Primary classes were devoted to the physical and tangible; Elementary classes use that library of ideas and sensations to explore the universe through the power of the imagination.
Stories, impressionistic charts, and evocative materials give a sense of the size and age of the observable universe, the steady progression of life on Earth, the variety of terrain and climates on our planet, and the saga of human evolution, invention, and civilization. The teacher tells stories (“Great Lessons”) which lay out a general organization for knowledge, then invites the children to investigate details and relate them back to the whole.
Young children are eager to master large bodies of information; hasn't everyone met one who seems to know the name of every dinosaur? Elementary classrooms harness this urge towards expertise by throwing open the doors to the whole of human knowledge: the history of ancient civilizations, the mechanics of language, biological and geological classification, the intricacies of physical and political geography, the methods of mathematics from basic operations through cube roots and basic algebra.
The Elementary classroom offers the child more than any curriculum requires; and, since the classroom encourages exploration by individuals and small groups who then report back to the whole community, the children create a rich culture of discovery in which they are constantly exposed to a wide variety of information.
Senses of Justice and Community
Elementary children typically develop a strong interest in ethics and "fair play." The same impulse that led the Primary child to insist "Help me to do it by myself" for physical tasks—putting on a coat, or carrying a chair, or opening a door—now moves into the moral realm. Elementary students want to independently investigate grace and courtesy, rules of behavior, and roles in a group. Their questions move from the Primary "What is that?" to the Elementary "Why is that?" Cause and effect, connections and consequences, are of paramount interest. So classroom materials direct these intellectual and social explorers to the interrelated roles in any society or ecosystem: the give and take that allows for a balance between plants and animals, or predator and prey, or farmers and merchants.
As in the younger classes, children learn by doing. So each Elementary class holds regular meetings, not only as opportunities to share work and research but also as a chance to work out social problems in a fair and reasonable fashion. Teachers act as moderators and facilitators, helping children learn how to negotiate solutions that respect everyone's thoughts and feelings to maintain a smoothly functioning classroom community—and develop real-world skills of compromise and diplomacy that will serve them well for years to come.