From: AMI - USA PARENTING for a NEW WORLD April 1993 ( No.2 )


The Child from Six to Twelve in Home and Elementary Class
by Margaret E. Stephenson

This is the third and concluding article in the series, "The Art of Montessori in the Home", written and presented by Miss Stephenson.


Dr. Montessori, who began her work with children as a Doctor of Medicine, wanted adults to understand that the child in the process of development went through four different stages. These stages were each of about six years' length and take the child from birth to six, then from six to twelve, from twelve to eighteen, and from eighteen to twenty-four, which she counted as maturity. Dr. Montessori pointed out that during each of these four stages, the child showed different psychological characteristics, which meant that he needed the adult to help him in a different way. The child in the first plane, during the years from birth to six, and the period we have considered so far, is fanning himself to begin with, to know and recognize himself as an individual person - that is why we have to help him individually.


The next stage, the years from six to twelve, shows different characteristics which require the adult to give help in a different way. The child now needs to be able to learn to live and work in a wider society than that of his immediate family and small class in the Children's House of the Montessori school, The child at this second plane of development is not now content to be kept closely attached to his family. Dr. Montessori tells us that he now wants to explore the life of the wider society outside the family arid classroom.


At this second stage of development the mind of the child is working in a different way. He had made a language for himself in the earlier stage and needed names for all the things he found in his environment. That is why the small child asks "What is that?" - and to help him increase his vocabulary we give him the names of birds and flowers and people and places and of whatever interests him. But at the second plane, the child is not so interested in names as in reasons. He asks now "Why?" and it is "why?" about everything he meets and learns about. And so we have to be prepared for this new form of mind, reasoning and questioning about all that is around him. Montessori says that often adults get tired of the child's questions and so often force him to be silent and just to learn what the adult gives him to learn and tells him to stop questioning. This is why so often the child between six and twelve, gives up trying to learn and becomes bored and frustrated with school and adults.


Now we can give him reasons for our asking him to obey to follow the rules we set, to stop doing something he should not be involved in. This is why we can help him understand what is unacceptable behaviour and why he can understand, if we now take the time and make the effort to help him in this new way.


The work the child now does in his Montessori class changes-the lessons are different-the materials are different. They are all to help the child begin to understand how the universe and his world were created the plants and trees and flowers came, as it were, to decorate that world for us-how the animals came to live their own lives and to help provide for some of our needs-and how, when all the earth was ready, human beings came to begin their own lives.
All this story interests the child-answers some of his questions and gives rise to more. The teacher helps to answer some questions but also leads the child to find other answers for himself. That is why he has questions for his parents-and why we need to know that these questions of his are not a new way he has found, now that he is older, to bother us when we are trying to read the newspaper or to watch television, or have a nap, but are a sign that his normal development as a human being is progressing. We should be glad that he is questioning-his questions are, in the end, more important than our newspaper or television. If we want to help our child, we have to give him our time and understanding, to help answer his questions. And if we do not know the answer, that is not a problem-we and the child go together to see where we can find the answer. With the little child, we had taken him walking outside, to help him learn walking on inclines and hills, to help him learn balance and grace of movement. Now with this older child, we go out with him for another reason, to explore with him where answers may be found to his questions and to share his interests with him. Because of his interests in and need for finding out about this wider society of the world, the child may appear to become less loving towards his own family-to be rude and off-hand with us. This is not really so, it is in appearance only, and while he satisfies his interest in the world.
And so we need to continue our love and care for the child, shown still by a caring about his behaviour, about the way he moves about and relates to people and the things in his environment; we have to care about his language and continue to read aloud to him in order to introduce him to more and more of his heritage of literature, but we also have to care enough about him to allow him to exercise a greater degree of independence. In these days, when there is more danger around in our streets and parks than there was in earlier times, we have to exercise much more vigilance in order to keep the children safe. But wherever and whenever it is possible we also have to give them more freedom than when they were younger and wanted to stay close to us.


We can take these older children to the Public Library, can let them ask a few friends to go with you, and can let them choose their own books instead of telling them what to borrow. We can take them to the 'museums, the art galleries, the zoo, arid let them decide what they want to look at. We can give them more freedom at home, allowing them to share in the cooking and baking, the cleaning, shopping and gardening. At this second plane of development, the children need to be helped to make their own decision, knowing the limits within which those decisions will be acceptable. That is why we have to build the foundations of this knowledge at the first plane of development.

This is why at the first plane we help the child build the knowledge of acceptable behaviour, of self controlled, orderly movement, a knowledge of the use of language, a sense of order in which there lies security, and an independence which makes it possible for the child to carry out by himself the simple actions of daily life. If we have used the ways we discussed earlier, when we talked of the child from birth to six years of age, then the child at the beginning of the second plane has a foundation of knowledge of how his life as a human being should be lived.


At the second plane, with this knowledge already acquired, the child can be allowed freedom for more decisions regarding choices in his life. That is why, in the elementary classroom the child is not given a programme of work that he must follow, a set of tasks' that he must accomplish. The teacher is there to make sure that he will be ready for traditional Public School, when he is old enough to move there: But he must be allowed to explore whatever areas he is interested in, and that will ,give him knowledge of the earth and its creation; plants and animals, their needs and life, and the history of his own species, the human beings, who have written their own story which started when they first appeared on earth and which is still continuing, now at the child's own time in history.


Dr. Montessori's ideas for the, third plane of development, for the adolescent, are too far-reaching to be dealt with tonight and this weekend. The ideas she had for this age-level, which were gathered from her years of observations of children of all ages, are revolutionary. They have never been carried out anywhere in the world and Dr. Montessori did not live long enough to implement them herself. There are still alive a few people who heard her speak on these' ideas' and some schools' which through the years and at present have made a modified version of Dr. Montessori's plans.


In essence, Dr. Montessori showed us that the adolescent at the third plane bore a great resemblance to the infant of the beginning part of the first plane. At each of these two stages, the human being is creating an individual personality. This is why we need at both these times, to treat the child with great tenderness, delicacy and love. Dr, Montessori was strict in her injunction to us that we should never laugh at the small child and to remember that mistakes they make are due to their ignorance and inexperience. This is true also for the adolescents. They are insecure, once again, as is the tiny child. They are easily hurt, because they are at the stage of creating a new place for themselves in society. The adolescent, Dr. Montessori says, 'is full of doubts and hesitations. So we must take great care not to add to those doubts and hesitations by ridiculing them. This is, the age in which they need from us much support, understanding and patience, and help to enable them to realize that we love them, we support them, and we are there to help them continue developing themselves to their full potential as human beings. The child now is unpredictable, as was the tiny child. We need to help him think himself through his moods and to reason" himself out of them. And above all to be able to laugh at himself during them and afterwards.


The person with a real sense of humour can never get too far off balance. A sense of humour helps us to weigh and to measure ourselves, and never to take ourselves too seriously. If we can help our children cultivate a sense of humour, we will have done them an immense service, particularly in terms of living in our present society, where too many people are pontificating and taking themselves and their opinions seriously.
The fact that the child of the first and second planes of development will become the child of the third makes it eminently important that we help the child develop the fullness of his human potential during the two earlier planes. The human being is unique in creation. He was given two unique gifts, special and peculiar to him.


These two gifts are intellect and will - two enormous powers. Intellect - mind – understanding - the power to think and to know. Will - love - choice - the power to choose to act for the good of another person. It is the development of these two powers that is at the base of Dr. Montessori's teachings. When she entitled a book, To Educate the Human Potential, it is these two gifts she is talking about. When she speaks of "the secret of childhood", it is these two gifts to which she is referring.


Therefore, if we are really to understand Dr. Montessori, if we accept her challenge to us, 'to help the child help himself', we are to offer help to the development of the intellect and to the development of the will. It is to the expansion of these two powers that the child is moving throughout the planes of developpment. When we discussed the help to human behaviour in society, to coordinated controlled movement, to the use oflanguage, to a sense of order, and to growth and independence, we were in reality relating the developpment of the child in tl1ese areas to the development of mind and will. It is the intellect, the mind, that has to direct behaviour, movement, language, order. It is the will that has to choose the type of behaviour, tl1e kinds of movements, the tl10ught and its expression in lannguage, the order of life.

And it is the independence of the intellect,· which knows what to do, and which then makes the will free to choose the good, that is the final crowning characterristic of the human being. The more, therefore, we set the limi ts for the child's actions, the more we are helping him develop as a thinking, loving indiividual. And at the third plane we should be able to see the results of our help and our care to our children of the first and second planes. And if we have not given the children this help to help themselves then also we shall see the results of this neglect at the third plane.

We are already seeing those results in society at large and have been for some considerable timeedrugs, drop-outs, suicides, teen-age pregnancy, mindless violence, anti-social behaviour. This is not going to change by applying remedies to the existing sickness of society. It will only change when all adults realise their responsibility to help the children develop according to the normal pattern for human beings.

In the iinal analysis we are talking of human responnsibility. If adults can understand theirs, then they will be able to help their children develop responsibility also, as they develop the other human characteristics that we have been discussing.

This responsibility, and the acceptance of it, starts from the moment of birth, though the child in his first three years cannot be conscious of it, and in the next three, develops only the beginnings of that conscioussness, as we help him choose his actions. Society cannot change until it accepts its responsIbility for reasoned behaviour. Through the ways we have discussed for helping the child help himself become a responsible member of human society, we can have hope that in the years to come, with more children passing out from Montessori schools and more parents and teachers realising their responsibility for gi ving that help, future society will offer more chance of a humanity able to live in harmony and peace.

Dr. Montessori's aim was to help adults help chilldren develop into human beings who used knowledge to form judgments about situations intife where reason and will and not emotionalism must direct the judggment. Only then, Dr. Montessori considered, would we have prepared the children to become adults who "can exercise right1y'~ she said, "the duties of citizens in a civilised commonwealth."

We have talked of five ways in which we can "help the child help himself' become such a man or woman. They are not the only ways we support our children. But they can form a foundation on which we and the children can build integrated human personalities.

To her teachers, Dr. Montessori has given this goal:"Not in the service of any political or social creed should the teacher work, but in the service of the complete human being, able to exercise in freedom a self-disciplined will aI)d judgment, unperverted by prejudice and undistorted by fear".

But this cannot be only the task of the teacher. We share the fDImation of the child with its parents. Your child, your nation's children, need the cooperation of parents and teachers if we are to achieve what Dr. Montessori envisaged as the end toward which humannity should tend.

In a series of lectures devoted to Education and Peace, given in the years from 1932 to 1939, Dr. Montessori said the following: "Education cannot be dismissed as an insignificant factor in people's lives, as a means of furnishing a few rudiments of culture to young people. It must be viewed first of all from the perspective of the development of human values in the individual, in particular his moral values, and second, from the point of view of organising the individuals possessed of these enhanced values into a society consciously aware of its destiny ...

An extremely important social task lies before us: actuating man's value, allowing him to attain the maximum development of his energies, truly preparing him to bring about a different form of human society on . a higher plane ...

Man's morai energies in particular must be turned to account. .. The special province of morality is the relation between individuals and it is the very basis of social life. Morality must be regarded as the science of organising a society of men and women whose highest value is their selfhood and not the efficiency of their machines. Men and women must learn how to particiipate consciously in the social discipline that orders all their functions within society, and how to help keep those functions in balance."

It is this province of moral values we have been considering. The ways in which, in the home, we can help the child help tllmselfbecome that individual who is strong enough to take his own place in society and to
offer service to it. Dr. Montessori has described sociiety as "an organisation of human beings, each feeling his responsibility in relation to the collective order:" We . have thought about this collective order in terms of the home and the child who enters it at birth, of the home and the Montessori Primary class, of the home and the elementary class, of the home and the adolescent. We have looked at the ways in which we can help the child retognise his own responsibility to home and schobl and to his companions who form the society within it.

We have seen that the child has the same needs throughout the stages of development-· first of all for knowledge of the situation and then for help to live his life within it. Tonight we concentrated on the ways in which parents can help their children· and we have asked that you resolve to undertake one or other of these waYs, if you are not already doing all that we have discussed. For the· rest of the weekend, we shall be talking of some ways of reinforcing your help to your child within the classroom, help· given by the teachers. With this cooperative effort, we shall be going a long way to help the child help himself become the person he began to be at the moment of conception.


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