Maria Montessori
Montessori in the Press

Montessori in the Press

Periods of Development in Montessori
by Bola Benson - 09.19.2006

The stages of development in a child's life are not peculiar to the Montessori Approach. It is one widely accepted by educators; a view well illustrated by the continuing principles of formal education.

What distinguishes Montessori's work is the series of complete transformations she identifies at the different stages; a catalogue of 'births' and 're-births' and the special attention she proposes is directed at each stage. Montessori documents both the physical and intellectual changes which occur in the life of a human being from infancy to maturity. Thes

e stages or planes of development can be charted as follows: Infancy (birth to Six years), Childhood (Six-12 years), Adolescence (12-18years) and Maturity (18-24years). Within these phases are sub-phases namely 0-Three years, Three Six years, Six -Nine years, Nine -12years, 12-18years and 18-24years.

In examining the infancy to six years, Montessori notes a period of tremendous change in which the child from birth emerges with nothing but by three, has developed a great deal, seemingly with no formal aid. Montessori notes that this development has been achieved largely as a result of the child's absorbent mind; which has taken in all that it needs from the environment towards his own self-construction. Simply by living, and acting from an in-born creative aptitude, the infant unconsciously incarnates the environment, soaking in all he needs and succeeds in going 'from nothing to a beginning'.

The achievement in development at this stage and latter stages are attributable in differing and varying levels to the child's absorbent mind; which has been briefly explored above, tendencies; which Montessori notes as a special instinct to acquire characteristics at specific periods of sensibility or sensitive periods. Therefore, by the age of Three, with the aid of his absorbent mind, tendencies within varying sensitive periods, the child has created his own psychical ability; moving from a truly helpless state where movement and speech are limited toward a greater independence.

Between the ages of Three and Six, the child works at strengthening and consolidating the foundation he has laid. It is at this stage of development that Montessori recommends the beginning of formal education in the form of the Children's House; a Prepared Environment designed specifically to meet the child's physical, intellectual, social and moral needs. In this specially considered space, the child is able to develop according to his own natural rhythm. Prior to this stage i.e. between infancy and Three, as we have mentioned, the child's development has occurred largely by 'natural conquest' and as a result the adult's role is limited. The child simply needs to be in contact with his natural support; namely his mother and ensuring his environment is attractive and accessible.

Physically, by the age of Six, the child is noticeably strong. It is generally characterised by the change of teeth; as the milk teeth is replaced by permanent ones and generally there is change of hair. If the first plane is successfully completed, the foundation of his intelligence has been laid. Now, there is a clear intellect which can be used to explore a wider environment. This intellect replaces the absorbent mind and the child no longer takes in all its environment unconsciously; now it begins to build reason and will often question his environment towards an understanding of how things function. No longer does the child relate simply to his immediate environment, but begins to identify with his peer group in what Montessori refers to as the 'herd instinct'. Between ages Six and Nine, these characteristics develop and are consolidated by Nine and 12. Montessori views this as a period of relatively stable, uniform growth. The adult's role at this stage is to help the child's independent, reasoning, responsible individual in developing his creative intelligence and utilising his strong memory. No longer does the child view the adult as perfect and has developed a strong will. The School should allow the child explore a broader environment and provide as many facts as possible, sowing 'seeds of culture' in various fields. In understanding the world and his role within it, the child develops loyalty and a moral sense that can be usefully harnessed toward good causes i.e. charity work can be encouraged.

In contrast to this previous stage, the plane between 12 and 18 is one of tremendous transformation with the onset of puberty. As with the initial stage (infancy to Three), there is a spurt of physical growth, bringing about marked changes in male and female. Due to these physical changes, there is often tiredness and a pre-occupation with self resulting in a drop in intellectual growth, which is in marked contrast to the previous stage. Despite this self-absorption, by the age of 15, there is often interest in social movements and belief ready answers are available to world problems. They have a passion not matched by the pre-requisite experience. Montessori proposed that the right environment at this stage is a communal one with a healthy diet, fresh air and exercise in what she termed 'erdkinder'. Within this environment, children learn co-operation rather than competition. The adult should provide patient support and act as a mentor and friend; open to discussions as the transformation from child hood to adulthood is made. If the earlier stages of development are not successfully completed, this is a stage in which mal-adjustments become clearly evident.

The final stage of development, as with the second phase, is one of relatively stable growth. By now, if successfully helped through the earlier stages, the individual should be mature and have a clear view of his goals with the ability to decide how best to achieve them. The individual is able to self-motivate and the adult's role is to simply relate to him as a peer.

Montessori in charting these different planes and proposing the relevant role of the adult in supporting them identifies the development of the individual and his adaptation to the environment toward physical and intellectual stability. In doing so, Montessori views the child as having achieved 'cosmic education'; having understood himself, his world and his contribution to it.

Benson is the Director, The Libra House Montessori School, Lagos