150 Years: The Planes of Development

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. This marks our final post of the year that reflects on the past, present, and future of Montessori education.

I have found that in his development, the child passes through certain phases, each of which has its own particular needs. The characteristics of each are so different that the passages from one phase to another have been described by certain psychologists as ‘rebirths’.” -Dr. Maria Montessori

Throughout her years of observing children across a wide variety of settings, Dr. Maria Montessori noticed certain undeniable patterns in their development. She fully recognized that there are many variances among individuals but stated that there were certain traits that could generally be relied upon as children grow and age. She believed that these traits and characteristics could be used not only as a marker to determine a child’s developmental phase, but also as a guide for the adults who serve the child.

As Montessori educators, we still use her scientific findings in our work today. Dr. Montessori recognized that childhood development is divided into four main phases, or planes. Each plane builds upon what was learned in those previously, and each plane has both an active and passive phase. By fully understanding the developmental needs of a child — wherever they happen to be on this continuum — we are better able to create an environment that will be optimal to support their further development.

There is so much to say about Montessori’s planes of development; we will keep it brief and highlight the main points. Just as we utilize this information in our learning environments, we encourage parents to consider how your child’s developmental traits might inform your own decisions at home. Is there anything you’re already doing that supports their growth? Is there anything new you might try?

The First Plane of Development

Newborn-Age 6

During the first plane of development, children learn primarily through experiences they have with their environment. The personal growth during this period is unlike anything we see for the rest of our lives. This is a time of tremendous physical growth, but also the development of the personality. Some of the most important traits to be aware of:

  • The need to feel safe and secure

  • A desire for physical autonomy

  • Exploration and refinement of the senses