Montessori Key Concepts: The Planes of Development

Dr. Montessori (1870 – 1951) developed educational curriculum for children from birth through high school; Montessori also developed psychological theory on the nature of the child. Montessori’s curriculum and theory are based upon observation of the child. Based upon her observation, Montessori generated her theory of the “planes of development”. She observed that the child exhibited markedly different behavior and required a different environment in six year periods. The first half of each plane of development is marked by a high degree of sensitivity followed by a second half of self-mastery.

Montessori’s first plane of development is from birth to six years in which the child exhibits an increasing need for independence and sensitivity to sensory input. The child’s aesthetic sense increases with a growing interest in clothes, self-care, art materials, and “prettiness” in the environment. The young child becomes more social, and is interested in cooperative play. The child is sensorial and learns through “doing”, i.e., being directly involved in the “things” in his/her environment. The child wants the names of things. From birth to six years the child is considered gaining in emotional mastery.

The second plane of development occurs during the elementary years from six to twelve years. The child wants the “keys to culture” which is why the Montessori elementary curriculum introduces biology, history, geography, etc., at this early age. The child is interested in the whole earth and its people.

The child wants to know the “why” of things. From six to nine years the child is considered emotionally more fragile once again; from nine to twelve years the child is considered gaining in emotional mastery.

The third plane of development is during middle and high school from twelve to eighteen years. The child is now interested in the function of things and the interrelationship of the physical and social world. The child is interested in the economic life of the community and enters into it with employment of some sort.

The fourth plane of development is at the university from eighteen to twenty-four years. The young adult identifies a place within society in which a personal contribution may be made.

The identification of the planes of development are important in order to prepare the environment of each age group. The planes also support the concept of multi-aged grouping.

Within the child there are inner supports which are unique to each plane of development. In the first plane of development Montessori identified the “absorbent mind” and “sensitive periods”.

When Montessori identified the first Plane of Development (from birth to six years) she was struck with the child’s strong urge for independence. Erick Ericson, the child psychologist, identified the same need and named it “initiative” (with self-doubt resulting if this need is thwarted). In the home we can successfully meet the child’s need for independence by analyzing each step in the child’s day.

Let’s begin at the beginning: the morning.

Actually, the independent choices your child can make in the morning are set in place the night before!

The night routine should include selecting the clothes to be worn the next day and making lunch if the child is in an all day program that requires bringing a lunch. First ask your child what types of clothes he/she needs to wear the next day. Will it be a school day or not? Will it be cold, cool, warm? The answer to these questions determines what types of clothes will be needed. Then ask your child which items will be needed. Select the clothes in the order that the child will dress: underwear and socks, then shirt and trousers or dress. Finally, any adornment is selected. Place these items in an arrangement that will make clear to the child the sequence of dressing. Continue planning for the next day with packing lunch if that is needed. Is tomorrow a school day? Then what types of food do we need in the lunch? Help the child identify the food pyramid and make a selection from each of the food groups. These items may be placed in the lunch box and then in the refrigerator, or organized in a way that it will be easy to place in the lunch box the next morning.

This process of supporting the child in independence clearly has cognitive implications.

  • The child is thinking and planning into the future.
  • The child is categorizing (types of clothes/food).
  • The child is ordering/sequencing.

As the child awakes in the morning there is a clear sense of what has to happen: get dressed! There are the clothes laid out!

Now we are ready for the morning!

Not yet! The child will need to eat and brush his/her teeth. How have you prepared the kitchen and the bathroom to meet those needs? Work on selecting clothes and preparing lunches on the night before, and we will continue with breakfast and tooth brushing in the next newsletter.