The Luria curriculum combines the use of carefully chosen Montessori materials with thematic topics that are explored through whole group, small group, and individual activities. The thematic approach allows us to promote a holistic understanding and appreciation of each topic while simultaneously advancing the development of each skill area. Every effort is made to ensure that the Judaic and General curriculum areas are mutually complementary, so themes are often chosen from Judaic topics and then explored through math, science, geography, literacy, and art. The General curriculum follows the prescribed Montessori sequence followed by AMS (American Montessori Society) affiliated schools. We aligned this sequence with New York State Standards so that we are always aware of typical goals and where children are situated on the spectrum. However, our primary frame of reference is the child; our mixed age groupings enable us to support a child’s development based on his/her abilities as opposed to grade level.
We are committed to achieving the ultimate balance: We want to graduate students with the highest level of academic proficiency in all subjects, but in an environment that is relaxed and child-centered. We want our students to become independent thinkers, but also recognize that rules are necessary in order to function within a community. We view the school as a preparation for life as opposed to simply a prerequisite for continued academic studies. The foundation of this balance comes from the Montessori Method which supports the dichotomy between structure and freedom. We build upon this by getting to know our students as unique individuals and do everything we can to help them realize their fullest potentials.
Each classroom is divided into six primary areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, Cultural Subjects (Science and Social Studies), and Art. The materials in each area are sequenced according to Montessori standards and are revolved based on the needs and interests of children. The following is a short synopsis of the goals and materials that are found in each section:
The purpose of this area is to help children develop coordination, concentration, a sense of personal independence and a sense of order. The activities are divided into four categories: care of the person, care of the environment, grace and courtesy, and control of movement. Children engage in pouring, transferring, cleaning, sewing, fastening, sorting, stringing, and cooking. They also learn how to sweep the floor, set a table, water plants, and care for animals. Fine-motor skills are developed by manipulating clothespins, droppers, and tweezers. The Practical Life materials are also used to role-play. As an extension of the Practical Life area, children at Luria engage in many cooking activities. They create dishes to enjoy at home and also prepare their own snacks and hot lunches.
The goal of the Sensorial area is to refine and develop the senses because it is through the senses that all information is taken in and processed. The materials advance skills that include matching, seriation, classification, and one-to-one correspondence and perceptual acuity with regard to color, dimension, sound, touch, and taste. They also provide the basis for language and math. For example, learning to discriminate between sounds helps children discriminate phonetic sounds when learning letters. The Sensorial area extends into geometry as children develop.
The initial focus of the Language area is to set up a purpose for learning literacy skills; this is achieved by making sure there an extensive amount of print in the environment, having discussions about language, reading to children, engaging in writing activities, and demonstrating that language can be spoken, heard, written, and read. Children learn to read and write simultaneously. They learn letter-sound recognition using sand-paper and wooden letters and boxes of items that contain the initial sound of each letter. Then they use moveable letters or letter stamps to create phonetic words. Children who have sufficient fine-motor control begin to write. Simultaneously, children are taught formal rules of both English and Hebrew. They are surrounded by an abundance of books and are encouraged to view reading as entertainment as well as a way to gain knowledge and information. Children are also exposed to a large and diverse vocabulary.
The primary difference between the math curriculum in Montessori classrooms versus other environments is the use of unique materials that support the acquisition of complicated mathematical concepts usually introduced far later in traditional schools. For example, the Golden Bead materials are used to introduce place value into the thousands to four-year-old children. First year preschoolers typically work on counting and recognizing numbers zero to ten using sandpaper numerals, number rods, cards and counters, and beginning bead materials. The next year, children work with the decimal system, construct and deconstruct more complex numbers, and are introduced to basic operations. The goal is for students to work towards increasingly abstract concepts by constructing their own understanding of mathematical ideas. As they demonstrate mastery of concepts, they move into more complex equations involving higher numbers.
This area is divided into sections on Science and Geography. An abundance of puzzle maps, paper maps, globes, multicultural pictures/photos and books are the basis of the geography curriculum. Students engage in a variety of science experiments in order to learn about the scientific processes of inquiry and investigation. They manipulate scientific materials including test tubes, microscopes, magnifying glasses, and binoculars to learn about botany, biology, astronomy, and earth science. Science themes include Land, Air, and Water, Magnetism, Basic Machines, Botany, and Zoology.
In addition to engaging in a variety of art activities utilizing an array of art media (drawing using charcoal pencils, pens, crayons, markers, colored pencils, and pastels; painting with watercolor, tempera, and textured paint; sculpting; collaging), students learn about prominent artists and techniques. Attention is also paid to the techniques used by illustrators of children’s books. Students visit museums and take walks to explore local architecture. Music and drama are also integral parts of the curriculum. Children listen to a variety of musical styles and learn songs that enrich their learning. They engage in creative movement activities, experiment with a variety of musical instruments, and learn about rhythm and tempo.
The Judaic Curriculum
Children in Luria Academy learn about our rich heritage and culture. Subject areas include Yahadut (holidays and Jewish concepts), Parshat Hashavua (the weekly Torah portion), and Ivrit (Hebrew language) and cross-curricular themes are often chosen from these subjects. For example, when learning about the Avot (forefathers) and Imahot(foremothers), children use maps to identify where our ancestors lived. They read books to investigate the difficulties people living in a desert might face, and the animals they would encounter. They might attempt to put up a tent, experiment with the pulley action of a well, or measure how much water a camel can drink.
Learning about Eretz Yisrael is also a core element of our curriculum. Children learn about the history and geography of Israel as well as its roots in our tradition and as the modern homeland of the Jewish people. Israeli National Holidays such as Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayimare celebrated and discussed in class. Our youngest students are exposed to a variety of texts including picture books and environmental print in Hebrew in order to set a purpose and context for learning written and conversational Hebrew. Israeli staff members promote fluency and familiarity through informal conversation with students as well as more formal lessons.
In addition to acquiring knowledge and skills, children learn to take pride in their Jewish identity. All children take part in daily Tefila. Students learn about the purpose of prayer and the meaning of each specific prayer. They are encouraged to make personal connections to G-d by engaging in pre-prayer discussion questions such as, “What do you want to thank G-d for today?” They talk about the concept of a Mitzvaand the importance of doing good deeds and helping others.
A primary goal for graduating students is for them to achieve optimal proficiency with Judaic texts. To this end, even before they learn to read, teachers often refer to these texts, read them aloud, and highlight selected quotes during lessons. As students gain Hebrew reading fluency these experiences become more frequent and detailed. Montessori materials support these objectives by giving children ample opportunities to practice shorashim(root words), prefixes, and suffixes before encountering the text. At all times, we strive to set a clear purpose for studying the texts that have influenced our culture, religion, and history and instill a reverence for them. However, we also teach our students to think critically and feel comfortable to probe and question these texts.
At the end of the first semester, first graders begin praying from Siddurim. Later that year, once they have demonstrated reading proficiency, they begin learning text-based Chumash. Students typically begin reading Rashi’s commentary on Chumash in third grade and Nevi’im (Prophets) in fourth grade. Mishnayot and Gemara will follow in upper elementary. The most important caveat is that these are the typical stages in text development. However, our mixed age groupings enable us to modify the schedule so that children can progress according to ability. A child who achieves reading fluency more quickly may be grouped with older children who have progressed to the next stage.
The elementary classroom retains much of the flavor of its early childhood counterpart. Students continue to work independently or in small groups for the majority of the day. The environment is divided into the same areas (see Early Childhood Curriculum sections), with two primary exceptions. The Sensorial area moves firmly into Geometry, and Practical Life becomes a less pivotal area of the classroom. Students continue to engage in activities involving sewing, cooking, flower arranging, and table setting. There is also an even greater emphasis on Grace and Courtesy and appropriate socialization as children move into a developmental period in which peer relationships become more complex. Additionally, students receive formal lessons that promote the development of good work habits. However, these lessons become more integrated into the curriculum as opposed to being present on specific Practical Life shelves.
Math and Language
Our assessment forms follow the New York State Standards and teachers are very aware of expectations for children at each grade level, but our primary focus continues to be the needs of the child. In both Math and Language, children are assessed at the beginning of the year using a few basic Montessori materials and placed at the appropriate positions on the Montessori spectrum. Then, they move sequentially through the curriculum. The Math sequence begins with addends greater than ten and the advanced Addition Snake Game which promotes fluency with mental addition. As students practice addition, they are introduced to more complicated subtraction problems and then spend a lot of time on multiplication. In addition to multiplication facts, they learn rules including the Distributive Property of Multiplication and Commutative Property of Inverse Factors. Boxes of bead stairs are used to concretely demonstrate the concept of a number squared and cubed. Simultaneously, children work on fractions, bead frame notation (all operations involving numbers into the millions), and division. Some children use math workbooks, but most record their work in math notebooks.
Our language program includes a systematic approach to learning phonics and daily practice to improve fluency in both English and Hebrew. At the same time, students develop a sight word vocabulary using Classified Nomenclature (3 part cards containing pictures and words), and by matching word labels with objects. Children do a lot of independent and guided reading and writing. They use handwriting and spelling workbooks similar to other environments. They also participate in reading and listening comprehension activities and literature circles (similar to book clubs) in small and large groups. Grammar is a large element of the Montessori Language curriculum. Each part of speech has a corresponding symbol which children use to diagram sentences (in both Hebrew and English). These lessons are then incorporated into children’s independent writing as they are encouraged to use more sophisticated editing. We make every effort to emphasize the importance of language as a means of communication and self expression. Most significantly, these lessons are incorporated across the General and Judaic curriculum as children research, write, and present information on a variety of topics.
The elementary Social Studies curriculum begins with lessons on units of measure and uses of different types of calendars. These concepts lead into the development of time lines of a student’s life and extend into his/her family, and then Jewish and world history. As students learn Chumash, Parashat HaShavua, and Yahadut, they constantly refer to pictorial timelines. Units on the Fundamental Needs of Man and Stages in the Progress of Civilization are taught in tandem with Sefer Bereshit. Students continue to use puzzle maps and globes to learn about land and water forms and begin studies on the continents. Flags of Countries, The Solar System, Volcanism, Geochemical Earth, Minerals, and The Atmosphere of Earth are other topics covered under the heading of geography. Science experiments related to geography (inertia, gravity, centripetal and centrifugal force, etc) are conducted as students learn about the beginning of time from creationist and evolutionary perspectives.
In addition to thematic science units revolving around the seasons or related Judaic topics, the primary Science topics include Botany and Zoology. Self correcting materials including nomenclature and puzzles are used to teach the parts of leaves, plants, trees, and flowers. Zoology lessons involve the organization of the Animal Kingdom and studies on the external and internal parts of specific animals. The Montessori approach focuses on exposing children to an abundance of scientific names and labels because Maria Montessori found that lower elementary is a time when children are particularly fascinated by this knowledge. We expose them to a large quantity of data so that when they get older and spend more time on each particular area, they will be able to access the information more readily. Children in the third or fourth year of the elementary cycle delve deeper into all of the topics discussed above, but also begin studies in government, economics, and the Periodic Table of Elements.