In this article we will discuss how both Montessori and Piaget classified the planes of development throughout childhood. We will discuss how the characteristics of a child differ within these planes and what implications these differences have on the educational environment.
Teachers shape the future of our world. They educate our future leaders, and the responsibility of our planet lies in their hands. Quite often we don’t give teachers the credit they deserve. I mean, first of all they spend all day with kids! Something that would drive most of us mad. But beyond that they do so much more. Not only do they teach our children but, because they spend more time with our children than we, as parents do, they are trusted with caring for their wellbeing, both socially, mentally and physically.
They are a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a friend and a councillor to our children and while this may seem like enough of a job in itself, they also have to try and squeeze in some teaching along the way.
Here’s ten things all great teachers do:
1. First, they know every child’s name, not just in their class, but in the entire school, they say “Hello” to every child they meet and always engage in conversation where possible. “How are you? Did you watch the game? How’s your dad? You look cool today!”
2. They talk to children like adults. They reason with them and make them understand that yes, there are rules and expectations in school and this is why. “You can’t run in the classroom, not because I said so, because you might trip, fall into a shape pencil and stab yourself and because I care for you so much, I don’t want you to get hurt.”
3. They allow children to ask questions and investigate, and they don’t pretend to know everything “So that sums up our study of the human heart class!” Said Mr Johnson
“Sir, why do heart attacks occur?”
“Actually I don’t know, but how about you go and find out and tell us all next week!”
This instills a sense of reality, responsibility and pride as the children get to feedback to the group. Allow them to be the teacher, allow them to be the expert in the field.
4. They make things real. If your teaching Pythagoras and a child asks why we have to learn it. You’ve got an answer. If you’re teaching exposition writing you allow the children to write to an actual letter to a real person persuading them to do something. Make learning purposeful and real.
5. They practice what they preach. If you tell your class to be on time, dress smart, show respect, keep their voice down and show kindness and gratitude. Well you better be doing that yourself. Children are very observant and they will quickly pull you up on it, and the old saying “Do as I say, not as I do.” Is just not good enough.
6. They tell stories. They tell their class about what they’ve been up to, how their evening was and what they’ve got planned. Children like to know you’re human, they like to know you don’t live in the art cupboard and that you do normal human things like shopping, watching movies and even that time you felt down or lonely. You’re a human being, let them know.
7. They trust their children. You explain to them that the classroom is an extension of their home and you should feel safe in here. “I’m going to leave my wallet on my table and my mobile phone on my desk, I trust you won’t touch it because you trust that when you need me I’ll be there for you. Mutual respect equals mutual trust and if and when that trust is broken it will be a huge learning curve.
8. They tell children that they matter, and so does their opinion. An opinion box on your desk where children can leave anonymous changes they’d like to see in the classroom is a great idea, a daily reflection card allowing children to express what they liked and didn’t like about that day is a great idea. They ask the class to anonymously review their teaching, you might think you’re the greatest, coolest teacher in the world, but how do you know if you’re never evaluated by the very people who look at you all day?
9. They share ideas with the wider community. A great teacher doesn’t create materials and keep them a secret so they look better than everyone else. They think of education as a whole, a world vision, a change for the future of mankind and with that, great teachers share great ideas and great resources. If they discover something that works, they shout it from the top of the highest mountain and throw photocopied samples from aeroplanes high in the sky so everyone gets a copy. Good ideas change lives.
10. This is the most important one of all and one that we only find very rarely. Great teachers don’t teach, they inspire. They don’t say “This is how you do it, now go do it”, they don’t say “Here’s the equation now solve it”, they don’t say “This is what it looks like now copy it.” They say “How do you think you do it, please tell me!” They say “Can you find the equation and please test it!” They say “What do you think it looks like?, go find out!”
If you know a teacher who does any of the above, please share this article with them or any teachers who might like these ideas, and similarly if you have any ideas of your own please pop them in the comments box.Read More
Both theorists rose to fame in the 20th century with their groundbreaking research that focuses on the development of the child. Although from afar they seem quite similar, there are fundamental differences that set these two theories apart but also complement each other quite well.
Both Piaget and Montessori built their vision of developmental child psychology around a four plane system where children migrate from one to another as they travel birth towards maturity. Whilst it is easy to find similarities in their theories, it is also important to recognise that they also have their distinct differences. It is these differences that help teachers prepare teaching environments that cater for the whole child. The first crucial difference is that Piaget’s planes stop at age 17, whereas Montessori’s theory carries on until the age of 24, or as Montessori called it, ‘The Plane of Maturity’.
Piaget’s planes are based around and focus on the cognitive development of the child, discussing developments such as movement and the ability to perform operations. Montessori looked at the development of the whole child, catering for all aspects of the child’s development. These being academic, moral, emotional and spiritual aspects of the child. Montessori was focused on enabling the child to become a truly global citizen. “Accustomed to the free will and judgement, illuminated by imagination and enthusiasm. Only such pupils can exercise rightly the duties of citizens in a civilised commonwealth.” Montessori (1989, 1) It is this focus on the whole child and also the need to develop global citizens of the modern world that are the differences that set the two theorists apart.
Whilst mainstream education sees the development of a child as a linear process, both Piaget and Montessori saw this journey differently. They saw the journey as four separate stages (Planes). They both acknowledge that each of the stages are quite distinct and facilitate different aspects of development but those aspects differ depending on the theorist.
Montessori believed that as the child embarks on the journey from birth to maturity, he/she develops a personality, learns how to make choices, grows physically and socially whilst developing a moral conscience. She believed that with freedom to choose as they move through these planes, they would develop into independent, socially moral human beings and this would greatly impact on the way they grow alongside their peers. “For the most part, children like to solve their own social problems, and that adults cause harm by too early and frequent interference.” Lillard.P (1972, 55) Montessori detailed her understanding of the four planes with such precision that as an educator or parent, it is very easy to determine the exact position of any child at any given time. This allows adults to understand how to facilitate a child’s development with greater ease. One example of this could be to alter a child’s educational environment accordingly, so that their specific needs are met.
Montessori believed that each plane acted as a building block for the plane to follow. She believed that the stages had peaks and troughs where the child’s development would be at its most important. This research was monumental and had huge implications for the ways in which teachers prepare their classrooms and teaching programs.
Similarly, Piaget deduced that yes, children will migrate towards maturity through several planes, but unlike Montessori’s theory, Piaget understood that progress would be decided by cognitive development; that the child’s brain changes as they grow and this allows them to see the world in different ways. He understood that as a child progresses, he/she will move from seeing themselves as the centre of the universe, to being part of a greater picture, or being able to understand that just because an object has been removed from sight doesn’t mean that it no longer exists. His research allowed teachers and parents to understand how children saw the world, and therefore differentiate our practices accordingly.
To understand how the two theorists differ we will look at the two concurrent planes of development for both Piaget and Montessori and discuss how they compare.
Montessori’s second plane of development, named ‘Childhood’, occurs between the ages of 6 and 12. During this stage the child is using the skills developed in the first plane to create intelligence and conscience. Children in this plane seek moral or social order. They use the foundations of simple order developed in the first plane and build upon it and start to understand right from wrong. Ultimately, developing a moral conscience. Montessori believed that during this plane, the child must be surrounded with strong role models. She understood that it was this plane that allowed children to build the moral conscience that would allow them to make a real difference in the world. She stated that the moral conscience a child develops in the 2nd plane will assist the child as they precariously navigate their way through their teenage years.
Piaget’s third plane is named ‘The Concrete Operational Stage’ and is perfect to compare with Montessori’s plane of Childhood because they both occur during similar stages of a child’s life. (7 to 12 years of age) According to Piaget, this stage of development sees the thoughts of the child become more rational. Piaget stated that objects and thoughts are able to be manipulated and objects do not have to be present to be considered. The egocentric view of the world declines as the child starts to understand the bigger picture. With the child’s new abstract view of the world, they are able to imagine scenarios and situations which may be far removed from their existence.
When we compare these two planes, we see a distinct difference in the way the two theorists understood the development of the child, but with striking links between the two. Whilst Piaget sees the child developing abstract thoughts and the emergence of the imagination, Montessori states that the child discovers a moral conscience. Both theorists surmise that the child loses his/her egocentric view of the world and see the world as an entity, where they are no longer the centre. This similarity between the two planes allows teachers to see that during this time of a child’s educational journey, we must allow the child to see his/her importance in the world by allowing them to hold cake stalls, raise money, make a real difference. Or to have a role and a responsibility within the classroom, for example; teaching a lesson somebody has missed. Eissler writes, “The act of teaching someone else completes the lesson already learned. During the teaching process we look at a problem or a routine or a skill from someone else’s vantage point.” (2009, 100)
At the same time as helping locally, we must allow children to reach out to the wider community or peer group. The child is now morally conscience and can imagine what people they have never met are going through, allowing them to make choices within the classroom that reflect these moral values. Montessori wrote “Such an attitude prepares the way for social life, it would be impossible to bring about such a result be keeping the children motionless, sitting side-by side.” (1991, 135) This re-enforces the value of the prepared environment and opens the opportunity for very powerful projects in class that will allow the child to develop a real sense of responsibility in the world and understand that they can make a difference.
As the child moves through these various planes, they change and develop. These characteristics allow educators and parents to make modifications and differentiate their pedagogy accordingly. The environment is designed and modified to match the induvial learning needs of each child and is the reason there are distinct differences between the cycle 1 and cycle 2 classrooms. A cycle 1 classroom is arranged so that children can be exposed to highly sensorial materials and equipment, where as a cycle 2 or 3 classroom will allow for discovery, self-reflection and investigation. These differences are only identifiable by looking at the whole child. By integrating the theories of both Piaget and Montessori, we have a deeper understanding of how to enhance the educational journey of the child.
The following table is my understanding of the characteristics of a child as they move through Montessori’s planes of development, along with adaptations educators and parents may need to be aware of.
The child starts to see himself as an individual, separate from his parents.
Strong social and moral conscience.
Starting to have control over big decisions and the future path of his/her life. Relies on foundations of Plane 2 to engage with difficult decisions.
Allow children to engage with the community independently of the class/teacher.
The educational journey needs to be rich in decision making that is real and present. The child must see the results of the decisions/choices that he or she makes.
Their impact on the world through their actions will be obvious and tangible.
Spiritual and moral independence is achieved. (Who am I and what do I have to give to the world?)
Their experience will guide their future decisions.
Educators and leaders must allow students to discover. To try new things and fail. For it is these experiences that will allow the mature child to find who they really are.
After considering the differences and similarities between Piaget and Montessori, we discover that, because they envisage the child’s development and education as a pathway to maturity, they allow us to assist the child as he/she navigates his/her way along this route. Unlike mainstream education, the two philosophies combined allow us to look at the whole child from all perspectives. They allow us to understand the child as a person. Once we understand that the child has specific needs to develop both emotionally and spiritually, we can make adjustments to the environment to facilitate this learning potential.
What do you think??
In this Article we will discuss what is meant by ‘the absorbent mind ‘and how it is so crucial that we as educators and parents fully understand the importance of it during the early years of the developing child. We will also discuss how the absorbent mind relates to the sensitive periods between 0 and 6 years of age.
Maria Montessori was one of the early pioneers of the study of children and their environment. Through her research she understood that children, especially between the ages of 0-6 are influenced a great deal by the environment which surrounds them. She called this period of time ‘The Absorbent Mind’ and used an array of wonderful analogies to describe this crucial time of development. She likened the child’s development to that of a building site, where the child’s mind is the site and yet to be built. The child will use the resources found locally to build his or her mind and because there are only several resources to hand the mind can only be created using these
This analogy related perfectly to the development of the child in the classroom and it must be noted that this time of development is very different to the ‘reasoning mind’ which follows. Montessori argues that once the child ages and edges into the ‘reasoning mind’, they can actively make decisions and choices which are already established by the brain, but during the time of the ‘absorbent mind’, the child merely journeys through life, learning and growing, influenced by the environment that surrounds them. Montessori stated that, ‘It may be said that we acquire knowledge by using our minds; but the child absorbs knowledge directly into his psychic life, simply by continuing to live.’ (2009: 79)
With this in mind, it is important that we understand that because the child between 0-6 will not make active decisions to learn or to memorize patterns as we may do, their prepared environment will have a profound effect on the way a child develops during this stage of growth. This window of opportunity must be grabbed with both hands and in the Montessori classroom it truly is. A wonderful example of this is the child’s ability to retain and understand language during this period. The Montessori classroom and curriculum does not shy away from using complex vocabulary from the beginning of the educational journey. Montessori was a big believer in the fact that parents should not use ‘baby language’ in front of children, in fact quite the opposite. Her understanding was that because they had such potential to absorb and retain information, we should use the very opposite of ‘baby language’. We should in fact be using scientific terminology.
Eissler explains that ‘We should not just admire the pretty flower but we should study the petals, pistil, stamen, stem and pollen, we should not think that these words are too hard for the children, they are of the absorbent mind and will naturally use the correct terminology, if that is what their environment provides.’ (2009: 82)
This is reminiscent of true Montessori classrooms. The abundance of language and scientific terminology available to children throughout their stages of development allows the foundations that were set during the absorbent mind stage to be built upon and in time allow the child to flourish.
The absorbent mind plays a crucial role in the development of the child’s personality and life as a whole but it is crucial to understand that throughout their growth as children, they will travel through several planes of developmental time. Montessori referend to these times slots as ‘Sensitive periods’ These lengths of time can be weeks, months or years long and are a passage of time when the brain is focused on learning a new skill, immersing themselves in an experience, or mastering a developmental milestone.
The sensitive periods are different for each child and vary as the child develops and grows. In early infancy, children can be fascinated with faces or moving objects, and as they grow it may be standing up or walking, followed by multiplication and the addition of fractions. Montessori. M stated that, ‘Even though this development takes place in secret, it would be wrong to imagine, as in the case of speech, for example, that it is not happening.’(1966: 37)
During the early stages of development, we see three distinct sensitive periods which were categorized beautifully by Maria Montessori. The first sensitive period saw children want to see order in the world, for example: a child putting things in the correct place without assistance. The second sensitive period refers to the child wanting to explore the world with what Montessori called ‘the instruments of intelligence’, the hands and mouth. And the third being that of language and expression where words and commands infer meaning upon the actions of the child.
Montessori describes these periods in such a way that it is clear to see that as children grow and develop, we have a profound effect upon the person that they will become. Our actions, words and the environment we place children in, will shape the future for our children. Montessori said ‘The small child walks to develop his powers; he is building up his being. He goes slowly. He has neither rhythmic step nor goal. But things around him allure him and urge him forward.’ Lillard (1972: 35)
These examples are some of many hundreds, but each child will pass through these sensitive periods at some point in their development. It is why we may see some children start to talk or walk at different stages in their lives. They simply passed through the sensitive period earlier or later than others.
These sensitive periods are crucial and are linked very strongly to the period of the ‘Absorbent Mind’. Between the ages of 0-6 the children are starting to understand and take in the world around them. They will focus on tasks which interest them and try to achieve developmental milestones as they navigate their way through the sensitive periods. As adults, it is almost impossible for us to determine the length of time these sensitive periods will take. We can of course, encourage children to keep going but as Eissler states ‘Any action on our part is less likely to speed his development than to postpone it by interrupting his concentration.; (2009: 64)
Throughout time and during the study of the development of children, there have been many theorists who have agreed with and challenged the Montessori methods around the subject of sensitive periods and child development. One of those who had a certain alignment with Montessori’s understanding was Erik Erikson who stated that it is critical that parents allow their children to explore the limits of their abilities within an encouraging environment which is tolerant of failure. His theories linked well with Montessori’s understanding of the role of the adult and the environment during these crucial times of development.
In conclusion, being exposed to the knowledge that the ‘Sensitive Periods’ and the ‘Absorbent Mind’ exist, is of great advantage to both parents and teachers as children develop, especially through the early stages of life from 0-6.) Not only is it crucial that we make sure the environment is prepared correctly and maintained to allow children to maximize their potential, but it is equally as important to recognize that all that is said, done and experienced will craft the child of the future and will lay the foundations for future development and success.
How will you use this information to change the way you educate your children from an early age?