Guiding Principles of Montessori

Planes of Development

Dr. Maria Montessori observed that the child, from birth through adulthood, progress through four distinct and transforming phases of development. Each phase or 'plane' is specialized and provides contributing characteristics to aid the child's growth physically, mentally and socially. The Montessori prepared environment changes with these planes to assist the child in their growth and development and to provide fertile ground in which the child can flourish.

The first plane of development is between 0 and 6 years of life. The child during this phase has what Maria Montessori called an 'Absorbent Mind'. The child is at this time a sensory explorer and takes in everything that he is exposed to. He is constantly absorbing impressions about the world and he does this at first unconsciously. A great example of this absorbent mind lies in how a child learns to speak by absorbing language from his parents and from his surroundings.

Later, from about 3 to 6 the child's absorbent mind becomes a conscious learner. He starts to select activities based on his earlier experiences. Now his hand is his teacher and he learns by manipulating the objects he discovers in his environment. This is a time for further exploration and hand's on work. The child is working at his own self construction and is focused on his holistic development. All areas are forming, physical, social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. The child of this age will experience many sensitive periods that enable his growth. A richly prepared environment stimulates and facilitates the amazing absorbent mind of this period of development.

The second plane of development is the childhood phase from 6 to 12 years of age. This is a period of social development for the child, before the child was most often interested in working alone or next to another child, now they become much more social and develop a 'herding instinct'. They seek out other's company and social interactions. They are very concerned with fairness and justice. They take part in the setting up of the rules of the classroom and take great pride in their fair application. They become increasingly aware of the needs and feelings of others. This is a time to develop compassion and respect for all of humanity.

They also have a desire to understand their world at a more abstract level; they want to know how, when, and why. Group research projects and cultural experiences facilitate this plane. Children at this age are capable of learning great amounts of cultural information. The child's imagination is also at a peak and this is the time for myths, fairytales and creative stories. The child is still involved in the most important creative process, the creation of self.

During the third plane of development, also known as adolescence, the child goes though great physical, mental and social transformations. This is a challenging time as the child seeks to understand his place as an individual contributing to society as a whole. It is a time of high ideals and wishing to help others. The child is ready to learn about economic independence and explore ways to be productive.

The fourth plane is the plane of maturity. Between 18 and 24 the child is now a young adult. He is seeking a niche in life, a way to contribute to the whole of humanity. The young adult is establishing who he is, how he experiences the world and how he can contribute to society.

Sensitive Periods

A Sensitive period is a limited time span in which a child demonstrates a strong attraction and ability to acquire a specific skill or to learn a particular aspect of his environment. The desire for the activity and the practice of the activity facilitates the child's physical, emotional, and mental development. The stage of attraction is short and the skill cannot be learned later with the ease and depth that is provided by these periods of sensitivity.

Most of the known sensitive periods occur during the first plane of development. This again is the period of the absorbent mind, a time of great learning and attraction to learning. They are as follows:

  1. Language - 0 to 5 years - Babies begin to absorb language even before they are born. They are attracted to the human voice and to watching the mouth of the speaker with great interest. They are taking in everything, even the pitch of the voice. Soon they understand that the words have meaning and even before their own vocal chords are developed enough to speak they begin to respond to language interaction with great enthusiasm. Babies need interaction with adults to facilitate their amazing drive to learn language. Between 2 and 3, they explode into speech. To give a child a rich vocabulary and an understanding of context and formation; provide them with a wealth of language experiences. Children do not learn language nearly as well from indirect experiences such as television as from interactive experiences with adults directly related to their environment. Between 3 1/2 and 4 they become aware of letters and soon begin the process of writing and reading the language that they have so amazingly acquired
  2. Sensory Development - 0 to 5 years - The child is a sensory explorer even within the mother's womb. The sound of the mother's breathing and heartbeat can be used after the child is born to calm the child. The child absorbs sensory impressions from the environment and internalizes them. The senses are refined through sensory experiences with the environment and the Sensorial materials assist the child to order and classify the sensory impressions they absorb. This actually creates pathways in the brain to facilitate later academic learning.
  3. Order - 6 months to 5 years - This sensitive period is strongest at about 2 years of age. The child is a sensory explorer and is comparing, sorting and making sense of the world. She needs external order to create internal order. She needs consistency and reference points so that she can create mental clarity and emotional security. Help her by putting a few toys on a low shelf and rotating them rather than many toys in a box, for example.
  4. Small Details - 2 to 4 1/2 years - The child of this age is fascinated and attracted to small objects and to the finest details. The Montessori materials and scientifically designed and manufactured to precise accuracy. This draws the child to the material and provides a satisfying experience for the child who is often distracted and even repeled by imperfection.
  5. Movement - 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 years - The child is refining their motor skills and the materials of Practical Life offer great opportunities to practice and increase their motor abilities and coordination. Other exercises provide even more refinement such as control of movement by carrying a bell or water while walking on a line. The child becomes capable and confident in her abilities.
  6. Manners - 3 to 6 years - Children are very interested in learning the proper way to socially interact. We offer them lessons in Grace and Courtesy to assist their development of social confidence.

During the second plane of development the child experiences sensitive periods for imagination and reasoning. They also have strong attraction to their peers and group identification becomes very important. Group research projects are a large part of the Montessori elementary curriculum

Montessori trained teachers are taught to carefully observe the child and to assist the child's development during these sensitive periods of learning acquisition. The children are grouped to best facilitate the 4 planes of Development and the Sensitive Periods as observed and documented by Maria Montessori. The classroom environment is specially prepared to facilitate the child's natural process of development, mentally, socially, emotionally and physically. One more requirement is suggested by Dr. Montessori:

Uninterrupted 3 Hour Work Period

One of the most amazing discoveries that Maria Montessori was able to observe during her studies of children was the 'Psychic Phenomenon of Attention'. She describes this in 'Spontaneous Activity in Education'

I happened to notice a little girl of about three years old deeply absorbed in a set of solid insets, removing the wooden cylinders from their respective holes and replacing them. The expression on the child's face was one of such concentrated attention that it seemed to me an extraordinary manifestation; up to this time none of the children had ever shown such fixity of interest in an object; and my belief in the characteristic instability of attention in young children, who flit incessantly from one thing to another, made me peculiarly alive to the phenomenon.

I watched the child intently without disturbing her at first, and began to count how many times she repeated the exercises; then, seeing that she was continuing for a long time, I picked up the little armchair in which she was seated, and placed chair and child upon the table; the little creature hastily caught up her case of insets, laid it across the arms of her chair, and gathering the cylinders into her lap, set to work again. Then I called upon all the children to sing; they sang, but the little girl continued undisturbed, repeating her exercise even after the short song had come to an end. I counted forty-four repetitions; when at last she ceased, it was quite independently of any surrounding stimuli which might have distracted her, and she looked round with a satisfied air, almost as if awaking from a refreshing nap.

This phenomenon gradually became common among the children. And each time such a polarization of attention took place, the child began to be completely transformed, to become calmer, more intelligent, and more expansive; it showed extraordinary spiritual qualities, recalling the phenomena of a higher consciousness.

When the phenomenon of the polarization of attention had taken place, all that was disorderly and fluctuating in the consciousness of the child seemed to be organizing itself into a spiritual creation, the surprising characteristics of which are reproduced in every individual.

This repeated concentration of the child is the goal of every Montessori teacher. It produces a content, satisfied child that has attained a higher level of peaceful being, a state that is called 'Normalization'. This is the core of Montessori's work, this peaceful child that is constructing a peaceful man. She was nominated for 3 Nobel Peace Prizes for her work. 'Peace and education', the full and holistic development of a child that becomes a citizen of the world. Dr. Montessori charted the pattern of this development, which she called the 'curve of work' and discovered that during the class time, the child's work time, the child is in active pursuit of this process of self construction. She noted the choices that the child made followed a progressive pattern and that if this pattern was interrupted or cut short, the child would not reach the peaceful state of self completion and rest described above. Dr. Montessori recommends a full 3 hour work period in a prepared environment to provide the necessary framework and opportunity for this transformation to occur and indeed to become the normal state of the child. This is why our classroom sessions are structured to provide this much needed time that is crucial to the holistic development of the child.

Maple Tree Montessori Academy - Brighton, Mi