Doctor Maria Montessori spent twenty years testing, observing and creating what we now call
The Four Planes Of Development.
The personality and identity of a person is influenced by education, observation, absorption and growth. According to Maria Montessori, there are four stages in every child’s life where mental advancement, physical advancement and maturity occurs. These four phases in the child’s life commence at birth and continue to progress through the age of twenty-four.
The most dramatic and influential phase is during the first and third plane of development, where children are creating and consolidating their mind, body and spirit. The environment a child is exposed to from beginning, will directly effects who the child will become as an adult. A child is influenced by what he or she absorbed and will internally engrave these early impressions into their being.
The four phases of development are extremely similar to the formation of a butterfly. The butterfly's life cycle consists of four very different, yet equally important periods: The egg, larva, pupa and adult butterfly. The child and butterfly alike need each stage of growth to advance. What is important during the egg stage of a butterfly may not be important during the pupa stage, however they directly affect each other and are extremely influential in the creation of the butterfly.
Montessori (2007) states, “Development is a series of rebirths. There comes a time when ones psychic personality ends, and another begins.” (p.17)
In the first plane there are two sub phases: 0-3 and 3-6. In each sub phase the child experiences changes physically and psychologically.The mind of a child is very powerful and will absorb and internalize all the information it is presented. The gifts and powers of the absorbent mind are effortless and non discriminatory. A child is like a sponge, soaking up everything with ease, creating impressions, habits and personal values as a foundation.
According to Montessori (2007) “This absorbent mind is indeed a marvelous gift to humanity! By merely living and without any concise effort the individual absorbs from the environment.” (p.#. 64).
Physically during this stage the child is chunky and or chubby, specifically in the cheeks and knees. The head of the baby is one-third the size of the body, making it very disproportionate. The size difference in the head and body make it very hard for the infant to move independently.
Psychologically the infant is making huge strides through exploring the social and emotional aspect of their environment. There is a natural order to the development that is taking place during the absorption of information, thus developing the intellect of a child. In this period the child is sorting through, organizing and classifying things, which are developing the basis of language. The child is a sensorial explorer through real, direct facts of the real world. The child is seeking out what things are, and need facts.
According to Montessori (2007) “The child remembers things, but in order to remember something, it is necessary to have a memory, and this is something this child has not. On the contrary, he has to construct it. Before one can appreciate how the ordering of words in a sentence affects it’s meaning, one must be able to reason.” (p#23)
The second sub phase (3-6):
Physically the individual is experiencing great change in their personality. By the age of three they are physically much different and the head is much more proportionate, yet still larger in comparison to the body. This disproportion makes walking very unstable. By the age of six the child’s body is longer and leaner and movement is much more fluid.
Psychologically from three to six the child will begin to act on their environment. During this age there is a need for social interaction and it is vital to provide activities and social outings for the child. Participation with children their age is very important. The child is in a phase of exploration and becomes much more focused compared to the first sub phase.
***Note to take home***
As adults we play an enormous role in the contribution to progressive advancement in a child’s life.The environment in which the child is exposed to during the first plane of development is essential for enrichment and influence. The infant needs to feel included and supported in order to achieve confidence and trust in themselves and others. The alert baby needs space and room to move about and look around. It is extremely important, specifically during the first few days after birth, that the child is introduced to order, routine and practicality. This creates a sense of comfort and security to the individual.
The first plane of development is where the child is budding with ideas for the first three years, and from three to six the child is perfecting these concepts, and allowing the intellect to continue to grow into the second phase of development. The most ideal place for a child to be during the first three years is at home preferably with two parents. The parents or caretakers must provide love, predictability, encouragement, trust and touch to ensure positive growth. As adults it is important to respect others as well as oneself, because our actions will influence the child. The ultimate goal is collaboration without confrontation. We need to be respectful as opposed to being forceful. Support in independent progress is important, but needs to strike a balanced in order to avoid unlimited choice.
The Second Plane of Development occurs during the early years of childhood, commencing at age six through the age of twelve. There is obvious development mentally and physical stability.
Physically the hair starts to change; it becomes darker and coarser. The child starts to lose their baby teeth and grow their adult teeth. The face becomes much more delicate and soft. The bones of the child at this age start to harden because of the ossification process and will break much easier than in the first plane of development. These years are wonderful because the child has stable health, in fact it can be considered the healthiest period in ones life. In this stage, the social life becomes much more important and the child begins to acquire a focus on cultural information. The child seeks information. For example, children do not only want the names of things, in truth they seek more detail in the facts and reasons of things. The child is seeking the information on how things work. Montessori said that in this stage the child is less gentle and he or she is considered to be in the stage of “rudeness”. The child has the ability to offend or hurt others because he becomes discourteous and domineering and will sometimes speak without thinking first. Imagination is the greatest tool for the child in the second phase of development. Montessori’s explanation for this conduct is the child’s need for mental independence and the desire to distinguish good from bad by the child’s own powers without subjective authority. During this phase the child becomes very direct and blunt.
***Note to take home***
This phase is the time of the most intellectual pursuits of the child. The role of adult is to offer an education by exposing the child to many cultures. The imagination of the child allows for an understanding of life from the beginning, providing independence and personal impressions.
The child needs to be given the freedom and independence to go out and experience things outside of the classroom. This reasoning mind is exploring intellectually reasons and causes, which is a great tool for the imagination. Giving the child freedom and independence in “going out into the world”.
The Third Plane of Development is during the adolescent years of the child’s life, starting from 12 years old through 18. Similar to the first plane of development there are two sub phases and it is a major transformation of the child. This is also a more sensitive period where the child reverts back to "learning how to walk again". This is when the child is going through puberty, which is a time of adjustment in a profound way. The adolescent is becoming a young adult searching for a meaning in life.
The first sub phase in the third plane of development is more fragile than the second sub phase. This is when the child is twelve through fifteen and brain weight is growing.
Physically the adolescent changes normally into a lanky uncoordinated individual. Hormones occur, thus creating insecurities due to emotional ups and downs and the new physical developments, i.e.: breasts, facial hair, acne, etc. This child is very focused on the future, challenging where they fit in. In this phase, a lot of sleep is critical!
Psychologically there is a very strong sense of urgency in the discovery of “who am I?” Patience is slowly beginning to develop.
The second sub phase takes place from sixteen through eighteen. This is when the adolescent is deciphering empathy versus altruism. This time is important as they begin to challenge ideas and follow what is true to their heart. This is the time when one is looking at how they can change the world or participate in activism and humanitarian practices. This is an age where one is very enthusiastic in learning about the opposite sex and or starts to develop and find awareness in friendship with the opposite sex. The development in the second sub phase of the third plane is where one truly starts to “find themselves” and participate in a reality-like environment.
According to Montessori, (1971) “The children pass from sentiment towards the numerous individuals that surround him in his second vast environment, in which he witnessed how the physical world and human society functioned, to an abstract social sentiment from Man in general”. (p.#12).
***Note to take home***
The role the adult is to assist in whatever way the adolescent seeks. The goal is to assist the child into becoming an adult. The adult needs to be a mentor and an example, one that the adolescent will feel comfortable confiding in. The adult must act as a good listener and support the young adult in the pursuit of his or her goals, holding back from any biases or harsh opinions from their reality or past.
There is a Montessori prepared environment for children at this age, called Erdkinder, or the "Farm School". This school is a way for children to participate in the real-world, while still being sheltered by an adult format.
The Fourth Plane of Development occurs during the maturity period of the child’s life, starting from eighteen through twenty-four. At this time self becomes secondary to society and their intellectual level has expanded immensely.
Physically the young adult is fully developed, strong and robust. The individual is at his or her peak. The child has overcome materialism, possessiveness and competition; this is a time of great integrity. There is a dedication on moral consciousness having set goals that they are now acting on. There is a strong desire to contribute and to assist of others.
***Note to take home***
During the fourth plane of development the role of the adult is to help assist and become an aid to the young adults life. Youth at this stage should be given all that is necessary to help in their development. Education is a key to life and all individuals deserve the opportunities necessary for personal growth. Independence is essential for all children and it is important that we provide the assistance necessary to enable this trait to the greatest extent possible.
Maria Montessori (1971) states, “We must take man himself, take him with patience and confidence, across all the planes of education. We must put everything before him, the school, culture, religion, and the world itself. We must help him develop within himself that which will make him capable of understanding. It is not merely words; it is a labor of education. This will be the preparation for peace ~ for peace cannot exist without justice and without men endowed with a strong personality and a strong conscience.” (p.# 16).