Children experience distinct stages of development between birth and adulthood. These stages are common to all human beings everywhere, regardless of where or when they are born.
Dr. Maria Montessori identified four Planes of Development from birth to age 24. Her concepts were based on the work of other educators of her time. She confirmed her theories through her own scientific observations and years of work with young children. Current research into brain development and child development now parallels her own discoveries.
The First Plane of Development covers the period from birth to 6 years of age. This is a period of expansive growth and development like no other period in a human being’s life! The child is born without knowledge, memory, or will, and with barely any physical abilities. Yet, within just three years, this helpless infant develops a personality, language, and physical abilities. Different parts of the child, such as arm movements, leg movements, and sensory powers, develop more or less independently of one another. Adults have no control over this process—we cannot speed it up, direct it, or change its course. As the child’s mind grows, he gains consciousness and will. Around the age of 3, the child transitions from unconsciously absorbing awareness of the world to consciously choosing his activities. This is followed by three years of determined exploration and experimentation, in which the child primarily uses her hands to focus her mental development, bringing together the integration of all her faculties and physical movements.
The Second Plane of Development, from age 6 to 12, is a period in stark contrast to the First Plane. During this Second Plane, the child is calm, healthy, and happy. Physical growth continues–the child gets bigger and feels stronger–but the child does not change his basic physical make-up. (A 12-year-old child is a larger version of his 6-year-old self. Compare this to the dramatic changes a child makes from infant to age 6, or later from age 12 to 18.) During the Second Plane, the child is hungry for knowledge, and will apply herself to learn all that is available. The child becomes very interested in the world around him and in how and why things happen. The child now has heightened reasoning powers and can make logical connections and think abstractly. His imagination is big, and he loves stories about the origins of life, the constellations, and mythology. Socially, it is the era of the “herd mentality,” and social groups are extremely important to the child. The child is also developing her moral compass and will be very sensitive to what she considers “right” and “wrong.”
The Third Plane of Development: Adolescence, from age 12 to 18. This is another period of great turmoil, when the child is beginning the transition into the adult she will become. Children go through many changes during the Third Plane. Physically, they are dealing with the changes brought on by puberty. Their bodies are changing so much that the 15-year-old looks very different from his/her 12-year-old self. Children in the Third Plane tend to get sick often. They may sleep a lot or sleep on a different schedule than before. They are easily annoyed or upset. They long for respect and responsibility and may experiment with new clothes or habits. They are now very receptive to philosophy, literature, art, and music. They also face self-doubt and discouragement, and may find school more challenging than before.
The Fourth Plane of Development, from age 18 to 24, is another period of relative calm. The individual is already formed, but the brain has yet to finish growing. Now is the time for the individual to focus on spiritual strength, independence, and forming a personal mission in life.