Through her work and observations, Maria Montessori noticed that children had different characteristics and ways of learning that seemed to correlate to their age. Each of these stages, or “planes of development” as she called them, had their own unique needs, challenges, and strengths. The Montessori Method is based on meeting the needs of the child based on their plane of development. The mixed-age classrooms are each designed to contain children of the same developmental plane.
First Plane of Development - Infancy - 0-6
The First Plane of development follows the child from birth through age six. This stage is full of intense learning and adaptation as the child takes in the world around them with their absorbent mind. They are discovering the world through their senses as well as refining their movements and control over their own bodies. This plane is about building strength and coordination, order, independence, and concentration.
We often see two clear stages during the first plane of development. The first takes place between birth and about the age of three. During this stage, the child is unconscious of their learning. They take everything in without direction from the adult. They tend to be unsteady as they learn to control their body and movements. During the second stage, from age three to age six, the child still learns through the absorbent mind. However, they are now capable of more conscious learning and can learn more directly from the adults around them. They start to become more coordinated and begin to develop their will or self control.
Second Plane of Development - Childhood - 6-12
Around age 6 or 7, a new physical and psychological phase begins. Physically, there are many changes that take place including losing baby teeth and becoming leaner and more “gawky”. Dr Montessori sometimes referred to the second plane of development as the “age of rudeness”. The sweet disposition of the young child morphs into a certain harshness at this age.
The child in the second plane of development is always asking why and how. They are thirsty for knowledge and take on learning much more directly than they did in the first plane. Their imagination takes off along with their capacity to abstract. They become very concerned with good and bad and things being “fair”. The second plane child becomes very social and works best in groups with their peers. Their past need for external order melts away as they have constructed their own inner order. This means that they may appear messy, sloppy, or thoughtless with their things when compared to the first plane of development.
Planes of Development
Third Plane of Development - Adolescence - 12-18
During this phase a dramatic change occurs. The word "adolescent" means missing something and that imbalance is often what the adolescent feels. The adolescent is often heard saying, “Don't tell me what to do”. They find that they need their work to have real purpose or it is of no interest to them.
The adolescent now has a lower intellectual capacity than in the previous phase. They are fragile, have volatile emotions and are very sensitive to criticism. They value appearance and have a strong desire to fit in. They suffer from lack of confidence and often doubt themselves and others. At a social level, the adolescent gathers in groups defined by interest. They rebel against authority and are attracted to peers. They search for heroes and have concern for humanity. The adolescent feels a desire to contribute to the world.
The adolescent needs economic and emotional independence and needs to strengthen their self confidence. They need to investigate their sexuality and to experiment with personal space. They need to understand their place in society and history. They need love, respect and security.
Fourth Plane of Development - Maturity - 18-24
At this age, physical changes have completed themselves. Psychologically, the human being at this stage is going through a deep internal processes that can not be seen from the outside. Moral and social consciousness is established and they feel responsible to the world.
At a social level, someone in the fourth plane of development will choose a career, form long standing relationships, and seek education and cultural understanding. Their needs are now more inner and less visible. They need to choose their actions and accept responsibility for the consequences. Ideally, during this plane, they learn to overcome possessiveness, materials, and power, and learn to better understand themselves. They need to know their potentials and limitations and have desire to relate with something higher than themselves. This often helps them to move towards self realization. They often say to themselves, “What can I do?”.