It was great to see such interest in the two ‘People of the Land’ evenings. I was able to attend both as a teacher presenting geography in the Preschool, and as a parent to see what and how my children learn in this area throughout as they move up through the school. The differences in style and content of different presentations made me reflect on the planes of development.
During her observations of people, Dr Montessori observed that human beings pass through four stages, which she called the four planes of development. Dr Montessori observed that the mental and psychological growth of a person naturally coincides with their physical growth cycle.
One analogy Dr Montessori uses to explore the four planes of development is that of a life cycle of a butterfly. Eggs are laid which then hatch into tiny caterpillars, who then eat copious amounts of food and grow bigger and bigger. At a pre-determined time set by the laws of nature, it makes a cocoon and, with a fair amount of effort, a butterfly emerges. Each stage in this cycle builds on the stage preceding it and if, for any reason, one of these stages is interrupted, the normal development is not fulfilled and there is no butterfly. We can see throughout this process that great changes have taken place; the caterpillar, cocoon and butterfly, although the same being, look and act vastly different to one another.
And so it is with a human being during the process of development; a baby looks vastly different and has different abilities to a six year old child, as does a six year old when compared to a 12 year old and so on. Although we know that the 24 year old adult is the same being as the baby, they look and act immensely different. As with the butterfly, if this natural process of human development is interrupted or unsupported then you do not get the desired or expected outcome: a 24 year old who has fulfilled their potential development and is well-balanced and adapted to their environment.
Each of the four planes is very distinct and the characteristics and needs of each plane are very unique. As each plane of development is unique and has specific changes and needs, Dr Montessori argued that education has to exist to support these developments and therefore address each plane in a way that those in that plane could fulfil their needs and reach their potential development, instead of the traditional, linear education system.
The adults in the child’s environment must do all they can to provide an environment that meets the needs and supports each plane. The adult should view the transition from one plane to the next as a positive time, and help the individual to do so also, as it will lead to a much smoother and easier transition. Most importantly we must be aware of these planes of development so that we support them and not, out of ignorance, impede development. To know what the planes and their needs are, we need to study development and observe the children in our environment. “If we are to help life, we have first of all to study it” as Dr Montessori says in The Secret of Childhood (1972).
These planes of development give one a new perspective, not only of human development, but of the role of education and educators in a person’s life. Education should be viewed holistically as an aide to life, rather than the traditional, subject based education. The person as a whole, both psychologically and physically, is fully developed and the natural, inner energy of that individual is strengthened. The implication for education and teachers therefore, is that they need to be responsive, to change to meet the unique needs of each plane of development.
It was interesting to hear from teachers in all areas of the school on how and why they present lessons and prepare their environments to meet these unique needs of the age group they work with.