In Her Words
In chapter 2 titled “Metamorphoses” of her book Childhood to Adolescence, Dr. Montessori explores the elementary child’s “turning towards intellectual and moral” development:
“The passage to the second level of education is the passage from the sensorial, material level to the abstract. The need for abstraction and intellectual activity makes itself felt around the seventh year. Until that age the establishment of the relationships between objects is what is important to the child. This is to say that the child needs to classify and absorb the exterior world by means of his senses.
“A turning toward the intellectual and moral sides of life occurs at the age of seven.
“One could draw a parallel between the two periods. But they still remain on different levels. It is at seven years that one may note the beginning of an orientation toward moral questions, toward the judgement of acts. One of the most curious characteristics to be observed is the interest that occurs in the child when he begins to perceive things which previously failed to notice. Thus he begins to worry about whether what he has done has been done well or poorly. The great problem of Good and Evil now confronts him. This preoccupation belongs to an interior sensitivity, the conscience. and this sensitivity is a very natural characteristic.
“The seven-to-twelve-year-old period, then constitutes one of particular importance for moral education. The adult must be aware of the evolution that is occurring in the mind of the child at this time and adapt his methods to conform with it.
“If during the first period of development the teacher has used a very gently approach and intervened as little as possible in the activity of the child (activity which was above all motor and sensorial),it is to the moral level that his delicacy of approach ought now to be oriented. That is where the problem of this age lies. To think that the problem of morality only occurs later is to overlook the change that is already going on. Later, the moral problem becomes a good deal more difficult unless the child has been helped during this sensitive period. Social adaptations will become more thorny. It is at this age also that the concept of justice is born, simultaneously with the understanding of the relationships between one’s acts and the needs of others. The sense of justice, so often missing in man, is found during the development of the young child.”