Key Concepts

Human Tendencies

Through the Prepared Environment and the Montessori Method, Montessori education responds to the natural Human Tendencies. Human Tendencies are tendencies and inclinations of humans that are universal, innate and present throughout life.

  • Order
  • Orientation
  • Exploration
  • Communication
  • Activity (work)
  • Manipulation (hands-on exploration)
  • Repetition
  • Exactness and precision
  • Abstraction
  • Self perfection

Four Planes of Development

The Montessori Method is based on the developmental needs of children at different phases of growth. Dr. Montessori referred to these as the Four Planes of Development. The child in each plane has different characteristics, needs and modes of behaviour. The Montessori Method and Prepared Environment at each level correspond to the biological, psychological, social, and academic needs of the children.

First Plane (Birth to 6+ yrs): children are sensorial explorers, constructing their intellects by absorbing every aspect of their environment, their language and their culture.

Second Plane (6+ to 12): children become conceptual explorers. They develop their powers of abstraction and imagination, and apply their knowledge to discover and expand their worlds further.

Third Plane (12- 18yrs): children become humanistic explorers, seeking to understand their place in society and their opportunity to contribute to it.

Fourth Plane (18- 24yrs): young adults become specialized explorers, seeking a niche from which to contribute to universal dialogue.

Sensitive Periods

These are critical periods in a child’s development between birth and age six that show key sensitivity for the child’s attention and exploration of their environment. Dr. Montessori referred to the Sensitive Periods as a time when the child has “an irresistible impulse toward something in the environment which makes the child repeat with great interest so he can establish a function”. The purpose of each sensitive period is to help them acquire a certain skill or characteristic necessary for their growth. During these periods, the acquisition of each particular skill is almost effortless on the part of the child.

As children acquire the skill or characteristic, their sensitivity for it decreases and another sensitivity increases. The Sensitive Periods may overlap and their time frames differ. What is important to understand however, is that they are not continuous. They are short periods of time which have a beginning and an end. Once a Sensitive Period has passed, learning is not as deep and requires more effort by the brain. The main sensitive periods for children between the ages of birth and six years include:

  • Order
  • Movement
  • Language
  • Refinement of the senses

Other Sensitive Periods from birth to six years include; Social behavior (Grace and Courtesy), Spatial relationships, Music, Reading, Writing, Mathematics.


Normalization is the process that occurs during the first six years of life (the first plane of development) that allows the child to self-construct through their own purposeful activity which Montessori calls “work”. Through self-directed activity that engages the child’s innate capacities and tendencies, effort, repetition and concentration, the process of normalization aids the child to develop to his or her fullest potential. A normalized child is one that is self-confident, self-disciplined, passionate, responsible, empathetic, has a general sense of happiness/joy, and makes meaningful contributions to their community (school, family, social circle).

When the child in the first plane of development achieves normalization, they can become fully engaged in a conscious adaptation to their social culture and to the broader world in the second plane of development. The result is joyful, enthusiastic, inquisitive explorers with a life-long love of learning.

Concrete to Abstract

In primary years, lessons are taught in a simple and concrete manner. The progression through the Montessori curriculum is a continuous path toward abstraction. The same lessons are reintroduced as the child grows and are taught with increasing complexity and abstraction. For example, while the young child learns the basic concept of the decimal system with the Golden Beads and Number Cards, the older child learns the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with the same material. Eventually, after the child progresses past several other materials which are increasingly more abstract and complicated, they begin to work without the materials. This integrated approach powerfully reinforces learning and builds true understanding and interest in subject areas.

Intrinsic Motivation

Inspiring intrinsic motivation in children is one goal of the Montessori Method. The aim is to motivate the child from within, working with his/her own interests. Freedom is recognized as the foundation of intrinsic motivation and the child’s choices and learning pace are respected. The Prepared Environment and Montessori trained teacher play an important role in fostering intrinsic motivation by promoting the child’s freedom to choose from their interests and reinforcing the responsibility to follow through, as well as the pride experienced when the child has completed what they set out to accomplish.

The classroom is organized in such a way that the child is free to select their work and therefore learns what they are interested in, when they are interested in it, and at his/her own pace. This spontaneous activity encourages self-direction and self-reliance. Concentration develops if a child is self-motivated.

In a Montessori environment, rewards and punishments are not used. Children innately want to learn and do not need to be motivated by external forces. North Star believes in and practices non-coercive methods of working with children.

Character Education

At North Star, character education is considered an integral part of the program. Students learn to take care of themselves, their environment and each other. Character education begins in the Casa program with Grace and Courtesy lessons (How to interrupt, how to give/receive a compliment, how to offer a guest a snack, how to blow your nose/ sneeze/ cough, how to introduce yourself, etc). The teachers demonstrate a respectful and appropriate way to interact within their community and then invite the children to role-play with each other. Children learn very early the importance of listening, speaking politely, being considerate and helpful and contributing to their community.

Freedom and discipline in the prepared environment foster moral traits of respect, independence, responsibility, and self-initiative. These character traits are nurtured from a child’s youngest years; as the child interacts socially, the character traits of friendliness, helpfulness, and sharing are cultivated.

As the children progress to the elementary levels and the social dynamics become larger and more complex in scope, continued role-playing, regular classroom meetings, and discussions play key roles in the development of character. Morals and virtues are defined, discussed, and practiced throughout the school year and true stories of heroes and role-models throughout history are shared.

The freedom and responsibility children have in Montessori environments create real life opportunities for moral action. The acts of volition and intention beginning in the Casa, create a foundation for self-discipline. In any level of the program, differences may arise at any time, providing opportunities to use social skills for understanding one’s self and others.