The Four Planes of Development

Montessori’s vision for development includes the whole human life, from conception to death, to account for the formation of man she divides the first 24 years of life into 4 planes, after 24 years an individual continues to develop.  Once each plane ends the phase preceding it becomes hard to re-imagine and the learning, or the lack thereof, that took place is either easily made up for or easily lost, it has become ‘fixed’.  Learning which occurs in the early planes provides the basis for learning at later planes and makes the acquisition of later learning easier; once the developmental goals of one plane reach their peak they begin to recede and new ones spontaneously come forward.


The first planes begins at conception and is strengthened at birth when the ‘flame of psychic life’ ignites burning till death.  The first plane is the period of infancy and if all no obstacles sand in the way of the developmental goals ‘Normalisation’ will be achieved at 6 years, when this plane ends.  Infancy is a physically dangerous time before the immune system is fully established and lack of movement and co-ordination increase the chance of hazards.  By 6 months the fontanels of the skull ossify, myelin covers many more neurones and the cerebellum has grown enough to establish the potential for balance, so the child hitherto supine, becomes able to sit, crawl, walk and climb, the teeth appear and solid foods can be taken, signalling a readiness for an increased level of independence. The physical aspects of this, and all planes, are intertwined with psychical, emotional and spiritual developments, the child develops the physical use of his limbs and speech apparatus at the behest of his tendencies towards imitation (e.g. watching the mouth), work, communication and gregariousness.


The first half of the Infant plane is from 0-3, which is n contrast with the years from 3-6 because it is a tie for the ‘Unconscious absorbent mind’, or ‘spiritual embryo’ to collect sensorial information about his particular family and culture and to learn about himself, this learning will be manifested at 3 years, when the ego forms, in the ‘conscious absorbent mind’, or ‘conscious worker’ phase during which the knowledge passively received will be acted upon, under the newly acquired mental faculties of will, reason, memory, order and intellectual thought, as the personality develops congruently and is expressed through movement, choice and speech.


The infants experience of the word is largely sensorial, listening to music and voices, moving, touching, holding, placing ‘alive’ objects in the mouth and learning concrete nouns to describe what he interacts with. He hungers for these experiences and will cry if the 16 billion cells of his cerebellum are undernourished.  These experiences are used to learn about and respond to the local culture, climate, technology and social norms of the family; by the age of two rapid changes allows the infant to talk, move and care for himself.  The organs and abilities which at first developed independently have converged into a co-ordinated, harmonious body and mind and by the age of 6 he is an independent person who can solve his problems, care for himself and his environment and develop her intellect with ease and joy.


At 5 months he reaches an ‘Objectivational Crisis’ in which physical signs indicate he is ready for greater physical independence than he could handle at birth (when in many repeats he is still in an embryonic phase and attached to his mother) he babbles, teethes, prepares to be weaned and sits.  At 8 months focus moves from mothers body to local environment with a completed immune system, the crawling child needs a safe place to explore independently and objects he can touch.  After walking at 1 year he continues to use maximum effort to carry and walk by 18 months with convergent development of limbs and neural network and explosion into language after second peak period ( the first is at 10 months before the first word).  At 2.5 years the ‘oppositional period’ occurs when the child’s ego is emerging and he realises that there are differences between himself and others and he tests the concept of ‘No’, clear choices help to build a strong personality with an unbroken will.  He is now read for the prepared environment.  At 3 years he is able to confidently dress and undress, toilet trained, use stairs, eat with appropriate utensils, has clear speech to express ideas and can work with peers, self entertain, solve problems and anticipate social behaviour.


The child passes through two interconnected but phases spontaneously and at the appropriate time learning the most and with the greatest ease if the environmental conditions are condusive. The needs for love, warmth, protection, order and security are needed alongside the right kinds of independence and freedoms.  An environment full of diverse, stimulating experiences, contact with others and the freedom to move, imitate, act on the tendencies and acquire social skills, gives rise to self esteem, satisfaction and confidence.  Being involved in family life is key to reaching Normalisation, order and structure must be present in the environment and in relationships between family members, the daily routine needs structure and language should be used clearly.  Choice between 2 or 3 options should be offered to allow the child to follow his tendencies of curiosity and to feel the power of his Horme at work.  These are also important aspects of dignity and respect to be absorbed by the Mneme, allowing for spontaneous activity and an unconscious internalisation that, ‘I can do it by myself’, rather than being dependant on others.


In the Infant plane ‘the child absorbs these impressions not with his mind but with life itself…everything about him is taken in; habits, customs, religion, fix themselves firmly in his mind’  (Absorbent mind p.23 and 26), to help this process it is important that from 3-6, when the child has acquired the energy and concentration it is possible to begin guiding the child in a Prepared Environment. Here an increase vocabulary develops, at 4 he narrates long stories and asks the meaning of words, solves problems by discussion and can discuss his plans with others, by 5 to 6 years he can talk through his ideas and is able to write a composition, the use of all tenses is complete by 6.


At age six the child enters the plane of childhood, a calmer period where the advances in Infancy are consolidated through practice.  The first set of teeth is lost and the fine hair and skin of infancy matures, the rounded body thins, eye colour solidifies, running replaces walking and the cild is attracted to same-sex peers through the ‘herd instinct’.  The child asks, ‘where?’ and ‘When?’ questions as he acquires a great deal of knowledge about the world, and becomes competent a handing abstract knowledge, which is then used as a basis for the imagination.  The child tests the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and begins to develop a moral framework, initial experiments into dangerous and cruel behaviours should give way to an appreciation of his environment, he may feel, ‘it’s not fair’


During infancy the child adapts to his family, now he adapts to his peers, is physically active and needs more contact with the outdoors, adults help in the Montessori classroom by bringing ‘the universe to him’ and prepare activities to provide a sense of wonder, social justice and positive individual traits, self-dignity and physical and mental needs are in equilibrium.  Normalisation is indicated by a love of order, work, spontaneous concentration, attachment to reality, love of silence, joy, obedience, power to act from real choice, a lack of possessiveness, spontaneous self-discipline and independence.


The Adolescent phase 12 to 18 is physically marked by puberty, a change in hormones, physical appearance, sexual attraction, wanting to fit in with peers remains important and often doubts and insecurities arise making this time a vulnerable, frightening, sensitive and volatile period, both physically and mentally.


The child becoming an adult strives towards independence, hero replace his parents, he searches for friends and sexual partners and can make harsh judgements about himself and others, because of questions about moral authority and a yearning for social justice, this pride is marked by the saying, ‘don’t tell me what to do’, Montessori proceed ErdkInder (child of the land) where adolescents could live away from home and support themselves through technological and economic activities alongside there studies.  This gives the child time to be alone, the about to structure time with boundaries, adults who are prepared to listen to their concerns without judgement and the chance to be independent – to connect with the land.  This could anticipate and reduce adolescents fears of the future, economic, social and career concerns.  Adolescents need acceptance, love, to be heard and opportunities to make real decisions based on their dreams, success in this period, a strong and healthy personality is known as Valorisation.


Maturity occurs at 18-24 the physical changes are complete with fully developed frontal lobes, important for judgement, insight and self-control. Psychological changes continue to occur as careers, long-term relationships, setting up homes and contributing to the world future heavily in this stage.  Actions taken in this period will have long-standing repercussions on the rest of the life so knowledge is sought through university, pilgrimage, meditation, drug use, experimental relationships and ways of living, travelling and counselling may be sought.  These can help to provide solutions for materialism, possessiveness, desire for power, aggression or apathy which manifest themselves in the adults consciousness.  Hopefully a question of ‘What can I do?’ emerges in which the adult understands his limitations, potentials and practical, creative and spiritual creativity emerges.


If a human being passes through all stages with tendencies and predisposition, acted upon, needs fulfilled, the absorbent mind taking in all the experiences during the sensitive period, a Valorised adolescent will emerge who can complete his development into a adult citizen of the world.  At all stages and beyond respect, love and dignity is needed for a person to self actualise.


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