The four planes of adolescence development are the framework upon which Maria Montessori built her method of education. This includes the ages of birth to age 24 (maturity). It is described as holistic because it considers all aspects of development including academic, spiritual, moral, and emotional. The planes are defined as:
- Birth to Age 6 – First Plane
- Age 6 to Age 12 – Second Plane
- Age 12 to Age 18 – Third Plane
- Age 18 to Age 24 – Fourth Plane
Each plane associates unique characteristics and traits that further define the specific age group of the child. Upper Elementary students reside in the second plane of development. What makes this group so unique? One of the most notable characteristics of this group is the strive for independence. Within the Montessori education system, these 9 to 12-year-old children are moving from concrete representation to abstract thinking. They begin to think hypothetically and are concentrating on moral development. They tend to have abundant energy and can become “wiggly” if they sit for extended periods of time. This is also a time when they learn to appreciate rules and logic, especially as they realize they are able to set realistic, short-term goals for themselves. They are good problem solvers as well as good listeners. They love to argue, often talking before thinking. In return for being quick to anger, they are able to forgive just as quickly. These moody and sensitive students have a strong sense of justice and injustice with a wide variety of rapidly changing interests.
To accommodate these special characteristics, the Upper Elementary curriculum and classroom are structured and designed to fit the needs of the student. The community of the classroom is focused on learning while supporting each other both socially and academically. The students have the freedom to choose when they will do their assignments. Students quickly learn that ones who consistently put in focused effort on their work earn more freedom in the classroom. Students are required to correct mistakes in their work or re-do work that was done poorly, illegibly, or sloppily. This encourages the student to put in their best effort with the work and to seek help when they don’t understand. Students learn the strengths of others and will seek help from peers to get the help they may need. Much time is spent teaching how to organize material objects and thoughts. Individual grade-level lessons are constantly given, allowing for advanced lessons for those who show interest and ability to go beyond their grade level. Montessori materials are still used as often as possible in lessons and work to help connect the bridge from concrete to abstract, but the upper elementary child is quicker to abstraction than the beginners of the second plane.
Subjects are often woven together to help the student learn in a more “big picture” style. For example, students learn about geographical factors that drive historical events. They will develop an understanding of why a civilization settled in one place instead of another based on the resources available. Creative writing is highlighted in all subject areas to consistently practice different styles of writing and thought organization. Science is taught through a variety of whiteboard lessons, hands-on work, and research. Basic scientific principles are taught to help students understand the world around them.
The second plane of development can be thought of as a period of adolescence that is geared toward independence, moral establishment, and a “help me think for myself” period time of life.
“I have found that in his development, the child passes through certain phases, each of which has its own particular needs. The characteristics of each are so different that the passages from one phase to another have been described by certain psychologists as ‘rebirths’.”
~ Dr. Maria Montessori (The Four Planes of Education, page 1)