Cosmic Education

Cosmic Education refers to the inter-connectedness of all things - living and non-living, past, present and future - all things and people everywhere in our universe.

Mathematics is not separate from the study of history or of art or of music or of language. Indeed, mathematics IS a language to express art and music, with a strong history that has shaped and re-shaped the paths of humans throughout and before recorded history.

To learn a subject in isolation is to cut off a child from life itself.

To study subjects by their very connections is to feed life itself, nourishing the child, his intellect, his imagination, his soul.

Adult - Transformation

            “A teacher must not imagine that he can prepare himself for his vocation simply by acquiring knowledge and culture. Above all else he must cultivate within himself a proper attitude toward the moral order. Of vital importance in this preparation is the way in which we regard a child. But our subject must not be approached from its external aspect only – as if we were concerned merely with theoretical knowledge about the nature of the child and methods of instructing and correcting him.”[1]

[1] The Child in the Church. Chapter 4: The Spiritual Training of a Teacher.

            There are four ways in which the adult becomes prepared to work with the child in the prepared environment: 
  • spiritually (including emotions)
  • intellectually
  • technically
  • physically

Mathematics - Colors

We have so many colors in the mathematics area - what do they all mean?

Notice the red, green and blue sequences that repeat?

Green is our units category
Blue is our tens category
Red is our hundreds category

Together, these make up the simple hierarchy of numbers (such as the number 527)

Repeated, we move into the units of thousands (green again!), tens of thousands (blue again because it's tens), and hundreds of thousands (red!). This is the thousands hierarchy.

The colors just repeat for each hierarchy in order:

  • simple
  • thousand
  • million
  • billion
  • trillion
  • etc
And in elementary, the children learn about tenths, hundredths, thousandths, etc - the colors are the same but lighter, going backwards. 

Montessori Adult - Intro

“…Though all ought to possess all virtues, yet all are not equally bound to exercise them;
but each ought to practice, in a more particular manner,
those virtues which are most requisite for the state of life to which he is called.”
Introduction to the Devout Life (Part III, Chapter I)
St. Francis de Sales

        Unless we can be in continuous preparation ourselves, in a state of perpetual improvement and hold onto a new vision of the child, it will be difficult to serve them properly. We do not wish to be a servant to the child but to serve him in a holistic manner as he continues to develop as a whole person himself. In order to provide holistically, it is necessary to be holistically prepared as well. The adult should be prepared intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

       Adults are generally quick to give their weaknesses, but we must know our strengths and what we have to offer to function as part of a society as well as to work with children. For the best example of how to do this, we turn to the children themselves who are much quicker to tell you what they are good at, what they need to work on, and even to help us discover our own strengths and weaknesses.
   No other educational method places so much attention and emphasis on the interior preparation of the adult.

    In order for society to be normalized, we need to have normalized individuals who are operating at optimal functioning. Ideally, this begins in childhood, and we provide for that in the casa, but adults who have missed the childhood opportunities are not left with no options. We cannot redo sensitive periods from our childhoods, but we can do something about our weaknesses.

Sensitive Periods - 2nd and 3rd Planes of Development

We refer to sensitive periods as psychological characteristics more-so than sensitive periods in the 2nd and 3rd planes. 

The second plane child 

  • is in the age of imagination; 
  • he has less need for concrete materials in his activity. 
  • He develops a herd instinct, desiring social life with others of similar development 
  • and he develops a sense of morality, seeking out what is right and wrong, working out the definition of fair play. 

The third plane child is concerned with ethics and finding his place in the world.

Montessori Tripod

Montessori requires three areas of preparation:

  • The Prepared Environment
  • The Prepared Adult
  • The Prepared Child

All three are required for an optimum experience.

Observation - Remaining Observations of Particular Note

Other observations of interesting note:
§         writing precedes reading
§         importance of the prepared environment and prepared adult
§         mathematical mind in the first plane and in all planes
§         power of collaboration amongst the children
§         Cycle of work and false fatigue
§         need for a 5 day a week program of activity (children prefer consistency)
§         need for the fulfillment of basic human tendencies

Sensitive Periods - Positve and Negative Manifestations

When recognized and responded to appropriately, there are several positive manifestations of the sensitive periods, However, when sensitive periods are ignored or not otherwise fulfilled, this need of the child becomes like a hunger.

  • deep concentration on the part of the child, as is usually first seen when a very young infant focuses for so long on human speech.
  • tremendous activity and repetition of specific activities, particularly work with his hands.
  • The child demonstrates great joy and he will reach a perfect acquisition of the skill he is working on.
            “Such then are the positive proofs of a child’s creative sensibilities, but there are also other, much more obvious, but negative proofs, of it. These become manifest when some obstacle impedes a child’s inner functioning. A sensitive period can then reveal itself in the child’s violent reaction.”   Maria Montessori. The Secret of Childhood. 1966. 44. The “some obstacle” to which Montessori refers can be an inappropriate environment or an adult not understanding the child’s particular needs of the moment, or an interruption from a developing state of concentration.

  • The seeming naughtiness is actually an inner disturbance and unsatisfied need, of which the child cannot yet verbally or authoritatively express.
  • Tantrums, or naughtiness, are frustration, negative behavior, aggression or apathy.

The child’s energy, when interfered with or not given proper direction, is diverted into a negative direction, off the normal path of development. The cure for this deviation is purposeful work or activity associated with the sensitive period at hand, within an environment which allows for development of the above positive manifestations.

Reading Development in Montessori

FOCUS ON THE KEYS - reading is not a curriculum or a tedious chore, but communicating with oneself and with others. It is a connection between people without spoken word.

At all ages, give the children life experiences so that they have something to write about.

Reading aloud: At primary and most of lower elementary, children learning to read should NOT be expected to read aloud - we give "commands" (such as "get a mat") and see if they have read it correctly because they have followed the command correctly. This is a fantastic game to play with all children learning to read - especially giving them "commands" they would not normally get to do ("run in the hall", "step on a mat", "share a sweet with a pal"). If you want children to read aloud, give them plenty of time to read it on their own first - and come to you when they are ready. 

Primary: Children will *write* before they will read.

Keys at primary:
  • language games 
  • sandpaper letters
  • movable alphabet (wood)
  • sandpaper phonograms (digraphs, blends)
  • puzzle words
  • phonogram cards
  • 3-part cards in areas of interest (4-part cards, definition cards, definition strips are extensions)
  • From there, reading has developed and further materials are used in reading analysis and applying that reading to other areas of life and learning: word study, science explorations, geography, music, mathematics, parts of speech, function of words, punctuation

Elementary: Children just learning to read in elementary, typically *read* simultaneously with writing. We have remedial reading and writing to give a new child to elementary who does not have these skills, so that they can function within the classroom. We do not withhold cosmic education from them - we introduce all other aspects of the classroom despite the lack of reading skills.

Keys at elementary:
  • grammar boxes
  • sentence analysis
  • good literature from which to pull samples (no worksheets here!)
  • Age 8: begin reading aloud during family read-aloud time
  • UPPER ELEMENTARY: Can be reading aloud frequently - dramatic tellings, speeches, reports.

Remediation: If a child does not learn to read by the age of 5, the next most natural window is 8-9.

At these moments (either 4-5 1/2 or 8-9), learning to read will progress quickly from little/no skills to at least a 3rd grade reading level in a matter of weeks, sometimes days. 5th or 6th grade reading level can be expected in less than a year of learning to read. Children CAN learn to read at other time-frames, but it will be more tedious and easily thwarted.

  • Keep it light, keep it interesting. 
  • Reading should NOT be a chore. 
  • Think 3-5 short bursts (5-10 minutes TOPS) of practice throughout the day, instead of 30 minutes all at once. 
  • Do not withhold other subjects or hold back in other subjects due to lack of reading ability. 
  • Interest and practicality fuel reading ability and desire. 
  • Let them go ahead to something harder when they need to - this can encourage them to want to continue learning to read. 
  • Turn off technology until the child is a confident reader. 
  • Continue other studies as normal, including language studies. 
  • Continue reading aloud to all children. 

Observation - Secret of Childhood

Dr. Montessori describes her discoveries in her own words in the work The Secret of Childhood in the chapter entitled, “Observations and Discoveries.” She describes the origin of the concepts of freedom for repetition and free choice, the origin of the silence activity, dignity, spontaneous discipline, reading and writing, and others.

Get the older versions if possible, they are substantially longer, including her entire intended text (new versions have sadly removed a great deal, especially in regards to the spiritual nature of the child). 

Sensitive Periods - Role of the Adult

            “It is obvious that a knowledge of these sensitive periods will have a profound effect on the way we teach – especially on what we shall teach at any given age. We must place as the basis of all instruction the fact that a child can understand different things at different ages…. The important thing is to present at any epoch those aspects of the subjects taught which correspond to it. Hence we must see to it that the child’s environment should be furnished with those things which correspond to the needs and special capacities of each successive period.”

Maria Montessori and others. Ed. E.M.Standing. No year given, but a recent re-publishing of the 2nd edition published in 1965. 56.

Sensitive Periods

            True sensitive periods are generally found only during development, when they are used for constructing the man that the child will become. They are most in number and most obvious in the first plane, from conception to age six. They are observable and have been seen throughout history, but never clarified until recent years.

            During the sensitive periods:
  • the child will learn new skills with greater perfection and ease
  • there is tremendous energy, compared to that of a mighty river having to squeeze through a narrow opening
  • there is great concentration and repetition around the concept or particular acquisition upon which the child is focusing.

Observation - Discoveries Made Through It

            It was through observation that Maria Montessori, as a medical doctor and scientist, discovered many great and previously unexplored facets of the child.

  • She discovered that basic construction occurs during the first six years of the child’s life.
  • Children largely construct themselves; the adult can only provide the best tools for the child to utilize.
  • The basic, core elements of the child’s culture are acquired during the first plane of development.
  • The character of the child cannot be formed by the adult.
  • She observed and labeled sensitive periods, the absorbent mind, and human tendencies.
  • She found that supposed discipline problems disappear with purposeful, concentrated, freely chosen work that channels energy; energy is ever-present, but can be channeled into constructive or destructive ends.
  • The child has a tremendous ability to concentrate.
  • Montessori discovered the concept of the normalized child, a concept not found in other fields of early childhood education even a century later, but that has been observed continuously since its first manifestations in the earliest children’s houses.
  • She discovered the importance of a greater emphasis on indirect preparation, a concept only now just beginning to catch on in other child development fields.
  • She discovered the child’s need for freedom to choose, to repeat and to move, again concepts that are only partially catching on elsewhere.
  • Children love silence.
  • Children have an intrinsic desire to learn; they do not need rewards of any extrinsic sort.

The child requires a natural scientist to discover him, one who will gather data patiently and objectively, reflect on the information gathered and once arriving at a conclusion will take the appropriate steps to act upon said conclusion.

Montessori Materials

The most distinct difference between Montessori and other methods is in the nature of the materials: 

Montessori materials are not didactic (teaching tools), but self-teaching tools. 

These materials are not for the teacher to teach, but for the child to discover and learn on his own. 

The adult presents a concept and a correct use of the materials; the children explore within the confines of respect, responsibility and expectations (ie with elementary work contracts). 

The children teach themselves – these materials are developmental materials. They fit for a stage in the development of life, as the child is constructing himself from the environment around him. 

Sensitive Periods - List

            “As the individual develops, he passes through a succession of well-defined stages or epochs, each of which is characterized by a peculiar sensitivity to certain aspects of his environment; and a corresponding capacity to absorb them into his mental life.”[1] 
In her writings, Dr. Montessori refers to these ‘stages or epochs’ as sensitive periods. They have been recognized by other more recent researchers and educators who have given them different varying names, noting critical, yet brief, periods of intense interest and learning that cannot be replicated at other times. Sensitive periods bring out tremendous activity geared towards a definite preference for specific aspects of the environment.

            There are four clearly defined sensitive periods, though there are quite possibly more. Some could be identified separately but are part of the four clearly defined ones; some could be quite subtle or have not been noticed due to an insufficiency in earlier development that does not allow a sensitive period to clearly show itself. 
  • language
  • order
  • refinement of the senses
  • movement
Sensitive periods are not found in adults; 
they are used for specific constructive purposes in the child.

[1] Maria Montessori and others. Ed. E.M.Standing. No year given, but a recent re-publishing of the 2nd edition published in 1965. 56.

Observation - Nature and Significance

Observation is the cornerstone of our work in the Montessori Method and in all the work that the trained adult performs. 

Scientific observation is the identification, description, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of a natural phenomenon.

Types of observation - both are used in the Montessori Method.

  • quantitative: seeks specific information to support or deny a particular hypothesis

  1. requires a hypothesis
  2. more rigidly scientific 
  3. structured

  • qualitative: greater emphasis on this one in the Montessori Method

  1. does not require a pre-formed hypothesis 
  2. largely unstructured
  3. relies on the skill of the observer to recognize, record and interpret behavior that is seen in a particular area of focus.

The ability to be a keen observer supports the Montessori prepared environment in 

  1. assuring that the environment is truly meeting the child’s needs, 
  2. observing where the child is going in development and preparing beforehand for the next step, as well as in 
  3. confirming and supporting all the reasons for having a prepared environment and discovering the nuances of the normalized child. 

Quantitative observation describing particular behaviors without preformed biases is key to the adult’s work with the children.

“Child psychology can be established only through the method of external observation. We must renounce all idea of making any record of internal states, which can be revealed only by introspection of the subject itself.”[1]

[1] Maria Montessori. The Montessori Method. Schocken, 1964.

Keys - Montessori Principles

The Montessori Method is based on KEYS.

These keys unlock doors of wonder, exploration and joy of life.

There are specific keys for each subject area as well as each plane of development; today we will look at the over-arching keys:

  • Follow the Child
  • No duplicate materials to teach the same concept
  • Control of error (now, how this looks will change with each age)
  • Only give the child enough to entice his imagination and desire to learn more
  • Assure a solid foundation is provided (provide all the basics)
  • Freedom with Discipline and Responsibility (only give what they can handle)
  • The environment forms the child (but the adult controls the environment)
  • The environment includes the people, the physical components and the attitude
  • Responsibility for one's work (this needs varying adult guidance/requirements at each age)
  • How do you discover these keys? Observe. 

First Plane: Give the child the keys to the world

Second Plane: Give the child the keys to the universe

Third Plane: Give the child the keys to his vocation.

Fourth Plane: Give the child the keys to the future. 

Keys to knowledge are significant in our work with the children during both of the first two planes of development, keys open up possibilities for the child’s own work and therefore they allow some change to take place within the child.
Mary Hayes, Montessori's View of Cosmic Education 

How have you seen these keys at work in the child and in the adults? How can you re-focus your approach to focus on the keys? 

Montessori Album Titles by Age

Montessori Albums at each plane or sub-plane of development, per AMI organization -----

Assistants to Infancy (conception to 3): 
  • Montessori Psycho-pedagogy 
  • Psycho-Sensory-Motor Development 
  • Home Environmet
  • Infant Community Environment 
  • Child Neuro-psychiatry Observation 

Primary (3-6 or 2 1/2-6):
  • Exercises of Practical Life
  • Sensorial 
  • Language
  • Mathematics
  • Theory
Note: geography, science exploration, art and music are all incorporated into these 4 subject areas
Note 2: Please see this Montessori Nugget on the Culture or Cultural Album that some offer.

Elementary (6-12):
  • Geography (includes all sciences except biology, including economic geography)
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Geometry
  • Music and Art
  • Language Arts
  • Biology
  • Theory

Adolescence (12-15):
  • list is not yet available (if you know of the list of the albums, please tell me in the comments and I'll add them here!)
  • Algebra (with some level of trigonometry, complex numbers, calculus and geometry included) - available via NAMTA.

AMI version of Tables of Contents available in later Montessori Nuggets.

The Four Planes of Development

Planes = think of a flat surface - a plateau on which the child can move around freely - there is a lot of back and forth and all around. The child can be far ahead on one area and not so far in something else and still not *be* behind. By the time the child is done with this plane, all areas should be on par.

Once the child reaches the next age bracket, the plane is passed - whether completed or not. If the child has had a full experience, the plane was complete and there is a strong foundation for the next. Otherwise, remediation in the next plane helps, but the same activities will NOT produce the same result. (more in another Montessori Nugget).

The theory papers on the 4 planes of development are *long*. Read The Secret of Childhood (oldest edition you can get) for more details.

1st Plane: 0-6 - Absorbent Mind - learning like a sponge - greatest growth - seeking place in family

  • 0-3: infancy/toddler (physical growth and language acquisition)
  • 3-6: primary (academic skills)
  • Physical and Biological Independence

2nd Plane: 6-12 - Stability - quiet growth; strong on mental growth and *imagination*

  • 6-9: introduction to a wide variety of concepts and cosmic education
  • 9-12: consolidation of 6-9 and deeper independent studies
  • Mental Independence

3rd Plane: 12-18 - Seeking place in Society - Vocation - Like a repeat of the first plane

  • 12-15: Puberty - limited mental growth, focus on physical growth and changes; needs to belong
  • 15-18: Reaching out into the world; abstract thinker; can handle typical high school courses with a focus on vocation, preparation for life
  • Social Independence

4th Plane: 18-24 - Full member of society
Sub-planes are less noticeable - but still present
Full adult brain is developed around age 24, including the area of the brain responsible for understanding consequences prior to making a decision (unless there were severe impairments in the previous planes, when this area may never fully develop)

  • Spiritual and Moral Independence

Look at your childhood - observe those around you. Do you see what is described above?

Montessori Nuggets is Online!

Welcome to the newest Montessori blog! I look forward to this blog providing a daily, or almost daily, Montessori Nugget for you: one key point to ponder throughout the day, perhaps a quote, or a key principle, or something you can apply to your children's education, or to your own ;) May we all be richly blessed through sharing the work of Dr. Maria Montessori.