As children enter the world, they are on their way to life. Through each stage of development, the child advances towards the completeness and perfection of personality, cognition, and physical ability that is uniquely his. “Children … are urged by their laws of nature to find active experiences in the world about them. ” It is through purposeful movement, exploration, and discovery that children acquire not only skills for practical purposes, but also knowledge itself. The child, using the full strength of his being, achieves personhood and develops his own distinctive inner gifts and talents that he will later share with the world.
Special Mental Powers Of Childhood
In order to achieve the monumental task of self-construction, the child posses special mental powers designed specifically for the process of creating each individual. These special powers of construction exist only in childhood and gradually diminish and cease to exist in adulthood.
The Absorbent Mind : The first of the special mental powers of childhood. Birth to six years old.
“The developing child not only acquires the faculties of man: strength, intelligence, language; but, at the same time, he adapts the being he is constructing to the conditions of the world about him…. Adults admire their environment; they can remember it and think about it; but the child absorbs it. The things he sees, hears, and experiences (good and bad) are not just remembered, they form a part of his soul. In adults the same things produce no change, but the child is transformed by them. This vital kind of memory, which does not consciously remember, but absorbs images into the individual’s very life is the Absorbent Mind.” The Absorbent Mind Pg 56 (paraphrased)
The Sensitive Periods
Children in the early years of birth to six acquire special intense awareness of the need to develop certain traits or skills at a particular time. These special intense awarenesses are sensitive periods where the child engages his whole being to absorb, integrate, and adapt to the information he is seeking and discovering. Children enter sensitive periods for all mental functions, such as movement, language, order, refinement of the senses and social awareness, at approximately the same age in their development. Montessori teachers are trained to recognize when individual children enter a sensitive period and guide them to the materials that speaks to needs of that transitory developmental stage.
Planes Of Development
Through her scientific observation of children, Montessori was able to divide life’s remarkable childhood journey into four distinctive stages. In the constructive rhythm of life, these four stages overlap each other as the tasks of one stage are mastered and give way to the next.
During the first plane of development, ages birth to six, the child moves from being an “unconscious learner” during the first half of this stage to a “conscious learner” during the second half. The child is a sensory explorer, absorbing all that he is surrounded by. The Sensitive Periods dictate his need to find order, develop language and concentration, refine the senses and movement, and to work independently within a structured environment. It is during this period the creation of the individual person and character is formed.
From ages 6 to 12, the second plane of development, children become involved with the complex construction of intelligence. The child moves from concrete to abstract thinking, developing reasoning skills, logic, and creative imagination. Montessori’s “Cosmic Education” helps quench the child’s thirst to know and understand the cosmos and his place in it. Appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things and people is developed during this stage. As the child utilizes and applies his new found knowledge and abilities his view of his world expands.
During the third plane of development, the teen years between 12 and 18, children are in a transition period, both physically and mentally. Critical thinking and re-evaluation are coupled with self-assessment and the construction of social and moral values.
The final stage of development, age 18 to 24 and into adulthood, is characterized by the construction of the spiritual, a conscious discernment of right and wrong; a striving for financial independence; and the seeking of one’s place in the world and how to contribute to it.
“My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher one, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual.” Dr. Maria Montessori