As her work with children under seven years old developed and spread in the 1910s, Maria Montessori began to extend her work to children through age twelve. The first international training course for elementary teachers was held in Barcelona, in 1915, and The Advanced Montessori Method detailing this work was published in 1917. Montessori continued to extend her method, and during her time in India (1939 to 1942) she and her son Mario developed lessons, materials, and pedagogical structure for elementary children. Today, AMI offers an elementary training course covering ages six to twelve, while AMS offers separate certification for six to nine and nine to twelve. Most elementary programs group children from six to nine and nine to twelve separately, but six to twelve classrooms exist as well. Elementary classrooms typically serve 20 to 40 students with one trained teacher and one or more assistants.
Montessori elementary education recognizes elementary-aged children’s growing powers of reason and imagination, their moral and social development, and their drive to work in groups. Montessori observed in these children an intense curiosity about functioning of the natural world as well as a spontaneous interest in mathematics, language, the arts, and the cultures and achievements of humans throughout history. She organized this vast scope of academic material with a set of “Great Lessons” (or “Stories”) which introduce areas of interest and study by telling an inspiring and evocative story. The AMI training presents five such stories, and a sixth is included by some trainers.
The first story, The Creation of the Universe (sometimes titled The God With No Hands) describes the Big Bang and the fundamental forces of nature, and leads to lessons and experiments exploring the formation of stars and planets, the structure of the earth and the solar system, physics, chemistry, earth science, and much more. The second story, The Coming of Life, introduces the entire scope of biology, including zoology, botany, taxonomy, etc. The Coming of Humans introduces human anthropology and history. The Story of Communication in Signs introduces language work, and The Story of Numbers introduces mathematics. A sixth story, The Great River, introducing the functions of the human body, is given in some trainings.
Each of the Great Lessons serves as an introduction to a wide range of topics which are explored in subsequent lessons and presentations using a number of charts, timelines, and additional materials far too numerous to be detailed here. Public education expectations for comparable ages are included as a subset of the elementary work, but most Montessori elementary classrooms go far beyond these expectations.
In addition, Montessori observed that elementary aged children have a drive to explore the social functioning of the world outside the classroom. For that reason, Going Out, or student-planned excursions for research to support classroom explorations, are an integral part of the elementary experience. Also, in response to the elementary child’s developing sense of moral order, substantial attention is given to the social and moral order of the classroom community.