The 6 – 12 year old children want to know the reason why things are in the world. They are oriented toward intellectual investigation and discovery. The child also needs to establish social relationships in a larger society.
It is from age 6 years that the beginning of an orientation toward the judgement of acts as right or wrong, fair or unfair is noted. This preoccupation belongs to a very special sensitivity, the conscience. The 6 – 12 year old period is of particular importance to moral education. The adult must be aware of the evolution that is occurring in the mind of the child at this time and adapt his methods to conform with it.
The characteristics that serve as the basis at the primary school level are:
- the child’s need to move further from the closed environment
- the passage of the mind to the abstract
- the birth in him of a moral sense
The primary classroom is a community of close friends and is a source of countless life-lessons in social skills, everyday courtesy and ethics. Dr Montessori noted that primary-aged children not only enjoy each other’s company, they naturally form small social groups of friends, each with its own internal hierarchy and rules of conduct. The Primary Environment thus operates as a small social community, in which children learn to work together, resolve conflicts peacefully, encourage and acknowledge each other.
Dr Montessori also noted that these children are developing their sense of justice and moral reasoning. Most classes go beyond simple lessons in grace and courtesy to begin a serious exploration of moral philosophy and discuss questions like: ‘Why are some things considered wrong?’ and ‘Why is it important to help the poor?’.
These children often become directly engaged in acts of charity: gathering food, toys, and clothing for the poor, or assist animals. Students make their first efforts at trying to understand what they can do as individuals to make the world a better place. They engage in a gradual process of self-discovery and start to ask the larger questions: ‘What am I good at?’, ‘What do I stand for?’ and ‘What is the purpose of my life?’.
Through this process they begin to integrate their personalities and take their first steps toward making a conscious contribution to the world.