The Passage to the Elementary

In chapter 2 titled “Metamorphoses” of her book Childhood to Adolescence, Dr. Montessori explores the elementary child’s “turning towards intellectual and moral” development:

“The passage to the second level of education is the passage from the sensorial, material level to the abstract. The need for abstraction and intellectual activity makes itself felt around the seventh year. Until that age the establishment of the relationships between objects is what is important to the child. This is to say that the child needs to classify and absorb the exterior world by means of his senses.

“A turning toward the intellectual and moral sides of life occurs at the age of seven.

“One could draw a parallel between the two periods. But they still remain on different levels. It is at seven years that one may note the beginning of an orientation toward moral questions, toward the judgement of acts. One of the most curious characteristics to be observed is the interest that occurs in the child when he begins to perceive things which previously failed to notice. Thus he begins to worry about whether what he has done has been done well or poorly. The great problem of Good and Evil now confronts him. This preoccupation belongs to an interior sensitivity, the conscience. and  this sensitivity is a very natural characteristic.

“The seven-to-twelve-year-old period, then constitutes one of particular importance for moral education. The adult must be aware of the evolution that is occurring in the mind of the child at this time and adapt his methods to conform with it.

“If during the first period of development the teacher has used a very gently approach and intervened as little as possible in the activity of the child (activity which was above all motor and sensorial),it is to the moral level that his delicacy of approach ought now to be oriented. That is where the problem of this age lies. To think that the problem of morality only occurs later is to overlook the change that is already going on. Later, the moral problem becomes a good deal more difficult unless the child has been helped during this sensitive period.  Social adaptations will become more thorny. It is at this age also that the concept of justice is born, simultaneously with the understanding of the relationships between one’s acts and the needs of others. The sense of justice, so often missing in man, is found during the development of the young child.”

Excerpts from The Advanced Montessori Method II, formerly entitled The Montessori Elementary Material, first published in 1916. In her two volume work, Dr. Montessori sought to explicate the approach she brought to the older, elementary age children. In these excerpts, she addresses the development of reading in the context of a connection to other people and society.

“Our first publication on the methods used in the “Children’s House” made clear two distinct operations involved in reading: the interpretation of the meaning and the pronunciation aloud of the “word.” The stress we laid on that analysis as a guide to the development of reading was the result of actual experience. Those who followed this work during its initial stages saw how the children, when they read for the first time, interpreting the meaning of the words before them, did so without speaking,-reading, that is, mentally. Interpretation, in fact, is a question of mental concentration. Reading is an affair of the intelligence. The pronunciation aloud is quite a different thing, not only distinguished from the first process,but secondary to it. Talking aloud is a question of speech, involving first hearing and then the mechanical reproduction of sounds in articulate language. Its function is to bring into immediate communication two people, who thus exchange the thoughts which they have already perfected in the secret places of their minds.

But reading stands in direct relation with writing. Here there are no sounds to be heard or pronounced. The individual, all by himself, can put himself into communication not only with human beings actually alive on the earth, but also with those who lived centuries and centuries ago down to the dawn of history. Such communication is made possible not by sound but by the written symbol. The mind takes in these symbols in silence. Books are mute, as far as sound is concerned.”

Selected excerpts from To Educate the Human Potential, Chapter 1: “The Six-Year-Old Confronted with the Cosmic Plan,” which was first published in 1948.

“Education between the ages of six and twelve is not a direct continuation of that which has gone before, though it is built upon that basis. Psychologically there is a decided change in personality, and we recognize that nature has made this a period for the acquisition of culture, just as the former was for the absorption of environment.…  Knowledge can best be given where there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child’s mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into culture.…  Interest will no longer be there if the seed be sown too late, but at six years of age all items of culture are received enthusiastically, and later these seeds will expand and grow.…  But to give the whole of modern culture has become an impossibility and so a need arises for a special method, whereby all factors of culture may be introduced to the six-year-old; not in a syllabus to be imposed on him, or with exactitude of detail, but in the broadcasting of the maximum number of seeds of interest. These will be held lightly in the mind, but will be capable of later germination, as the will becomes more directive, and thus he may become an individual suited to these expansive times.”

“The child must learn by his own individual activity, being given a mental freedom to take what he needs, and not to be questioned in his choice. Our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them. Just as a small child cannot be still because he is in need of coordinating his movements, so the older child, who may seem troublesome in his curiosity over the what, why, and wherefore of everything he sees, is building up his mind by this mental activity, and must be given a wide field of culture on which to feed. The task of teaching becomes easy, since we do not need to choose what we shall teach, but should place all before him for the satisfaction of his mental appetite. He must have absolute freedom of choice, and then he requires nothing but repeated experiences which will become increasingly marked by interest and serious attention, during his acquisition of some desired knowledge.”

“If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying. The child’s mind then will no longer wander, but becomes fixed and can work. The knowledge he then acquires is organized and systematic; his intelligence becomes whole and complete because of the vision of the whole that has been presented to him, and his interest spreads to all, for all are linked and have their place in the universe on which his mind is centered.…  A great curiosity arises, which can never be satiated; so will last through a lifetime.”

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