The first plane child (birth to 6 years) is a sensorial explorer through movement. He explores facts, qualities in the environment, the sounds and symbols in the environment and the way of life of those he lives with. The tendencies to explore, orientate and order in the world are immediately available to the senses. This plane is also characterized by the absorbent mind. This child builds his mental muscles from what he finds around himself. Children also have sensitive periods that aid them in their adaptation.
During the first sub-plane (birth to 3 years), the unconscious absorbent mind is active. Without knowing it or willing it, the child unconsciously absorbs impressions from the environment. The most obvious example is the absorption of language. The child absorbs language in all its complexities. The absorption capabilities of the mind can be likened to the function of a sponge. A sponge absorbs every drop of water it comes across. The absorption of this absorbent mind can be compared to the function of a camera. When a picture is clicked by a camera, it takes in both the positives and the negatives from the environment without any discrimination. In a similar fashion, the absorbent mind takes in both the positives and negatives from the environment without any discrimination. During 3-6 years, the conscious absorbent mind is in action. The child still retains the power of absorption without fatigue but now the child has more willed control over his/her own actions. Now, the child absorbs consciously using his hands and senses. His hands become the instrument of intelligence.
As the child reaches three years of age, he has gained experience in language and movement from his environment. During that age, children need wider social interactions. They need a wider peer group. The purpose of the house of children is to provide a place to live together as a community. The house of children acts a bridge between the outer society and the home. It is a mini society which is a reflection of the outer society. This environment helps consolidation of the impressions and experiences from birth to three years of age. The environment is prepared to meet the needs of the child and helps him to interact with the society. Children live peacefully in their mini societies and actualize their potentials. They are respected by the adults in the environment.
All Montessori classrooms are mixed age environments. Only in educational institutions, we observe segregation of humans according to their age. Mixed age environments aid the development of the child much more than traditional classrooms do. Mixed age peer learning is imbibed in the environment. The elder children take the role of the adult and assist the younger children. They joyfully assist the younger child to adjust in the environment and help them work with the material to meet his needs. The younger children, in turn look up to the older children. They observe the older children’s work that generates enthusiasm in them. They understand the progression of work as they observe others in the environment at work. Younger ones, in their own way, also help the older children in their work and maintaining the environment. Owing to the mixed age community, there is no competition or comparison in the environment. Children develop at their own pace and work towards fulfilling their needs. There is no envy among children in the environment. Young children develop a sense of respect towards the older children who are ready to help them. They live in harmony in the environment.
All the material in the environment are child sized. The young child strives for order. External order develops inner order in the child. Every material is classified and categorized in the environment. The Montessori environment is an enabling environment. Children have the freedom to choose their work and develop independence by working with the material.
Materials in the Montessori environment are categorized into five categories. They are:
Our aim is not only to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core.