Montessori Theory: How do Human Beings Develop? (part 2)

The First Plane (birth to 6 years)

…if a child can go to school, find his way about and understand the ideas put before him, this means that his mind has undergone a great development, for at birth he could do none of these things.  
              ---Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori discovered that this is the time that the child forms his personality and therefore is a self-centered time of life. Guided by the absorbent mind and other sensitivities, the child is driven to interact with the environment through exploration. He is directly experiencing the process of adaptation and development depends greatly upon the people interacting with him and the activities in the environment.

Physical Characteristics

Physically, the child in the first plane will experience the greatest changes of any stage in life. The body proportions in particular undergo a huge amount of change—consider the newborn baby growing into a toddler and the toddler becoming a six year-old and how physically different their bodies are. She is also very susceptible to illness due to body vulnerability, so care needs to be taken with personal hygiene.  

The newborn is also very helpless and at first, responds reflexively to external stimuli.  Gradually, as the nerve cells in her brain get coated with fat (a process called myelinization), she begins to gain more control of her body and movements become more conscious.  This process of myelinization moves from the head down and from the center to the out to the extremities.  By the time she is around one year old, she is able to walk, the signal that myelization has finally reached the nerve cells that control the muscles necessary for walking.  The need for unrestricted movement is crucial to this process and it is important that your baby moves through all the developmental stages--rolling over, sitting up, slithering, creeping, crawling and walking--without skipping any steps and without being rushed from one stage to the next.

Intellectual Characteristics

Intellectually, she is passionately interested in everything that she sees. The sense organs are at their most powerful and the impressions she gains are the foundations for intelligence. She learns through sensorial exploration and through manipulating objects and the experiences allow her to classify impressions and deepen her understanding of the environment.

Thus, order in the environment is essential to the young child and it’s important to set routines and be consistent in your activities as this will be helpful to your child. The  external order allows him to get a clear impression of the facts of the world, assisting in the process of classification leading to an internal order. This internalized order lays the foundation for a self-directed environment in the next plane. 

Now, his main task at this time is to construct the personality, so he prefers individual activities and he is attracted to working alone (no sharing or group activities here).  She is too young to attend to or be conscious of the needs of others—so don’t expect your two year old to empathize. And although she likes company, she also likes to have her own activity.

Emotional Characteristics

Emotionally, your child has a great need for love and security, especially from birth to three and the love of the immediate family is the first and most important. She needs to feel it consistently. This is the period in which your child finds her place or role in the family structure and starts to become conscious of the family’s feelings, outlook and customs.  The home, is of course, the best place for the newborn, and there setting up your home environment in a way that meets the needs of your child at each stage of development is the ideal.  

If your family situation does not allow you to be at home with your child, then finding a good Montessori environment where your child can have the opportunities to develop in an environment that offers freedom of movement and enriching language, is essential.  Around age three, she has gained enough confidence of the role in family structure and is ready to take on another role as a person in the community of the classroom. In this context, she still needs to feel loved, but now is now able and ready to experience this love in a different manner than in the home.

Social Characteristics 

Socially, even though he is self-centered, he is still social being and is especially interested in social manners. At first, the newborn responds reflexively to external stimuli--turning immediately towards the sound of mother's voice.  Gradually, as his eyesight develops and he grows, he begins to look intently at people's faces, sometimes imitating expressions and sounds and makes deep, emotional connections with the people in the environment.  

Around age three, as his actions become more consciously directed, you see him playing house, school etc. because he is very interested in how people act. The home environment is the first place where he learns how to interact with others and these interactions lay the foundation for future interactions. In the classroom environment, the child’s social development involves interactions with peers. The interactions are very rich and varied with ample opportunity for growth it lasts over the course of three years, allowing the child many opportunities to interact in a variety of ways.

Spiritual Characteristics

Spiritually, your child has a natural generosity and trusting nature and it is important that she has the opportunity to express these sentiments. She wants to know what’s right and wrong and what’s good and bad and is completely dependent on the adult for a moral code because she has no way of doing that herself. The adult’s responsibility is to let her know what is right and wrong, not by talking but by doing and give her the opportunity to develop her own unique relationship with God.  This is also the time to teach the stories and rituals connected to the family's religious or spiritual practices and beliefs.  She will act the way the people around her act and moral inconsistencies, particularly in the family setting, lead to her being insecure or anxious.

The quality of the environment will determine to a great extent whether or not she will realize their full potential. It is important that she has opportunities for quiet time and being alone, as this will help her strengthen her inner qualities--so turn off the radio and the TV and get rid of the phones and electronic devices and encourage her to sit in silence.  Have crayons or paints or chalk and paper available for her to draw if she wants.  

Your child's freedom to move and interact with her environment and her freedom to make choices about what activities she wants to engage in have a huge impact on her development and are therefore essential ingredients in her environment. Beginning at birth, you can prepare your environment in such a way that allows a harmonious collaboration between you and your child that encourages the development of independence and aids in her self-construction.  Now is the time for you to sow the seeds of her future development and anything that you can do to encourage the natural unfolding of your child's unique potential will make a difference.

…the most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement is being formed.   --Maria Montessori

Rhonda Lucas-Sabater is an AMI trained Primary (3-6 years old) guide and currently works as a Primary guide.  She is the mother of five Montessori children and the co-founder of a public charter Montessori school in Washington, DC.  She is also AMI trained at the Assistants to Infancy (O-3) and Elementary (6-12) levels and is an AMI certified Adolescent guide.

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