The child before age 6, when given to pretend play, re-enacts what is real to him. We steep the child in reality at this age, because he is constructing himself to be a member of this society of which he knows nothing at birth. He is learning and exploring the world around him: we give them Keys of the World. By age 6, he is a participating member in society and has a more abstract mind set that can handle history and what-ifs and the expanse of the universe past, present and future: we give them Keys of the Universe.
In Montessori's time, children were left to their own devices at best; at worst they were given pure fantasy in their earliest years so that they did not know the difference between what was real and what was fantasy. Those children who'd had real experiences (i.e. a real horse), did not "pretend" fantasy (i.e. use a stick horse), but enjoyed life as it was, using their imaginations to plan out events and play that had the potential to be brought into reality (i.e. planning rides with or meals for that horse).
Today, culture has changed and children are given so much reality without us thinking about it, that they have proven they can indeed handle "fantasy" at an earlier age - as long as those earliest years are *steeped in reality*. But that fantasy should be something that stirs the imagination, leads to wonder and still has a connection to reality.
Being steeped in reality, and provided the most beautiful things of our cultures, children have very active minds that can go very far and very deep.
Until age 6, we focus on reality; and once a solid foundation is formed (as early as age 4 1/2, usually closer to 6), the child's imagination can take flight - and now we can introduce beautiful allegorical stories.
AT ALL AGES:
- No cartoons. It cheapens the experience.
- No adult humor. This disrespects the child.
- Beautiful artwork, if any. Develops the aesthetic sense and respects the child.
- Keep the appropriate faith stories real. Cheapen them and you cheapen your faith.
At age 6, when the imagination is fully prepared, we begin introducing the Great Lessons, which will be reviewed yearly through age 12.
We can also introduce fairy tales (these are actually moral tales and a child's moral sense develops around the age of 7), Rudyard Kipling and other wonderful imaginative authors who inspire the imagination and give children credit for being intelligent and insightful. Narnia-type stories are big at this age.
Now the child who has a firm grasp on reality can soar with wonder, and questions and what ifs, and explore the universe; while maintaining a firm grasp on day-to-day life. They can bring wonder into their daily lives and find joy in the most mundane of moments, because they have a rich foundation and a rich imagination, with which to explore their life, their world, their universe, their faith.