For many children, these years from six to twelve are the glory years–a time of calm and steady growth and expansion of interests. At approximately six to seven years of age, children experience a major transformation. This transformation leads from the sponge-like absorbent mind of early childhood to the reasoning, thinking adult mind.
This is the period when children develop logical thinking skills. They have to think and consciously study in order to learn. During the stage of the absorbent mind, learning happened almost automatically through exposure, but the reasoning mind needs to be consciously engaged in the learning process.
Maria Montessori identified three primary developmental drives of the elementary years. First, the child develops a voracious appetite for facts. Second, the child enters a period of moral formation and begins to ask questions about right and wrong. Third, his imagination becomes his most powerful learning tool. To feed this hungry mind and active imagination, Maria Montessori suggests that children need a vision of the whole universe starting with the solar system, the history and geography of the earth. Only a vision of the universe offers a framework for understanding all of the component parts. On the moral level, it helps children begin to understand that they are part of an integrated whole.
Montessori offers an exciting idea for guiding education: “The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim therefore is not merely to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his inmost core.” (Montessori, 1967, pg. 15)
Although Montessori elementary has a strong focus on academic achievement, Maria Montessori believed that education is much more than a curriculum of information. When interest has been aroused in some area of the curriculum, children work of their own volition, for the love of learning, rather than to meet requirements. They are engaged in self-development as well as passing tests. This is the genesis of lifelong learning. Once they penetrate deeply into one area, children can more easily see connections and find new interests in other areas of the curriculum.
The Montessori elementary program is both broad and deep in its scope. Many children enter the elementary program from Montessori preschool where they have already learned basic literacy and math skills. With this foundation, children continue to learn increasingly more difficult reading, writing and math skills and apply them in ongoing projects.