"On the one hand there is the psychological reality of a child of this age, that is to say his particular needs and characteristics. On the other hand there is the answer, that of sowing the seeds of culture, which means the exploration of all subjects through appropriate materials and activities.” [For the child age 6 to 12] "subjects of instruction can become a real help to development... They are absorbed with extraordinary intensity. Thus culture becomes identifiable with the construction of the personality itself; we might say culture incarnates itself within the being and lives."Maria Montessori, Trinity College Cambridge, 1935 When Dr. Montessori speaks of “culture” she refers to the knowledge, understanding and customs of the child’s time and place as well as of humanity as a whole. A child of the elementary age seeks to understand how his society, his culture, works and how it all fits in the scope of the world. Thus Dr. Montessori offers what has been translated from Italian into English as “Cosmic Education” to children aged 6-12. “Cosmic Education” is a unified approach to knowledge and understanding which answers the developmental needs of this child.
“Let us give the child a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality, and an answer to all questions.”
- Maria Montessori, India 1943 (To Educate the Human Potential)
In the evolution of her educational approach, Dr. Montessori discovered there are 4 successive “planes of development”, each with their own particular sensitivities which guide the children in fulfilling their developmental needs. From birth to 6 years of age, the child is in a sensorial and concrete stage of development. The elementary child (6-12) is in the 2nd plane of development, characterized by an intellectual curiosity with an attraction to a wider and more abstract environment for activity. The child moves from the “What is it? What is it called?” age of the early years to the “How come?” or the “Why” age. Dr. Montessori realized that the elementary child’s intellectual needs could be satisfied by the introduction of subjects often considered more advanced than elementary—biology, geometry, history, literature and music. To address the need for clarity and “how things fit” Dr. Montessori also understood that the subjects must not be compartmentalized and taught separately—the teacher, therefore, must understand the relationships between the subjects and be ready to guide the child freely to whichever naturally comes next. An introduction in history, for example, can lead to follow-up work in biology, language, geometry, geography, art, math or music. The teacher should strive to organize the subjects around and within the interests—the vital interests—of the child of this age: an interest in understanding the physical world (geography—including geology and history) as well as the realm of humanity upon that world (political and economic geography, humanities, history, language and mathematics.) The three great sensitivities of the second plane are: imagination, culture and morality. The child’s great capacity for the use of imagination is tapped to help the child visualize and understand the things s/he cannot see or touch: things too vast, too far, and things too small. Morality—not just what is right and wrong, but also why it is so—is developing. Mistakes will be made. To assist with this there is a great attraction to working in groups as well as being with and working things out with peers, forming organized social groups. The sensitivity for acquisition of culture (discussed in part above) is shown in an interest in “everything!” The second plane is one of smooth and uniform development—the epitome of childhood.
Cosmic Education defined
The Montessori vision of the world has a cosmic dimension. Montessori looks at the world, on a grand scale, at the level of the Universe, with all its interrelationships. This cosmic sense pervades all Montessori's approach for all of the different planes or stages of development of the child.
In contrast to this, it is a cosmic education which corresponds to the natural development of the children, that it answers their developmental needs, during the ages of six to twelve. Thus, cosmic education can satisfy their hunger for knowledge, their need to explore the field of mortality, their desire to participate in organized activities with others, their need to stretch themselves psychologically through the use of imagination. Cosmic education can arouse their wonder and admiration, both for nature and supernature.