Upper Elementary

A rich array of imaginative explorations, first-hand experiences, and collaborative, hands-on projects prepare your student for the increasingly sophisticated and challenging work ahead.

In Upper Elementary, your child’s mind eagerly seeks out more than new experiences and knowledge. He wants to understand the whys and hows behind the way things work—from the systems and laws that govern the universe to those that guide personal and interpersonal situations. He’s managing complex group work, planning his own ambitious projects, and honing skills in both self-assessment and formal evaluations. He’s also learning less traditionally “academic” skills—how to manage money, plan and organize outings, conduct interviews with professionals in various fields, arrange transportation, plan and cook healthy meals.

And, as he’s taken on these increasing levels of responsibility, he’s developed an unshakable confidence in his ability to handle himself and his work.

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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.

Upper 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.


In Upper Elementary, your child learns to balance academic skill-building with her personal long-term projects and to venture more often outside of the classroom for increasingly complex, collaborative, and often service-oriented Practical Life works. Your child participates in “Going Outs,” whole-class or small group trips that are planned and managed entirely by students (in contrast to traditional field trips, where teachers or other adults plan the activities for the whole group). She learns to use tools to navigate or find destinations, calculate costs and arrange funds, book appointments by phone or email, arrange times, dates, and transportation. Through these lessons, she develops a strong sense of independence and self-reliance that informs her approach to every subject.


In Upper Elementary, your student begins to dive deeply into abstract math concepts and theories, bringing with him the visceral awareness—and foundation for genuine and lasting intellectual understanding—he developed in his earlier sensorial experiences. He masters all state and national grade-level standards and more (e.g., ratios and percentages, statistics and probability, geometric calculations, and early algebra). And because he approaches math as a fully integrated aspect of his education, your child enters middle school proficient not only in logical, abstract reasoning but practiced in applying mathematical thinking to solving real-world problems in a wide range of disciplines.


With strong reading and writing skills, your upper elementary student moves on to more advanced language studies. He diagrams sentences, evaluates primary and secondary resources, interprets authorial intent, considers different perspectives, writes critical analyses, crafts multi-paragraph essays, integrates supporting evidence, and accurately applies English language mechanics and styles in many different genres and disciplines.


Your upper elementary student advances toward more meaningful analysis, research, and interpretation. How did ancient civilizations come to be? What role does society play in deciding what’s moral? Why are different behaviors seen as appropriate in different cultures? As he explores these and other critical questions, he acquires new knowledge, skills, and tools—including technological—for collecting information, evaluating sources, organizing and presenting findings, and making sense of his discoveries.


In Upper Elementary, your student begins to master the Scientific Method. He tests hypothesis on electricity and circuits, designs his own model cars, completes in-depth research on endangered species, and educates peers on his research process. He experiments with the physics of simple machines and studies the properties and characteristics of earth materials, the nature of chemical bonds, the laws of electrical currents. He analyzes the scientific breakthroughs that have shaped our world—pulley systems, battery power, electric light, space exploration, and more—building the foundation for his own inventive discoveries.


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.


Beginning in 5th grade, your student can participate in interscholastic sports! MSR fields competitive teams in boys’ and girls’ basketball, co-ed cross country, co-ed golf, boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ baseball, and girls’ volleyball. With our new upper school athletic facilities on our Lead Mine Campus, we host home soccer games and cross country tournaments and will soon be hosting home basketball and volleyball competitions in our regulation-sized gym (now in the works!). Beyond the fun of playing and competing, our students learn every time they step into the game. They learn how to set and work toward long-term goals, take smart risks, and handle both wins and losses with grace and good sportsmanship.


As students progress through Elementary School and more instructional time in Spanish, their increasingly robust vocabulary allows for a stronger focus on comprehension, pronunciation, conversation, and even writing. Throughout these years, Spanish lessons frequently align with interdisciplinary studies in Humanities and English language.


In Upper Elementary, students are ready to apply artistic techniques and principles to create more complex and original compositions—in both music and visual arts. Through regular and increasingly sophisticated musical performance and artistic exhibitions, he gains confidence and composure and learns to show proper etiquette and technique. He also learns to recognize different art styles and periods, to analyze and interpret pieces of art, and to form, express, and intelligently defend his own opinions. In our theater program, he will learn to express himself through a broad range of human emotions while developing body awareness and spatial perception. He will use his creativity to collaborate with his peers to produce dramatic works and learn new techniques for performing improvisational skits.

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