A Montessori Perspective on Childhood Development

Picture a baby lying on a mat on the floor. They coo and giggle as they grab their feet, pulling on them. Then, they extend their hands before them and examine their fingers. The baby is still figuring out that she can control the movements of her hands and feet. In only a few short months, this baby will be crawling and then walking, achieving an impressive level of independence.  

This is part of normal development. Yet, when you stop to consider the effort and learning required for a baby to become mobile, it’s an impressive feat. Maria Montessori observed babies, toddlers, and children to better understand how they learn and grow. Through her work, Montessori also discovered how to foster development and help children achieve their full potential. 

What is Childhood Development?

Childhood development refers to the natural physical and mental changes that happen as a child grows from infancy to adulthood. Development of the brain, bones, muscles, immune system, and more, are all a part of this growth. 

Many factors can impact development. Some influential elements include nutrition, family dynamics, and home and school environments. Also, some children experience development differently due to neurodivergence and other variations.

While studying childhood development, Montessori uncovered some of the reasons behind children’s behavior. This helped her create a new way of teaching children that worked alongside the child’s natural path of development. 

The Four Planes of Development

Montessori believed that childhood development could be divided into four major stages or planes. Each of these planes represents a distinct period of growth. Montessori referred to the four planes of development as a series of “rebirths.” During each of the planes, there also tends to be one major focus or theme that guides children. Today’s research backs up many of the observations that Montessori made in the early 1900s.

The First Plane of Development (0-6 years old)

Characterized by a burst of growth, the first plane of development is all about independence. A baby goes from relying on their parents for everything to running around, communicating, feeding themselves, and using the bathroom independently. 

Development during the first part of this stage is mostly unconscious. Children don’t direct their growth consciously, as an adult might, it simply happens naturally. As Montessori herself wrote in The Absorbent Mind, “The child has an intelligence of this unconscious type, and that is what brings about his marvelous progress.”

Also, during this plane of development, Montessori noticed that children learn through experiences. She emphasized how children use their senses to learn new skills and gain information. For example, toddlers often enjoy playing with water. They’re experiencing water for the first time, and to understand its properties, they play with it. Children might run water through their hands, pour it, splash in it, and more. Observing behavior like this, Montessori referred to children ages 0 to 6 as “little scientists.” 

The Second Plane of Development (6-12 years old)

Montessori notes that there is a clear difference between early childhood and later childhood. Biology also marks this change, as children start losing their baby teeth around age six.

In this stage of childhood, children gain greater mental independence. Specifically, Montessori noted that children at this age can manage abstract thinking. This makes it easier for children to use their imaginations and differentiate between reality and fantasy. 

Also, children’s interest in socializing grows significantly. They may show greater interest in friendships. Plus, children develop a strong sense of justice. The phrase “That’s not fair!” may be commonly heard from children during this plane. 

Also during this plane of development, children graduate with a basic understanding of the world around them. Instead of simply wondering “what” things are, they now want to know “why” things are the way they are.

The Third Plane of Development (12-18 years old)

During this plane of development, children enter adolescence. Older, and more mature, children begin prioritizing relationships with friends over family. In other words, children assert social independence. 

The main focus of this stage is “Who am I?” Children begin to identify their interests and purpose in life. Children also go through many emotional changes and need supportive parents to help them navigate this stage.

The Fourth Plane of Development (18-24 years old)

Although many people consider 18-year-olds to be adults, Montessori recognized that young adults still experience significant growth. This aligns with modern research that shows that brain development and maturation continue into the early 20s. 

Young adults are learning to navigate the world and find their place within it. This makes their main focus, “What will I do?” Montessori notes in The Absorbent Mind that young adults need professional experience to find their place in the world. Additionally, young adults work to achieve complete independence from their parents. 

Early Childhood Development: A Closer Look at Montessori’s First Plane of Development

With this overview of childhood development, we can now take a closer look at the first plane of development. During Montessori’s time, scientists hadn’t studied the early years in detail. However, in her own words, she said, “The most important period of life…is the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.”

Montessori saw that in this period of life, the beginnings of an adult are formed. Additionally, Montessori notes that humans are unique in the vulnerable state of infancy. While other animals are born able to walk and defend themselves, babies rely entirely on their caregivers. 

What else did Montessori notice about this essential first plane of development?

The Absorbent Mind

One of Montessori’s most famous observations about very young children was their ability to absorb information and sensory input. Similar to a sponge, Montessori noticed that children soaked up experiences, language, and information to power their development. 

The phase of the absorbent mind is divided into two sections:

0 to 3 years old: During this time, children absorb unconsciously. It is during this time that babies learn to talk, crawl, and walk. Yet, they don’t consciously try to acquire these skills. Instead, they absorb information and learn skills without calculated effort.

3 to 6 years old: By this point in development, children are more conscious. They can make decisions about what activities to do and think more critically about which skills they want to work on. One skill that children in this age group can pick up easily thanks to the absorbent mind is new languages.

Sensitive Periods

In addition to the absorbent mind, Montessori also noticed that children experience windows of interest and opportunity for mastering certain skills. For example, from birth to age six, children are easily able to master language skills such as talking, new vocabulary, and reading. This is why it’s so easy for young children to learn new languages. Additionally, children experience sensitive periods for math and numbers. 

Parents and educators can take advantage of sensitive periods to help children master skills. During these sensitive periods, children are particularly receptive and capable of mastering these skills. So, it’s important to take advantage of these opportunities so that children can achieve greater learning. 

Online Montessori Teacher Training Can Increase Your Understanding of Childhood Development

Learn more about childhood development with online Montessori teacher training. Through this training, you can delve deeper into the details of how children grow and learn. Montessori’s overview of childhood development serves as a guide for adults as they support children. 

Montessori’s perspective on childhood development offers more than just an understanding of how children change as they grow. Instead, Montessori’s teachings also provide practical strategies and activities that can benefit childhood development. 

Who Can Benefit from Online Montessori Teacher Training?

Understanding childhood development is useful for parents, teachers, and caregivers. Montessori’s explanation of these four planes of development can help adults understand the world from a child’s perspective. By understanding your child’s needs and goals, you can better support your child’s physical, mental, and emotional development. 

 Fortunately, there are many online Montessori teacher training options that can fit into your busy schedule. From hybrid courses to fully online Montessori training options, you can select the option that works best for your needs and goals. 

Take a look at our various online Montessori teacher training courses! Starting or deepening your Montessori journey is as easy as signing up for an online course. We invite you to get in touch with any questions. 

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