Friday, July 22, 2011

Planes of Development

Recently, I received a request to share my 'Montessori Journey' via Montessori Candy which reminded me of a paper I wrote during training last summer .  While the subject matter describes Montessori's concepts of the Planes of Development, I also included a section at the end about my personal experiences.  Hopefully, by sharing the following ideas of progression, others will not only come to better understand the Planes of Development, but also a bit about my own 'Montessori Journey'.

Careful study and observation led Maria Montessori to identify the Planes of Development which encompass four distinct periods.  This is depicted in her work titled, “The Constructive Rhythm of Life,” and further supported in her later theory, “The Bulb.”  Montessori’s ideas propose that human beings progress through a series of planes, each exhibiting a particular pattern of growth. Within each stage, the child develops through a series of progressions followed by a series of regressions.  Each stage is also marked by a pinnacle, indicating the period of time when characteristics of each period are clearly exhibited by the child.  Montessori likened the progression through the stages to a “series of rebirths (Absorbent Mind 3, pg.17).” Illustrating this concept is a line of four triangles each symbolizing the specific ages of the phase.   Moreover, the triangles are represented as a movement towards the finality of life. 
Montessori elaborates in The Absorbent Mind (3, pg.17), “These phases are quite distinct from one another, and it is interesting to find that they correspond with the phases of physical growth.”  Montessori referred to her approach to education as an ‘aid to life.’ Consequently, at the center is always the development of the human personality rather than the acquisition of information.  The Montessori method is therefore an educational system steeped with roots in theory and philosophy rather than direct pedagogy.
The first plane of development is from birth to six years old.  It is further divided into two sub planes from birth to three, the unconscious absorbent mind, and three to six years of age, the conscious absorbent mind. This phase is characterized by rapid physical and mental growth.  E.M. Standing notes in Maria Montessori Her Life and Work (6, pg.108), “There are [in this phase] definite changes forming subdivisions; but the whole period is characterized by the same type of mind.  It is a mind which is quite different from that of the adult, which Montessori portrays as ‘The Absorbent Mind.’”  Montessori’s use of this term reflects the special way in which children learn.  The word ‘absorbent’ describes the unconscious and effortless nature of children’s acquisition of knowledge.  She believed that children acquire knowledge differently than adults and therefore require a specially prepared environment that correlates directly to their needs.  While adults learn by filling their brains with knowledge, children naturally absorb information from their environment.  Therefore, it is necessary for the child’s learning experiences to be filled with enjoyable, positive associations. 
In order to understand the concept and importance of the absorbent mind in totality, one has to look more closely at its origins.  Montessori believed that an infant is born with an essential drive forward that urges him to act upon his natural desire to live.  She refers to the term, horme, a life force energy which acts as an impulse initiating essential urges that propel human development.  The word origin stems from the Greek spirit personifying energetic activity and setting oneself in forward motion.  Extended from horme are the nebulae.   These energies are the potentialities, including language, movement, and other sensitivities, which require essential stimulation from the environment.  Due to the child’s absorbent mind, he takes into him everything that surrounds him, thus becoming ‘incarnate.’ 
To place these developmental forces into context, Montessori invokes the concept of ‘Mneme’ which is an unconscious formation of brain structure based on experiences.  These occur during the stage of the unconscious absorbent mind and therefore cannot be remembered.  It is a particular type of memory which is incarnated and taken in by the child through his environment.  Consequently, the child is transformed through the effortless absorption of, “what the eyes have seen and the ears have heard,” and the formation of personality has begun.
Furthermore, these recordings made by the mind are stored in the brain via engrams.  They are the building blocks of knowledge and are able to be remembered. They are the conscious impressions on the mind.   Engrams can be classified as mental images which are complete recordings of every detail and perception of a moment captured by the unconscious absorbent mind.
Montessori expounds in the Education for New World (3, pg.14) that the absorbent mind is "…a mental chemistry that takes place in the child, producing a chemical transformation. These impressions not only penetrate the mind of the child, they form it; they become incarnated, for the child makes his own 'mental flesh' in using the things that are in his environment. We have called this type of mind the 'absorbent mind' and it is difficult for us to conceive the magnitude of its powers."  Therefore, Montessori believed the first plane of development was the most important, for it is during this stage that children form the foundation on which their lifetime of education will stand.  During the First Plane of Development, a child has a unique, natural ability to learn unconsciously.  The natural motivation to learn creates a certain enthusiasm within the child that if promoted, will remain a part of the individual throughout life. 

The Second Plane of Development, Childhood, between the ages of six and twelve, is marked by a period of relative calm and peace within the child.  While the first stage of development is marked by the child moving from unconsciousness to consciousness with the input of his surrounding environment, the Second Plane of Development is characterized by the child’s yearning for an acquisition of knowledge about the universe. He has within him an insatiable desire to know which works in tandem with his steady physical growth.  It is a period of “great strength and robustness of body and mind; a fact indicated by a distinct falling off in the incidence of sickness and mortality.  It is a period of comparative calmness and serenity.  During these years children are capable of accomplishing a great deal of mental work.  It is their ‘years of plenty’; and if given the right opportunity and right means, they will lay up a great store of cultural information” (Standing, 6, pg.113). 
The Third Plane of Development is Adolescence, from twelve to eighteen years of age.  “The first period of adolescence (12-15years) resembles the first epoch [of infancy] 0-3years, in that it is one of great transformation, both physical and mental.  The advent of puberty marks the end of childhood, nature itself making it evident that a new stage of development has begun by the profound physical changes which take place (Standing, 6, pg. 116).   It is a difficult time due to the rapid physical changes the individual experiences. Montessori also found that this tumultuous period is characterized by “doubts, hesitations, violent emotions, discouragement, and an unexpected decrease in intellectually capacity” (Standing, 6, pg. 116).  Furthermore, this is a time when the adolescent transforms into a ‘socially conscious individual and when “there should develop the most noble characteristics that would prepare a man to be social, that is to say, a sense of justice and a sense of person dignity” (Grazzini article, pg. 218).  For these reasons, Montessori was a proponent of the Erdkinder method of education for secondary schooling.  Erdkinder refers to a concept of “Land Children,” whereby the child is given opportunities to develop his societal consciousness.  Rather than focusing on the retention of facts and information, the child learns to work for the good of a collective whole.
The Fourth Plane of Development is the plane of maturity from eighteen to twenty-four years of age.  This is the period of life when the individual is spiritually strong and independent and is able to develop a personal mission in life (Grazzini, pg. 119).  During this phase, the series of re-births with progression through the Planes of Development has completed and the adult is ready to begin the rhythm of this development with children of his own.
Montessori stressed the idea of the human being as a unity and the progression from one Plane of Development to the next as a ‘series of rebirths.’  Grazzini’s article explains (pg. 219), “the planes of development are…interdependent, for the human being is always a unity.  An earlier plane always prepares for the one that follows, forms its basis, nurtures the energies which urge the individual towards the succeeding period of life”.   If the child is allowed to unfold according to his natural development and is provided with the right environment,  he can reveal to us his many gifts to humanity.  As Early Childhood Montessori educators, we must adhere to the guiding principle that Maria Montessori formulated in the Planes of Development, “The most important period of life is…the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.  For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed” (The Absorbent Mind, 3, pg.21).
If one reflects on the nature of the Planes of Development specifically to the development of the human, we cannot dismiss the fact that in any path one chooses in life, one must progress through similar patterns, even in adulthood.  Ten years ago marked the beginning of my ‘Montessori journey’ through the same patterns of development.  I hardly realized the impact of my introduction to the Montessori philosophy.  The plane of infancy within the journey had begun and I slowly came from an unconscious realization to consciousness when it became evident that the Montessori way had become ‘incarnate', and spoke to the core of my being.  Following this realization, I searched for answers to my questions in a quest for knowledge – it was the Second Plane of Development within my own path.  As I have answered these questions and my knowledge has grown, it is now that I wish to become a part of the greater Montessori movement.  That is, I wish to become a part of the collective Montessori whole, thus exhibiting the Third Plane of Development in my personal path.  While I do not know what lies ahead in the final plane, I am confident that knowledge of the Planes of Development will strengthen not only the experiences working with the children in my classroom, but also on the path of the journey within myself.


  1. Wow Sasha! Thank you for sharing this! It is wonderful that you've made self discoveries through Montessori. Avery unique take on a Montessori journey! Thank you!

  2. Thank you, Susana. I was happy to share this take on a Montessori Journey! Sasha

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. You've written this very well!

  4. Thanks for the comment and for reading!

  5. can u tell about the spiritual embryo

  6. Well written! I searched Four Planes for inspiration as I prepare for my presentation at AMS later this month, "Toddlerhood: The First Adolescence". Thank you!

  7. Thank you, Susan. I hope you presentation goes well! I'm planning on to be at the conference as well!

  8. Thank you Sasha, this is so explanatory. It will help in my next presentation at a PTA conference.

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