A truly attentive parent is always searching for a way to prepare their child for the hard times of adulthood. One of the ways to guarantee a prosperous future from an early age is by investing in education. While many theories apply to child-rearing, the method developed by Italian doctor Maria Montessori is rapidly gaining popularity due to its focus on the needs of the youths and the categorization of human growth into distinct stages with unique demands and risks. Montessori’s four planes of development, namely infancy, childhood, adolescence, and maturity, possess specific physical and psychological characteristics that a trained professional can use to benefit their charges.
Educators use the Montessori framework to connect with children in different developmental stages productively. The creator of this theory was a trained physician that observed human behavior to draw generalized conclusions. Notably, her findings apply to all cultural or racial backgrounds (Grazzini, 2010). Montessori focused on the always-changing state of youth with a particular focus on language, movement, and social integration (MacBlain, 2018). Professionals want to encourage their chargers’ natural inclinations and interests. For instance, children aged 2-6 become curious about melody and rhythm, while students reaching four years of age begin to understand their environment better (MacBlain, 2018). Ultimately, the purpose of the Montessori method is to move away from formal classroom learning and use general developmental guidelines.
The fans of the Montessori method cite many studies that prove its effectiveness in raising useful members of society. Specifically, the approach helps develop creativity and interest in the arts. For instance, African American children enrolled in Montessori programs showed significantly improved reading comprehension as compared to similar magnet educational institutions in North Carolina (Brown and Lewis, 2017). A similar study conducted in Nigeria has demonstrated that the application of the method to appropriately aged students encourage creativity and artistic ability (Saleh & Danjuma, 2017). Thus, the application of the Montessori framework around the world has already proven effective in educating children.
The four primary planes, as presented by Montessori, are only a basic framework outlining the complex processes accompanying the development of human beings. However, they serve well to describe the so-called “constructive rhythm of life.” According to the theory, each stage has unique characteristics that become irrelevant when the child reaches the next stage of life. These internal features manifest in different physical ways that can be used by educators. They can become positive powers that will require further enrichment later in life. During early development, an infant is always following two tendencies: exploring oneself and the environment to develop new powers and perfecting the already existing ones. Each plane has a list of characteristics that Montessori educators use as a framework in their work.
First, Montessori refers to the plane of development from birth until the age of six as “infancy” and divides it further into two sub-stages. A baby aged 0-3 is not an active participant in their own experiences; they are like a spiritual embryo that absorbs stimuli from its environment (Montessori, 1978, p. 60). According to Montessori (1978), an infant accumulates essential cultural knowledge, also referred to as “mneme,” that makes them a representative of their nation (p. 65). While such understanding is not conscious, it is very important, nonetheless. During such sensitive periods, people form their individuality and build a foundation for their selves (Grazzini, 2010). From age three, the child reaches out into the world and becomes a conscious worker. They start to become independent and turn the characteristics developed during the first sub-stage into new, exciting creations. Educators respond to this stage by creating order and stability to allow for the sensitive processes that transpire (Isaacs, 2018). Therefore, infancy is an essential developmental stage, the main characteristic of which is an absorbent mind.
In contrast, the second plane of development, also known as “childhood,” is significantly calmer. Montessori (1978) describes it as a time of consistent growth that benefits from the work done during infancy (p. 24). Young person begins to test their limits, both physically and psychologically. From ages six to twelve, one ponders the questions of morality and authority, often formulating their own rules of conduct with other children (Grazzini, 2010). Moreover, the exploration of a child’s environment is often quite literal, with students mapping their geographical locale and venturing out into the world. The educators must respond by emphasizing open environments and familiarizing their students with the broader culture.
“Adolescence” is the third plane of development that, in a way, it mirrors the early period of creation. According to the theory, a child incorporates new experiences directly into their psychic life (Montessori, 1978, p. 21). Physically, the young person aged 12-18 experiences the perilous time of puberty and develops new, adult urges. Moreover, they become even more independent and start their integration as a productive member of society. The child’s feelings become more complex and often revolve around such sophisticated concepts as justice and dignity. During this stage, caretakers have the challenging task of balancing respect for their charges’ newly gained self-confidence with the necessary guidance. Adolescence is the plane of development characterized by intense growth and personality formation, which makes Montessori compare it to infancy.
The fourth developmental stage, “maturity”, spans the ages of 18 to 24. A person who reaches this stage is no longer under the care of trained educators and is free to pursue their aims. Montessori envisioned such young adults be attending university and working at the same time to be financially secure (Grazzini, 2010). Montessori (1978) posited, “Only practical work and experience lead the young to maturity” (p. 22). Psychologically, people of that age have already formed a sense of individuality. However, they often continue to ponder the meaning of life and its place in it. According to the Montessori method, educators who have followed the framework and approached childcare with dedication and love should produce upright members of society. The latter will be able to self-perpetuate the benefits that they have gained during the earlier stages of growth.
The planes of development developed by Maria Montessori divide the process of human growth into clear stages with unique characteristics. Caretakers can use these features to help children mature into happy adults. When used in schools, such a generalized approach allows students more freedom to explore their environment and self outside the traditional classroom. Research shows that the Montessori method is especially useful in inspiring creativity and an interest in the arts. Infancy is the first stage that lays the foundation for further development. The next stage, childhood, is the period of steady growth. It is succeeded by adolescence, a time of quick change and exploration, which then transitions into maturity. Educators who successfully care for their charges throughout the process see them become happy and productive members of society.
Brown, K., & Lewis, C. W. (2017). A comparison of reading and math achievement for African American third grade students in Montessori and other magnet schools. The Journal of Negro Education, 86(4), 439-448.
Grazzini, C. (2010). The four planes of development. AMI Communications, Special Edition, 123-125.
Isaacs, B. (2018). Understanding the Montessori Approach: Early years education in practice. Routledge
MacBlain. S. (2018). Maria Montessori: The environment and learning. In Learning theories for early years practice (pp. 37-42). Sage.
Montessori, M. (1978). The absorbent mind. Dell Publishing.
Saleh, H., & Danjuma, B. S. (2017). The effect of Montessori method on teaching cultural and creative arts in primary schools in Zaria, Nigeria. Journal of Research in National Development, 15(1), 101-106.