The Montessori Elementary Program is designed to unlock the mysteries of the universe for the elementary child. It works on the developmental needs of children between 6 and 12 years of age (Lower Elementary: ages six to nine; Upper Elementary: ages nine to twelve). It offers opportunities for collaborative intellectual exploration in which the child’s interests are supported and guided. It supports the development of self-confidence, imagination, intellectual independence and self-efficacy. It fosters an understanding of the child’s role in their community, in their culture and in the natural world.
As a child reaches six years of age, he enters the second plane of development (6-12 years). The second plane child goes through dramatic changes both physically and psychologically. They move away from the concrete towards the abstract. They already have at their disposal the creations in the first plane which are language, some degree of independence, coordinated movement, refined senses, intelligence and memory. This period is a phase of acquisition of culture(which are elements of human knowledge such as Biology, history, Math, Geography etc.) just as the first plane is for the absorption of the environment. There is an immense need for the child to know the reasons of things in the external environment. The child desires immense knowledge ready to take it in with his own understanding. This is the period when seeds of everything can be sown into the child’s mind which is like a fertile field. These seeds sown at the right time will eventually germinate into culture. Imagination is the creative faculty of the child through which the child understands information which he cannot perceive sensorially. It helps him travel through time and space and aids him in abstraction.
This plane also concerns with the exploration of the moral field. They begin to understand the discrimination between the good and the evil. The child is no longer receptive for absorbing the impressions with ease but wants to understand them for himself and not just accept them as mere facts. The second plane child also finds the need to associate himself with others not merely for the sake of company but in some sort of organized activity. He tends to work in groups where each member of the group has a defined status and responsibility. He is eager to learn the dynamics of the society and work with it. The child has shown us that he needs to learn through his own individual activity, should be given mental freedom to choose his own activity and not be questioned about it.
Since the child is craving to understanding everything in his environment which extends to the limits of the universe, a new philosophy of education should be adopted to meet his greater demands. Mere memorization of facts and limited syllabus would not enthuse the child and nurture his appetite for knowledge. Dr. Montessori proposed the idea of cosmic education for the second plane child. Cosmos comes from the Greek word “kosmos” and can be defined as “the universe as an ordered system” or “the order of the universe”. The meaning of cosmic education is the presentation of the universe as an ordered system to the mind of this older child using reason and imagination. She suggested to give the child an idea of the universe as the universe is the sum total of all the knowledge.
Dr. Maria Montessori envisaged cosmic education to educate the elementary child. Cosmic education presents the world to the child using reason and imagination. She proposes to give the child the universe as it is the sum total of all knowledge and everything is a part of it. It should be imparted in such a way that it is ordered and enthuses the child’s reasoning mind and imagination. Cosmic education stirs up the child and generate tremendous interest in him to explore the universe. Cosmic education presents the universe to the child as one unit with interrelated entities. It emphasizes on the interrelatedness of the entities in the universe. Cosmic education also does the job of sowing seeds of culture in the child’s mind. The content is not given as dry facts but rather as a profound drama which unfolds as they explore. Cosmic education also imparts in the child a sense of compassion. Through the inter-relatedness among elements, it gives a vision of the importance of each entity thus generating a sense of admiration for it. Great stories and key lessons are the methods through which cosmic education is given to the child.
Cosmic education addresses these mental, social, emotional and spiritual characteristics of the child, and the child reveals these characteristics in an environment that supports them. Cosmic education gives the children the opportunity and the freedom to study, explore and acquire the knowledge of the universe. It helps them understand not only its globality but also its complexity. They learn to appreciate how various cosmic forces work and interact with each other will following the laws of nature. Cosmic education also helps them visualize how many elements in the universe work together to maintain the harmony and order in the universe. It also helps the children study the interrelationships between various forces and elements of nature which explains how our world functions. With these kinds of discoveries, the children come to appreciate the importance of collaboration at a cosmic level.
Cosmic education has a very different approach as compared to the traditional education. In cosmic education, the whole is presented first and the child passes on to the minute details from the whole. The whole forms as the basis on which details are built. This approach aids the child to organize his knowledge and pursue his quest on the basis of his existing knowledge. This approach also helps the child connect the dots between various inter-disciplinary subjects and integrate them into one whole unity.
There are five great stories which provide a broad structure of the evolution of the universe to the present day. These stories give the vision of the whole as a single unit. They are dramatic stories given using rich language and personification. Their purpose is to arouse admiration and interest in the child. These stories are not used to impart mere facts. Their main purpose lies in forming a framework for further exploration. They are given with a sense of mystery for the child to think, reason and explore. These stories open up all subject areas in the elementary environment.
Great lessons are powerful tools to enthuse the child’s imagination. Given in a story format, it generates interest and admiration in the child. This child when presented with the great stories creates the impressions through his imagination. Using his imagination, he explores various aspects of the story as they are not readily available to his senses. The great stories consists of factual information in a story format. It also generates a sense of compassion in the child. It presents all the work done before the arrival of human being and from the arrival to the present day. It emphasizes the cosmic tasks of each of these entities which culminated in the present day. In this context, imagination plays a pivotal role in aiding the child to visualize these great works.
There are five great stories. They are:
- The story of God who has no hands
- The Story of creation of life
- The story of creation of human beings
- The story of communication through signs
- The story of numbers
After the great stories, child have constructed a framework of the universe from the stories using their imagination. The great stories have also opened up all subject areas for the child to explore. Key lessons help the child to explore details from the great stories. The child can now explore through experiments and materials and fit it in the overall framework provided by the great stories. Key lessons help the child towards abstraction of concepts in different subject areas. This abstraction is done through manipulative materials which appeal to the reasoning mind and imagination. Key lessons are small lessons pertaining to a specific topic. Key lessons provide essential aid to explore the subject further. Key lessons do not contain complete information related to a subject area but just enough to make the child capable to explore. Working on an abstract level is the culmination of experiences with the physical material. Imagination and the reasoning mind assist the child to abstract for physical experiences.
For example, in biology, introduction to types and parts of a leaf are given. With this knowledge, the child sets out to explore different leaves in his environment with his imagination. He will now be able to categorize and classify them independently.
The going out session relates to the elementary children because of their need to explore the wider society which is beyond family and school. The interest of going out comes from the lessons given and the restricted resources available in the inside environment. They learn about the society by going out through interactions. This is organized by the children themselves in response to the need to find out more in order to be able to ask these questions that has arisen from the work inside the environment.
Our aim is not only to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core.
Dr. Maria Montessori