Key Experiences for the Upper Elementary

When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them in cupboards….The world is acquired psychologically by means of the imagination. Reality is a study in detail, then the whole is imagined. The detail is able to grow in the imagination, and so total knowledge is attained. The act of studying things is, in a way, meditation on detail. This is to say that the qualities of a fragment of nature are deeply impressed upon the individual.

Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence

Key Experiences, as Dr. Montessori calls them, aid the child in the latter part of the developmental stage 6-12 by appealing to the psychological characteristics of that age. As the imagination of the child develops, the ability to abstract goes hand in hand with that development. The child needs a wide scope of real experiences and knowledge to fully realize the potential of the reasoning mind. The child from six to nine has been given many impressionistic lessons in the Montessori elementary which form the foundation for emerging from the classroom and going out into the wider world around them.

The resultant effect is that the 9 to 12 year olds begin to curtail the scope of their interests and focus in on details which deepen their personal understanding of things already explored. The will of the child becomes more directive. Interests are more specific than in earlier years, and the energy of the child becomes focused on key acquisitions, as in early childhood, but now with the aid of the conscious mind and will. The concept advanced by Montessori of “key experiences” developed from these observations. The second plane of development is a time for adaptation to the wider social world in which the child lives. In this stage key experiences offer opportunities to grow and develop in responsibility and independence. The environment, to this time limited, now expands to beyond the child’s imagination.

In the prepared environment we always engage the will of the child, providing experiences where they learn to guide and direct these inner urges. Will is always action, not intention. The children in the classroom are always consciously involved in choosing their own activities, only limited by their constructive nature and parameters of socially acceptable behavior. Through the repetition of activity they build their internal and personal capacity for the free determination of choice through action. As the second plane ends the need is to develop a quality of choice in activity that is constructive and a result of reasoning. Our responsibility is to provide a prepared environment where this can happen. An indicator of this freedom and exercise of constructive choice is seen when the teacher is able to remove her/himself from direct intervention in the class and the students continue to pursue their own tasks.

This also indicates the readiness of the children to go out beyond the classroom. The preparation can be seen as both psychological and practical. The children must accept the inherent responsibility that the key experience requires. To do this they must have a strong and well tempered will, and a level of independent functioning that is responsible. To be out in an unlimited environment opens the children’s eyes to intellectual, moral and social independence.

All the work in the elementary acts as a preparation for key experiences. We provide the keys to the doors of society. We provide the social forms for interaction which the child uses to ask for help, to greet new persons, to experience the unlimited social environment. Specific practical experience in map reading, following directions, using the telephone and other skills are also taught. They become a part of the overall preparation for key experiences.

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