Moral Development

In the ‘Advanced Montessori Method Vol. I’ p.258 (Clio), Montessori states, the essence of moral education is given in the loving environment, no-one can teach it, to perceive the difference and know it are not the same thing.  She says that while preparation in the first plane key is vital, in the second plane the moral question becomes of immense conscious interest to the child of the second plane.

Education during the three to six period is a response to the minds ability to absorb behaviour, customs, attitudes, in the small unit of the family, having absorbed it they practice and reproduce it.  Hence in Casa we give Grace and Courtesy, helping the child have the skills to meet his needs in a socially acceptable way and feel confident and well regarded. By the end of Casa children have reached a level of physical independence, are helpful, patient and  kind, they  see themselves as individuals, with a sense of their own inner life and a clear intuition into what is acceptable by their group.  They reach a cognitive stage where they can experience the difference between self and impulse, before this age they cannot always distinguish the difference and need to be indirectly redirected by the adult if the consequence of the impulse is unhelpful to others.  The child leaving the Casa will ideally have become able to be obedient, that is give up what is immediately satisfying in order to follow the instructions of a ‘trusted other’ to discover that which is more enriching.

In ‘From Childhood to Adolescence’ (Clio) p.5, Montessori says, the passage is one from the sensorial, material level to the abstract.  The need for abstraction and intellectual activity, understanding the relationships between objects is important for them, a turning towards the intellectual and moral values occurs at this age, the child has an inner sensitivity for the conscience, his mind is undergoing an evolution towards judgements of right and wrong, good and bad. Later the moral problem becomes much more difficult unless the child is helped, during this period when he is interested in justice, the failure to recognise this fact engenders a false idea of justice.

Practical implications for moral development

  1. We do not teach moral development but live it alongside the children
  2. We need to point out in a positive way, not unpleasant labels for the child’s behaviour, like ‘bad’, ‘rude’ or ‘thoughtless’, but ‘dangerous’, ‘cruel’ or ‘difficult’.  A training in NonViolent Communication will greatly help overcome these habits
  3. We do not give punishments and rewards, these lead to dependancy, an external locus of control, lead to unhealty competition and destroy internal motivation,
  4. It is necessary to engage in a dialogue with children over behaviour, to collaborate and facilitate not to judge or punish.
  5. Within the mixed age group a miniature society is formed, in a group which is normalised, an unsettled child can be easily absorbed into a largely normalised group.
  6. Simple rules, for the protection of the child, group of children and environment are needed, these rules need to be simple, easily understood, agreed upon by all and not subject to change depending on the mood of the adult.  These include that, children show their respect for the material by taking care of it, taking only the material they know and put it back complete and ready for use back to the place they took it.  Children respect each other and the adult physically and verbally.  Children must wait their turn.  These rules reflect the basic rules of society; respect others and property.
  7. Children benefit from predictability in the adult’s response, to help the child have order and orientation and so be independent, to create an ordered environment in which children can form their own society, in negotiation with you.
  8. Solve social problems with the  children, they will look for  reasons behind your thinking and it is important to model empathy, ‘how would you feel it’ and ‘what would happen if’ to try to think of solutions. We are neither the child’s Control of Error or conscience, we collaborate with the child until the child is able to take over and be fully independent.
  9. Look for manifestations of the interest of second plane children, including a desire to know what is acceptable or not. They will often seem to ‘tell tales’ but for Maria Montessori this is indicative of the child building a guide to inner order, to their own behaviour, trying to make judgements by asking questions.  Children are trying to make an abstraction from their understanding of concrete experiences to an understanding of all situations, help them.
  10. Teaching about Cosmic Education lays great emphasis on service, the defining characteristic of each individual is marked by the service it provides for the whole. The cosmic stories emphasis the self-less work of the agents of creation;  the stories in Biology emphasise the way plants contribute, when we introduce aspects of academia, Pythagorus and the creation of language, we stress the unknown human discoverers who went before us.   The emphasis is always on what is uplifting bringing the child  into contact with the human qualities of courage, kindness, loyalty, altruism, bravery and consideration.
  11. Montessori talks about the ‘valorisation’ of the personality, this comes about through maximum effort .  She says, in order to develop the individual needs to use effort and be independent, to earn liberty and freedom, to become aware of ones own value, the only other way to achieve this is through the love of others. The valorisation of the child’s personality requires a great deal of social experience, the older child is not satisfied by caring for himself. While freedom must be limited at first adults must not set limits for the child’s efforts, the child must be allowed to push herself, but not be hurried by the adult.
  12. Acts of service must be meaningful response to real needs, acts of genuine serve are marvellous opportunities to develop a sense of responsibility, help the child grow in self-confidence, they understand their power to see through plans and effect change in the adult world.  These discoveries in the concrete are abstracted into positive character formation.

In ‘To Educate the Human Potential’ (Clio) p.4, Montessori says, the child no longer absorbs impressions with ease but want to use his own judgement, there is nothing more difficult than to teach morality to a child of this age, an inner change has taken place, no only does the child have a hunger for understanding but wishes to understand morality for himself, with his own ‘inner light’.  In ‘AMI Communications 1971‘ No.4, Montessori says, the child of seven enters the abstract field, he wishes to know the reasons, what is good and what is bad, why he is bad and what it is to be bad’.

Montessori felt that the sensitivity towards moral development at this time goes beyond an intellectualisation and towards the establishment of conscience and the concept of justice.

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