Trish Terrey, Director 6-9 Environment
Finding Prime FactorsStructure and order are two key elements that help the six to twelve year old child continue the process of self-construction, or learning through one's own experiences, although not in the same way as they did in the previous six years of development. Dr. Montessori likened this period of childhood to ‘a new birth.’ The absorbent mind of the first six years has changed to a reasoning mind. The child becomes an explorer of fact. He or she, can now think logically and make judgements. Just as this is the period where children are strongest physically, this is also the period most receptive to intellectual learning.
Structure and order appear throughout the 6-9 classroom. Perhaps the most immediate representation of structure and order would be the prepared environment, filled with beautiful materials, purposefully placed on clean shelves. Curriculum areas are ordered according to content, materials sequenced from simple to increasing complexity. Stationery, art materials, science equipment and outdoor areas are equally ordered and appealing in order to support the child's growing intellect and independence.
The Keys to the Understanding
Structure and order go beyond what we immediately notice in the classroom. Montessori presentations and lesson sequences are also carefully structured and meticulously prepared. These stories, demonstrations and experiences will offer children the keys to understanding the universe, including all its furnishings: plants; animals; physical geography; and human beings with their fundamental needs, languages, number systems and cultures. This is what Maria Montessori termed 'Cosmic Education'.
Through stories, demonstrations and experiences, we allow the child to build up a picture of the whole imposing reality of the universe. Giving children a framework helps them to orient themselves mentally, so that they can then explore, order and categorise what they see around them. It is important to note that, parallel to this, the child is also constructing their understanding of their own role and purpose in society and the world.
This is why, at this age, we still need to limit the materials in the classrooms. We just give the keys. Then we let the child take those keys and work with them until they come to their own understanding.
Structure and order are crucial to this process. Without structure and order, there is little foundation for building understanding. Conversely, by adding too much to the environment, or too many examples of the same thing, only has the effect of cluttering the child’s mind rather than showing a concept with clarity.
I hope this sheds a little more light on the structure and order that is present in the 6-12 year old Montessori classroom. We can liken it to an iceberg in some ways - what we see is immediately impressive, but what lies beneath the surface is so much greater than meets the eye.
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