Featured Column: The Four Planes of Development

November 05, 2013

During the September and October Parent Forums I presented to parents on the topic of The Four Planes of Development. Originally conceived by Maria Montessori as a graphic, The Four Planes of Development represents an essential Montessori principle: the idea of sensitive periods.

A pioneer on this theory, Montessori discovered that all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, or culture undergo significant periods of development in six-year time frames. During the time frames, roughly from birth to six, six to twelve and twelve to eighteen, the human being is attracted to certain stimuli to the exclusion of others.

For example, children in the first plane are sensitive to and engaged in sensorial exploration, movement, and language—especially the development of vocabulary, order, precision and process. They seek out experiences that embody these sensitivities. It is natural, therefore, for children to be drawn to working with their hands in almost any activity.

The child in this first plane is drawn to the sensorial materials because they help the child sort and classify the characteristics of matter in the universe. We are all too familiar with the love children have to be read to, as another example. This focus on the sentive periods helps the child wire the nervous system and prepare for the more abstract and imaginative tasks of the child in the second plane.

In the second plane, a dramatic change occurs to the child of six to twelve. This child is the brash, outspoken and active child who is more concerned with physical prowess than intellectual achievement. This child is also the prodigious worker who can consume huge quantities of learning, provided it answers the question “why am I learning this,” and “how does this apply to my life,” and most important, that it appeal to the child’s newly nascent imagination. With this capability the child can transport himself in time and in place and no boundary can keep him from wondering about the very nature of the universe itselfand provide the capacity for the study of history and geography. These musings and sentivities find best expression in the second plane of development, and are an important part of a child’s life in and out of the classroom environment. In addition to these sensitivities, the child of six to twelve is drawn to his/her peers like magnets and is thus thrown into the world of understanding personal relationships, the behavioral codes of society and building a sense of morality.

These first two planes of development embody more than half of our students here at Cambridge Montessori School. Understanding these first two planes will assist in the understanding of the next plane of development, which I will discuss in an upcoming column.


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