Imagination and Montessori by Sharon Udy, Kauri Teacher (maternity leave)

You probably already know that Maria Montessori observed the four ‘planes of development’ a person goes through as they become independent, from birth to about the age of 24.  Each plane spans about six years, and has two sub-planes, each of which lasts about three years.  This is why Montessori classes cover three-year age groups, so that tamariki (children) are grouped with others who have similar needs and similar psychological characteristics.

Around the age of six, tamariki (children) move from the first plane of development to the second.  We notice physical changes (loss of teeth, change of body proportions and a loss of ‘baby fat’, particularly around the cheeks) as well as intellectual and psychological changes.  Tamariki become more daring and adventurous, wanting to challenge themselves.  Their immune system is stronger, making them more resistant to diseases; they are more resilient and often don’t want a fuss made of themselves, even if they are sick or injured.

At the same time, tamariki move away from being sensorial explorers of their world.  They start to use reasoning and imagination to explore their world – both what they can see and what they can’t.  Where a child in the first plane of development (zero to six years) often asks, “What is it?”, a child in the second plane is more likely to ask, “Why is it?” They want to know about the functions of objects, the reasons for phenomena and how things work.

Imagination can be described as the ability to picture material things in their absence.  The imagination has three possibilities – to gather images; to apply those images in reality; and to invent or create something new, using those images.

Throughout the first plane of development, tamariki take in qualities, images and impressions of the features of the world that surround them. They are exposed to specific nomenclature to help them refine those impressions. These experiences and language provide a foundation for our work in the second plane.

Now the child is interested in understanding how our world came to be – why throughout the ages has land crumbled away in some places and in other places risen up? How did land prepare itself so plants could live on it; so animals could live upon it; and eventually so that humans could live upon it?

These are the kinds of questions tamariki are interested in, and we must help them find answers. We cannot take them back to the beginning and show them how the world was made, but we can make use of imagination and tell stories about how it happened.

Our stories present the universe, our Earth, the lives of plants and animals through the ages, and the achievements of human beings. We use personification, magic and mystery to appeal to the imagination, in the hope that tamariki will understand the wonder of creation, and the enormous efforts made by human beings who came before us and who have added to the comfort of our lives. We hope the child will discover in himself an appreciation for these wonders and gifts.

“Everything invented by man, physical or mental, is the fruit of someone’s imagination. In the study of history and geography we are helpless without imagination, and when we propose to introduce the universe to the child, what but imagination can be of use to us?”