Lower Elementary

Elementary-age children want to know everything about everything.

Why do stars twinkle? Why do some people have blue eyes? Where does lightening come from? How tall is the tallest building, and how does it stand up? What about the largest dinosaur? How long ago did they live, and why were they so big, anyway? Who decides what’s fair and unfair, right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly? What does democracy mean? The questions that arise in childhood, and the way your child learns to answer them, shape the way she comes to see the world and her role within it.

At MSR, we ensure that as she meets and exceeds state and national standards in every subject area, she does so in the context of her own genuine curiosity about the great interrelated story of life on Earth, cultivating deeper understanding, reasoning, and sense-making skills.

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Second Plane of Development

(Grades 1 to 6)


Throughout the elementary school years, your child craves opportunities for more advanced and abstract thinking work. She’s using her imagination to comprehend and consider the world beyond her immediate experience. And as she sees and imagines herself more fully in that greater context, she becomes increasingly captivated by relationships (between things, ideas, people) and by issues of fairness.

To make the most of these formative years, your child needs:

  • beauty and order in her learning environment—calm, open, and inviting spaces with plenty of sunlight and natural materials that delight and engage (rather than overstimulate) the imagination;
  • opportunities to go out into the world and explore widening boundaries of experience with growing independence beyond family and even school;
  • opportunities to use her imagination, grow her intellect, and express her own judgments in constructive ways that contribute to a positive sense of self;
  • opportunities to take greater responsibility for herself and to build up a sense of genuine ownership over her experience, which requires both an environment constructed to enable and encourage independence and the expectation that she can take responsibility for her work, her behavior, and most of her own practical needs (e.g., organizing and conducting her schoolwork, planning and managing her time, assessing and expressing her needs and wants);
  • freedom of choice within a range of engrossing educational options; uninterrupted work periods that help her build concentration, cultivate persistence, practice new skills, and fully explore and master her lessons.

Lower Elementary Areas of Study

In Elementary School, your child solidifies and expands the foundational skills, abilities, and attitudes towards learning upon which all his future academic (and supra-academic) work will build—whatever his school path!


Because your student is naturally fascinated by the interrelationships of things, ideas, and people at this age, MSR first establishes the vast context within which all human knowledge, experiences, and relationships take place. To intrigue and engage the elementary-age student, Maria Montessori developed the five Great Lessons, a framework for academic studies established through epic stories about:

  • the origins of the Universe
  • the inception of life on Earth
  • the development of human life, culture, and accomplishments
  • the history of language
  • the history of numbers

These interconnected stories span the enormous historical framework of time and space, human and animal life, invention, and civilization. They introduce themes of progress and interdependency, and the nature of our universe. They inspire awe and wonder about the ecology of the natural world and development of uniquely human ingenuity. They also build a sense of the importance of making a contribution to the continuing stream of human progress.

The unifying thread of the Great Lessons ensures that the disciplines remain tightly interconnected, so that as he progresses he not only acquires essential mastery in traditional academic subjects, he also comes to understand and interpret that content within a complete and coherent context.

In Elementary School at MSR, your child masters the subject matter and gains a sense of why (and how) it matters.


Your child learns to manage his needs and care for his environment—clean his workspace, mend clothing, read nutrition labels and create simple, healthy meals, sweep, water classroom plants, dust computer tables and polish touchscreens. He learns to balance classroom expectations with his personal interests and meet deadlines for independent work. And he practices conducting himself with grace and courtesy—politely introducing himself, making eye contact to show respectful attention when listening, and graciously refusing an offer or disagreeing with another person.


Your child begins the journey from concrete explorations with math materials to abstract mathematical thinking. Starting from sophisticated Montessori math manipulatives, she learns formation of numbers to the millions, computational skills, estimation and rounding, place value, types and measurement of angles, fractions, among other advancing abstract concepts. And she practices and internalizes these concepts in the context of real-life situations—problem-solving with money, time, distances, and physical space design.


Because elementary students are fascinated by stories, MSR wraps the study of language in the story of how our language came to be—how early humans developed the incredible ability to capture and communicate their thoughts to others. Your child studies the many ways humans have communicated their thoughts and feelings (e.g., pictographs, symbols, hieroglyphs, and early alphabets) to establish the context for fluent reading, clear comprehension, the use of writing for research, logical and creative expression, recognition and correct use of English conventions and mechanics, and also for the simple pleasure of acquiring and sharing knowledge, ideas, and stories.


History comes alive for your child at MSR. Within the context of the great story of life on Earth, she researches specific places or people that fascinate her—the milky way, the Amazon, China, the Ancient Egyptians, Colonial Americans, the Incan Empire—then writes and presents her findings in reports, models, timelines, and other expressions of her learning. Through these studies, she develops an understanding of her place in the whole of human history.


What do all 50,000 species of vertebrates have in common? What is photosynthesis and how does it work? What’s going on deep inside our planet? Why do volcanoes erupt and rivers flow downstream? Through rainwater collection projects, her classroom’s outdoor garden, outings to observe wild botany on our campus, field trips to local museums, and other hands-on science experiments, your student acquires an impressive bank of scientific knowledge, preparing her for independent discovery, research, and experimentation.


Creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, research and information fluency, critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making—your student’s ability to wield technological tools is essential to developing and applying all of these crucial life skills. Lower Elementary students begin with keyboarding and software navigation. By third grade, they’re using a range of programs to create and present project work. In Upper Elementary, students explore the most relevant emerging technologies for collaboration and sharing information, learning not only to navigate and apply new tools but also to evaluate whether and when a digital platform and its content are reliable and useful.


MSR’s PE and Health Education programs provide ample opportunities for your child to not only practice the habits of physical fitness and personal health, but also to take personal responsibility for her own well-being. Through activities in team sports and individual challenges (e.g., soccer, relays, archery, strength and conditioning exercises), she practices teamwork, good sportsmanship, and physical fitness. Through lessons in eating right, expressing emotions, managing stress, and respecting personal boundaries, she learns respectful physical conduct and other habits of healthy living.


¿Que tal? Spanish language study at MSR emphasizes the 5 Cs of the National Standards of Foreign Language: communication, culture, conversation, connections, and comparisons. In two dedicated small-group sessions per week and in multiple whole-group activities, your student builds his vocabulary and masters simple conversation patterns.


Beyond dedicated weekly arts instruction (e.g., music lessons on rhythm, scale patterns, or pitch; art experimentation in drawing, painting, or collage), the arts are an integrated part of every school day. Your child discovers the connection between imaginative works of art and intellectual curiosity. She renders her observations of animal, plant, and earth forms using artistic materials, turns a math equation into a knitting pattern, or incorporates Mayan symbols on a clay vessel. She also comes to understand the arts as a form of personal and cultural expression that she’s not only able to create but to analyze and appreciate. She will participate in group lessons and team building activities to learn cooperation. And she will use role-play to place herself in other context while developing empathy. She will create theatre based on themes from other academic subject areas and recognize the role of theatre, film, television and other media in daily life.

Elementary Environment

The Prepared Environment is an essential aspect of our pedagogy and curriculum at every level, specifically designed to meet the changing needs of your student as he grows and matures.


In both Lower and Upper Elementary classrooms, natural lighting, natural colors, and vibrant but orderly spaces set the stage for focused activity, everything designed to both structure and inspire self-directed, collaborative work. Every space is arranged to support the natural flow of learning and geared for all the different kinds of engagement students require. Learning materials are displayed on student-accessible shelves and the room is divided in “curriculum areas” with activities sequenced by type and complexity. Every classroom has quiet, serene corners for reading or thinking as well as direct access to the outside, where each class manages its own outdoor nature space. Students help plant, monitor the growth of their garden, and observe insects, flowers, seeds, and soil up close—the perfect way to introduce responsibility and the wonder of growing things.

Our teachers ensure each classroom is prepared for learning every day, taking each student’s unfolding process and progress into consideration. They look ahead, design, organize, and plan, anticipating ways to create welcoming spaces that are inviting, inspiring, and full of possibility for pursuing each student’s next fascination.


Your child doesn’t just need safe, engaging, and kid-friendly physical spaces for optimal learning, he needs social spaces with these selfsame qualities to support his academic and emotional growth.

During Elementary School, your child is captivated by relationships and issues of fairness. To meet this interest and develop his social sophistication, we engage him in a range of collaborative situations and practice habits of healthy social and intellectual interdependence: showing empathy, communicating effectively, expressing their own feelings and ideas while remaining open and respectful to the feelings and ideas of others, respecting boundaries, regulating emotions, and resolving conflict. In the classroom, students share work and check each other’s progress, learning to engage effectively in a range of collaborative situations, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own. Group meetings—an essential component of the Montessori learning community at every age, but especially in Elementary School—provide a format for students to solve problems on the premise of fairness and communicate about various issues (e.g., clarifying expectations, brainstorming around interpersonal conflicts, updating each other on events and news, and any other business that should be handled as a group). Everyone has a role and a voice.

Naturally, misunderstandings arise—as they do in adult life. At MSR, with teachers as expert facilitators, your child learns to work it out—to negotiate, compromise, and resolve conflict—in a fair and reasonable fashion.

The social, emotional, and practical life skills that your child develops through group meetings and other collaborative activities are not a diversion from academic learning at MSR. Rather, practicing the healthy social interdependence (that we know is a necessary precursor to success and happiness in life!) is a fully integrated component of your child’s intellectual development.


Perhaps the most vital aspect of our learning environment, palpable the moment you arrive, might also be the most difficult to describe. It’s not something you can easily point to: a place, a program, a policy. Rather, it’s a mindset—a community-wide belief in the capacity of our students to take responsibility for themselves and their work; make meaningful, independent choices; both fail and succeed spectacularly and safely; and thus learn lessons so deeply that they inform their lives forever.

Over time in this environment, through both practice and osmosis, your child develops the MSR mindset, too. She learns to approach every challenge first with the assumption that she can do it (whatever “it” is): plan an overnight camping trip, perform a solo in front of the whole school, score a game-winning goal.

She may not know how yet, but she’s learning from experience that—with a little guidance from others and persistence from within—she’s capable of learning how to do anything. In the process, she’s developing an ever growing sense of who she is, what her strengths are, and how she learns best.

Elementary Teaching and Assessment

At MSR, your child is empowered with both the freedom to choose and the responsibility of managing his own schoolwork.

Elementary students learn independence together. They review each other’s work, share materials and opinions, and get together to solve problems. Independently, your child learns to take notes, organize her own work, set goals (and meet them), take on more responsibility, learn from failures, and assess her own progress. She is actively involved in evaluating her performance and charting her path to success.


It can sound counter-intuitive, but this kind of student-directed education actually requires the most masterful, most prepared, most actively engaged teachers. In our mixed-age classrooms, a hallmark of Montessori education, there is no predetermined, cookie-cutter lesson plan that assumes every child needs the same lessons at the same times. Although MSR teachers create conditions for students to complete all the suggested lessons in the week, students do them in the order in which they’re ready for them. If a student is deeply absorbed in a math lesson, for example, she can take some extra time to fully master the skill. And if a student shows a particular interest in a topic—say, whales or stars or the Congo—her teacher will work to tailor the activities in her agenda so that they incorporate more of that topic, while still meeting curricular goals.

In other words, our Montessori-trained teachers plan responsively, preparing individual lessons that implicitly demand students acquire and apply the necessary knowledge and skillsets. They prepare the environment, listen, and actively observe. What is he drawn toward? Where does he struggle and need support or guidance? When is he ready for a bigger challenge? And every week, they conference with your child, working with him to help him set his own goals and track his own progress, stay on course, and challenge himself toward ever deeper inquiry, genuine engagement, and constant skill-building.


At MSR, teachers assess your child’s progress, not with letter grades or percentage points, but through keen observation, scaffolded lessons, and careful record-keeping.

What if a child avoids a certain area like math or language? Because MSR teachers are attuned to the progress of each child, avoidance in any one area is promptly noticed and addressed. Teachers work to draw out your child’s curiosity in that area and ensure that he completes all suggested lessons within a reasonable time. As a result, he works toward mastery in every subject area as his interest arises, never forced to simply move on with less than complete understanding.

We incorporate testing and other formal and informal assessments when the time is right (e.g., testing begins in Elementary School when documented progress helps inform instruction and showcase growth; grades begin in Middle School when students are ready for more formal commitments, responsibilities, and accountability), but not before.

Throughout Elementary School, children practice directing and evaluating their own learning. Every day and in every subject area, we invite your child into a process of wondering, observation, risk taking, problem solving, reflection, and joyful accomplishment, ensuring that he finds his deepest motivations not in external markers of success, but in the self-sustaining and irrepressible desire to learn.

As a parent, I’ve learned that the most important assessment of my daughter’s performance isn’t going to come from me or from any test or teacher. It has to come from her. This was an amazing wake-up call for me. –MSR parent