“The cosmic plan of education for the elementary child is to help him understand the universe and man’s place in it.”Margaret Stephenson, prominent Montessori theoretician and trainer
Cosmic Education exposes the child to the universe so that she will understand relationships and respond to nature and humanity in positive and salutary ways. The age from approximately 6 to 12 years, the developmental stage that Maria Montessori called, “The Second Plane of Development” is marked by specific characteristics. In the Montessori Elementary Program, “Cosmic Education”, we recognize and work with those characteristics rather than against or irrespective of them.
Cosmic Education Recognizes and Encourages the Second Plane Child’s New and Increasing Powers of Reason and Imagination
Maria Montessori, in her comprehensive study of the characteristics of children as they grow from infancy to maturity, noted that the “Absorbent Mind”, the ability to effortlessly and indiscriminately take in information and retain it that is the hallmark of the child from birth to approximately age 6, falls away when the child enters the second plane of development, approximately sometime between age 5 and 7. The Absorbent Mind, at this point, is replaced by powers of Reason and Imagination that were not previously present. Now the child can meaningfully understand that Daddy has gone on a trip and will be back on Wednesday or that Grandma and Grandpa live in Minnesota hundreds of miles away. Reason and Imagination – what profound powers they are! Now the universe can be opened up as the child can begin to comprehend the vanilla orchid vine in Madagascar that contributes to his delicious glazed biscotti, the Gulf Stream that affects whether or not Saturday will be a good day for a picnic, and that the progress and inventions of millions of people, some known, but most unknown, enable us to have the means of communication, technology, and ways of life that we now enjoy. The Montessori materials and presentations are all designed to help the child exercise these powers.
We use “Great Stories” to open up broad areas of study: the universe, the earth and its components, the history of living things, the history of human beings, and the development of language and mathematics. We follow these first stories with many others as we introduce Geometry with The Story of the Egyptian Rope Stretchers, Music with the Story of the Grand Staff, etc. Many more stories follow as many more topics are scattered before the fertile soil of the child’s imagination, seeds that are fitly sown to bring forth a harvest of learning. We use charts, simplistically but winsomely drawn, to capture the child’s imagination. The charts and stories are “impressionistic”, not detailed and comprehensive, but designed to entice the child to explore topics according to his own interest.
Cosmic Education Is Cross-Curricular and Organic
Montessori Elementary employs a cross-curricular paradigm of material offered for study, supporting the child’s natural curiosity and personal interests. We do not strongly distinguish the curriculum divisions because all of the subject areas are interconnected. We offer Geography, Biology, Natural History, Human History, Spoken and Written Language, Visual Arts, Music, and Dance as well as the branches of Mathematics. We present them to children as parts of a whole and relate them to each other. It is counter-productive for children to feel the division of subject areas. Geometry, for instance, is related to the need to fathom the earth and all real-world human endeavors employ a “cross-curricular approach”. Our cosmic education environment should be no different. All things have a history not separate from the study of history.
We assist the child in learning all that she wants to know. The child has the freedom and the means to pursue areas of study that interest her. No limits are placed on what the child can use, nor do we observe strict maximums, such as only one painting per day. After all, no teacher limits the math problems that a child may voluntarily do. We help the child explore all disciplines organically without artificial distinction.
Cosmic Education Supports, Rather than Contradicts, the Elementary Child’s Heightened Need for Developing Social Relationships
The child at this age has a newly developed social interest and highly values the relationships that he is building outside of those in his family. Friends become all-important and navigating the sometimes choppy waters of interpersonal relationships can consume a lot of the child’s attention and energy. This creates a problem in conventional schools because the lecture format is not compatible with the child’s desire to interact with her classmates. Often this results in conflict between the teacher and the student, the teacher becoming frustrated with the distraction of students chatting, whispering, passing notes, etc. and the students viewing the teacher as an adversary.
In the Montessori model, the lessons are delivered to small groups and deeper understanding of a topic is pursued via student-led projects: going out, oral and visual presentations, written summaries, developing timelines, etc. The children are able to work cooperatively, satisfying their need for gaining social skills and acquiring academic knowledge at the same time. Students in Montessori Elementary are also introduced to and then given the responsibility for running the classroom using a system of shared responsibilities and leadership roles, class meetings and school student government wherein the children eventually own the operation of their classroom as the Montessori Guide recedes into the background. There is even a Montessori Model UN, where children are exposed to the bigger world of how to solve the problems of people sharing the planet. Learning to successfully and productively function in society is built into the Montessori Elementary program and compatible with the developmental characteristics of the second plane child.
Montessori Elementary Offers a Comprehensive Array of Representational Materials Designed to Help Children Progress from Understanding Based on Observation to Internalized and Abstracted Conceptualization
We see in conventional schools that the use of what that model calls “manipulatives” is employed almost exclusively in Mathematics and quickly abandoned in the lower grades. Is this not also when children begin to have real struggles in school? That conventional schools use their vastly inferior “manipulatives” at all is a nod to Montessori and the late-19th century educational researchers who influenced her designs.
We offer concrete tools for Reading, Writing, Mathematics, Geometry, History, Biology, Geography, Music, Art, and Practical Life. Our materials are carefully sequenced to support the child’s natural progression from understanding through manipulating concrete objects to the use and function of those objects becoming embedded in the child’s intellect so that he can cognitively “manipulate” the represented concepts. What value there is to “seeing” transposing on the Tone Bars by shifting a scale guide, or that the motions for forming a cursive “f” can be repeated on a sandpaper letter, in a sand tray, on a dry erase board with a model to trace, on a chalkboard, on specially lined paper, and on plain paper! There is support for the child’s progress at every step and the individualized nature of the Montessori program allows the child to proceed at his own pace without the stigma of being “behind” the rest of the class or the isolation of soaring ahead of it.
Montessori Elementary is Designed to Facilitate the Child’s Development As a Mature, Equipped and Capable Citizen of the World
Maria Montessori saw the big picture of education in a way that many education theorists never do. Her experience of living through two world wars profoundly affected her assessment of her and our task. As much as she devoted herself to observing and understanding the individual child and how she grows and learns, Dr. Montessori realized that adults who are capable of mathematics, science, and communication via the tools of language are not the end goal of education. She was committed to the ethos of education as a means to world peace. She emphasized the importance of the successful interactions of any two people and the imperative of global powers resolving differences without resorting to armed conflict.
We honor her charge to teach not only academic content, but also teach respect for all. We model regarding others with an implicit understanding that they, like us, are going about meeting their needs, and how we can anticipate, avoid, or resolve naturally occurring disputes. We help the children to practice that ethos in our environment and increasingly in the wider world, as they go out and expand their territories. History shows us that human beings have often failed in the cosmic imperative of peace, but it also shows us that we can learn from the failures of history and work toward a better world.
There is a great deal more to learn about the rationale for and results of Cosmic Education, which I will cover in future blog posts.