Montessori Today, Chapter 3: The Age of Morals and Ethical Thinking

NAMC montessori second plane of development, the age of morals and ethical thinking. Boys standing together.
It is at six years that one may note the beginning of an orientation toward moral questions toward the judgment of acts. The preoccupation belongs to an interior sensitivity, the conscience.
—Maria Montessori
From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 12.

If the first plane of development can be called the “play-age” (Montessori, The Formation of Man), then the second plane of development may be classified as the “age of rules.” In fact, Montessori tells us that “A second side of education at this age concerns the child’s exploration of the moral field.” (Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential, p. 4.) It is during this time that children consciously consider, explore, and question universal morality. This is also the age when children learn about and internalize universal principles of right and wrong.

As elementary-age children begin to pull away from their family’s identity and start to develop their own identity, they also move toward their own understanding of right and wrong. In order to do so, they must question the behavior of others. Often, this takes the form of “tattling,” telling an adult about a certain behavior in order to learn, from the adult’s reaction, if the behavior is acceptable.

The Age of Morals and Ethical Thinking: The Second Plane of Development


NAMC montessori second plane of development, the age of morals and ethical thinking. Boy running with superman cape.

This is also the age of champions who want to fight injustice. It is a time of heroes, superheroes, and villains, as children use their imagination to protect and defend those who are hurt unjustly. Play, at home and on the playground, finds children fighting for the rights of those around them. The fantasy world of myths, legends, and fairytales comes alive as they role-play and explore morals, customs, feelings, and emotions.

While learning the rules of society, elementary-age children come to terms with the ideas of fairness and inclusion. They have a deep-rooted need for the universality of rules.

They need everyone to be treated the same way and feel slighted and resentful if there is inconsistency. Inconsistency threatens their sense of safety and security. “Deep down, each child knows he is only as worthy as any other child. Casting some children in negative roles puts the very being of each and every child at risk. If even one child can be cast aside as unworthy, no child is truly safe.” (Goertz, p.11)

NAMC montessori second plane of development, the age of morals and ethical thinking. Girls playing in the sand.

Unlike the roller coaster of adolescence, the second plane of development is a time of calm and secure tranquility when the child is free to explore her ethical reasoning within the loving confines of home and family. She will stick up for the downtrodden, champion the underdog, and seek equality and justice for all.

Works Cited
Goertz, Donna.Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful: Preventing Exclusion in the Early Elementary Classroom. .Berkeley, CA: Frog, Ltd., 2001.
Lillard, Paula Polk. Montessori Today: A Comprehensive Approach to Education from Birth to Childhood. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1996.
Montessori, Maria. From Childhood to Adolescence, 1st English ed. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1973 (first published in 1948).
Montessori, Maria. To Educate the Human Potential. England: MPG Books Limited, 1989 (first published in 1947).
Montessori, Maria. Clio Montessori Series Vol. 3: The Formation of Man. Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, 2007.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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