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Developmental Continuum

Dr. Montessori concluded there are four distinct planes of development: from birth to age 6, age 6 to 12, age 12 to 18, and age 18 to 24.

The First Plane of Development: Birth to Age 6 

Children in their first plane of development are constantly taking in and processing the world around them.


  • tremendous physical and psychological growth, exploration, and development.
  • psychologically, the child is a concrete thinker, taking in everything around them. (Absorbent Mind.)
  • more learning takes place at this stage of life than any other.
  • children acquire language, develop cognitive and motor skills, begin to imitate their adults, and develop expectations of the world around them.
  • children undergo a series of sensitive periods or “windows of opportunity.” This is a time of innate learning: (developing language skills, sitting up, crawling, and walking.)
  • during sensitive periods, it is easier for a child to learn certain concepts than when they are older.

The Second Plane of Development: Ages 6 through 12

The absorbent mind, so prevalent from birth to age six, gives way to the conscious mind in the second plane of development. Learning now takes place at a slower, steadier pace. 

Children in the second plane of development are also no longer solitary beings. They now tend to gravitate towards others in their environment. They start to choose to work with others on projects of mutual interest. By 11 or 12, most students prefer to work with others rather than individually. 


  • expand their social network, showing a genuine interest in others, whether it is within their local community or in a more global sense of awareness. 
  • lose their desire for physical order and develop a strong moral sense of order.
  • a very strong sense of justice and perceived fairness and following the rules becomes very important. (They need good role models as they learn about values.)
  • a sensitive period for the imagination, for seeing the possibilities in real experiences. 
  • greater even than their physical growth is their capacity for great mental growth.
  • concerned with building a conscience, that inner sense of what is right and wrong. 

The Third Plane of Development: Ages 12 through 18

The third plane of development is the period of adolescence and marks the end of childhood. Youth in the early years of the third plane of development (12-15) are much like their counterparts in the first plane; they can be self-absorbed, they need adequate food and sleep to sustain rapid growth, and they need time to “just be.” Learning and mental development may even slow down as more time is spent on their own, with friends, and eating and sleeping.

Early youth (12-15) are coming to terms with their new identity as an adolescent and the world outside the family and school. For the first time, they no longer see themselves as sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, or students, but as individuals who must integrate all of their separate identities into one while moving into a larger community. This is a time of dissonance as childhood ends and a new identity emerges.


  • seek to understand their place in society and search for opportunities to contribute to society. 
  • build on the sense of justice and fairness that was beginning to develop in the second plane.
  • naturally drawn to causes that involve high ideals. 
  • prefer to take on projects that require action.
  • believe they can make a positive difference in the world.
  • working on the land connects the adolescent with the natural world and helps develop a sense of responsibility towards natural resources.
  • academic growth will only occur when the social and emotional needs of the adolescent are met.