Age 6-12: The Second Plane of Development
Elementary Education Cosmic Education: The Montessori Elementary Curriculum
Maria Montessori called her plan for the elementary child the “Cosmic Curriculum.” “Cosmic” in this context means comprehensive, holistic, and purposeful. The goals of Cosmic Education go far beyond the usual goals of skill development and knowledge acquisition to address the development of the whole person. Children who complete the Cosmic Curriculum have a clear understanding of the natural world, of human knowledge, and of themselves. These children are prepared to leave childhood behind and to enter adolescence as independent, confident, responsible, emotionally intelligent individuals, balanced in physical, intellectual and social achievements. They are academically and practically prepared to pursue self-education in many areas; to make responsible decisions and act on them in a responsible way; to recognize limits and give, ask for, and receive help, as needed.
The Broader Goals of Cosmic Education
Montessori saw the second plane as the time to open up the world to the child, and she was determined to do so in a way that did not reproduce the intellectual fragmentation of traditional curricula – the practical consequence of which she believed to be the obscuring of interdependencies and interconnectedness, leading to an inability to truly understand the political and cultural reality of the modern world. Instead, Cosmic Education presents the world as a beloved place, a place where the children through inspired academic work also come to appreciate the ongoing story of humanity because they can begin to orient themselves in it.
Presenting the Universe to the Child
Rather than following the traditional “structure of knowledge” by presenting facts as belonging to biology, zoology, botany, history, geography, physics, chemistry, religion, etc., the Great Stories present a holistic vision of knowledge, drawing on material from the various disciplines as needed.
Characteristically, Montessori takes the children from the whole to the parts and back to the whole again. In this way, each academic area emerges naturally from the whole narrative and continually refers back to it.
Above all, Cosmic Education does not present the universe as random and objectified — as something that has “just happened.” Instead, the Great Stories tell of how each particle, each substance, each species, each event has a purpose and a contribution to make to the development of all others. Montessori also wants the child to understand the debt of gratitude that human beings owe to all other parts of the universe; for without them and their special contributions to the interconnected whole, we could not live.
Areas of Study
Geography and Physical Science
History and Social Studies
The arts are presented as one of the Fundamental Needs. Art is integrated into every area of study as free expression, technical illustration, design, and decoration. The organization of the classroom environment and the beauty of the handmade Montessori materials constantly convey to the children a sense of esthetic order and an appreciation of the skill of the human hand.
The lessons in history – understood as the ongoing story of the cosmos — and the Fundamental Needs of Human Beings play a particularly important role in developing in the child the sense of gratitude to past generations and the awareness of interdependence between all peoples. In Cosmic Education, history is more than dates and facts and timelines. Although there are certain lessons that are specifically designed to give the child concepts and tools for the study of history, history is actually distributed throughout the entire curriculum. The child encounters new subjects and new knowledge as the products of human imagination and labor, and the little stories of how these things came to be part of our storehouse of knowledge are seen as sub-plots in the grander story of cosmic history that is going on in parallel.
Language and Mathematics
Montessori saw the development of human consciousness as part of the grand story being told. The fourth and fifth Great Stories tell of the most important inventions of the human mind: language (especially writing) and mathematics. Although much of the subsequent academic work of the children in these two areas overlaps with traditional elementary curricula, the manner of presentation, the presence of the unique Montessori materials, and the integration of these topics with the rest of Cosmic Education give the children a completely different experience of them.
Working in mathematics with concrete, manipulative materials rather than textbooks or workbooks, the children extract arithmetic, geometric, and algebraic facts, functions, and interrelationships. The children render visual expressions of mathematical realities with colored pencils, scissors, glue, and graph paper. Progressing from concrete to abstract at their own rate, the children sustain interest, gain solid understanding, and build confidence in math.
The aesthetic expression of language found in plays, poems, and literature is considered systematically through exercises that advance levels of comprehension and deepen empathy. Through Montessori materials that exhibit qualities and manifest functions the children are introduced to the logical and rational analysis of language, its structure, form, and grammar. Poetic forms and grammatical structures are offered to the children’s reasoning mind and questing spirit as intellectual pursuits worthy of their hunger for knowledge. By preparing, practicing, and polishing presentations and then taking poems, stories, and reports on tour to other classes around the campus, the children develop natural ease, sophistication, and skill with language as expression and communication.
Early Elementary and Upper Elementary
In the Early Elementary classes, the children work more concretely, with more reliance on the Montessori materials. As the ability to think abstractly matures in the Upper Elementary years, the sequences of lessons lead more and more into work on paper and into self-initiated research projects. The Montessori materials then become tools which the children can use to refresh their memories of earlier work or to explore creatively some advanced extension of an earlier study. For example, the material that younger children use to learn the rudiments of arithmetic are reinterpreted to learn algebra and extended to learn arithmetic in non-decimal bases.
As the child’s mind, will, and self-discipline mature it becomes possible for the child to undertake ambitious projects requiring the integration of knowledge from across the curriculum and well-developed collaboration skills. The Upper Elementary guide then becomes more and more a consultant to the children, helping them organize and find resources to meet both the requirements of local curriculum standards and the challenges of their self-initiated projects.
Nowhere does the Montessori approach of providing developmentally appropriate materials at each stage bear more fruit than in the area of mathematics. Because the children’s early work with the Montessori math manipulative materials gives them such a firm grounding for later abstraction, Upper Elementary students can typically pursue studies of advanced topics not usually offered to elementary children.
The elementary age child must be given real situations in which to exercise will and judgment. Moreover, in order for the child to have a sufficiently rich experience of the world and a sufficiently rich body of experience, it is necessary that much of the child’s learning take place outside the classroom. Going Out differs from traditional field trips insofar as it is initiated, planned, and executed by the child, not the adult, and it arises spontaneously from the interest and work of the child, not from a plan of instruction made by the adult. Adult intervention is limited to reviewing the children’s self-evaluation of the details of the plan in advance of leaving the campus, the chauffer/chaperone’s assurance of safety during the trip, and the receiving the student’s and chauffer’s reports of accountability upon their return.
A “going-out” for a young elementary child might be as simple (from the adult perspective) as a trip to the public library to look for books not available at school. An older child who is more experienced and able to take on more responsibility might organize a trip to a university to interview a zoologist or an astronomer, a trip to a hear concert of Indonesian music and dance, or a trip to a horse breeder STABLE to learn about trail rides for people with disabilities.