By: Simone Davies of The Montessori Notebook
I have a lot of compassion for elementary-aged children. We think of them as rude, disorderly, and unkempt. They judge, criticize and answer back. They push away their family in favor of friends. Yet they report their friends’ wrongdoings to adults, while remaining loyal to their group even if they have been wronged. It’s simply a different stage and one we need to support differently. The elementary-aged child is now driven by reason, imagination, and developing moral values. And they are attracted to working in, being in, and belonging to a group that isn’t family.
Reason and the logic of things are paramount to the primary-aged child. They now show interest in the how and why (not just the what). We can’t just tell them something, there needs to be a reason – even if they don’t agree with it. Dr. Montessori wrote, they “want to understand for themselves, not content with accepting mere facts.” This is a big change from the absorbent mind of the first 6 years taking in everything without exclusion. Their supposed rudeness is them moving away from the family, exercising this independence of thought.
They are now busy with their inner world and that of others, not only the external environment. A big part of this work is to develop their conscience, morals and values – working out what is right and wrong. They look to the action of others and ask adults if they are behaving in an acceptable way and why. In this way they can adopt their own values, then those of the group. They have an enormous sense of justice – they want to make things as equal as possible for everyone. As they thrive on law and order, we can get them to help create rules for the home, which they will be happy to uphold and enforce.
They naturally work in groups with different roles to take on. They learn how to be a member of the group, explore the idea of fairness, learn how others think, develop empathy for others, and how to look after the “weaker” one/s. They admire members of the group and have hero worship – so we can provide suitable role models for this. And have an interest in secret languages (again to move away from family).
They are capable of big work at this age – work that is purposeful, with and for the group, and driven by their interests. It is the “intellectual plane” and we can give them the universe to explore – the interconnected and cosmic task of everything in the universe. We start to see the imagination activating, no longer only exploring with their senses, but using their imagination to understand other cultures, environments, and things that aren’t physically in front of them.
They move towards abstraction, learning first with concrete objects and then discovering patterns and logic; not satisfied with learning from their teacher/parents but from their own activities. They repeat to understand if given variety, no longer repeating in the same way as they did in the first 6 years. And at home, we offer the same – ways they can work with their hands, meet their social needs, appeal to their reasoning mind, and give them access to meaningful ways to support the family and community.
Reassuring to parents, they are healthier with less physical changes. They lose their baby teeth and become more adventurous and daring, recounting their feats. They want to dress like their peers, so we find a way to make this happen that works with the family. Yet they are no longer so neat and we can offer a mirror when needed. We accept that they may be messier, yet they are able to still find a way that is acceptable to the family.
So, rather than seeing this as the age of rudeness, I love to observe how the elementary-aged child’s increase in social interest leads to service to others, faith in the adults supporting them, and lays the foundation for them to grow into contributing adults of society
So how do you then get them to do other things now that they are no longer so busy “playing with toys.”
Here are 10 things that we can start with:
- Look to the environment – are we providing interesting invitations based on their interests to explore?
- Invitations should be limited in this plane of development so that they want to “go out” to explore something further. They might want to visit the library (not just Google), make an appointment with an expert, or interview someone in the community that knows more about this topic.
- They need big ideas and big work at this age even at home – not academics at home but we can keep them interested in the world around them; give them space to try things out; lots of paper, raw materials, wood, hammers and nails.
- Let them be bored – put away the screens and let them make discoveries by using what they have. My kids always had a stack of paper, pens, staplers, rulers and they would make magazines about characters from The Famous Five, rules and signs for secret clubs, and invent their own board games.
- Allow them to feel in control – they are starting to want more independence. We might need to let control of what their room looks like, what they want to wear, the order they get ready in the morning. If they want to “go out”, let them make the arrangements, look up the timetable, and you can simply be the supervisor for safety. Let them get on the wrong bus and work it out. As long as they are safe there is no need to step in.
- External order is not as important for them yet they live in a family – agree how things should be put away when they are finished. Having mess spread out while they are playing/working will be very normal at this age, but they do know how to care for their things (but may need some small reminders).
- Let them schedule when they want to do things. Jane Nelson from the Positive Discipline books talks about making times like 4:53pm for when they want to make a card for their friend. Then when it’s 4:53 we can say, “It’s 4:53” and even if they push back, we can simply say (without any eye-rolling!), “It’s 4:53 and you asked me to remind you that you wanted to make the card now.”
- If you need them to clear out their room, they’ll need a little help and give them a reason. And “because I said so” is not good enough. Instead of telling them they need to get rid of things, I love the advice of Kim John-Payne of Simplicity Parenting that we can tell them “Let’s make some more space.” And Marie-Kondo would say that we need to model clearing things out and looking after our own things first.
- Get them cooking and baking! At the age of 10, Oliver would be the cook every Sunday evening. He’d choose a recipe, we’d buy the ingredients, and I’d be his “sous-chef” giving him a little guidance if there was something new in the recipe. And these skills pay off in the long run – Emma has been cooking twice a week since lockdown for her and I, choosing lots of new vegan recipes, getting the groceries, cooking and I just transfer the money back to her at the end. Lucky mama.
- Other ideas – board games, visiting art galleries, being detectives, heading outside, playing hide and seek and tag with friends, collecting snails, walking in the woods, digging a moat at the beach, making a dam with sand by the water pump in the playground, lego, nature collections, nature art, making mandalas….You get the idea?
Montessori, Maria. “The Child at the Age of Seven,” AMI Communications, 1977, 2.
Montessori, Maria. To Educate the Human Potential.
Montessori, Maria. From Childhood to Adolescence.
Montessori, Maria. The Advanced Montessori Method, Vol. I. Chapter IX: Imagination.
Montessori, Maria. “The Second Plane of Education,” AMI Communications, 1975, 1.