Walk into the Elementary I classroom during lunch and there is a significant chance that you will see one of the most intense games of “Would You Rather” that you could imagine. Ideas about having carrots instead of fingers, growing plants from your head, or living on a cloud fly across the room only to be met by questions of what if and how and why. How would you walk on a cloud if you lived on a cloud? They aren’t dense enough to support human weight. Would your carrot fingers grow back if you ate them or would you have to wait until next season? Would your plant-hair die if you never went in the sun?
This scene is very different from the one from the Children’s House classroom. There, you can find the kids asking concrete questions. How many of you have a sibling? A pet dog? (Or, my personal favorite) how many of you have a head? The answers to these questions are concrete, yes or no, not abstract what ifs and hows like in the elementary classroom. This observation reminds us of a key development that occurs between the first and second plane of development (Children’s House and Elementary I). The elementary child has developed imagination.
So, what does this new found imagination mean for your early elementary child? As an adult you may start to notice more questions of why. You may find the tiniest of tiny homemade knick-knacks tucked away in all sorts of pockets or the comically large paper airplane flying into your backseat at after-school pick up. Or, even secret languages shared over the nightly Zoom call. In your child’s mind they are using their imagination to put together parts of the world they can’t see. They imagine extremes to help organize the world around them. They learn how language is broken apart, and then they imagine new ways to communicate with one another. For the next six(ish) years, your early elementary student uses this new skill to understand and organize our cosmic world.
Dr. Montessori spoke frequently of the elementary child’s new found interest in imagination. She believed “imagination [was] the real substance of our intelligence”. And that “all theory and all progress comes from the mind’s capacity to reconstruct something”. To reflect this, the EI curriculum entices students with timelines, Great Lessons, dramatis personae, stories, experiments, and impressionistic charts. Each of these works give the elementary child the chance to go back and forth between reality and imagination, building the structure of the universe down to the tiniest of atoms. The timeline of life is a personal favorite. EI students were guided through the history of life and asked to take on learning about specific parts of this rich history. Then, they came back together to share how everything connects. This is how the elementary student learns; they break apart, put back together, and move on to imagine something new.