Developmentally Based

Montessori Planes of Development

Dr. Montessori outlined four consecutive planes, or stages, of development from birth to maturity, each plane spanning approximately six-years. At each plane of development, children and young people display intellectual powers, social orientations and creative potential unique to that stage. Each plane is characterized by the way children  in  that  plane  learn,  building  on  the  achievements  of  the  plane  before  and  preparing  for  the  one  to follow.  The timing and nature of the transition between planes vary from individual to individual.

1st Plane of Development

Period from birth to (approximately) age six. During this stage children are sensory explorers, learning to become functionally independent in their immediate environment and community. Children at this stage construct their own intellect by absorbing every aspect of their environment, language, and culture.

2nd Plane of Development

Period from (approximately) six to twelve years. The developmental focus of this period is intellectual independence, hand-in-hand with the development of ethics and social responsibility. During this stage children become conceptual explorers. They use reasoning, abstract thought, and imagination to explore and develop their understanding of the world.

3rd Plane of Development

From age twelve to eighteen young people become humanistic explorers seeking to understand their place in society and to contribute to society. They have a huge capacity for creative expression. Their style of learning becomes more practical and experiential which they use to explore previously introduced concepts in more depth and in real-life contexts.

4th Plane of Development

From eighteen to twenty-four young adults develop specialist knowledge and skills, preparing them to take their place in the world and to establish social and economic independence.

For each plane of development there is a specific Montessori learning environment.

Montessori environments for each plane maintain distinctive Montessori characteristics, including freedom of choice and movement, and an emphasis on independent exploration and self-directed learning.  At the same time, the design of each environment is customised to the specific needs, interests, and potential of each developmental stage.  Within each plane of development, there are periods during which children and young people display intense interest  in  a  particular  activity  or  aspect  of  the  environment.  These periods were called sensitive periods for learning, especially in the context of early childhood. The sensitive period for language, for example, is active during the first plane of development from birth to six years. This sensitive period provides a window of opportunity that enables children to learn language with ease and enjoyment. If, for any reason, a child  does  not  learn  to  speak  during  this  time,  the  sensitive  period  disappears  and  the  learning  of  language requires  much  greater  effort.  The  particular  learning  sensitivities  and  needs  of  children  at  each  stage  of  development  are  reflected  in  the  design  of  the  Montessori  environment  and  in  the  resources  and  activities prepared for that stage of development. 

Photo Credit: Forest Bluff School

If instead, education is to be a ‘help to life,’ or ‘help given in order that the human personality may achieve its independence,’ then it must be based upon the physical and psychological needs of the human being during all stages or planes of development.

Camillo Grazzini
"The Four Planes of Development” NAMTA Journal, Vol. 21
Spring 1996, p.238

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