The Four Planes of Development

First published on May 22, 2021

Much has been written about Maria Montessori’s Theory of the Four Planes of Development, so I’ll only give a brief overview here.

Through scientific observation, Maria Montessori identified
four distinct phases in the maturity of a human being
from birth to the age of twenty-four.
She called these the Four Planes of Development.

Each phase lasts about six years. The First Plane spans from birth to around six years old, the Second Plane six to twelve, the Third Plane twelve to eighteen, and the Fourth Plane eighteen to twenty-four years. Again, these phases are an average time span. Children commonly display characteristics specific to each Plane of Development. The First and Third Planes are parallel planes, as are the Second and Fourth Planes.

Montessori also noticed that every plane was further divided into subplanes, each lasting approximately three years. For instance, during the first subplane of the First Plane, the child is absorbing information from the external world, which is then processed throughout the second subplane. This has been likened to the waxing and waning of the moon in its phases.

A child has specific needs during each plane, which means that there is an optimal environment which you the parent can provide, to best help your child thrive and develop. A simple analogy to these Four Planes is the four distinct phases in the metamorphosis of a butterfly: from an egg, to a caterpillar, to the chrysalis stage, to the mature butterfly. In each stage, this creature has different feeding and environmental needs. From a Montessori child raising perspective, once you understand the distinct phases with its specific needs, and you learn how to provide the optimal circumstances for your child in each Plane, child raising becomes much more manageable – and even enjoyable!

Deal with fewer tantrums in 3 days (or less!)

Common characteristics in each of the Four Planes

The First Plane of Development

Joyful. Innocent. Inquisitive of the surrounding physical environment while at the same time very focused on self. Order-seeking, both in terms of routine and physical order, and can become very disconcerted when these are disrupted. A time of great physical growth, with freedom of movement being imperative for proper development. Child moves from a prone being incapable of movement from place to place, to an upright mobile individual. Trying to discern his place and role in the physical surroundings. Particularly in the second subplane, independence-seeking, wanting to do everything on his own or only accepts help on his own terms. Ideally, everything should be kept as real as possible for the First Plane child, who needs a strong foundation in reality.

The Second Plane of Development

Speaks whatever comes to mind (which Montessori dubbed “the age of rudeness”). Very concerned with justice. Is becoming increasingly aware of the world outside of self. Child’s opinions can still be very influenced by those of the parents. Socially oriented, desiring conversation and social contact. Actively attempts to develop a sense of humor. Loves to take on and organize larger projects that benefit others. Imagination, both of what is possible to accomplish in the world at large, as well as within the mind, strengthens during this time if the child has had a strong foundation of reality in the First Plane.

The Third Plane of Development

Parallels the First Plane. A preteen to teen can become very self-conscious and withdrawn, or spends time with a few select friends made during the Second Plane. A time of physical transition to adulthood. Begins seeking adult role models beyond parents. Mentally trying to discern his place and role in the impending adult world. Important for the child to have strong role models outside the family, but – and this is critical – who are deserving of trust by the parents. Displays these most recognizable characteristics, even by those completely unfamiliar with Montessori thought.

The Fourth Plane of Development

Again becomes more social and opinionated (paralleling the Second Plane child). Here, opinions can be greatly influenced by adults outside the family. (Side note: the college environment can be very helpful or harmful to a child in the Fourth Plane, because the child has not fully become an adult – despite what the legal age of 18 claims.) For a family that has remained close-knit during the child’s earlier planes, parents can still be a great, positive influence for their child before and after moving out of the home.

One of the finer points of the Montessori Four Planes of Development Theory, discussed in another post, concerns the recognition of the transitions that occur from one Plane to the next.

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