Montessori Planes of Development: A Guide to Understanding Child Development

To consider the school as the place where instruction is given is one point of view. But to consider the school as preparation for life is another. In the latter case the school must satisfy all the needs of life.

Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 11

What are the Montessori Planes of Development?

The planes of development are Dr. Maria Montessori’s theory of human development. She believes children grew into adults in four distinct stages, that she called “planes.”

In each of these planes, the child is working on a particular aspect of their self-creation.

Each of the stages is further sub-divided in half. The first half being one of development, and the second half focused on consolidation.

Like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, the child isn’t explicitly aware of the changes their mind and body are going through, but the stages unfold according to a natural order regardless.

Maria Montessori believed that our role as guardians and educators was to support this development. If done properly, then the child would be prepared for life.

Montessori planes of development chart

First Plane

Physical Independence: “Teach me to do it myself.”

Develop: Ages 0-3

  • Newborns
    • Entirely dependent on caregivers
  • Entirely concrete-bound
  • Exploring the world with their senses
    • Intently watching
    • Putting things in mouth
    • Grabbing

Consolidate: Ages 3-6

  • Refine perceptions
    • Lots of repetitions. They enjoy doing the same thing over and over again.
  • Parallel play with others

You can support this plane of development by inviting the child to participate in practical life activities like care of self and care of the environment. Give the child a lot of unstructured play time to move their body, especially outside. Do not use screens, instead give them real objects to play with an explore.

Book Recommendation (So hard to pick just one!): The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik

Second Plane

Intellectual Independence: “Teach me to think for myself.”

Develop: Ages 6-9

  • Imaginative
  • First friendships
  • Insatiable thirst for knowledge, they want to know everything!
  • Begins to think abstractly

Consolidate: Ages 9-12

  • Can read independently for knowledge
  • Cares about getting the right answer
  • Likes to think abstractly
  • Creative
  • Ambitious

You can support this plane of development by teaching them to read, I think this may be the most important thing we can do for the elementary child. Feed their thirst for knowledge, help them make connections between pieces of information, ask them questions, answer their questions. Give ample time for unstructured play time with peers.

Book Recommendation: Why Our Children Can’t Read by Diane McGuinness

Third Plane

Social Independence: “Teach me to understand myself.”

Develop: Ages 12-15

  • PUBERTY
    • A time of great physical and intellectual change.
  • Belonging and “fitting in”
  • Fixating on labels for yourself and others
  • Cares about male/female friends
  • Many casual friends
  • Develops romantic “crushes”

Consolidate: Ages 15-18

  • Trying to understand their role in the wider society
  • Wants to rely on others less
    • Financial independence – First Job
    • Physical independence – Driving, setting up own activities
  • “Who do I want to be?”
  • Deep friendships
    • May fall in love

You can support this plane of development by giving the child purposeful and meaningful work. Help them connect to others in a way that is healthy. Bring them to adult functions and help them “practice” adult life. Let them take on more responsibility for themselves and feel that they are capable.

Book Recommendation: Escaping the Endless Adolescence by Joseph and Claudia Allen

Fourth Plane

Moral Independence: “Teach me to judge for myself.”

Develop: Ages 18-21

  • Very interested in influencing culture, “Making a difference”
  • Cares what others think about
  • Cares about right and wrong

Consolidate: Ages 21+

  • Fully prepared for life
  • Able to pursue their own happiness

You can support this plane of development by talking about things that are important with the young adult. Let them go forth and pursue their values!

Book Recommendation: The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter by Meg Jay

In Dr. Montessori’s Own Words

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One Comment

  1. Nicely done. For the first two planes of development, I like to think about the questions they ask. In the first plane” What’s this? They’re classifying and organizing their world so they need lots of names and criteria for cataloging things. In the second plane: Okay, I know what this is, but how does it work? Why is it here? What can be done with it? What consequences does it have? All the key lessons to how the Universe works.

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