One of the main tenets of Montessori philosophy is that from the time humans appeared on our earth, they have exhibited certain tendencies that are universal and common to all cultures. Observations of human infants as they grow and explore their environments show that they too exhibit these tendencies, which act as natural motivators for their behaviors. The initial tendencies are to orient oneself to one’s surroundings, then to explore and interact with what they find, which leads to adapting to people and life around them. Language is the tendency which fills the need to communicate with others and to become a social being. There are others, all of which can be observed in young children as they enter a Montessori classroom. Here they will find materials anad activities that facilitate meeting these needs in their lives. The human tendencies are the psychological motivators which guide children to becoming adults of their species.
Planes of Development
Based on her extensive observations of children across multiple cultures, Montessori divided the passage from infancy to adulthood into four planes or stages. The First Plane is from birth to six, the Second from six to 12, the Third from 12 to 18, and the last, from 18 to 24. In the First Plane, infants progress from an unconscious mind to consciousness, which culminates around 2 1/2 to 3 years of age. As they begin to learn consciously, their senses serve as lens to the world around them, gathering information.
The young child from birth to six possesses a unique type of mind, which Montessori labeled the “absorbent mind.” As young children explore and interact with their environments, they are keen observers and must move and touch and act on what they find. The Absorbent Mind functions much as a camera does. Their senses are recording all their impressions which are the nuclei for constructing mental connections in their brains. This work is done “in secret” until one day a child’s activity reveals development has occured. Between the ages of three and six, the purpose of the materials and activities in the Montessori classroom, is to bring to their consciousness, the meaning and order of what they have observed, thus paving the way for all later learning. In other words, they are “learning how to learn.” After the age of six, this phenomenon disappears, and they come to learn in the way adults do.
During this period from birth to six, children exhibit certain periods when they are most sensitive and drawn to certain aspects of their environment. These periods are transient, and while they are in that period, they learn things more easily than at any other time in their lives. The strongest of these are the sensitive periods for language and for order. Children come into the world with no concept of words or communication, and yet by their third birthday, they are fluent in their native language and have an extensive vocabulary, dependent upon being exposed to an environment rich in language. The sensitive period for order allows them to place objects and events within their environment into understanding their purposes and functions.
These four foundational principles are the basis for the design and sequence of the materials and activities found in a Montessori classroom, and guide the adults’ manner of interacting with the children.