Characteristics of an Elementary Child
At about the age of 6, the child goes through many changes and reveals some characteristics not seen before. The child that was once observant, neat, reflective and quiet may now seem dramatically willful, fearless and independent. We see the child’s body growing at a tremendous rate, with the skin beginning to toughen and teeth making way for permanent ones. These are some of the physical signs that the child is entering what Montessori education calls the second plane of development, which lasts from approximately 6 to 12 years of age.
The child’s questions have changed from “What is that?” to “Why?” The child develops a strong sense of justice and we sometimes hear what is often said to be the elementary child’s battle cry, “That’s not fair!” The child of this age is entering what is called the “age of reason.” The child’s intellect is no longer just gathering information, but is taking the information gathered, processing it and forming his or her own conclusions. This is the time when the child begins to establish independence away from the family, becoming less dependent on adults and much more interested in peer groups. These children seek to find their place and independence within the peer group to which they now belong.
Elementary children want to know the reason for everything. Cultivating this desire for understanding within each child, the guide will plant “seeds of interest.” These lessons are designed to touch the child’s imagination and set fire to the intellect.
This age of child has an irrepressible thirst for experiences. There are rapid changes occurring in the body and mind of the child, which tends to increase their sensitivity to the environment. Firmly rooted in the present, the tangible and the facts, the young child has difficulty projecting forward or backward in time, imagining information that is not concrete and separating fiction from reality. The children work toward functional independence, gaining positive social relations, and for refining their fine and gross motor skills. The materials and classroom environment are constructed so that the young child can satisfy the needs for development during this important formative period.
The Montessori elementary curriculum is designed to develop self-motivation in learning, responsibility to one’s self and the community, self-discipline, self-confidence, concern for others, academic advancement, physical fitness, and growth in moral and ethical understanding. Through exploration and discovery, the children find relationships and order in the world. They work in the areas of physical and life sciences, history and culture, mathematics, geometry and language. They are encouraged to follow their interests from beginning generalizations to discovery of details and refinements to deeper understandings and more abstract concepts. The curriculum is integrated rather than separated into discrete subjects and time periods. A child is encouraged to explore deeply, and typically is not called from study to go on to the next thing until the student has mastered a concept or feels satisfied with the learning accomplished.
Children proceed at their own pace, progressing as their abilities allow. Using concrete materials and guided by the teacher, they build skills in a step-by-step process. In this manner, the classroom is a community where each child is able to develop his or her own individual creative abilities, thus fostering a non-competitive work environment. Our goal is to nourish the child’s enthusiasm and to establish a lifelong love of learning.
The Montessori approach embodies concern and respect for the whole child. The development of a sense of responsibility, self-control, social sensitivity, and concern for the human community is considered equally important.
The elementary classroom’s mixed-age group naturally results in cooperation, not competition. This inspires the children to teach and learn from each other. Learning is inspired by the variety of work in the classroom as well as by the diverse student population.