Thursday, June 12, 2014

Montessori Planes of Development

Between birth and three years, the child gains so much independence, movement, and language. Between three and six years, they gain a fascination with the factual realities of their universe. They gain a greater sense of coordination and social development. The nine year old desires roles and organize their work. The emphasis is on what is right and wrong and what other children are allowed to do. Twelve year olds and on into teens gain a sense of over-confidence in their own knowledge, experiencing stronger urges toward independence. The focus is not yet connected to others; the focus is still very inwardly focused. They are very self-conscious, comparing themselves to others in every aspect of themselves. Volatility and balance begin to present around age 17 and 18. They are becoming more responsible and anticipating future plans, developing specific skills.

We see that the newborn has gained many skills in the span of 18 years, and at every place in time, there are different plateaus and habits of behavior over time. These are called the Planes of Development forming the rhythm of growth in the aim toward increasing independence.

Maria Montessori characterized six spans of time, or Planes of Development, wherein the child is changing. In each, there is a different learning style. Furthermore, the skills for each time period consolidate at a certain age, before acquiring skills for the next time period. The stages Dr. Montessori listed were at birth, age 6, age 12, age 18, and maturity, each mediated by the skill acquisition time period at 2, 9, 15, and 21. Certain things have to be accomplished in each plane, so that the child can continue with the next phase of development.

Birth to Six Years
The child between birth and three is the unconscious creator, according to Dr. Montessori. Considering the child at birth, with no language or movement to identify the child as a person from this place or this time, a creation does come to be. You begin with the child at birth with a practically incomplete body and rudimentary psychological life. They are nearly inert, insofar as their movements are not purposeful. The child builds the intelligence for the capacity to control the muscles toward an end. They are characterized by vulnerability. Just by using the senses, they build connections to understand their own lives. Their head and trunk is large, but their legs and arms are small, proportionally. He does not question or judge the surroundings. He simply experiences it. As he develops, movement supports exploration. In this span of time, all children obtain a sense of language.

After three years, language is more clear and expressive of needs and wants. The child from three to six becomes the conscious worker. The basic language in everyday use gains clarity, volume, and development. The exploration with the senses becomes so much more purposeful. The personality becomes more defined.

The child has some special powers to gain so many new skills and understandings. The special kind of mind that the child has, unique from adults, is the Absorbent Mind, which is guided by sensitive periods. With the aid of these powers, he accomplishes the creation of the individual. He completes his physical self. He has movement in the use of the hands and locomotion. He created a will, a capacity to chose to obey. The basis of his intelligence is his own formation and the awakening of the conscious mind. The begins to make purposeful choices, his coordination of movement.
The child before 3 sets the stage for all of these creations. Age 3-6 is about refining and crystallizing those skills. He needs certain conditions, such as nurture and care-- his security. He needs a connection to the primary caregiver. He needs order and consistency in that psychological environment, being essential to orientation. Without a sense of orientation, you will not have a sense of security in that environment, and you cannot learn.

The child needs to be included in family life. It is not a passive thing that the child sits there, and the development occurs. Development is an interactive environment. They need to be around people talking in various situations. It must, furthermore, be a human environment, not a digital interaction.

The child needs the opportunity to move freely. Development will not happen appropriately when the child is enclosed in a crib, playpen, or carseat-- the child needs a greater sense of orientation, so that the orientation within the immediate family can occur. Slowly, it expands to a close community.

Around 2 1/2 to 3, the parent starts looking for a preschool. The child is secure enough to enter his or her own environment, where he or she can use those movements to explore their own expanded and limited environment. The home no longer meets the needs of the child. A protected and secure environment will allow him to refine his movements in a different rhythm. In a specially prepared environment, time allowances can be made for experimentation with putting on shoes, for example, but in the home, it has to fit in the time schedule of home life.

Parents often complain about how much their two or three year old child is talking. Home life cannot satisfy the need for conversation in the same way that the prepared environment would. The three year old is not immediately equipped to express their needs and to follow the instructions. Putting feelings to words and communicating them to another person is a difficult process, underscoring the importance of giving the child time and space to express themselves in the classroom.

What does the child need from their environment at this time? Having laid the foundations of his personality, he is functionally independent. He can clean a spill and help a friend-- this is functional independence. The task is the creation of the individual in an abstraction. It is one reason that small children struggle somewhat in an empathetic setting, because their developmental focus is on the self, primarily. Children do experience pieces of compassion and empathy, but they need support in its development.

A six year old has developed the reasoning mind. He imagines another place and another time. He abstracts causes and effects, makes predictions, has the capacity to obey and function in the organized society, with an increasing facility with language.

Six Years to Twelve Years
The child has enormous powers for reasoning and imagination. The task of this time period is the development of the individual and acquisition of culture. The drive is for intellectual independence. Physically, his body changes. He loses his teeth. The soft and fine hair coarsens. The child becomes sturdy with immense physical stamina. Their orientation is more towards peers, society, and nature. They are trying to create order in the rules and laws of nature for how things work. They create the social world with a sense of morality. They work together to accomplish this task of dishwashing, for example. They love to work with other people collaboratively, as their need for association becomes more evident. Their great interest is justice, their moral orientation manifested in hero worship. Children of this age look for individuals who manifest qualities which are attractive to them.

In completing this task of developing themselves and forming their moral compass, they must build a concept of how society is organized. They need an understanding of how the universe works together. This child is now oriented much faster into discovery of the order of the cosmos. These are the same human tendencies operating that were operative in an earlier time. Still, the child needs a secure place, but they need a peer group to explore social organization and understand roles. They still need materials to understand this abstraction on a much deeper level. It is not enough that they understand it in the classroom; they must be able to apply their knowledge in the greater society. (If I know that plants always grow toward light, is this also true at my home?) Thus, the classroom is not sufficient for the education of the child-- they must explore and enter nature, now having the physical stamina to be able to do so.  They need heroes at this point in their life, while they are looking for someone to admire. Without appropriate role models in their lives, children become too attracted to popular culture idols, rather than geniune role models.

At around twelve, the child has gained a sense of the interdependence of the universe. The child at twelve has completed the formation of the individual, and he begins to think, "What is my role in the universe?" The arrival of hormones will complete the phase, in the drive for independence, social and emotional, to complete the body.

Twelve Years to Eighteen Years
The task of the child from twelve to fifteen is obtaining social and emotional independence. The body proportions shift again, in response to adolescence. The body is again in the creative process, making them more vulnerable to diseases. The awareness is of the formed person looking for themselves in context of society, leading to insecurity, introspection, and a large sense of vulnerability. The child is saying, "Help me find myself. Who am I? What am I capable of? Where do I belong? What is my contribution?" Their orientation is to themselves and to the society. They seek order in regulating their emotions in response to the hormonal changes. Exploring all aspects of human social organization, the child is now forming himself as a social being.

He is looking to form deep connections with individuals who are not family members. The self-consciousness arises from being a social newborn. This child who could take in so many facts and figures has a relatively diminished intellectual capacity. The powers of this period are sexual maturity. The tasks are to understand who they are as a person in the specific capacities and contributions to society. The main task is the creation of the social being, but that entails discovery of who they are as a person.

The ideal environment for this is a nurturing environment and a prepared environment where students feel secure to explore these questions. There must be another trusted adult, not a parent, who can guide this intellectual and social exploration. They need a place to learn in the context of practical activities necessary for social organization. They must be in the context of doing something, like running a farm or a bed and breakfast, a marketplace or business, in real life situations. Montessori's vision was to establish a piece of land, in a limited way, where students could participate in the community economy. Ten chickens, for example, is manageable and limited-- a microcosm of human social organization. They learn this way, in the context of real life applications. In that landscape, they can make meaningful contributions to society and realize themselves. If their needs are met at this plane of development, the child leaves this plane with an understanding of who they are, with a capacity to contribute to human society, comfortable in negotiating interpersonal relationships.

The adolescent gains black and white pictures of what human society should be like and firmly holds onto those ideals, since they bring a sense of comfort and stability.

Age Eighteen to Twenty-four, or Matured
The power is the motivation is to acquire specific skills or ways to contribute to society. The characteristic of this period is physical and mental stability. Mentally, they are very stable about their wants, and they have a desire to take their place in human society. The task of this period is the fulfillment of these roles in society. They ask themselves how they can take their place, what role they will have. The task is also to see one's own work in a much larger context. 
To attain these goals, the adolescent needs a supportive environment for this knowledge, one that supports the exploration of thoughts and ideas, as well as opportunities for real life experiences. The black and white conception of the world around them begins to mellow with more real life experiences. Seeing other places enhances the sense of empathy and participation in the whole of human society.

Making up missed skills outside of the appropriate time period will take much more time, later on. The powers to obtain a particular skill fade outside of the phase, if a skill must be attained later. 

If all these needs are met in each stage previously, it provides a strong foundation for the next step. Arriving appropriately through each stage allows the person to arrive at 24 years of age ready to take their place in the cosmos.

Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a Montessori educator and parent in Dallas, Texas. 

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