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Abstract Thinking and Imagination. Montessori Books about the older Child.

How the world began

The above illustration Caspar describes as 'How the World Began' - these are particles rubbing together. Not the typical artwork that a six year old brings home from school (unless they are in Montessori). 

I have really struggled to understand how learning occurs in the Cycle Two classroom. It is just so different from Cycle One. Caspar (my first child) is now six and entered the Cycle Two classroom full time this year. I have never seen him so enthused about school and I have never seen him so engaged. The key to understanding the learning that occurs in this classroom is knowledge of the child in the second plane of development. To gain this knowledge I have spoken to many who are trained in this area however have found some books really useful too. Please note this post contains affiliate links. 

Child of the World. Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+ by Susan Mayclin Stephenson

I have written about this book before. It's a staple and I would recommend it to all parents interested in Montessori, even if your child is still a toddler. It's also a book that should be compulsory reading for all parents with children in a Montessori school. This is also one book that I recommend purchasing.

It's light enough to be read and understood by parents with very little or no Montessori knowledge and in-depth enough that a parent like me (with some knowledge and lots of Montessori reading in the past) still gets lots out of it. Susan does a wonderful job of writing the book for parents and teachers with suggestions for the school classroom and the home.

Almost half of the book is dedicated for the 3-6 age range. About a quarter is dedicated to he 6-12 years which is broken down into; Transition to the Elementary Years, The Earth - Physical Sciences, Biology - Life Sciences, The Humanities - Social Sciences, The Arts, Language, Invention, Geometry and Math. 

One of my favourite quotes in this book is by Maria Montessori:

I live in heaven.

My home is a sphere that travels around the sun. 

It is called Earth. 

Some of my other favourite quotes by the author;

At six, there is a great transformation in the child, like a new birth. The child wants to explore society and the world, to learn what is right and wrong, to think about meaningful roles in society. He wants to know how everything came to be, the history of the universe, the world, humans and why people behave the way they do. He asks the big questions and wants answers.

It is the time to use the mind to explore all areas of knowledge, to begin to conduct research, and to develop creative ways of processing, exploring, and expressing this knowledge. 

The teacher's role is to inspire the child to want to do research, to learn more. It is not to require and "teach"..."The teacher is in charge of the minimum, the child the maximum."

Susan also touches on something that I only found out a year or so ago, most of the materials are the same in the 6-9 and the 9-12 classroom. 

They say that if children are split into 6-9 and 9-12 classes, that in each class there should be a full set of materials for the full 6-12 age span, so that the children are completely free to work at their own pace in all areas of the curriculum... There should be instead an atmosphere of peace and steady progress.  

I believe it was Beth who recommended this book when I was questioning Cosmic Education.  Children of the Universe. Cosmic Education in The Montessori Elementary Classroom by Michael and D'Neal Duffy.  I have to say this is a quiet serious book and I would recommend previous knowledge in Montessori but not necessarily knowledge of Comic Education or the 6+ age group. I think it's the perfect book for parents wanting to know more about the 6+ curriculum, and for those with children going into this classroom. If you have a child in Elementary Montessori and you haven't heard of Cosmic Education this book is for you. I would recommend loaning this one from the school/parent library. 

As a parent I found the first three chapter the most useful; Cosmic Education: What it is and Why we teach it, Evolution and Cosmic Education and Cosmic Education and the Cultural Curriculum. The following chapters which include The Stories of the Universe, Solar System, Earth, Life, Humans, Civilizations, Cosmic Education and the Future were good to skim over and I think it would be most useful for teachers or those looking for detailed explanations. Favourite quotes; 

Cosmic Education is the foundation for the entire Montessori elementary curriculum, especially through the studies of history and biology, as well as related subjects such as geography, physical science and chemistry. 

Montessori identified several key characteristics of the child in the second plane of development that amount to a metamorphosis or separation from the first plane. First, the child needs wider boundaries for social experiences; second, the child undergoes a passage from sensorial material level to the abstract; and third, there is a turning towards the intellectual sides of life. All three of these developmental characteristics indicate that the elementary age child has a need for cosmic education. 

In Cosmic Education, children learn through the history of language and math how important these two gifts are and how we should be grateful to the inventors of each. Language and math are the tools children use to explore their cultural heritage. 

This book also carefully explains how the Five Great Lessons or Great Stories are told and used in the classroom. Importantly every teacher and class/school would approach this differently however this gives the parent really good knowledge on how and why they are used. 

This is the approach of Montessori's "impressionistic" lessons, which are stories with the power to fire the child's imagination and stimulate interest in further study - however many of them we choose to include in our classrooms. Although there are five privileged stories in the classic Montessori cannon, there are many other equally impressive stories (sometimes called "key lessons") embedded within those core stories. However there are opportunities for Montessori teachers with a creative streak and storytelling skills to expand the repertoire of stories even further, based on current scientific thought. 

From the great lessons the child's intellect and imaginations soar...

The job of a Montessori teacher/directress is not to teach information so much as to guide or direct the children into an area of study by stimulating their imagination and interest, and then letting tem go on their won as far as they wish using both the classroom materials and outside resources. 

Stories of the Universe

Born with a Bang. Book One. The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story

From Lava to Life. Book Two. The Universe Tells Our Earth Story. 

Mammals who Morph. Book Three. The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story

All by Jennifer Morgan and illustrated by Dana Lynne Andersen.  

These are amazing, amazing books. Due to the level of abstract thinking required these are definitely for the child in the second plane of development. They contain just so much - each a story, stunning and elaborate illustrations, time-line to follow and they are full of facts and details. They fit in well with how Cosmic Education is taught in Montessori schools and this is why I wanted them at home. I haven't given these to Caspar yet and will probably wait a year or more. I don't want to take away from the lessons he receives at school. These are great for me as a parent to gain an understanding of what my children are and will experience at school - so much so because Cosmic Education is really at the heart of the curriculum. I also see these as fantastic books for homeschoolers and even those with children in traditional schools where the focus on evolution/history isn't so in-depth or inspiring. 

From Childhood to Adolescence by Maria Montessori.  Ok, I loved this book because it is pure Montessori, I believe it's a series of her lectures as some of her books are. It is not the book to start reading Maria Montessori (I would always suggest reading The Absorbent Mind if you haven't read a book by her before). It's a good 'Montessori' read about the older child, it emphasises abstract learning, imagination being the key to knowledge, the social aspect to learning and 'going out'. Some of my favourite quotes;

The passage to the second level of education is the passage from the sensorial, material level to the abstract.

Once the child has gone beyond the limited area of the first period, it is necessary for us to provide him with culture and to enlarge his social experiences. 

When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making object which represent ideas and closing them in cupboards.

How often is the soul of man - especially that of the child - deprived because one does not put him in contact with nature. 

The world is acquired psychologically be means of the imagination. Reality is studied in detail, then the whole is imagined. 

The mind bases itself on the imagination, which brings things to a higher level, that of abstraction. But the imagination has need of support. It needs to be built, organised. Only then may man attain a new level. 

The interest increases in proportion to the gain in knowledge. In addition, the knowledge presented now must not be on the same scale as before. It must not be purely sensorial anymore. Now the child must have constant recourse to his imagination. Imagination is the great power at this age. 

To Educate the Human Potential by Maria Montessori. Another by Maria Montessori herself. It's true that her language takes a little getting used to however I find it endearing. I have a second hand copy of this book and I love reading what the previous owner has highlighted. This is a little heavy going towards the end. 

Education between the ages of six and twelve is not a direct continuation of that which has gone before, though it is built upon that basis. Psychologically there is a decided change in personality, and we recognise that nature has made this a period for the acquisition of culture, just as the former was for the absorption of environment. 

Knowledge can be best given where there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child's mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into culture. 

If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying. The child's mind then will no longer wander, but becomes fixed and can work. 

My previous post on the child in the second plane of development can be found here. Also online I found these articles really useful Elementary, An Open Letter to New Elementary Parents and The Slender Thread of a Montessori Elementary Class

It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable talking about Elementary/Cycle 2-3 Montessori and the child in the second plane of development. I feel it's a bit like my first introduction to Montessori - totally overwhelmed at first and it takes months to years of reading and practical application to really get to know it. I hope my book suggestions help you in your journey. 

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