Elementary (Grades 1-6: aged 6-12 years)


Lower Elementary (1st-3rd grade)

As students move from Primary to Lower Elementary, they are entering an entirely new plane of development.  The 6-9 child is becoming much more aware, and insightful about, the world they live in.  They become more socially involved, and are very concerned with justice and fairness.  While the 3-6 child focuses on the what and where of life, the 6-9 child is interested in why, how and when.  The child's imagination is limitless, as he or she discovers the mysteries of the universe.

Academically, the new Lower Elementary student picks up where s/he left off in Primary.  Because the curriculum is a continuum that builds over time, the teacher knows just where the student is with reading and math skills.  The first materials that students work with in Lower Elementary are the same as they used in Primary, and that familiarity gives them confidence and comfort as they begin to explore their new class.

Curriculum areas include: Language Arts, Math, History, Social Studies, Geography, Geometry, and Science (including botany, zoology, geology, physics, chemistry, meteorology, etc.).


Language Arts

The six year old student's reading level may still be emergent, or s/he may be fluent.  No matter the level, the classroom supports them right where they are.  Lower Elementary students study reading, spelling, vocabulary, word study, grammar, sentence analysis, research, handwriting, punctuation, and creative writing.  Students in their third year of Lower Elementary enjoy the capstone research project called Fourteen Points.  In this project, the third year student researches a country, coordinating all curricular areas, and prepares a report project on fourteen aspects of the country, including the language, geography, flora and fauna, government, and weather of the country, along with how the people meet their needs.


Again, students are able to pick up where they left off in Kindergarten.  The Golden Beads continue as the foundation of math work, and the Lower Elementary students delve more deeply into the solving and understanding of mathematical operations. It becomes more important for the 6-9 student to memorize math facts, in order for them to more accurately and efficiently solve math problems, becoming more fluent with their math work.  The students work with a variety of materials that build upon the concepts learned with the Golden Beads, and also learn measurement, time, money, geometry, fractions, squaring and cubing, and decimals.


Social Studies

The Lower Elementary students learn about ancient civilizations, and study timelines that open the wonders of the history of the universe.  Cultural studies are introduced through Montessori's five Great Lessons: The Coming of the Universe and Earth, The Coming of Life, The Coming of Human Beings, The Story of Writing, and The Story of Numbers.  The Great Lessons are presented to all Lower Elementary students at the beginning of each school year.  At each receiving of the lesson, the 6-9 student absorbs the meaning of the lesson at a new and deeper level. 


Through hands on science experiments, both in the classroom and in the Science Lab, the students begin to learn about how this wonderful world of ours works. Students learn about the Earth and space, biology, zoology, chemistry and physics.  They begin to answer questions about the world using the scientific method.  Students begin to participate in the Science Fair as early as first grade, and enjoy conducting experiments on a wide variety of scientific questions.  (See also the Science tab under Enrichment Programs.)


Upper Elementary (4th-6th grade)

In the Upper Elementary program at the Montessori School of McLean, we build upon and expand the understanding and skills our students acquired in the Lower Elementary and Primary classes as we prepare them for Middle and High School. The 9-12 child still has many of the attributes of the Lower Elementary child, including a need for independence, peer validation and a deep curiosity about why the world works the way it does. They are children with many questions and are internally motivated to find the answers. Our teachers are trained to guide and further develop that desire to learn, and to help each student find his or her own best way of attaining the goals they set for themselves. As their abilities to think abstractly and critically become sharper, providing them with the encouraging, academically challenging, positive environment they need to continue to grow and mature towards their potential remains our primary mission.  While supporting our students in the "where they are right now", we are preparing them for the "whom they will become".

Dr. Montessori's Cosmic Curriculum, which she defined as "giving [the student] a vision of the whole universe" all the parts of which form "one whole unity," educates the whole child, meeting his/her needs in a way that is both appropriate and supportive of who the student is as a unique individual.  Students continue to explore and learn the fundamentals of mathematics, geometry, pre-algebra, zoology, botany, writing, grammar, etc., but with a greater depth than they have been capable of before, and to analyze what they are learning to determine how they can put it to its best use.  At this stage, new concepts are still taught using hands-on manipulative materials, in order for the students to clearly see the how and why of the concept.  As they work with the materials, they begin to think about the concepts more abstractly.  Much of our work is project based, with practical application of the skills the students learn in the curricular areas. Integrating what they learn and the skills they acquire is a fundamental goal, so students can develop a context for their learning, and begin to see their own way of using the knowledge they have worked so hard to acquire. Our objective is not just to encourage our students to be lifelong learners, but to continue their quest to understand the human condition, and to contribute positively and with a generosity of spirit to the world community, making the best use of the talents that are unique to each of them.


Language Arts

Good communication skills are perhaps the most essential aspect of success as an adult. In the Upper Elementary language arts curriculum, we continue to focus on three major areas of communication: writing, reading, and speech. We emphasize the importance of clarity and balance in each of these areas, and encourage the students to set high expectations for themselves. They read and analyze a variety of texts, through written reports, oral presentations, and shared inquiry discussions. They continue to learn to write, developing good sentence structure and paragraphing habits. They explore different modes of written expression, including creative writing, expository writing, and poetry.

Analysis through writing is emphasized, in an effort to help children learn to express their own ideas clearly and concisely. Grammar, spelling, and sentence and paragraph structure and editing are foundational in the Upper Elementary curriculum. Oral presentations of small assignments commonly happen on a weekly basis, with oral presentation of larger and more extensive projects from each of the curricular areas occurring on a rotating basis quarterly. Book reports, an annual short story anthology, and personal journaling are mainstays of our program.

We also place a heavy emphasis on research, integrated throughout the curriculum, to prepare students for the demands they will meet in Middle and High School.



Helping students understand the physical and political world is an important part of their understanding of who they are and what their place in the world is. At MSM, we strive to help students understand how much of human life is influenced by geography and the physical characteristics and economics of the world's many regions.

As part of the traditional Montessori three year cycle, we study two continents a year: Africa and Oceania during the first year, Europe and Asia during the second, and North and South America during the third year. Students begin their studies on each continent by examining the climates and major geographic features of each continent, and continue with research into regional economic and cultural practices. Students also individually research and report on specific countries, both in written and oral form.

MSM Upper Elementary students also practice map reading skills through various support texts, and participate in the Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN), traveling to the UN in New York City each year to act as delegates for countries that they have researched, written position papers about, and have prepared to represent in committee.  MSM is unique in that all of our Upper Elementary students participate in MMUN in all three years of their Upper Elementary cycle.  We have seen a definite benefit to the students participating all three years.  The first year, they are novices, learning the process from the older students.  The second year, they are delving more deeply into the process, as apprentices.  In their third year, they are truly leading the rest of the class through the process, mentoring the younger students, and are often chosen to speak at the United Nations on the final day of the program!



The processes and practices of math encourage logical thinking and analysis that enhances student learning in all curricular areas. At MSM, we continue to follow the Montessori math curriculum that our students have been participating in since Pre-Primary. Mastery of operations with whole numbers, fractions and decimals, and plane geometry and work that leads to preparation for algebra are essential components of our program. Continuing to progress from the concrete to the abstract in all areas of the math curriculum, by 6th year the students have also experienced geometry through volume and area of geometric solids. Our students learn to love math for its beauty and unique qualities through practice in calculations, word problems and application of math skills to real world situations, in preparation for the advanced mathematics, algebra, calculus and trigonometry they will study in Middle and High School.



Upper Elementary students are fascinated by history, and are eager to learn how we have come to this moment in history, the one they live in now. MSM students have had an extensive education on the history of the Earth in the Lower Elementary. In the Upper Elementary, we follow a three year cycle that begins with the development of hominids and humans, and continues with the development of civilizations during the Neolithic Revolution. We continue with study of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, and then move on to the Middle Ages before arriving at the Age of Exploration. During the third year of the cycle, we examine the history of the United States and Virginia to the Civil War. Our focus is on helping students understand the continuum of history, and to see their own history as a continuation of the history of ideas, technology and efforts that have come before them.



Like mathematics, science offers the Upper Elementary students the opportunity to use logical analysis to discover the patterns and structures of the world. After the thorough grounding they received in the Lower Elementary, they are prepared to begin a deeper examination of the processes and characteristics of the living and non-living world. We explore the domains and kingdoms of animals and plants through zoology and botany, the processes and systems of earth and physical science through chemistry and physics, and attempt to begin to understand the cosmos in all its wonder through astronomy. Through lab sessions and classroom activities, students receive a solid foundation in the scientific method, lab technique and practical uses for scientific skills, including activities outside the classroom, including organic gardening.  (See also the Science tab under Enrichment Programs.)


Peace Education

MSM's Upper Elementary students are the leaders of tomorrow, and we take very seriously our responsibility to prepare them to meet the challenges of the future. We do this through an integrated practical curriculum that allows the students to explore conflict resolution, environmental responsibilities, and individual leadership growth from the classroom level to the international level. We support students on a daily basis by helping them develop and use their own ideas for peaceful resolution to challenges arising from social situations, school policies, local, regional and national problems, and international relations.

On a practical level, we empower students by encouraging them to take responsibility for their own environment, and by challenging them to find solutions to larger, global problems. In the classroom, they care for pets and plants, they clean and maintain the classroom environment, they recycle paper and compost refuse from our organic garden, and they resolve conflicts through classroom discussions and democratic processes.

At the international level, the students learn and practice peace skills of debate, consensus building and resolution proposals through our participation in the Montessori Model United Nations program. Each year the students are assigned a country to represent as delegates. They research and learn everything they can about the country, including the challenges that country faces, and then they write position papers on topics that they will debate in New York in the spring at the United Nations, where they will work with Montessori students from around the world on finding solutions to the world's most pressing problems.  

Dr. Montessori understood long ago the importance of children's thoughtful education. "The child is both the hope and the promise for [human]kind." Montessori School of McLean sees as its mission helping to prepare our students with the skills and ideas that will support them in achieving their potential in life. Every new day, we meet our students with that idea in mind. Our students are our future, and the world they will create and maintain as adults is profound with possibilities. Their promise is unlimited, and MSM's goal is to help them achieve that promise.