“The age between six and twelve years is a period of life…
during which the abstract plane of the human mind is organized.” – Maria Montessori

The Passage to Abstraction

Montessori observed that children between the ages of 9 and 12 are at the height of their intellectual powers. They are capable of more abstract thought, including the ability to think hypothetically. This also continues to be a time of great moral development. No longer merely concerned with right and wrong, good and bad, the Montessori Upper Elementary student now seeks to understand the motivation behind behavior and develop possible solutions.

The Montessori Upper Elementary is built on the foundations of the Lower Elementary.

Just as students in the Children’s House are assimilating the learning that came before, the Upper Elementary years represent the culmination of the Elementary years. The Upper Elementary Program builds on the content of the Lower Elementary global curriculum, expanding students’ awareness of their place in society and the world’s history. The three hour uninterrupted work period continues to be a cornerstone of the philosophy, allowing students to delve deeply into work and develop intense concentration. Students continue to work collaboratively, inspiring and supporting one another in work.

Children’s thinking becomes more abstract.

Upper Elementary is a time when children cross the bridge from using hands–on, manipulative materials to acquiring fully abstract understanding of concepts. Whereas the child in Lower Elementary has been using three or four pieces of material to compute multiplication problems, the older student transitions to paper and pencil. The Elementary guide is a trained observer, watching carefully to find the exact moment when the child makes the leap to abstraction with a particular concept. Observing this transformation is a bit like watching an animal shed its skin!

Students are supported in assessing their own progress.

Upper Elementary students continue explore their own interests through self-chosen work with minimal interruption. At the same time, students collaborate with a guide to ensure that the basic skills for each grade level are mastered.  Because students of this age are interested in belonging to the society of their peers, they are internally motivated to meet (and exceed) national and state standards. Each teacher has a system of record keeping so that she knows each child has been introduced to each basic skill. Montessori guides are responsible for ensuring that all national and state standards are met. The guide meets regularly with each student to support her in setting goals and self-assessment. Time management, organization, and setting reasonable, responsible goals are a priority at this level.

Learning is applied in a new way.

Montessori elementary students study both broadly and deeply, covering many subjects not attempted in traditional schools, such as geometry, geology, and etymology. Previously learned concepts are now applied in a new way. For example, the Children’s House student manipulates the trinomial cube as a puzzle, while the Upper Elementary student assigns algebraic values of a and b to each cube in order to discover the formula. The child in Lower Elementary studies the parts of speech and function of words; the Upper Elementary student now applies these concepts to his or her own writing. Students often develop expertise in a subject that is especially interesting to them.

Students exercise leadership skills.

Whereas the 6-9 child is practicing society, the 9-12 child is specializing in leadership. Like the preschooler, the student in this plane of development is striving toward independence. “Help me do it myself!” Students develop their leadership skills in the classroom and in the community. Students develop their own community service projects, fundraising efforts, and opportunities to mentor younger children.

Children are empowered to seek knowledge beyond the classroom.

Students in the Upper Elementary continue to enjoy “Going Out” experiences to deepen their study. For example, a group of children may have been studying sharks for several weeks. After exhausting the resources of the classroom, they find a resource in the community (such as an aquarium), schedule the outing, and arrange for their own transportation and supervision (by staff or parent volunteers), and then return to share their research with the rest of the class.  In addition to its academic value, each Going Out is an entire course of study on independence, responsibility, and good citizenship.


Your child is now ready to move on to the Montessori Adolescent Program.

From the Upper Elementary Program

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