Towards the end of school last year, I was talking with some of the elementary children about our growing community. I distinctly remember asking, “Can you imagine 28 students in our classroom next year?”. Their minds were racing, coming up with ideas for how community jobs would be done, how lunch tables would be set, even how with more children there would be more friends and games to play at recess. So I started to think about imagination; we all have it, but it takes time to develop. Imagination is not only a human tendency but also a characteristic of the second plane child.
Maria Montessori believed that we ought to tend and nurture the internal child and await his manifestations. Children of the first plane utilize their imaginations largely in the reproductive sense. The imagination is employed to call up that which is no longer present. It is in the second plane that the imagination becomes a tool that enables the child to call up that which has never been sensorially experienced, or which has never in fact existed. But this talent, as all others, arrives according to each individual child's timetable.
Nature is responsible for the regulation of when a child walks, speaks, and of when a child's intelligence is developed. It is to be the adult's new role to both support this individual developmental timetable, and to remove obstacles to its progress. Nature regulates the development of the child's imagination in the same way.
Imagination in the Primary Classroom
It was Maria Montessori's belief that the more precisely one is able to observe by the senses, the more valuable will be the material that the mind takes in for the imagination to do its work. She considered it to be necessary to “…prepare children to perceive the things in their environment exactly”.
One might ask why accurate images are important here. Why wouldn't any image suffice? The answer, perhaps, is to be found in Dr. Montessori's observation that the imagination is a means for working upon reality. Inaccurate images of reality, when worked upon by the imagination, would be more likely to result in creations not best suited to the actual conditions of reality.
The Sensorial Materials were designed in order to provide young children with opportunity to refine their senses and to enable them to better organize the sensorial impressions that they continually absorb from the environment. They were developed by Maria Montessori not to present the child with new impressions, but to bring order and system into the countless impressions he has already received. The particular abstraction essential in each material is isolated, and presented in a physical, ordered form. Length, for example, is presented by the Long Rods. This material consists of a graded set of slender red prisms, each longer than the next. All attributes - color, weight, thickness etc. are the same. Only length varies. The concept, the abstraction, the image of this attribute is emphasized.
The place of the imagination in the process of abstraction is important here. Each long rod highlights 'length', and this is the attribute that the mind extracts from each. From these individual images, the mind constructs the new abstract image of 'long'.
Imagination in the Elementary Classroom
In the elementary, abstra