How Discussion Helps 6-12 Year Olds Develop Morality

How Discussion Helps 6-12 Year Olds Develop Morality

In Montessori classrooms, we spend much of our time discussing. From difficult topics to lighthearted topics and some topics in between, Montessori classrooms are a place to discuss a range of topics, and one of the topics we unpack is morality. 

What is morality?

Morality can often be confused for manners. Holding the door for someone else isn’t morality. It’s good manners. Instead, morality weighs heavy issues and asks us to determine what is right and what is wrong. 

The topic of morality is not something that we can say we have achieved. Even as teachers, we must be open to change. Life can change abruptly, shifting our viewpoints and stances on critical issues of morality, and that’s alright. But due to that, we must model lifelong learning for students.

What does morality look like for children? 

Small kids are still testing the world to see what’s accepted. What actions are acceptable in my household? How will my behavior be received? Will I be reprimanded for hitting my younger brother? 

However, for children, who are a little older, moral development really begins to emerge. According to Maria Montessori, “it is at six years that one may note the beginning of an orientation toward moral questions toward the judgement of acts. The preoccupation belongs to an interior sensitivity, the conscience.” 

Since children are already beginning to question and judge at this age, it’s a good opportunity to ensure our cosmic curriculum has opportunities for them to explore these ideas. A presentation linked to the First Great Story allows opportunity to hear about creation stories of different cultures and for children to naturally hear that there are multiple ways of seeing the world. A presentation on fundamental needs through time raises ideas of continuity and change across human cultures.  

Montessori herself though said that lectures were not likely to illicit a positive response.

"A second side of education at this age concerns the children’s exploration of the moral field and discrimination between good and evil. They no longer are receptive, absorbing impressions with ease but want to understand for themselves, and are not content with accepting mere facts. As moral activity develops, they want to use their own judgment, which often will be quite different from that of their teachers. There is nothing more difficult than to teach (by direct methods) moral values to children of this age; they give an immediate retort to everything that we say. An inner change has taken place but nature is quite logical in arousing now in the children not only a hunger for knowledge and understanding but also a claim to mental independence, a desire to distinguish good from evil by their own powers and to resent limitations by arbitrary authority. In the field of morality, the child now stands in need of his own inner light."

Ways to Teach Morality

In the Montessori world, we tend to place an emphasis on children’s interests along with their development. As students are digesting the world around them, they will naturally begin to ask about specific topics that they find interesting or relatable, along with different scenarios within them that are either moral or immoral.

Since Montessori classrooms generally have students at a range of ages, as these conversations occur, students of multiple ages will be able to weigh in. This allows younger students within the classroom to naturally digest the information that older children are sharing during classroom discussions. Some of these conversations may apply to moral development and allow younger learners to begin thinking about the world around them along with what’s right and wrong. 

Mixed aged settings allow children to learn from each other’s class discussions, but they also learn to address conflict with one another head on.  Montessori noticed that children often work out their morality based around what they notice happening or not happening with peers or siblings. The process of negotiating differences and disagreements with playmates affords the potential opportunity to see a situation from another’s perspective (Vikaros & Degand 2011). 

The students in our classrooms are the future of our world, and for that reason, we must begin introducing them to topics of morality so that we can equip them to lead us into the future.

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