A Montessori Middle School : The “Erdkinder”

Dr. Montessori regarded the third plane of development as a period of great change and transformation. The transformation of puberty creates the adult from the child. It is an epoch of inner revelations and social sensibilities. The adolescent strives to discover both self and society, in order to take their place in the adult world as a contributing member.

The Middle School environment for the adolescent is on a farm specially designed for the purpose of work and study. Every component is related to the developmental characteristics evident during this volatile period of transformation and each insight connects with the psychic needs of the young adolescent. The environment is utilitarian enough to meet both the needs of the community and the needs of each individual. The Center’s design is based on the principles of order, beauty and simplicity. 

Montessori’s educational syllabus for the adolescent is both rich and rigorous. Many main threads are derived from the splendid work of the elementary program including an understanding of the interdependence of nature and humankind and of one’s place and role in the universe. A significant focus of study is human history, for the story of human life on earth unites science and the humanities in a dramatic manner. Mathematics is embraced from a historical perspective and the mathematical mind of the child, now adolescent, explores both the practical math issues related to his/her rural environment and the abstract challenges of algebra and geometry. 

Towards understanding how adults may aid the emerging adult in this formation Montessori’s focus is on responding to the identifiable developmental characteristics of the young adolescent:

Physiological

This is a time of rapid physical growth matched only by that in infancy. Hormonal changes bring about sexual maturity, the development of secondary sexual characteristics, and the capacity to reproduce. There is a wide variation in the rate of maturation and growth among individuals of same age.

Social and Emotional

It is an age of camaraderie and intensely emotional peer relationships. Adolesents need to identify with a group (“clubhouse”) and to “belong”. It is an intense time of high highs and low lows, when the adolescent is both self-conscious and insecure.

Intellectual

During the adolescent years the thinking of the intellect and feelings of emotions seem to blend. This has a profound effect on the learning process. These young people are more interested in the application of knowledge, and less in the acquisition of new knowledge.  A key component of their learning style at this age is their need to object, argue, and analyze.

Maturational (Becoming an Adult)

Young people in this stage of development need to test the roles of adulthood in a safe and age-appropriate environment. This process of constructing the social self urges them to a higher level of independence from their family and aids them as they join the wider community. It is a key period for adopting their  own attitudes, mores, and values by questioning societal attitudes and the status quo.

Work for Adolescents

Unlike adults who work to change their environments, adolescents use the environment to change themselves. It is for this reason that Dr. Montessori speaks of a Center for Study and Work where the transformation to adulthood can be fulfilled, a Center which authentically embodies:

  • A community where young people learn how to live as a productive society 
  • An ethic which speaks to the virtues which reflect human heartedness, respect, and trust
  • Meaningful roles which relate to the work at hand and which impact the functioning of the group
  • Clear parameters of behavior which guard the human rights of all
  • A genuine balance of freedom and responsibility as young people go about their independent and group studies

All these broad elements are balanced with work on the land. Montessori speaks of the need for young people to work not only with their heads but also with their hands. She sees the importance of their taking on meaningful roles which may arise from the cycle of farm occupations. Work of this nature has a normalizing effect upon the young person and will invite him/her to related academic investigations. The holistic experience of a small farm community provides a microcosm of society the young adolescent comes to see himself/herself as a viable member of this society and social group and embraces responsibilities and challenges as a confident, respectful citizen. 

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