The years 9-12 are the flowering of childhood. All the preparation and hard work done in the Children’s House and the first three years of the elementary come to fruition. All the characteristics that we see in the first half of the elementary are present in the second half, but they are typically intensified or more complex in some way. The attraction to peers becomes an obsession; the impatience with not knowing becomes an impatience with faulty reasoning and explanations; the enthusiasm for trying out new things becomes a need to test and challenge oneself physically and mentally.
The trend toward interiority and “hidden powers” which we saw as the child moved from the First Plane to the Second Plane continues, and the older child often delights in presenting herself to us as an enigma. She is, after all, increasingly an enigma to herself – a riddle that must wait to be solved in adolescence.
Above all, older children are astonishingly capable and need opportunities to demonstrate to themselves and others just how capable they are. This is the time of Great Work; of impossibly ambitious projects, often undertaken with a group; of whole-class projects, including camping trips organized by the children, challenging plays, community service, art or science fairs, field days organized for the younger elementary children, and the like.
The children’s ever-increasing capacity for abstract thinking and self-reflection make the last half of the elementary a good time to begin gradually to shift the focus from factual learning to learning how to learn and conscious reflection on one’s learning. (This emphasis will only continue and intensify in adolescence.) The stellar results we see from Montessori children in high school and young adulthood owe much to the development of these high-level thinking skills, an example of what neuroscientists call executive functions.
The Montessori upper elementary supports the children’s higher-level thinking by providing frameworks for learning and exploration (e.g., history question charts, biological classification materials, templates for writing various kinds of essays, the scientific method); strategies for achieving one’s goals (e.g., research skills, collaboration skills, getting and giving feedback); processes for effective workflow (e.g., time management skills, project management skills, experience with the full writing cycle); and habits of mind that characterize the life-long learner (e.g., self-regulation and evaluation, goal setting, open-mindedness, flexible attention, pacing oneself, confidence in one’s abilities, resilience, and friendliness with error).
In the beautiful, well-tended flowering of childhood are the seeds of a healthy, happy adolescence.