What is meant by ‘Planes of Development?’ by Jan Gaffney

‘Planes of Development’ is a term often used in Montessori. It governs how we group ākonga (children) into classrooms and how we cater for them at each stage.

One of the guiding principles of Montessori education came as a result
of careful and prolonged observation of children. Over time Dr. Montessori built a picture of childhood that led to grouping children as we do today.

She found that there were four periods of time referred to as planes of development; 0-6, 6-12, 12-18 and 18-24 years of age.  Each plane was characterised by certain traits that, if catered to effectively, made that time calm and positive for all concerned.  Each plane could further be cut in two to even more effectively cater for the children at each stage, and it is from there that we get our 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15 and 15-18  classes, and playgroup.

We often refer to the first period as the time of the absorbent mind, as it is during this time that children soak up everything in their environment.  It is during this time we get the sensitive period (a time when the young one is drawn to practicing a particular concept – such as language). This time is usually a time when children work by themselves to master activities that cater for an internal need.  Teachers in the 3-6 classrooms are trained to observe the child and watch for each sensitive period so as to present activities to help the child develop in that area. The first plane is often a turbulent time (particularly the first three years) as intense physical and emotional development goes on.

The second plane (6-12) is a time when children are ready to explore the world and their place in it.  It is the time of imagination and social interaction.  Often the children will go out to play a game, spend twenty minutes working out the rules and then have only 5 minutes left to play the game, but see nothing wrong with this; the emphasis is on the working out rather than the game! They are ready for big work that takes them to different times and places and they are in a stage of moral development and often have a great sense of justice.  ‘It’s not fair’ is often their catch cry! They are learning how being a social being works. Physically, it is a calmer time as they enter a time of emotional stability. It is often a time of great intellectual development.

The third plane (12-18yrs) is again a turbulent time as ākonga go through a time of enormous upheaval – emotionally and physically.  There is so much to cope with on that level that often a 12-15 year old particularly will have little interest in academic study.  When catered for effectively, in an environment that respects and understands their changing needs these teenagers can make great advances, solve the problems of the world and still remain polite to their parents! Alright, so I might be exaggerating slightly on that last one, but whereas expectations of teenagers are generally negative, I have in actual fact found there is as much to wonder about and exclaim over young people at this stage as there is over any other stage of development.

Things calm down by the time the child moves into the senior class here. The hormones don’t fluctuate quite so wildly and they become ready to apply themselves seriously to work that will help their future – usually a much calmer time than the three years prior.

Montessori education is ideally suited to the changing needs of children in all their stages of development. In my own (completely unbiased of course) opinion, we have chosen well!