Four Planes of Development

Based on her observations and work with children, Dr. Montessori defined four planes of development, each characterized by sensitive periods for learning.


First Plane: Ages 0-6 “Early Childhood” and the Individual Creation of the Person

This stage is characterized by the young child’s “absorbent mind.” Children have a desire for physical independence (“I can do it myself!”) and are interested in real activities with an intelligent purpose. Sensitive periods during this plane include: movement, language, small objects, toileting, order, music, grace and courtesy, senses, writing, reading, spatial relationships, and mathematics.

Second Plane: Ages 6-12 “Childhood” and the Construction of the Intelligence

Children in the second plane of development have a thirst for knowledge, love of imagination, fascination with fairness, and a desire for intellectual independence. This is the time for “cosmic education,” in which the child explores their place within the world and comes to appreciate the interconnectedness of all things. This is also the “bridge to abstraction”—the transition from concrete to abstract thinking. Children in this plane have a desire for intellectual independence. (“I can think it myself!”)

Third Plane: Ages 12-18 “Adolescence” and the Construction of the Social Self

Children in the third plane of development are characterized by self concern and self assessment. This is a sensitive period for both critical thinking and exporing social and moral values. Adolescents in this plane have a desire for emotional independence. (“I can stand on my own.”)

Fourth Plane: Ages 18-24 and Beyond “Adulthood”  and the Construction of Self Understanding

The fourth plane of development is characterized by the construction of the spiritual self. Young adults are in the process of conscious discernment of right and wrong, seeking to discover their place within the world. Young adults in the plane have a desire for financial independence. (“I can get it myself.”)

Intense Change & Assimilation

Within each plane, the child undergoes a period of intense change, followed by a period of assimilation. This also holds true within each three-year cycle. For this reason, the third year in Montessori classrooms is sometimes known as the “leap year”. This is when students internalize all the various skills for which they have both directly and indirectly acquired during the earlier years. It is also the time when students become self-possessed learners, confident in their abilities. It’s when they emerge as leaders, eager to share their skills with their younger peers. Rising second and third year students enter the classroom in September with newfound confidence and autonomy, ready to take on leadership roles and greater independence. Children who move up to the next level of their Montessori education thrill at the opportunity to embark upon new and exciting journeys.