Embryology in Lower El

Hi, I’m Mahee and I’m going to tell you how Lower Elementary takes care of chicks and learns about embryology. You have to keep the eggs in an incubator, which keeps them at 100 degrees. You have to turn the eggs at morning, lunch, and afternoon, for the first 4 days. After they hatch, you have to leave them in the incubator for 24 hours to let their feathers dry. Then, you can move them into a brooder box. You have to have a heat lamp in the brooder box to keep them warm. You must provide them with food (corn meal) and water. We keep the chicks for five days before they return to the farm.

Baby chicks in Lower El

Problem Solving

Samuel Beckett once noted, “You’re on earth. There’s no cure for that.”

As educators we constantly work to help students develop problem solving skills. The freedom and responsibility as well as the social nature of the Montessori elementary classroom allows students to practice these skills on a daily basis. The children recognize that problem solving is a necessary life skill and understand that while at school, they always have the right and the responsibility to take steps to solve problems of all natures.

A spilled drink is taken care of with a towel and a mop, while interpersonal conflict is solved through conversation – many times it is discovered that a simple miscommunication is to blame! Class meetings serve to empower the children to notice and solve problems which affect the classroom community as a whole. The students meet to offer comments and possible solutions regarding the issue at hand.

The Elementary age child is building a life for himself outside of his family and home as he becomes increasingly independent. This means that while we as adults can offer support, we must allow the child the freedom to work towards solving his or her own problems.

The following article offers useful tips for what you as a parent can do to equip your children with the tools they will need to be successful problem solvers:

Problem solving blog

Montessori Moments

In a Montessori environment students are active participants in their own learning. They are given the freedom to explore their interests and at the elementary level often choose to work collaboratively. Our classrooms bear witness to countless “Montessori moments” each day and while we as educators never take them for granted, it is easy to overlook all that is being gifted to the children each day.

So what do active participants in their own learning, exercising their freedom to work collaboratively and exploring their own interests while using the Montessori didactic materials to aid conceptual understanding, look like?

It looks like this!

Students learning

Two Lower Elementary students who had recently been given a lesson on how to divide using a double digit divisor approached their guide one morning. They were working to complete their morning math warm up (known in Lower Elementary as “math vitamin”), and asked if they could try dividing with a triple digit divisor.

They decided to create the same triple digit division problem and work together, assuring the guide they could be responsible work partners. The students set about solving the problem using the “Stamp Game”, which they had previously used for double digit division. They completed their problem and checked their own work by multiplying their answer by their divisor. They discovered their answer was not correct and after checking with the guide to ensure this was the case they returned to the material to try again. There was discussion about counting more carefully and where the mistake possibly occurred. The students devised a plan to have one child do the exchanging of the stamps and the other to do the sharing, but the subsequent checking of their work showed their answer was still incorrect.

At this point in the morning the math warm up is usually complete and the students expressed concern about not being finished. The guide reassured them that it was fine to keep working and to take their time to work carefully. About ten minutes later the students bounded across the room proclaiming their success! They proudly read their correct answer to the guide, the smiles on their faces showing the confidence they had gained and their total delight.

The next morning the same two students approached their guide again….

Students solving a math problem

This time the students chose to work with a different material, the Racks and Tubes, and success was found on the first try!

Visit here for a glossary of Montessori vocabulary.

Land and Water

A Montessori education is a spiraling curriculum – one where students see the same topics throughout their school career, with each encounter increasing in complexity and reinforcing previous learning. An example is found in the land and water forms that students study from Children’s House through Elementary.

Land and water forms
Students working with land and water cards

The youngest students study eight land and water forms that are opposites; lake (water surrounded by land) vs island (land surrounded by water), for instance. These are studied by filling plastic models with water and learning the language to define them. This meets the needs of three to five year old children for gross motor activity, control of movement (taking care to carry and pour water carefully) and their receptivity for language and acquisition.

Creating land shapes
Forming shapes

In Elementary, these eight forms are compared side by side to their two dimensional counterparts (painted cards) and students are now introduced to thirty additional land water forms.

Representation of exploding volcano
At the art table

They are told compelling stories about these features as they occur across the globe. The children model them, write definitions to accompany their sculptures, and research where they occur in the world. Third year students create land and water form systems sculpturally after sketching them on paper.

Working with shapes
Working on land and water forms

Eventually the cards are combined to represent a coastline and students design an imaginary island which involves locating their island on the globe with the appropriate latitude and longitude for their features. They create the topography of their island, and decide on the population (human, animal and plant), what the economy of the island will revolve around, and what kind of government there will be.

Putting the land and water shapes on a firm board

We make a “glacier”, dragging it through sand “mountains” to create a “valley”, and notice the deposition left when the “glacier” melts. A stream table shows how a “river”, making its way down a “mountain”, carves out a bed and ultimately deposits debris, creating a “delta”. Experimentation allows students to see how the velocity and volume of the “river” impacts erosion, transportation and deposition.

Representation of a glacier
Erosion by water

What happens in the fall?

In the vegetable garden, the tasks of the day are fun and great educational experiences for the children! In the woods, explorations take us from one end to the other, comparing the size of the stream and the direction of the flowing water to other locations. We discovered that two streams join together . . . who knew? If Sustainable Science is inside, the lesson might be exploring with nature items in Mrs Baumgarten’s collection, or making a contour map of the school and stream. Join us in our findings!

Dottie's fall blog
Fall science blog

We planted some cool weather seeds, and watched the radishes grow. The spinach and lettuce did not make it. Next time, maybe!

Dottie's fall blog
Fall science blog

Children are involved in all aspects of the garden work. First we removed weeds and planted a few seeds in September. At that time we also harvested tomatoes, green beans, zinnia, marigold flowers, and sage. Sage was able to dry in several classrooms.

Dottie's fall blog
Fall science blog

In the garden, Lower Elementary record some of their tasks and observations.

Dottie's fall blog

There is always the joy of finding bugs, or amazingly, a salamander and a toad! Millipedes, sow bugs (isopods, pill bugs, rolly-pollies), earthworms, grubs and garden spiders are regular finds, which the children enjoy. We can hold the sow bugs but, of course, not the spiders.

Fall science blog
Fall science blog

Here’s the toad!

Dottie's fall blog

Flowers need bees to make new seeds!

Fall science blog

As the fall progressed, the task in the garden changed to prepare the garden for winter. The wonderful compost provides nutrition for the garden, so we emptied the compost bin, sifted the compost and added it to the garden. Some of the sections we topped with shredded leaves from Mr. Bob, and some of the sections we planted with “winter crops” of oats and peas, which will not make edible seeds, but will be turned into the soil as fertilizer in the spring.

Fall science blog
Fall science blog

When the Sustainable Science Vegetable Garden was prepped enough for the fall, we headed into the woods. The first walk was to get the lay of the land: where is the stream? Which areas are higher elevation and lower elevation? We are always observing the changes in the seasons, and always looking for evidence of animals large and small. On occasion, the walk to the woods takes us past Mr Bob as he works. These children are wondering what he is up to! Mr Bob can be seen here lining up small brush and leaves for mowing over them and adding to the compost pile.

Fall science blog
Fall science blog

The Township is putting a lot of work into Pine Run Park! There is a whole section that had invasive species removed and native species of trees planted and protected. Deer eat the smaller native trees, so the new trees need to be protected with a fence. We don’t usually see deer, but we do find deer scat!

Fall science blog

Spanish at TMS

Spanish is taught at TMS in the Elementary classes. Depending on the occasion, classes are centered around holidays that lend themselves to learning the Spanish language, vocabulary and conversation. This video features a couple of days that were spent on the Mexican celebration of the “Day of the Dead.”

Books We Read

We read many things in Lower El. Students and teachers read for information and entertainment. We also read to open conversations about topics that are relevant to our classroom life. Being read to is a great pleasure for children and the guides make opportunities for read-alouds that serve many purposes, including conversation starters about these topics. We read stories that open conversations about friendship, mistakes, fears, and timely things like–THUNDERSTORMS!

Wemberly Worried

Chrysanthemum and Wemberly Worried are by Kevin Henkes and are great conversation starters for talking about friendship and worries. Students in Lower El spend a lot of their time navigating friendship, kindness, compromise, and self advocacy. The author’s language in which he states, “Chrysanthemum wilted” to describe the characters hurt feelings lends itself perfectly to a classroom community building activity known as “Wrinkled Wanda”. A paper cut out of Wanda wilts and is wrinkled each time her feelings are hurt and then is smoothed back out as her feelings are considered and spirits are lifted. Our point in this activity is that while a person’s feelings can be lifted by compliments, they don’t completely forget things that hurt their feelings–much as “Paper Wanda’s wrinkles” are still visible. As we help these processes along, books that start conversations about these topics are part of our toolbox.

Photo 2
Wrinkled Wanda

Early in the school year we read Regina’s Big Mistake by Marissa Moss to talk about our expectation that students doing the right level of work will make mistakes. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn and are part of the process of stretching your knowledge and challenging yourself. The book also talks about copying someone else’s work. We use this as an opening to have a conversation about using someone’s good ideas and standing on their shoulders to improve upon or expand those ideas–it isn’t copying if you make it your own!

Child reading

Thunder Cake seemed like the perfect book to read last week as thunder rolled outside our classroom windows. Some children worry about thunder. The girl in this book by Patricia Polacco does, and she has to overcome several of her fears (with her grandmother offering encouragement) on the way to gathering the ingredients for, and baking a “thunder cake”. We were able to bake thunder cake the next day in our classroom–a great experience in separating eggs, measuring, mixing, and EATING!

Thunder Cake
Student cooking
Recipe for Thundercake


Homework in Lower Elementary is an important part of your child’s academic work. We believe in a modest amount of time spent on homework as the children work hard in school all day and need family/down time in the evenings.

The homework we require helps students build on the skills they are acquiring in the classroom. For example, the rote memorization of math facts supports their (more interesting) conceptual classroom work.

Having this homework expectation also allows you to be familiar with your child’s progress in mastering math facts and becoming a better reader.

How can you help?

Provide your child with appropriately leveled reading materials. Children at this age go through books very quickly, so we highly recommend making use of your local public library.

Make sure to listen to your child read aloud a few times a week to help you gauge if the book is the appropriate level. We teach the children to use the five finger rule.

five finger rules

Discussing what you have heard and asking questions can help you check their comprehension.

Many times children at this age are interested in the stories of books which are too difficult for them to read themselves, so continue to read aloud to your child!

Math facts need to be memorized; this can seem tedious, but mastery of these facts makes the calculation of math problems much less frustrating and much quicker to accomplish.

Flash cards, workbooks, games…whatever your child finds the least painful way to practice these facts is the way to go! Start with addition facts, move to subtraction and then multiplication and division.

Lower Elementary

Once your children have spent time practicing you can encourage them to earn a math badge in school. A teacher will “test” them with flash cards and if all facts have been memorized they earn their badges. This extremely official document (!!) will be created on an index card and decorated with colored pencil.

Counting money and telling time are also useful skills that often require additional practice. A trip to the dollar store and a bag full of change can be a valuable learning experience.

We thank you in advance for all you do to support your children’s academic growth and development.