Understanding the 3rd Plane: Adolescence

By Michael Draper —Physics Teacher

The starting point for all Montessori education activity is understanding the developmental drives and needs of the child, at that time (because they change as the child grows).

Maria Montessori identified adolescence (approximately 12 to 18 years), with its own distinct set of developmental drives and needs, as the 3rd plane of human development.  Having developed basic cultural and physical competence (1st plane), and knowledge and frameworks for understanding their physical and human worlds (2nd plane), the adolescent begins the process of moving from dependence on the family to becoming an independent contributing adult member of society. (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p.18).

To operate outside the safety (or in the adolescent perspective, confines) of their family, the adolescent must learn:

  • to express themselves, both personally and as a member of society
  • the elements of supporting themselves materially
  • to participate in and share the benefits of collective work
  • to discharge adult responsibilities and manage adult consequences
  • to support themselves and others emotionally
  • the moral and ethical approaches needed to function successfully in society

The 3rd plane echoes the 1st in that much of the essential learning and development occurs experientially. Where the baby starts as a physical new-born, the adolescent starts as a social new-born, and must experiment with and master patterns of behaviour, attitudes, and communication they will use as a member of wider society.  As with any experimentation, there will be errors and failures along the way, but even these help the adolescent develop adult responses to the complexities of life. (MM, The Adolescent – a “Social Newborn” p73-78)

The physical and neurological changes that occur during adolescence present additional challenges. They experience clumsiness adapting to their changing body. Rapid reproductive and biochemical changes alter and intensify their feelings. Neurological changes impact their brain function. These unpredictable lapses in physical, emotional, and intellectual capability occur as they strive to develop their personal confidence. They need acceptance and patient support as they go through these changes.

The adolescent also needs to study and practise the manual and intellectual skills they will need to earn a living, function in modern society and adapt to our changing world. “But they must not be forced to study every minute, for this is a form of torture that causes mental illness. The human personality must be given a chance to realize every one of its capabilities” (MM, Education and Peace, p.110).

Adolescence is the sensitive period for the development outlined above. “When he enters the workaday world, man must be aware first and foremost of his social responsibility… It is therefore necessary to prepare men to be aware of it and to fulfil it.” (MM, Education and Peace, p.110). This is the heart of Montessori adolescent education.

What IS Montessori?

By Amy Johnson — Kōwhai Head Teacher – Preschool

“Oh, your children go to a Montessori school! What is Montessori?” Do you ever get this question from friends? Relatives? Parents involved in your kids sports or extra curricular activities? As a Montessori professional, one always has the debate when you meet someone and they ask what you do. You can give the short answer “I’m a teacher” or you know that you are committed to a conversation if you say “I am a Montessori teacher.” So, what IS Montessori? Do you talk about the specialised materials in our classrooms? Do you dive into the history of the 120 year old method of education based on observation and a prepared environment? Do you start to compare and contrast what our school does with the more traditional understanding of education? There are so many different ways to respond!

As I sit down to write my contribution for a newsletter that gets distributed throughout our community of families with students of all ages, I wondered… what do you say when someone asks “What is Montessori?” Did you choose Wā Ora because it is a Montessori school? Or for some other reason? Maybe your child has just started with us and you are as new to the idea of a Montessori school as the person asking you. Or possibly your child is about to graduate and you have been answering this question since they were in preschool. Perhaps you came to our school because of a recommendation or because of its’ location. We are all at different places in this journey of understanding.

I do however, want to encourage you to continue to grow and evolve your knowledge of Montessori and our community. Luckily, there are many different ways you could do this! There are parent education evenings throughout the year that highlight unique aspects of our philosophy at each stage and sector of the school. Keep an eye out for these as the weeks pass and I promise you will leave knowing more about your child’s educational experience than you did coming in. Did you know our school has a parent library with some wonderful books and other resources that you can borrow to read and better understand our school’s approach to learning and human development? I know that some of my colleges have hosted ‘book clubs’ that take on a Montessori text that is then discussed regularly, as a group. If some of you are keen, this could be a wonderful way to expand your knowledge of Montessori. If it wasn’t educational philosophy that drew you to our school, then there are plenty of ways to get involved and enrich our community through volunteering with the PTA activities and projects, or you could take time to be a chaperone on a class trip or ‘going out’ project. Everything from informal conversations at children’s birthday parties to workshops and MANZ courses designed for parents and professionals, can all enhance your understanding and appreciation of the type of education your child is experiencing at Wā Ora.

You are an extremely important partner in your child’s educational journey and we love to help share our special approach to their learning and development.