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 born to become fully developed. During these first three years, children’s bodies and minds grow in ways that allow them freedom of movement, as well as critical language skills.

How can we support infants and toddlers?

  • Create an environment that encourages rolling, crawling, standing, and walking.

  • When a child is old enough to walk, we allow them to do so (even if this means we slow down to meet their pace).

  • When your infant babbles, mimic their sounds in a conversation format. This will help them learn how humans communicate.

  • As our children develop more sophisticated language skills, engage in regular conversation.

  • Read and sing songs together frequently.

  • Support their practical life work. This means finding ways for them to independently meet their self-care needs, such as eating, drinking, toileting, and dressing. Of course, they will need full support as infants, but you can gradually nurture their growing independence as time goes on.

Montessori referred to the child aged 3-6 as the conscious worker. Children of this stage want to become masters of their environment, and their play(work) becomes a critical part of their development. The skills they developed during the first three years of life are refined and applied to their continuing development. Children of this age begin to develop their personalities. The way we support them is really continued work:

  • Allow young children to be as independent as possible.

  • Find ways for them to engage meaningfully and authentically in ‘adult’ tasks, like household chores.

  • Create an environment that allows for independent dressing, snacking, etc.

  • Continue to read and sing together as they refine their language development.

To learn more about the first plane specifically, visit Aid to Life.

The Second Plane

6-12 years

“Help me to thi