Anthony Milano, Deputy Principal & Head of Montessori Teaching and Learning
Have you ever wondered why children do the things they do? What is it that drives them? We are tuned to the physical and outward signs of growth and maturity, but what about the signs of cognitive and social development that takes place over time? How can we as adults utilise these to fully understand our children and prepare our homes and schools as supportive environments?
Dr. Maria Montessori divided the pathway from birth to maturity into four major stages or planes of development. These Four Planes of Development or Montessori’s Geometric Image of the Rhythm of Life are:
- Birth to 6 Years of Age: Infancy - The Period of the Absorbent Mind
- 6 to 12 Years of Age: Childhood - The Period of Imagination and Intellect
- 12 to 18 Years of Age: Adolescence - The Period of Sensitivity to Society
- 18 to 24 Years of Age: Maturity - The Period of Independence and Maturity.
This developmental continuum lasts about 24 years, and is divided into two distinct groups - childhood and adulthood. They provide the embodiment of the Montessori ideas in our schools and are the framework that make us think holistically about child development. As our school serves children from birth to twelve years of age, the focus shown below is on infancy and childhood.
Our aim as parents and educators is to understand the planes of development as an aid in helping children along the difficult path of self-construction. We see in the planes of development that human development is not linear, but occurs in cycles. The horizontal line is the line of life. The oblique lines that form the triangles are the lines of progression and regression.
The First Plane
In the first plane, from birth to about age six, children are in the stage of the “absorbent mind’. Here the child absorbs knowledge, culture and language from their immediate environment be it the home, school or other places; through his or her senses. An outcome of this is the formation of the child’s personality.
Characteristics of Infancy are:
- Asking ‘what?’ And ‘where?’
- The development of feelings towards the concrete
- A sensorial seeker
- Everything is about their ‘world’
- Everything is about ‘me’
- The Home and the Children’s House provide and
support the child’s needs
- Craves a sense of order
- Desires repetition
- Working towards independence
- Vulnerable and seeks protection
- Building concentration
The Second Plane
In the second plane, from age six to about age twelve, children enter into society. They become aware of themselves and what it takes to live and work with other people. They use the power of their imagination to understand the larger world around them. There is a marked change from the period that went before it.
Dr Montessori states, “Psychologically there is a decided change in personality, and we recognise that nature has made this a period for the acquisition of culture, just as the former was for the absorption of the environment.”
Characteristics of Childhood are:
- Asking ‘why?’, ‘how?’, ‘when?’
- The development of feelings towards the abstract
- Wishes to know the reasons
- Everything is about ‘beyond their world’
- Everything revolves around the social group and
wanting to belong
- The Home, School and Going Out support the
child’s need for wider boundaries and opportunities
- Turning towards the intellectual and moral sides of life
- Constructs order
- Desires variety
- Working towards independence
- Becoming more resilient
- Concentration increases
Today much of what drives curriculum in schools is drawn from what we think or believe society needs from children. This can range from performance on local and international tests, the needs of the workforce for the present and or future, or political interference. Many approaches to education only consider the academic aspects. The Montessori Method focuses on the natural development of the whole person and supports the child’s journey on it. This includes academic and social development.
Dr Montessori states, “the method is guided by the manifestations of children at different phases of growth….On each different level of life there are needs and there are different manifestations….With regards to the child, education should correspond to them, so that instead of dividing schools into nursery, primary, secondary and university, we should divide education in planes and each of these should correspond to the phase the developing individuality goes through.”
This article is an adaptation and expands on the original concepts presented in:
- Grazzini; Camillo. “The Four Planes of Development”. The NAMTA Journal Vol. 29 #1 2004
- Helfrich; M. Shannon. “Big Picture of Child Development” in Montessori Learning in the 21st Century: A Guide for Parents and Teachers (pp. 29-48). New Sage Press, Oregon 2011
- Montessori; Maria. “From Childhood to Adolescence”. Clio, Oxford 1948
- Montessori; Mario (ed. 1971) Maria Montessori: “The Four Planes of Education”. (Text of a lecture 1938 Edinburgh, Scotland and 1939 London, England) Association Montessori Internationale