The Four Planes of Montessori Development
The Four Planes of Development is a concept that Maria Montessori created based on her developmental psychology views and research. This theory considered all aspects of a child’s evolution, including emotional, academic, spiritual, and moral development. Children are born into a world full of opportunity and potential, and with the ideal environment and approach, a child can reach their full potential in all areas of life.
Traditional education methods involve teaching children as much information as possible until they reach maturity— continuously building on what they have previously been taught. Maria Montessori’s ideas were diﬀerent from traditional methods, as she believed that children learn in cycles. If children follow their natural learning process, they will learn and academically advance at their own pace while also developing spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.
The First Plane is from birth to age 6. The first three years of a child’s life will determine their future development. In Montessori, they call this stage the “spiritual embryo”—when the child has finished their physical growth in the womb and has started their spiritual development in the world. Children grow and develop from the experiences of their environment, what they see and hear, and their relationships with others. Children are in discovery mode at this age—they absorb all of the information surrounding them and start to explore, interact, and learn from their environment. They begin to learn from their senses, including smell, sounds, sight, touch, and taste.
Maria Montessori concluded that young children could absorb the most amount of information and develop more rapidly than any other age group—due to her observations of their quick learning process of language and mobility. The brain capacity of young children allows them to function on a basic human level in their first few years of life. During this period of the child’s life, Montessori education focuses primarily on coordinated movement, speech, and independence—promoting confidence in the child and the ability to find their place within their society.
Once children are 3 years old, they begin to take on activities to help them achieve coordination and control of movement as they explore their surroundings. In Montessori, tasks are set for the children to help them develop their self-discipline, will, concentration, and self-confidence. These activities are to help the child learn how to take care of themselves and their environment. Specific activities include setting the table, washing up, tidying up after themselves, arranging flowers, etc. These actions will help the children become more civilized as they learn manners and courtesy.
At this age, children are more in tune with their senses than their intellectual abilities. Children learn from their materials according to their size, how they smell and feel, how much they weigh and what they look like, etc. These materials help children refine their senses, allowing them to discover their interests and reactions to certain items, feelings, and surroundings. The child develops a better understanding of the world and how they fit into society.
At around age 3, children begin to use their language skills to their advantage. They begin to discover what they can achieve through communication, and their language slowly starts to become more refined, as they are more aware of the properties that it holds. Reading comes naturally to
children, and once they have started learning how to write —children begin to develop their writing skills through hearing and touch senses. Children become interested in art, history, and geography subjects, helping them understand the world of language and creating a feeling of unity with humanity and the world.
Montessori materials provide children with mathematical concepts and set foundations for algebra and geometry. When the children use concrete materials that they can independently use and figure out by themselves, they start to develop a better understanding of mathematics and how it can benefit them in everyday life.
The Second Plane is from age 6 to 12. Children have grown out of their toddler phase by age 6 and become more curious about their surroundings. Six-year-olds are imaginative and can even invent imaginary beings in their heads that they cannot see. They want to be part of a group and to feel involved; they start to ask questions and want answers and reasoning to their discoveries. They begin to understand social behaviors and start to make diﬀerent relationships with diﬀerent people, depending on whether their interests align or simply if they enjoy their company. Rules and regulation pique their interest as they want to know what they can and cannot do and what will happen if they break the rules. This stage of life is essential for developing a child’s socialization skills as they are fascinated by the people around them—they want to spend time with others and show their own personality to the world. At this age, children have multiple interests and have a desire for productivity and abstract thinking.
The Montessori education curriculum is designed to help children stimulate their curiosity and imagination while allowing them to work collaboratively and develop their relationships with others. The children begin to admire
their creative capacities and develop their innovative skills. Children begin to ask, “Why?” and their questions are encouraged. The teacher gives the children opportunities to find the answers to their questions before giving them the answer. Children take on projects in pairs or small groups and are encouraged to work together to help build teamwork and social skills. During this age period, the children are presented with historical and evolutionary knowledge—helping them understand human development. The teachers observe the children, oﬀering them a unique experience that aligns with their wants, needs, and capabilities. The results of observation help the teacher determine which opportunities will help the child maximize their potential.
The Third Plane is from age 12 to 18. By this age, children have reached adolescence and want to do everything for themselves, make their own decisions, and ultimately control their own lives. Adolescents are adjusting to drastic physical and psychological changes, as they seek independence and feel the need to rely on themselves. It is a time for critical thinking and exploring deep moral and social values. During this stage, the adolescent feels the need to concentrate on the social aspect of their life and wants to participate in social gatherings and events. Adolescents start to question the world’s ways and want to find a resolution and help solve problems that feel personal to them.
Maria Montessori found through her research that 12-year-olds need specific support at this stage of their lives. Montessori thought that when children enter their adolescent phase of life, they renew their social abilities and become more confident and capable of constructing themselves in adult conversation. They no longer want to be thought of as children, and instead, they want to be
treated as equals to their peers. Due to their heightened sensitivity, adolescents become very aware of their social situations. They can easily be oﬀended or hurt—this can cause significant insecurities which can interrupt their social development. Adolescents need to be in a supportive environment, complemented by confidence-building challenges and experiences that help them overcome real-life obstacles.
Due to the rapid changes in their bodies, adolescents tend to feel physically fragile and can have phases of total energy to utter exhaustion. Adolescents feel the need to gain validation from their peers. They do not want to be pushed into adult life by another adult—they would like to prove themselves as adults. They want to be seen and appreciated and build relationships based on their actions and contributions. Adolescents need to have close friends and support from others that may be experiencing the same changes. Through their experiences and challenges, adolescents gain empathy and start to understand and sympathize with others.
Adolescents crave real-life experience and want to know how to look after themselves and their community. Their characteristics and needs have evolved, so their environment requires a change to facilitate this new stage of life. Adolescents need to be provided with opportunities that allow them to prove themselves. In Montessori, adolescents are provided with tasks such as cooking meals, building structures, growing and harvesting food, farm work, or voluntary work. Adolescents gain a deep sense of pride from contributing to the community and working as a team. This stage of their life is a time of deep reflection and self-expression through their art, writing, music, or athletics. They are attracted to literature and reading, understanding science, and how mathematics contributes
to their life. Another Montessori program involves adolescents taking care of money—they learn how to produce and sell goods in an experience known as a ‘micro-economy.’ These experiences help adolescents see the world from an adult perspective and help them understand how the economy works—allowing them to build confidence in themselves and feel rewarded for their hard work. Some other Montessori experiences include:
Creating and selling crafts
Interacting with adults
Cleaning up the community
Making bank transactions
Writing shopping lists
Making weekly schedules
Group survival exercises
The Fourth Plane is from age 18 to 24, which is the final stage of Montessori development, where the adolescents progress into young adults with a more mature mentality. During this time, young adults are trying to find their place in the world and have a strong sense of financial independence. They will be questioning how they can contribute to the world or make a diﬀerence in society. The young adult will be confident and will want to start applying their knowledge and experience to their interests and further develop their skills and abilities on a deeper level. They may want to travel and explore or share their political views with others. They will begin to determine what career path they are interested in and start developing a plan for their future. By age 24, these young adults should be ready to take on life by themselves.