Montessori Basics: The Planes of Development


Maria Montessori based her entire educational philosophy on the idea that children developed through a series of four planes.  Each of these planes is easy to recognize and has clear, defining characteristics.  If we study and understand these stages, we can approach our interactions with children with a new perspective.

Learning about the planes of development isn’t just for Montessori educators.  Understanding your child’s development can help at home, too.

The First Plane: birth-6 years

During this stage children absorb everything like sponges.  They are, indeed, excellent examples if what Montessori called ‘The Absorbent Mind.’  This is a time in which we are able to utilize what Montessori called sensitive periods of learning.  While each child is different, there are typical patterns that emerge in regards to brain development and general readiness to learn particular skills.

During the first three years of this plane, all learning is done outside of the child’s conscious mind.  They learn by exploring their senses and interacting with their environment.  During the second half of the plane, from about 3-6 years, children enter the conscious stage of learning.  They learn by using their hands, and specialized materials in the Montessori classroom were developed with this consideration.

During this time, children have a wonderful sense of order.  They are methodical and can appreciate the many steps involved in practical life lessons in their classrooms.  The organization of the works on their classroom shelves is intentional, which appeals again to this sense of order.

The first plane is a time in which children proclaim, “I can do it myself”; it is a time of physical independence.

The Second Plane: 6-12 years

During the elementary years children begin to look outside themselves.  They suddenly develop a strong desire to form peer groups.  Previously, during the first plane, a child would be content to focus on their own work while sitting near others.  In the second plane, a child is compelled to actually work with their friends.  It is during this time that children are ready to learn about collaboration.

During the second plane there is a sudden and marked period of physical growth.  This may be a contributing factor to the observation that many children of this age seem to lack an awareness of their body, often bumping into things and knocking things over.  Children begin to lose their teeth around this time as well.  Their sense of order and neatness tend to fade a bit during this plane.

Throughout the second plane, children’s imaginations are ignited.  Since Montessori education is based in reality, we find ways to deliver real information to children through storytelling and other similar methods.  For example, when teaching children about the beginnings of our universe, Montessori schools use what is called a Great Lesson.  The first Great Lesson is a dramatic story, told to children with the use of props, experiments, and dramatics (think: a black balloon filled with glitter is popped to illustrate the Big Bang, with bits of paper in a dish of water used while talking about particles gathering together).  This lesson is fascinating for children in the way it is presented, but gives them basic information about the solar system, states of matter, and other important concepts.

Children in the second plane have a voracious appetite for information, and are often drawn strongly to what we in Montessori call the cultural subjects: science, history, and geography.  While we support their rapid language and mathematical growth during this time, we are also responsible for providing them with a variety of rich cultural lessons and experiences.

It is important to note that children develop a sense of moral justice at this time.  They are very concerned with what is fair, and creating the rules to a new game is often as important (if not more so) than playing the actual game itself.

This is the period of time in which children are striving for intellectual independence.

The Third Plane: 12-18

The third plane of development encompasses the adolescent years.  During the second plane, children become aware of social connections, but in the third plane they are critical.  During this time children rely heavily on their relationships with their peers.  They feel a strong desire to remain independent from adults, although they are not quite ready to do this entirely.  It is our job to find ways that allow them to experiment with independence while also providing a safe structure in which they may do so.

Children in the third plane tend to require more sleep, and they sleep later than when they were younger.  They long for authentic learning experiences, and Dr. Montessori imagined just that.  Her ideas of Erdkinder (children of the earth) led her to contemplate a school setting that would support children’s development during this time.  She imagined a farm school, in which children would work to keep the farm operational, but also contribute to planning and decision making while doing so.

During the third plane children are refining their moral compass while developing a stronger sense of responsibility.

The Fourth Plane: 18-24

The final plane is a time in which young adults are striving for financial independence.  They are often living away from home for the first time, and use this time to figure out where they fit into their society.  Many make choices to further their education and/or explore career paths.

It is during the fourth plane that people begin to develop a truer sense of who they are as individuals.

Each plane of development should be mindfully nurtured.  If a child is able to experience one developmental phase in a rich and carefully prepared environment, they are ready to fully take on the next phase when it is time.


 

 

What Are Executive Functions? And Why Are They So Important For Your Child?

As a parent, how important would you rate the following skills for your child?

Self-control

Self-discipline

Focus

Perseverance

Reasoning

Critical thinking

Creative thinking

Mental flexibility

Good organization, planning, prioritizing

and

Good judgement

Pretty important right? 

All of these important skills belong to a complex set of skills called executive functions and they are a direct indicator of your child’s future success in academics, employment, and life! These skills define an intelligent, balanced, motivated person who is self-disciplined, innovative, and doesn’t give up. The good news is these skills can be nurtured during the early childhood years. Interestingly, Montessori is one of the only curriculum models that researchers have proven can improve these skills in children.

Research has shown that early development of executive functions is a better predictor of later academic performance than is early acquisition of academic skills. These capabilities are essential for ensuring rewarding life outcomes. – Dr. Steven Hughes, PhD, ABPdN 

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University defines executive function as the mental processes that support students in their ability to plan, focus their attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully (2016). Crucial for learning and development, these important skills also enable positive behavior and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our loved ones.

Executive function skills are revered by colleges and CEOs as imperative for success, and targeted by leading edge companies when looking for leadership and innovative qualities. The bad news is that children are not born with executive function skills.

The good news is that children are born with the potential to develop executive function skills and will develop them if provided the proper support. If, however, children do not get what they need from their relationships with adults and their environments at an early age, then their executive skill development can be seriously delayed or impaired.

The great news is that Montessori education is superior in fostering executive function!

One of the only curriculum models that has been empirically shown to improve executive function in children is the Montessori curriculum (Lillard & Else-Quest, 2006). In fact, the very essence of a successful Montessori classroom is characterized by the term “normalization,” which showcases the development of executive function in young children.

 


References

Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. (2016).

Lillard, A., & Else-Quest, N. (2006) The early years: Evaluating Montessori education. Science, 313, 1893-1894.


 

 

Independence and the Montessori Child

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” -Maria Montessori

Benefits of Cultivating Independence

You may already know that Montessori educators value and encourage independence in even their youngest students. We believe that nurturing this valuable character trait is both empowering and necessary.  In short, giving a child the gift of independence lets them know we value them and know they’re capable.  Children can grow up feeling empowered and safe in their abilities to make sound choices.  When we trust them, they learn to trust themselves, ultimately becoming happy and productive members of their communities.

Of course, this looks different at different ages.  Children birth to age six want to do things by themselves, while elementary aged children want to think for themselves.  Adolescents seek both physical and social independence while they tread the waters between childhood and adulthood.  It’s important to remind ourselves of these developmental stages, both as teachers and parents.

What Independence Means at School

In the earliest years at school, children focus on what we refer to as practical life skills. This may include learning to prepare simple snacks, putting on their own shoes or coats, or caring for classroom plants and animals.

Children are given endless opportunities to practice these skills both on their own and helping their friends.

Another facet of independence at a Montessori school involves choice within limits.  Children are able to decide what work they are interested in.

Teachers carefully prepare the classroom environment so that all choices are safe and desirable, but within those boundaries the child is free to explore.

As children get older (the elementary years and beyond), they must meet certain academic expectations.  Teachers use a variety of tools to help students work independently while still meeting their goals, including work plans and time management strategies.

Research becomes of great interest at this time, and children are given ample opportunity to deeply explore topics they choose.


How Parents Can Support This Work at Home

How can families continue the cultivation of independence in the home?  It all starts with a shift in the way we view our children’s capabilities.  They are often able to do much more than we realize, and with a little bit of modeling they tend to eagerly accept a challenge.  After all, our children want to do what we do, and if we give them the proper tools and support, they can begin practicing.

The chart below highlights some of the possibilities.  Think of this as an inspiring guide that highlights what children of various ages are typically capable of.  Giving our children tasks such as these builds their confidence while helping them learn how to be contributing members of a community – in this case, their family.


Looking Forward

One of the easiest ways to encourage independence in our children is to be more aware in the moment.  Though it can be a challenge to slow down and let them move at their pace (like when they insist on zipping up their own coat while we’re rushing out the door to get to work), it’s going to benefit them in the long run.  Building a little extra time into our schedules can help!  Some little changes we can make to embed this value into our days:

  • Send your child to put their shoes on 10 minutes before you’d like to leave.
  • Leave child-friendly cleaning supplies within reach.
  • Put pre-portioned or easy-to-prepare snacks on low shelves.
  • Turn spills and messes into opportunities.
  • Let your child pick out their own clothes. For younger children especially, some weather appropriate guidance is just fine. Enjoy the creative fashion statements that ensue.

See It in Action

The very best way to learn about Sunstone Montessori is to see it in action. We encourage you to visit our beautiful and spacious campus, take a tour, observe briefly in classrooms, learn about Montessori education, our programs, who we are, and what we do. Time is set aside at the end for questions and answers.

We look forward to sharing Sunstone with you!

Schedule a Tour


 

 

 

Foster Creative Thinking at Home With This Easy Art Project

Creative thinking contributes to the invention of new ideas, perspectives, concepts,
principles, and products in our society. If creativity is to be exemplified later in life by adults, it
must be fostered in children first. There are many different forms of creativity, such as creative
thinking, creative writing, and creative arts (Richard, 1993).
Nurturing creativity at home can be easy.
Here is a simple art project you can try anytime with your child.
All you will need is:
  • drawing paper
  • a few magazines with images of real people, animals, or plants (ie., National Geographic, Scientific American, Seed Catalogs)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • an assortment of pencils (color if you wish)

Choose an image from the magazines that appeals to you. Cut it out of the magazine and then cut the image it in half from top to bottom. Glue one half of the image on a piece of drawing paper then use the pencils to draw the other half. You will be amazed at the results! Here are a few that our students did:


Resources

Richard, P.W.(1993). The logic of creative and critical thinking. American Behavioral Scientist, 37(1), 21-39.

Gift Ideas That Align With Your Child’s Natural Development

The holiday season is in full swing and if you haven’t already started your shopping you’re probably thinking about it!  Let’s take a look at some gift ideas for children that align with their natural stages of development.

Keeping Development in Mind

Montessori’s concept of the developmental planes can be helpful to keep in mind while selecting gifts. Reminding ourselves of the characteristics of each phase of childhood can give surprising insight!  Here’s a brief summary with ideas:

Developmental Plane Some Characteristics Gift Ideas
Ages 0-6
  • Sense of order
  • Language development
  • Movement/ development of motor skills
  • Refinement of the Senses
  • Child-sized cleaning supplies
  • Books
  • Scooters or bicycles (tricycles or training wheels)
  • Playdough or cooking tools
Ages 6-12
  • Use of Imagination
  • Creative Thinking
  • Social – Prefers Groups
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Science-based activities or games
  • Art supplies
  • Board games
  • Books about topics of interest
Ages 13-18
  • Creative Expression
  • Physical Development
  • Looking for Place in Society
  • Personal Reflection
  • Music (albums, player, headphones, lessons)
  • Sports or outdoor gear
  • Tickets to an event
  • Journals or items related to their current interests

It’s Okay to Reinvent Expectations

Many of us have fond memories of large piles of presents and we want our children to have great holiday memories, too.  The thing is, it’s okay if their holidays don’t include so much stuff.  Young children, especially, don’t have expectations like we do.  A few carefully chosen, nice quality gifts will make them just as happy as you were as a kid.  You know that nagging feeling you sometimes have that their toys are taking over the house?  It’s okay to give them less.

Another idea to consider is to give the gift of experiences.  This works really well for adults and older children, but can be used with younger children as well.  Tickets to an event, movie passes, or a gift certificate (trampoline park, art open studio time, mini golf) will always be appreciated.  As a bonus, the recipient can often enjoy these experiences with someone they love.

Build in (or Continue!) Traditions

You likely already have traditions, either from your own childhood or that your family has developed over the years.  Creating rituals creates memories, and a deep sense of love and celebration that won’t soon be forgotten.  Looking for some ideas? We’ve got some!

  • Have a collection of holiday books. Keep them packed away in a closet most of the year, but this time of year they can be placed in a nice basket in your living room, with a new one added each year.
  • Find a way for your family to give back to the community. Older children can volunteer at a soup kitchen, but even younger children can help bake cookies to take to local firefighters.  If you live in an area where there is a homeless population, you might work as a family to create care packages: small bags filled with food and other items that might be useful.  They can be kept in your car to give to people as you meet them, or they can be dropped off at a local shelter or similar organization.
  • Bake cookies. Or cook or bake something else that’s special to your family.  Time spent together in the kitchen is so special, plus you’ll be sharing important skills with your kids.
  • Make decorations. With a little guidance, even a six-year-old can string together popcorn and cranberries.
  • Enjoy storytelling. Every culture, religion, and family have tales to tell.  Gather around a fireplace, candlelight, or just cozy up on the couch and tell stories.  Folktales, myths, and family history are all great!

Resources for Montessori Families

Are you looking for specific places to buy gifts?  Try supporting small local businesses – they often have items that are hard to find anywhere else.  As a bonus you will be supporting your local economy and helping your neighbors!

For Montessori-specific gifts, we recommend the following company. They provide high-quality products with Montessori families specifically in mind:

If you’re looking for nature and outdoor learning gifts, look no further!  This website caters to teachers, but many of the learning materials would be just as appreciated at home.

With a focus on real wood and natural fibers, this Vermont-based toy company is a Montessori parent’s dream.

Happy shopping!