Featured Column: The Four Planes of Development (Part 2)

November 26, 2013

In the fall, 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 of this theory, Maria Montessori discovered that all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, or culture undergo significant periods of development in six-year time frames. During these 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.

Earlier this month I followed on my presentation by writing about the first two planes.  This week I will be sharing about the third plane of development.

The child in the third plane of development, Maria Montessori was fond of calling a child of the earth. She named this third phase the erdkinder. In this plane the child’s developmental task is to shape a personal mission and build the character and strength to enter working society.

She called this plane the erdkinder because she observed that manual labor was key to the needs of this age. Manual labor was favored because of its connection to real life and to the means of food production and animal husbandry. She went even further and advocated a rural residential program combining the best of the intellect and the care of a farm. The year would consist of a combination of study and work, and also drama, art, and the creative arts. The work would lead to an economically viable cottage industry, planned and managed by the students, with the assistance of knowledgeable mentor adults, a true reliance on specialists. 

Most would agree that this sounds like a fun experience, and then add to it that she also advocated self governance; the learning of the laws of society in a deep experiential way.

In this third plane the child establishes a sexual identity, searches for a personal ideal and needs to create strong bonds with adults. These tasks are all evocative of an inner work of self-construction. While some see children at this stage stuck in self-absorption, Maria Montessori saw this as a period of inner construction of the self. This inner construction acts as a basis for applying the principles of civility to interactions in adult society.

In recent years the adolescent programs at Montessori schools have taken place in urban areas and constitute an effort to reaching a compromise with the ideals of the eredkinder experience. Many of these programs take advantage of place based and expeditionary and project learning, while incorporating elements of the life on the farm.

In a future column I will discuss the final of the Four Planes of Development.

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