150 Years: The Observations That Drive the Work

This article is part of a series that we will share throughout the 2020-2021 school year to celebrate the 150th birthday of Dr. Maria Montessori. Check back often for more posts that reflect on the past, present, and future of Montessori education.


The entire foundation of Montessori education is built on a legacy of scientific observation. As you likely already know, Dr. Montessori began her career as a physician with absolutely no intention of working in the field of education. Her earliest work in a psychiatric clinic led her down the beginnings of a path that would guide her work for the rest of her life.


She watched, she noticed, and she reserved judgement. From that first clinic, to the various other placements in Rome, to the first Casa dei Bambini, and all the other schools she helped inspire and create throughout her lifetime, she observed. As a scientist, she knew the value of approaching her work without bias, and with intent to collect meaningful data.


Over the years, Montessori began to notice patterns. Just like any one of us, she acknowledged that it is impossible to expect all children to fit into the same parameters, but she realized that there are very distinct characteristics that children of different ages tend to display. Regardless of location, culture, or language, she noticed commonalities emerging, and she used this information to lay forth the planes of development.


The general idea is that learning and development is not linear, but rather flows in cycles.


These planes of development are what guided the original groundwork for the various environments in Montessori schools. From the way we organize our classrooms to the way we present lessons, it’s important that everything we do is meeting the child exactly where they are. As Montessori guides, we use the planes as a guide while we plan, as well as how we approach children with their everyday work. We know that when families first learn about this information, it tends to resonate deeply as they recognize their own child and form a clearer vision for their child’s future.


The First Plane

Birth-6 years

“Help me do it myself.”

Montessori noted that there were distinct differences between the first and second half of the first plane. She called the child aged 0-3 the spiritual embryo, a concept that is not very dissimilar to what some people today refer to as the fourth trimester. Humans, unlike other organisms, need a significant amount of time after they are bor