The Up’s & Downs Of The Social Aspect Of Elementary School

Growing up can be a challenge. For many children, that may include name-calling or teasing.

But Montessori School of Downtown knows there is another way.

The period from approximately age six to twelve (or what Dr. Montessori referred to as the

“second plane of development”) is a time when children are keenly interested in fairness and

justice, and actively seek direction on what is right or wrong, acceptable or not. Because Dr.

Montessori observed this social component in the elementary child, she emphasized the

importance of preparing the elementary classroom environment so it supported the child’s social

development.

 

The elementary Montessori child is in the same class with his peers for six years. This

allows children the opportunity to know one another well, and frees their emotions and

intellect to do the work of learning the full, exciting and enormous curriculum of cosmic

education.

 

The elementary Montessori classroom is set up as a community for a number of reasons.

During their tenure in the class, second plane children develop from novices to leaders.

They learn to be responsible for their learning, their classmates, and the community at

large. In a Montessori environment, where children are able to speak with one another

regularly, work in pairs (or small groups or as the whole class), they experience a

microcosm of society.

 

This social aspect of the classroom also allows for the children to converse with one

another regularly—about both their work and social issues. They have the freedom to

address one another as issues come up. This is necessary for them to explore their place in

the small society of the classroom as they wonder about their future role in society at large.

As adults, we might be surprised by a child “telling on” another or testing a friend. (At about

age eight, girls, in particular, can at times be a bit catty with one another.) While we certainly

don’t condone this, experiences, where a child is testing what is acceptable, can be

expected of those learning right from wrong. Feelings get hurt and personalities bump

against one another.

 

This is where the adults in the child’s life can be helpful by giving direction, supporting the

child with social tools, and sharing stories of tolerance and the need for differences. We

show them ways they can communicate with others, listen to their concerns, cheer them on,

help them learn these important social lessons and model appropriate ways to interact.

Gradually, children learn what is acceptable, how to say something that doesn’t offend

another, how to help another in need, how to say something in a more loving way—in short,

how to cherish others and their differences. The Montessori elementary child learns to

navigate these sometimes uncomfortable social situations by trial and error in the

supportive, small community of their interactive class. Just as they might explore and learn

about an academic part of the curriculum, the elementary child learns to navigate his social

waters.

 

As someone who can see these changes the second plane child goes through from both a

Montessori perspective and that of a parent, I am grateful to Dr. Montessori for identifying

what our children need during this important social time in their development. I am grateful

my child and the other elementary children in her class have the support of the pre-pared

environment in a mixed-age class, of a Montessori teacher who is trained in human

development, and of the class-mates who know how to help. While social struggles are as

inherent in the elementary child’s growing up as bruises and scratches, the Montessori

Method and the opportunity it offers for children to interact with one another within the

supportive classroom environment helps the child construct his social self.