000

Binomial Cube

Trinomial Cube

Each of those items are found in both primary and elementary.

What is just in elementary?

Power of 2 Cube

Hierarchical Trinomial Cube (also called "Arithmetic Trinomial Cube" and "Algebraic Trinomial Cube" - all three are the SAME thing) --- there is a story called "The Three Kings" that connects the Trinomial into this new Trinomial with new colors and new concepts.

But no matter the environment, the Trinomial Cube cannot be substituted for the Hierarchical Trinomial Cube - because they teach different things and are colored differently. Sorry!   The good news, the Hierarchical Trinomial Cube isn't just TOO expensive. ;)

Montessori Theory

doing a puzzle without a frame
(tessellations, that is the point;
Montessori details without the "big picture" - not so much)
When a person selects to attend a full-force Montessori training, they have a list of required readings. See this Montessori Nugget for a sampling of the required reading lists throughout AMI training centers in the United States.

And yet, every one of those training centers still require a theory album - to be created BY the trainee and submitted for review. Because the readings themselves don't yet bring it to a practical level of the day-to-day application of the method.

Yet there continues to be a resistance to accepting the importance (the crucial-ness) of theory album - at both primary and elementary levels. I would love to hear WHY this is the case :) Please comment if you have some input! Please share positive experiences, negative experiences, why you might not really "care" about having "another" theory source if you have/read all the books; or why you think some people might still be opposed to theory albums.

For further information:
  • Please see this Montessori Nugget on the importance of theory albums.
  • See this Montessori Nugget for the typical table of contents for primary Montessori albums and for elementary Montessori albums. 

Establishing Connections in Elementary - Cosmic Education

Cosmic Education is not an album on its own - it is a way of educating oneself and the child. It is more than just the Great Lesson - it is a way of interacting and considering interdependencies.

Great Lessons should start with a review of previous Great Lessons - while each Great Lesson is a stand-alone story, it is also connected with the others as part of a grander Whole.

The end of every Great Lesson should end with something along the lines of, "Thank you for participating in this story today - we will learn more on another day!"

Even Key Lessons (every lesson in the albums that are not Great Lessons) should quick-review what the child already knows, what has he been working on; and end with an invitation to more. More work/practice on the the skill involved because there will be another presentation and greater discoveries after that; or invitation to deeper work and contemplation; and an invitation to come for another presentation on another day.

Built-in gratitude for the child's participation - and one of our goals in cosmic education is to build gratitude for those people who came before us as well as a responsibility to share the gifts from those who came before with those who are with us now and those who will come after us.

Elementary Work Plan - to meet local educational requirements

Why do we have Montessori children doing work plans at the elementary level? 

Just ONE reason: 

Part of our commitment to the child’s acculturation is the attention we give to what is expected of the child in the society. Our environments should contain a public school curriculum detailing the goals for the local public school’s 9 and 12 year olds. 
(end of lower elementary, end of upper elementary)

Weekly meetings occur with the child about work that has been completed and begun and about these standards that need to be met. 

We can use or adapt our key lessons to help the child reach mastery of these expectations. There are some instances where we may have to create some additional keys to fulfill requirements, for example a lesson on the currency of our country. We do have to take care to be judicious in these situations, keeping in mind that any unnecessary help is a hindrance

In all instances, we should let the joy of discovery be the child’s.

Follow the Child

Let's juxtapose a few Montessori principles to see what they reveal :)

Follow the child.

Freedom and responsibility.

The child is the constructor of the man (loose translation).

Yes, we follow the child, but if the child is leading us toward a fugue, it is OUR responsibility to re-direct him. Immediately in the case of bad habits and of danger (physical, emotional, spiritual).
That applies to both primary and elementary - and all ages actually. We do NOT let babies stick their fingers in outlets, nor toddlers to stick knives in outlets - but we do allow elementary children to build electrical circuits - because we have given them a strong foundation in safety and good habits. THUS, the child's work is ENHANCED because we provided boundaries.

Freedom and responsibility. Your freedom ends where mine begins and my freedom ends where yours begins. We do not let babies pull on mother's hair just so they have freedom (that is actually called license and Montessori was adamant that license is NOT acceptable).
They learn these boundaries that we provide for them, so that later, let's say in elementary, the children learn that they have freedom to explore their interests, AND they have the responsibility to be genuine in their work - not just busy work; they also have the responsibility to meet any local educational standards.

Ultimately, they have societal freedom and responsibility as well. We can go anywhere we want on public sidewalks, but we do not have the freedom to walk through other people's gardens and yards without permission. We have freedom to visit local nature centers, and the responsibility to follow the rules set there. They have freedom to do many things in this world, but must always be aware of the local rules and laws and customs so as to be respectful of others and be a responsible human being.

The child is the constructor of the man - but it is the other adults who must provide the appropriate tools - whether these are material-goods or metaphysical realities.

A child who has difficulty telling the truth, cannot connect with reality, has imaginary friends to the detriment of making and keeping real friends - this child has a fugue and Maria Montessori provides the solutions for working these out. We do NOT follow this child down Imaginary Friend Lane, thereby keeping him from making real friends.

A child who just LOVES workbooks and worksheets should NOT be given a curriculum that is nothing but workbooks and worksheets. These things do not help the child to THINK, to CONNECT, to INTERACT. They can have their place, a very small place in the academic Montessori - and there will indeed be "worksheets" in the real world (tax forms come to mind!) - so knowing how to use them is fine.

A child who just LOVES candy, should NOT be followed to candy dish at every meal, in between every meal. A few small treats in balance is good for the soul. Too much candy leads to unhealthy mind and body AND soul.

What about a child with a keen academic interest and the work is truly deep? SURE! Keep it GOING! But don't let him stall there either. Slowly (slower than usual) still be providing other presentation, other learning. This will only serve to ENRICH his current work, encouraging new connections and sometimes integration of the new material with the current/past. It also provides additional work choices as the first main interest peters out. If a child steeped in nothing but ancient history studies that for 5 years and never gets ANY stories, tidbits, quick presentations on his local country's history - and never touches a lick of math? Is that healthy for the child? No. He's not a "literate citizen" at that point. He doesn't need a LOT of the other stuff when an intense interest is at hand - but does need continued "food" - continued balance - to promote continued studies. We are talking a small part of the week to present a few new things - nothing major - nothing distracting - just a bit of "here is something else you can save for later". But if we avoid adding in these little bits, we have an undernourished child.

We must also trust that children are capable of multiple interests at once as well. This does not mean we overwhelm them - it just means we observe - and respond. Continue our stories. Continue planting seeds so they have LOTS of time for germination as the child works to construct himself.

Follow the child.

Freedom and responsibility.

The child is the constructor of the man (loose translation).

Great Lessons and Key Lessons - some thoughts

Some excerpts from an AMI theory paper on the Great Lessons and Key Lessons:

Dr. Montessori believed that “our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them.” The mental needs and the mental activity of the elementary-aged child hinge upon the newly evolving faculties of imagination and reason. Remember at this stage of development the powers of the human intellect are most keen. The child’s mind is sharp and energetic. It is ready for meaningful exploration and discovery.

The framework for Dr. Montessori’s plan of education for the second plane child is cosmic education. In cosmic education, the universe, its composition and its inhabitants are opened up to the child. Within this framework, the child is able to spring into the grand and the mysterious, into the distant past and into the future. He is able to discover interdependencies as well as personal responsibility. Cosmic education serves up food for the imagination and food for the reasoning mind.

We go from the theory of cosmic education to actual practice of cosmic education with a series of mystery stories. They are grand in scope, inspiring in vision, systematic in progression, colorful in detail and deeply personal in implication. These stories are told with the respect both they and their intended audience deserve.

Each of the Great Lessons is an independent story, but after the first, each elaborates upon a theme set in the previous.

God with No Hands: The first of the cosmic tales. It is the story of the creation of the universe with particular attention given to our sun and our planet. The elementary age child is attracted to the grand and the mysterious, so ideally on the very first day in the elementary environment, that child is presented with the story that contains all the seeds of human knowledge: coldness, darkness, fire, air, water, solid, liquid, gas; elemental obedience and the establishment of order. The child’s imagination allows participation. The story distills the unreachable into the understandable. This first great lesson begins to answer some of the children’s questions but more importantly it excites new ones. 

            The Coming of Life: This story follows within a week of the first. This story focuses on the development and refinement of earth’s flora and fauna.  It brings to the child’s attention the diversity, the beauty, and tenacity of life. The timeline that accompanies the story represents some of the biological and geological events that are part of earths’ history. It represents a few of the plants and animals that have graced our earth. At the end of the second story, the child is introduced to a very special life-form, whose story receives elaboration about a week later in the third Great Lesson: human beings.

            The Coming of Human Beings: Thus far, the child has been placed in contact with abiotic and biotic creatures of the world. Each element of creation, whether living or not, is subject to natural laws, to inner directives and universal order. Each contributes by its every existence to the contribution and continuation of life. This story becomes our story – the child’s story – with the third Great Lesson. The human being enters the scene with the very special attributes of reason and will – intelligence and love – with an ability to work with the hand in ways unknown to other animals and with the possibility of choice. Dr. Montessori said, “Something new came into the world with man, a psychic energy of life, different from any that had yet been expressed.” Human beings have used their intelligence, love and hands to continue their own story. Two of their major accomplishments, literacy and numeration, are introduced in the next two Great Lessons. Because they do not open subject areas in the same way as do the first three Great Lesson, you can wait a small number of weeks (2-3) before coming to these stories if the children are not yet ready.

            Communication in Signs: It takes the child on a journey through the development of our alphabet. Another week or two later, comes the fifth Great Lesson.
            Numbers: This story traces the history of the numerals we use.

            In both of the above last stories, connections are made between cultures of different times and places. The children are led to an appreciation of these two symbol systems that we usually take for granted, despite the fact that we ourselves use them more or less everyday. 

Because the initial impression has been clear and uncluttered, the relationships and connections between them remain intact.

A vision of the whole provides the child an orientation, a home base, within space, time and history. It is the nature of the human being to order the environment in a meaningful way. Great Lessons reveal to the child the importance of order and laws and directives within the cosmos and within the creations of human beings, for example the conventions of writing and arithmetic. In the elementary environment, the children are at work, physically and intellectually, creating their own body of knowledge.

            Repeat the stories every year or every few months. Yes, even into upper elementary. When the child does not want to repeat because they “know it all” invite them in with, “Let’s just see if perhaps there is something more here we didn’t see before.”

Remember that we offer a colorful overview, not exhaustive information.

Invite *all* elementary children to the Great Lessons.

Older children (upper elementary) have their own work with the Great Lessons, so keep telling them. 


The Key Lessons are guideposts along the path of learning and discovery; supports here and there that follow up the Great Lessons and lead to deeper understanding and greater connections. They can be done in between the Great Lessons or at any point in time afterward. 

The Lessons in the albums that are not Great Lessons or games or extensions are key lessons. Mario Montessori defined key lessons as lessons which “take up the detail item by item. Each gives some new information, presents new material, or shows another exercise in a progression which allows the mind to build up knowledge and to continue searching on its own for what it does not know.” Key lessons are those which are absolutely necessary for the child’s understanding – the (AMI) albums are filled with key lessons. 

The albums are filled with key lessons and each album has a root in a Great Lesson. Each album takes up the details and clarifies or elaborates upon them. Besides the keys that we offer with materials, other key lessons are the short stories that the adult tells to illuminate a particular lesson already given. Some of the stories are in the albums, and others are developed by the adult, based on research as well as the principles of clarity and brevity. The key lessons are always ended with an indication that there is more to come – more to explore, together or individually.

Key lessons are guideposts along the path of learning within cosmic education. You will use most of them with your children, but if a child has the understanding already, remember that the materials are tools to an end, not the end in itself. Key lessons do not open up new areas, but provide touch-points for discussions, deeper understanding and encouragement of further learning. 

Elementary: Additional Resources

Some thoughts on resources in elementary. This topic generates a lot of personal e-mail questions!

  • AMI albums are a framework with lots of meat. But if your children learn ONLY what is in the albums, they will not have everything they actually need. The point to the framework/meat analogy is that there is a LOT there - but your children are SUPPOSED to be exploring their own interests, going deeper. They are NOT supposed to have everything handed to them. Period. No long tedious lessons just because they need to get it (even if it is a great Montessori lesson! if it is long and tedious and does NOT spark interest, toss it out!). If you present everything in AMI albums AND provide time/space for interests to develop, THEN your children *will* get everything they need. 
  • Therefore your children will NEED other resources. Of your choosing as to appropriateness, but of their choosing as to personal interests. 
  • Yes, you can dictate some outside requirements. But these requirements plus the Montessori albums should still not be ALL your child learns. 
  • Thus children should be taking cues from the lessons, exploring on their own and with classmates and coming to new discoveries of new subject areas. Positive peer influence! We want more of that!
  • Children in homeschool situations may benefit from the parent having a few carefully selected other resources or plans to balance out what the child is missing from not being in the classroom: conversations, environmental activities and the like. 

Special Needs in Montessori

Dr. Montessori started her work with special needs children - this is where the first discoveries were made on what became known as the normalization of children.

Dr. Montessori discovered a universal child - and this universal child is not affected by special needs or challenges. THIS universal child is well-met in every authentic Montessori environment.

Is it true that today many allegedly Montessori environments cannot handle a variety of special needs? Yes, it is a sad truth. But that is not the Montessori method that is not open to children of special needs - it could be a wide variety of factors including but not limited to any or a combination of the following.
If your environment is not capable right now of addressing all special needs, considering how the following could be adjusted:

  • physical space (a school renting basement space with no elevator will not be able to accommodate many physical needs). 
  • lack of adult preparedness (easy to address)
  • lack of adult desire or interest (not so easy to overcome; but if the need arises, could it be overcome?)
  • observation skills - are true observation skills in place? 
  • is the adult able to truly "follow the child" - this could mean some modifying of some (very very few!) materials in order to follow a particular child in his particular needs. 
  • does the child need a more one-on-one helper? Can the environment support this helper? Can this helper also be trained in Montessori (as a Montessori assistant, or at least to study the theory) - so as to understand more appropriately when to give various types of help? 
  • Are the other children relatively normalized? if so, they will welcome children of various needs. 
  • What other considerations should be added to this list? 

A true Montessori environment will be able to address these concerns. But no place is "perfect". If your environment isn't quite there - consider how to get there. Even if you homeschool, what might need to change IF you have a child with special needs? 

The main point: observe and respond. 

Lower and Upper Elementary Presentations - 2

(continuing on from yesterday's Nugget)

In this way, only one set of elementary albums is necessary for both lower and upper elementary as compared to albums for lower and separate albums for upper; complete albums allow the children to flow where they need to be at a particular moment in a particular area.

The children will let you know where their interests are; good elementary albums allow you time to explore those interests without mandating every second of a child's work. Good albums will provide some but not too many suggestions for follow-up, personal research resources, resources to have in the environment --- the main control here is what does YOUR environment need? Not "does your environment match everyone else's?"

Question: If your environment matches anyone else's, are your albums dictating far too much leaving little room and time for personal research? Are you able to strive to meet the particular needs and interests of the elementary child before you? Are you meeting the child's needs and tendencies? Are you able to meet the psychological characteristics of the elementary age with the tools you have on hand? Do you need to get rid of some tools? Replace? Add different ones?

Lower and Upper Elementary Presentations

The same themes are present in the lower and upper elementary. Themes are simply re-presented (sometimes with the same material and close to the same wording of the presentation!) and explored deeper and wider - more thoroughly.

In lower elementary the children explore the foundation, they are exposed to cosmic education and provided the grand overview of the universe. They then delve into details of interest.

EVERY year they receive the Great Lessons - every year they delve into different details.

Most album pages, the children get them when they get them - whatever is appropriate for the individual child.

The few album pages that are specifically set aside for only upper elementary, those that are "almost" a requirement to be in upper elementary, are going deeper with a particular theme from lower elementary - expanding upon and deepening it.

So focus lower elementary on laying the foundation in each area, and presenting the grand overview of Cosmic Education.

Then allow upper elementary for going deeper and more thorough.

What do we provide our children?

From the beginning, Dr. Montessori found one principle that holds true across all other teachings. When considering these young children, elementary children, adolescents - all in the process of developing themselves, taking in the environment around them to construct themselves:

The greatest for the least.

The best of ourselves. The best of the materials. The best of the culture. The best and richest language.

Good quality colored pencils.

High vocabulary.

Loving examples of relationships.



The essentials.

It's just not working!

"it" - what IS "it"? That is your first question. Is "it" a subject area, certain materials, the environment, etc.

Your next question (and where you will find your solution) is "what foundational piece is missing for "it"?"

NO PROGRESS can truly be made, in any sort of joyful or even efficient manner, if the
FOUNDATION is MISSING. hint-hint ;)

If the problem is adult preparedness - you are the only who can fix that ;)

If the problem is the environment - consider what obstacles are in the environment that hinder the child's natural and proper development? This page has some ideas on that.

Let's look at the different subject areas regarding the foundation:

"it": the children are just not enjoying mathematics, they are not really working with it, they are either playing with it or ignoring it.
PRIMARY: Go back to the numerals 1-9 and 0. Play the basic change game with them. These are the foundational pieces for EVERYTHING in mathematics in our society. They don't even NEED the teens and tens (this is just vocabulary, not directly "math" - it is language).
ELEMENTARY: Well, same thing. Go back to make sure they understand place value. But one more thing: do you have cosmic education going? Did you tell the Story of Numbers? Do you have other stories in your environment that utilize mathematics? For younger children, Sir Cumference is great; Life of Fred for several ages; stories on early mathematicians; more.....

"it": the children are not learning the names of the shapes, not exploring with the geometric cabinet and solids, or the volume work and geometric sticks.
PRIMARY: Go back to the early geometric cabinet presentations and begin again. Make it a GAME. Assure that you have albums with exercises for the 5 and 6 year olds as well. This will help keep you on track giving those early presentations early ;)
ELEMENTARY: Go back to the early presentations, and add in MORE nomenclature (roots words, language connections). But also - again - Cosmic Education - did you tell the story about the Ancient Egyptians? Do you tell stories of the early geometers? Do you have the children exploring shapes in the environment?

ELEMENTARY: COSMIC EDUCATION. Get those Great Lessons going; repeat them as needed and at least once a year!
Do you have and USE the History Question Charts?
Do you have timeline paper in various formats available, with resources on hand to entice interest?
Are you making trips to the library, to museums, to other outings, for further experiences?

"it": the language area just isn't working. The children aren't really writing and/or they aren't really reading. There are children about to go elementary who just can't or refuse to read. There are elementary children who can't read, don't want to read.
PRIMARY: Go back to the beginning of the language album. Lay that strong foundation. Sound games - environment games - vocabulary building - experiences to talk about and eventually write about.
5 year olds should be reading. Period. There are VERY FEW children who cannot read at age 5, with ease and joy, when given the right tools at the right time. Those remaining children will read around age 8. Not to lay a guilt-trip! Just look at the tools provided, start at the beginning and work your way through. At this point, each step does not have the 100% perfect to move on because frankly, a 5 year old still working on the sandpaper letters is not having his/her developmental needs of the moment met (but still needs those foundational pieces to get to the point of access to materials that DO meet current developmental needs).

ELEMENTARY: Use the "remediation" sections in the language album. COSMIC EDUCATION: Story of Communication in Signs in particular - but ALL the Great Lessons. Give them books to read they WANT to read (but not junk books either - show them you value them by giving them real literature).
Remove the audio books if elementary children are not reading. Or listen to the first chapter and invite them to read the rest themselves. Or take turns reading a page or a paragraph.
Get them started on the grammar boxes - most of the words are basic enough, and the phrases start small and slowly build.
DO NOT MAKE THEM READ ALOUD. Provide written commands or other reading material that requires some action such that you can assess comprehension. And have some reading material that is just for enjoyment, so they're not feeling "tested" all the time.
PS Dr. Seuss books are great for reluctant readers!

Go back to the beginning of the year. Check into Grace and Courtesy.
Do the children know where the cleaning supplies are located?  How to use them? Who is responsible for the room? (hint: the children are!)
Control of movement (walking on the line, silence game) - is it being done? Daily? Really, truly daily???
How are you the adult behaving within the environment? Graceful movements? Two hands to carry one object? Completing your work cycle? If you said "yes", are you absolutely sure?

The point in all of this - if "it" isn't working, and you desire true success, don't just finish the album and mourn, stop where you are, go back and re-build that foundation. Likely a bit faster this time, but make sure all those pieces are there!

Planning Presentations and Materials

In non-Montessori environments, the tendency is to push towards minimal planning. In this way, the children are not given too much, too fast; parents and teachers do not feel "overwhelmed" if the plans weren't completed in a set timeframe (because now we need to move on to the new set of weekly plans, i.e. in an environment that centers on weekly themes).


In Montessori we over-plan so that we are always prepared to meet a child's interests and needs.

Elementary: We don't know which presentation is going to incite a deep interest, so we present and present and present until something clicks - and then they are off. And we might not then present something new for several days - or we'll still drop little plant stories here and there for example, or recall a language-deep child back to geometry with a story about Pythagoras - just to keep it fresh.
The albums are not necessarily the easiest to organize by ages, because of the wide differences from one child to the next, but it is possible to focus on the most likely possibilities for one year at a time.

Primary: We prepare ahead, but know that we will present and back-off. I love how primary albums can be reorganized into groups of 6 month spans. Within those 6 months, the child has a lot of space to explore but the adult can better focus for planning purposes.

But we also have to balance that over-planning with the recognition that a child's interests might take off and we set aside our plans for a time. Therefore *our* plans have no date on them. The elementary child's work-plan might have dates, and there is where we help to work through the planning process of what MUST be done within a time-frame and what can be put off while a new interest is being explored.

Notes on the Local Education Requirements

Montessori training centers refer to any local educational requirements as the “public school curriculum”. I personally refer to the term “local educational requirements” to incorporate not only the public school curriculum, but any other requirements made on homeschools or private schools, as well as the requirements of the particular homeschool or private school. For homeschools, this area might include family studies, areas that the family finds important or critical, faith formation and the like.

Within the school setting as well as within the family for homeschool requirements that are not family-based, encourage the child to help create the material needed; or utilize resources on hand to learn the required skill. This does not need to be elaborate; however it could lead into a strong area of personal interest for a particular child. 

You are likely to find that by the end of 3rd and 6th grades, a child has already learned most or all of the public school curriculum either directly through the Montessori materials, or through their own personal studies. This occurrence is precisely why Montessori albums are not adjusted for the public school curriculum –  nor should Montessori teachers get too caught up with local educational requirements -- keys-based Montessori albums provide what is developmentally appropriate for all or most children; the public school curriculum (and albums that provide far above and beyond the keys) is typically imposed from the outside and may or may not be appropriate for ALL children. 

Non-keys-based albums can be useful, if you discern what is a key and what is ok for not every child in a particular environment to do. If every child had to do everything, there would be no more time for personal studies! 

And children that do personal studies - can pull in a wide variety of resources - especially non-Montessori ones! More in another Montessori Nugget! 

Primary Montessori Materials LIVE in the Elementary Classroom

(updated - 11/26/12 - math section!)

There is a sub-set of Montessori materials that is utilized at both primary and elementary. The presentations are different; the teaching concepts are different - and the material proves just how deep it can go!

Teacher in one level or the other and want to know which materials overlap levels?
Homeschool parent transitioning from primary Montessori to elementary Montessori?
Curious for another reason as to the depth of the Montessori materials?

Here goes!

Some items can be very useful if you still have them in elementary - the children may do further exploration (pink tower, brown stair and the like come to mind). But core materials?

Keep the following items:

Exercises of Practical Life: 

  • Primary has care of the environment items on trays on the shelves; elementary has supply shelves, with empty trays to gather what they need. Same items - set up is different
  • Many of the EPL supplies can also be used in the geography area in elementary for demonstrations and such.


  • Geometry Cabinet (geometry in elementary)
  • Constructive Triangles (geometry in elementary)
  • Puzzle maps of the world/continents (could be used in elementary, but don't buy them just for elementary)
  • Binomial Cube (mathematics in elementary; geometry in adolescence)
  • Trinomial Cube (mathematics in elementary; geometry in adolescence)
  • Bells (use initially in elementary, then transition to tone bars; but don't buy them if you are just starting elementary - just use the tone bars)
  • Other stuff is great to have on hand, but if you must be budget/space-conscious, it is ok to let go ;)


  • small movable alphabets (at least 3 colors needed in elementary; letters and punctuation on tiles/cardstock and stored in a divided box - like a tacklebox)
  • wooden grammar symbols (multiples of each symbol in a box)
  • (NOTE: reading analysis material from primary is organized different, but you could use most of the same components and add the charts - see this post: Reading/Sentence/Logical Analysis)

Language Extensions: (AMI organization; other albums this includes biology)

  • Plants and Animals
  • (could keep the nomenclature material, but add more components to it - definition strips, more extensive definitions, blank material for the children to create their own)


  • Golden beads (9 thousands, 45 hundreds, 45 tens, 45 units is all that is needed for elementary)
  • Bead cabinet (all short and long chains, cubes, squares)
  • Fraction circles (metal circles)
  • Large bead frame (short bead frame is primary; if starting your child in elementary, only use the large bead frame)
  • "Decanomial bead bar box" (the set that has 55 of every bead bar, 1-10 - some boxes only have 45, some only have bars 1-9 - these smallers are handy in classrooms; not so useful in homeschools)
  • Division with racks and tubes (short division in primary; short and long division in elementary)
  • (additional math note: if you purchase the elementary negative snake game, you'll have all you need for the primary level snake games)

(note: this list does not include items that if a child "missed" primary, they might find useful as a bridge into elementary - such as the land/water and continent globes - useful but ok to use an on-the-fly adapted presentations with less expensive and spacious materials)

Let me know if I missed something :)

UPDATED THE MATH SECTION! (decanomial bead bar box --- and short/long division)