Four Planes of Development in a Montessori School

When you walk into a Montessori school for the first time, one of the first things that you may notice is the classroom structure. Unlike a traditional school where the students are grouped together by birth year, where typically whole group learning is based on chronological age, a Montessori environment uses 3-year, mixed-age grouping, where instruction is personalized to meet individual and small group needs.  This multi-age classroom structure is based on Dr. Montessori’s observations and work that revealed there are four different stages of development from birth to early adulthood.  She referred to these as planes of development.  Others in Psychology and Education may use the terms ‘stages’ or ‘phases’.

According to Dr. Montessori, each plane of development is characterized by distinct sensitive periods for learning – where children exhibit certain needs, attributes and characteristics at each plane of development. During these sensitive periods, a child undergoes a period of intense developmental change followed by a period of assimilation, marked by a student showing confidence in his newly acquired abilities. Using this model offers a holistic framework where learning and classroom structure is based on stages aligned with developmental psychology.

The Four Planes of Development are as follows:

The First Plane: Birth to Age 6 (Early Childhood)

During the first plane of development, children are soaking up the world. Dr. Montessori calls this the “absorbent mind,” meaning that the child’s brain has a sponge-like capacity to absorb from the environment all that is necessary to develop an individual from her specific culture.

At this age, children are focusing on the self and have a strong desire for physical independence. You will notice an “I can do it myself!” mentality. The foundation for a child’s personality is also laid during this time.

This plane is characterized by sensitive periods that include movement, language, toileting, order, grace and courtesy, music, reading, writing, social relationships, and mathematics.

The Second Plane: Ages 6–12 (Childhood)

The second plane of development is characterized by a thirst for knowledge and a strong desire for intellectual independence. You will notice an “I can think it myself!” mentality.

At this age, children begin searching for moral order and develop their conscience, or sense of right and wrong. This is a good time to teach your child fairness, and show him how he can help others.

During this stage, children learn from a “cosmic education” in a Montessori school, which encourages them to explore their place within the world, as well as appreciate the interconnectedness of all things.

The Third Plane: Ages 12–18 (Adolescence)

Marked by feelings of self-concern and self-assessment, the third plane of development is a sensitive period for critical thinking and exploring deeper moral and social values.

At this age, adolescents have a deep desire for emotional independence. You will notice an “I can stand on my own” mentality.

During this stage, the adolescent works on constructing his social self and feels the need to participate and have more control over his life.

The Fourth Plane: Ages 18–24 (Maturity)

The fourth plane of development is characterized by the young adult working on their spiritual self or constructing a higher-level of self-understanding.

This stage is marked by a strong desire for financial independence. You will notice an “I can get it myself” mentality.

During this time, the young adult discovers their place within the world and asks herself “What do I have to give to the world?”

The Planes of Development at Silverline Montessori School

At Silverline Montessori School, our education programs are designed to meet the needs of children in the first and second planes of development. Our focus is on developing the child’s potential during these distinct “windows of time” or sensitive periods. We keep our classroom sizes small to create an emotionally nurturing environment that is at the same time cognitively challenging. Our goal is to foster self-directed learners that become confident in their abilities by the end of each plane of development.

“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” – Dr. Maria Montessori



The Benefits of Multi-Age Classrooms

One of the main features of the Montessori method is multi-age classrooms. Montessori specialists place a child in a classroom based on their individual level of development, instead of placing them by their exact age. Typically, Montessori children are grouped according to the plane of development that they fall into. The planes of development include the following age groups: 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15, and 15-18 years old. Dr. Maria Montessori developed these three-year cycles based on her extensive psychological studies and scientific observations of children.

Why this Matters

While children in a traditional school system have a different teacher every year, multi-age classrooms allow children to remain with the same teacher for several years. This ensures that the teacher will develop a deep bond with each student, as well as a deeper understanding of every child’s unique needs. This results in a more effective teaching method that truly works for each student. Children also feel more relaxed around their teacher and their classmates because they have known them for multiple years. When a child becomes comfortable with their surroundings, the child is able to better focus on their education, as they do not have the added worry or stress of having to get to know a new teacher and make friends with a new group of classmates each year.

A Montessori classroom helps to develop leadership skills that will last a lifetime. In a mixed-age classroom, older students have the opportunity to become mentors to younger students. These mentors help to teach their younger mentees ideas and concepts that are slightly more advanced, and are able to answer any questions that their mentees may have. Mentorship learning is beneficial to both the mentor and the mentee, as both parties involved gain valuable skills by collaborating with one another. Older students are able to reinforce their own knowledge base by teaching the younger students, and the younger students benefit from having a mentor who is always available to help them.

Effects on Development

As children pass through the planes of development, they begin to develop certain attributes and needs according to their age group. Since children are grouped in classrooms based on their plane of development in order to maximize each child’s learning, each period of transformation is taken into consideration in the Montessori method. Since children stay with the same teacher throughout their three-year cycle, they gain more understanding and the teacher is able to tailor their education method based on each child’s individual needs.

Being able to interact with other children, either younger or older, helps a child to develop the social skills necessary for future successes. Many times, younger children are intimidated by older children, simply because they have never interacted with them before. In Montessori classrooms, students of different ages interact with each other on a daily basis, so younger children become more comfortable playing and learning with older children. Additionally, by being around children of different ages, a child is exposed to many different levels of all subjects at all times. This creates a constant cognitive stimulation that sparks a great and more organic interest in learning.

Our Mission                                                                                        

At Silverline Montessori, we designed our multi-age classrooms to help all of our students develop confidence in their abilities, leadership skills, and a deep love of learning. Children learn how to get along with others and resolve conflicts peacefully in our classrooms. They also learn the importance of kindness towards others, sharing learning materials, and providing assistance when another student needs help. All of these are valuable skills that will last your child a lifetime.