Montessori is only effective as a method of education if you understand where your child is developmentally, so let’s dig in. Children pass through four distinct stages of growth, which Maria Montessori called planes of development:
- First plane: birth to 6
- Second plane: 6 to 12
- Third plane: 12 to 18
- Fourth plane: 18 to 24
During each stage, children encounter specific windows of opportunity – or sensitive periods – that help them develop new levels of awareness and independence with minimal effort. As a child moves from one plane of development to another, new windows open up (interest in the previous ones might fade, but they never close completely).
When you understand the sensitive periods that define your child’s current plane of development, you can adapt your home environment, teaching strategies, and parenting approach to meet your child’s needs.
Let’s learn about the sensitivities of second plane children across three areas of development: intellectual, moral, and social/emotional.
The second-plane child wants mental independence: They don’t want to be told what’s wrong or right, important or unimportant. Instead, they want to figure it out themselves.
This is why they ask ALL the questions. They’re no longer satisfied with the names of things, but instead want to know who, when, where, how, and why! Dr. Montessori likened the child’s mind to a “fertile field” where “the seed of everything can be sown” and “later these seeds will expand and grow.” The elementary years are the best time to expose them to as much knowledge and culture as possible; never again will their minds be this primed to learn.
The most powerful tool the second plane child possesses is their incredible imagination, capable of envisioning what they cannot directly experience and able to form new connections among seemingly unrelated concepts. One way to know that your child is in the second plane is when they start coming up with puns and jokes that are actually funny. You’d be surprised by the level of mental sophistication involved in word play!
We can define morality in the elementary years as the ability to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong. Morality develops in two stages. The first is when the child explores what is seen as good and bad within their culture and society, along with the difference between fair and equal. They might wonder: Is it ok to talk back to my parents? Is it fair that my friends can play video games all day and I’m not allowed to? Why can boys walk around shirtless but girls can’t?
A little later in their development, they reach the second stage: the interconnectedness of morality. In other words, they start to explore how each person’s choices affect others, and how people can work together towards the greater good.
Around the age of six, social interactions begin playing an important role in a child’s life. They love spending time with their peers, and can play and work together for hours without adult involvement. But this doesn’t mean that your role as a parent is no longer important. Many children go through a difficult period of comparison and self-doubt. They feel unsure of their abilities and imitate the (often inappropriate) behaviors of older or more popular peers. With proper guidance from caring adults, children will emerge from this phase knowing their own strengths and how they can collaborate with others.
I hope you’re able to see your child with new eyes after reading this section, and feel better equipped to support them during their journey through the second plane of development. If you’d like additional help understanding the elementary stage, let’s talk!