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Planes of Development - Part 1

One important underlying principle of Montessori education is the concept of the four planes of development. The four planes are 6 year stages that span birth to adulthood: birth to 6; ages 6 – 12; ages 12 – 18; and ages 18 – 24. Through careful observation and her work with children, Maria Montessori theorized that children develop through natural stages each with unique characteristics and developmental needs.

By understanding the needs of a child at each stage we can shape our interactions with children so we meet the specific needs during that phase of life. This month we will be focusing on the first plane of development

The first plane of development spans the ages 0 – 6. This is a remarkable time of physical and psychological growth. Think of all that happens between the first weeks of life and sending your child off to school at the age of 3! Here are some of the key principles:

· They have an absorbent mind that allows them to take in the world and learn with little effort.

· They experience sensitive periods – a time of intense interest in a particular skill. Learning a skill during a sensitive period is done with ease and joy.

· They undergo dramatic physical changes and need the freedom to move.

· They are a sensorial learner.

· Children are developing a sense of self and are adapting to their culture.

· They are developing biological and physical independence.

· Children develop an ability to formally communicate.

· They have a need for purposeful work.

· They have a strong need for order.

The absorbent mind is a special attribute that allows a child take in and orient themselves to the world, to explore, to order, and to adapt to the life they are born into. With the absorbent mind, children seem to take in everything around them without any real effort and they absorb everything in an unconscious manner. They are exposed to words, ideas and movements, and their intelligence grows. An adult uses reasoning, their imagination, etc. to take in their world, which is distinctly different. As they get older, a child begins to make the choice to interact with the world and consciousness is grown, and the function of the absorbent mind is no longer needed.

Sensitive periods are when an intense interest in a particular quality or skill is seen. During the time of a sensitive period, a child can acquire a skill with ease and joy. There are many sensitive periods, but the four main periods are for language, movement, refinement of the senses, and sense of order.


Without language one cannot belong to their species. It is a human tendency to want to belong and to communicate with those around you. During the sensitive period for language a child acquires the language of their culture with passionate interest and ease.


You can see this quality in the young child finds joy in putting things where they belong. They do not resist order because the sensitive period and absorbent mind are telling them to do it. The practical implication for this sensitive period is to always keep things where they belong, or where you have told them that they will be, otherwise tantrums will occur.

Refinement of the Senses

The most compelling reason for paying attention to this sensitive period is that the child acquires a great deal of language connected with the sensorial experiences. Not only are they experiencing that this is rough and this is smooth, they are attaching language to it. It is not only vocabulary that is being built, but also intelligence. By combining sensorial experiences with language, a child will have more things in their mind to understand and use to interact with the world around them.


The child of the first plane has to go from a state of moving randomly to having the ability to control their selves. This is extremely important. If the child does not acquire these movements at this time when they are so driven to do so, they will be clumsy and unstable later in life. It is a quality that will never be acquired as easily as it was during the period of the absorbent mind. Without the development of the sensitive period of movement, you are not as capable in moving about your world.

It is interesting to see what other kinds of sensitive periods there are:

Next month we will look further into the second plane of development, or the time between ages 6 and 12.

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