The First Plane of Development
Maria Montessori said, “There was no method; there was only a child.” According to her, a child is actually the center of education and all practice should be built on that core.
At Unity Academy of Chicago, we believe in “following” the child. The role of a teacher is that of a guide, supporter, facilitator and, most importantly, observer. The children are provided with hands-on materials which are beautiful and inviting. As we know, learning is not linear and the materials are designed to allow each child to move at their own pace. In a Montessori classroom the children make active choices about the work they find most compelling. They are given uninterrupted time to deeply explore the work. The classrooms are multi-age to support the development of communities of collaborative learners.
According to Montessori there are four planes of child development. The first plane of development is from ages 0 to 6. From birth to age 3 years, children are like sponges. All learning takes place through exploration with the senses and interactions with the environment. During the second half of this plane, from age 3 to 6 years, children enter the conscious stage of learning. They learn by using hands-on materials provided in the prepared environment. Children develop a sense of order and physical independence at this stage. You will hear a lot of “I can do it myself.”
There is a sensitive period within the first plane of development when the child is most creative and highly motivated to learn. This is the time when the child learns best with hands-on materials provided by a prepared environment.
The Primary Program
In response to the need of children in the first plane of development, the primary curriculum is divided into five distinct areas:
Practical life in Montessori is purposeful activities of everyday life which help to develop motor control and coordination, concentration, a sense of order, independence, fine and gross motor skills, and a sense of pride in completing a job.
Practical life can be further divided into the areas of: care of self, care of the environment, care of the world, and grace and courtesy.
A child learns about the world through his senses. The information taken in at this stage (from birth to age 6) serves as the foundation for the development of the intellect. Maria Montessori developed and designed sensorial materials to refine their senses and powers of observation. These materials also help them to compare, observe and reason, which are necessary skills for the study of Mathematics.
The mathematical mind is not built on abstract concepts or rote memorization but on concrete experiences that are real and tangible to the child. In a Montessori classroom the materials are designed with such precision that they allow the child to work with the concrete until he internalizes the process through tactile and visual contact and can work independently in his mind. In primary, the children are presented with math in a fun and interesting way by using concrete materials to develop abstract concepts.
Language is the symbolization of thoughts. It is learned, so that one can communicate ideas, thoughts, wants, needs and emotions. Learning of language begins in the first few days after the child is born. By the age of six months, the child recognizes the basic sounds of language. They respond to a lot more words than they can actually say, which is why the child resorts to a lot of gesturing.
Dr. Montessori’s view was that the child takes in the language just as he takes in the habits and customs of the people among whom he happens to be living. It is the child who absorbs information from the world around him and uses it to mold himself into the man of the future.
The cultural area is diverse and of great interest to a child. It opens the doors and windows of the world for your child to explore and experiment. Children will learn about their relationship to space, time, nature and each other. Most importantly, children discover their own special place in the world and form a relationship with their Creator. It is in this area of the classroom that each child learns he is a citizen of the world. He is given the first lesson in cosmic education which gives him a vision of interconnectedness between different aspects of the natural world and shows the relationship between living things and the environment.
The cultural area of a Montessori classroom is divided into geography, history, art, and science (botany and zoology). Through cultural studies, the children learn about the interdependence of all life on earth. Children come to appreciate the power and compassion of the Creator.