I’m taking a short Montessori course for parents who are homeschooling their elementary kids and sharing what I learn here. This is the second article in the series. You can start from the beginning here.
In Montessori, the stages that children go through are called planes of development.
Kids age 0 to 6 are said to be in the First Plane of Development. “The absorbent mind” is a phrase you’ll hear over and over again when talking about kids this age. Learning is more concrete at this stage — based on what the child can see, touch, hear, etc. — and in fact Montessori materials are designed with this in mind.
Elementary kids, on the other hand, are in the Second Plane of Development. For children age 6 to 12, it’s no longer enough to use Montessori materials — they now have a well-developed imagination and start to be able to learn concepts abstractly. Kids at this stage are said to be at a sensitive period for acquiring the culture of their environment and so they need to be introduced to the widest variety of things.
Here are some of the changes that occur in kids at the elementary level — and how we can make the most of those changes and help them best.
Greater energy and physical stamina
If you’ve ever looked at your kid and wondered if perhaps they might have accidentally ingested an entire liter of coffee — I know I have! — you’re not alone. Apparently this is quite common in kids at this age: they have tons of energy, they can have long periods of activity without getting tired, and (thankfully) they don’t get sick as often as they did when they were younger.
In practical terms, this means that:
- It’s important for us parents to provide physical outlets for our kids. It’s important to identify spaces where our kids can do physical activities — things like running and jumping and cartwheeling — not just mental ones.
- Our kids now have enough energy to complete longer projects, so it’s a great opportunity to start introducing them to more complicated activities.
- Since our kids now have a higher level of interest and stamina when it comes to learning about the wider world, we can help them by making sure they can access all the knowledge they need. Make books and other sources of information available.
- Kids at this age tend to become fascinated with certain topics — raise your hand if your kid knows more about dinosaurs than all the adults in your house put together! — and we should support them in these
obsessionsinterests. Rest assured they will eventually move on to other things…and, honestly, won’t that be a little sad? But by allowing them to pursue their fascinations, we are helping them develop concentration and focus.
Connections outside the family
Elementary school kids will start to detach a bit from family and build stronger connections with their peers. This might be less evident now that many of us are staying home due to the pandemic, but that’s even more reason why we need to be mindful of this aspect of our kids’ relationships.
What we can do:
- If possible, take kids to parks and museums.
- Keep an ear out for events involving other kids that your child can participate in.
- Online classes — not just school-based ones, but things like art classes and language classes — can be a great way for our kids to meet others of the same age.
- Even regular Zoom catch-ups with family or friends can make a world of difference!
My son’s a right little tattler in school, and honestly, I haven’t discouraged him from it, because I feel like it’s never too early for kids to learn that, if they’re doing something they’re ashamed for their teacher to know, then they should ask themselves if they should be doing it in the first place. Of course, my son gets grief from his friends for it, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be a good fit for the Mafia, but I can live with that. (I do tell him to be more discerning — if it’s something like bullying, he should definitely report it right away, but if it’s a matter of, say, a classmate going out of the room without permission, that’s generally the teacher’s problem and not worth losing friends over.)
Anyway, it’s nice to know that the second plane of development actually is the “age for tattling” and moral development in general. Children report things to adults because they’re trying to identify what is, and isn’t, acceptable. Kids this age are also sensitive to matters of fairness and justice — cue the cries of “it’s not fair!” — and they tend to be very honest, occasionally to the point of rudeness.
Points for parents:
It’s especially important for us at this age to keep our promises — because our kids will know (and remember) if we don’t.
We should never discourage honesty but we can teach our kids how to refine the way they express things.
Morality education can be done through collaborative problem solving: sit down with your kids and talk about the situation. Identify what the moral dilemmas are and how they can be best resolved.
Elementary-age kids can become fond of famous people — even historical or fictional ones — and look up to certain adults in their circle. (Who were your heroes when you were in elementary? I think mine was Nancy Drew — I mean, the girl could play tennis like a pro and speak all sorts of languages, including Quechuan!)
Parents can channel this hero worship into something productive by:
Having kids write reports or biographies about people they admire. (Kids are apparently fond of writing biographies at this stage but I have yet to confirm this with my own child.)
Connecting them with — or at least introducing them to the life stories of — famous people with whom they share similarities.
The mantra of elementary-age kids: “Help me think for myself.”
This is the age of intellectual independence. A focus on physical order (e.g., stacking) in preschool gives way to intellectual order (e.g., classifying things) in elementary. And whereas younger kids are interested in “what” — naming and labeling things — elementary-age children are constantly asking “how” and “why”.
As parents, we can encourage our kids on their intellectual journey, not only by helping them find the answers to their questions, but also by:
Mirroring their excitement and thirst for knowledge. A great way to do that is to have conversations with our kids where we say, “I wonder why…”
Modelling a love for learning. Let’s show our kids that we, too, are exploring and pushing our own horizons.
One of the Montessori concepts that I really love and am amazed by when I witness it in my own kid is “great work”. I tried Googling for a standard definition but apparently a lot of people are fond of great work, so much so that they’ve made it the name of their Montessori schools. In our Montessori course, great work is described as — instead of repetition by doing things over and over again — repetition by variety and elaboration.
For example, when my son was learning addition, he extended it into adding words. He assigned letters numerical values based on their sequence in the alphabet, then he added those numbers, and then he translated the sums back into letters. He would be doing equations like: APATOSAURUS + BRACHIOSAURUS = X. So he was doing his sums, mastering addition by repetition, but instead of doing that by adding numbers over and over again, he found a way to make it new and interesting for him. It was fascinating and quite frankly amazing — and I say this not because I’m hyping my own kid but because I know most kids are capable of such “great work” when they are given the space and time and appreciation for it.
“Great work” can be in the form of dioramas, posters, timelines, books — I know a lot of kids do this, making their own books out of a bunch of paper — and sculptures. And we can encourage them by providing the materials they need, which could be something as simple as pen and paper.
Sense of responsibility
Elementary school kids begin to understand the consequences of their actions. When they were much younger, they were actually developmentally not able to do this yet, but now that they are older, they can identify cause and effect. They can now put themselves in the shoes of others, and from this development of empathy, they also develop a sense of responsibility.
There are many ways parents can take advantage of this growing awareness — including the assignment of chores! We actually had a Practical Life webinar in our school last weekend, so I’ll be writing about that next.