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Montessori Second Plane – What exactly is it?

Cosmic Education is the plan Dr. Maria Montessori developed for children during the elementary ages or, as she named it, the second plane of development. The Montessori “Second Plane” elementary child, she explained, would be motivated to learn through a broad view of the universe and all of its great forces.

Through Cosmic Education, children learn everything in the universe has a cosmic task to fulfill. During the second plane, teachers (also referred to as guides) offer the universe to children so that in time each child will realize her own potentiality; it is to help each individual child find her place in the universe.

Sowing the Seeds of Learning

Dr. Montessori theorized that guides could ‘sow the seeds of learning’ in the elementary through great stories and key lessons. These stories and lessons make a general impression or to give an overview. Some of these seeds are picked up by the children during the lower elementary who then delve into ideas a bit further.

However, these seeds also provide the foundation for exploration in the upper elementary when they are ready to explore in even more detail and at a much greater depth. Therefore, it is important the seeds of learning are sown. Guides need to remember: For much of what is presented in the second plane, immediate results aren’t always seen.

A point to keep in mind when working with children in the upper elementary is that guides pick up with each individual child from wherever they left off in the lower elementary. This is the same as what we do with the children coming from the Primary into the lower elementary.

Guides need to get to know students well, what their skills are, what they need, and start from where they are coming in. Commonly guides will hear that the children don’t know all their math facts, so we’ll need to help them learn those. There might be an area of the curriculum they missed; we’ll have to work with them in these areas as well.

What Does Abstraction Mean?

The term abstraction refers to when a student reaches the point where they no longer need to use Montessori materials. Educators and caregivers often misinterpret this. It is not the only task of the upper elementary child to work in the abstract. Pushing this too quickly is a great disservice to these children.

Not all children reach abstraction at the same time. There are some children who will need help step by step. Children cannot possibly reach the level of abstraction for all the work we represent before coming to the upper elementary class. Montessori materials are always used as a guide, such as the History Question Charts and the History Timelines.

It is quite possible guides will hear, “I have already done that.” They should respond with, “I got this material out so you can show me the lesson!” Sometimes they can show us and sometimes they can’t.

We might also say, “I know you have had some lessons with this material but I am going to show you the material in a different way today.” If we reflect the attitude that the materials are fun and hold more to discover, the children will also pick up this attitude. The materials give a level of understanding, even in the Upper Elementary, children cannot get from abstract work.

Extending Children’s Interests

Elementary Guides should also look for ways to extend interested children’s work. They need to model ways to delve even deeper. Once there is a well established upper elementary classroom community, students will take off from each other and help one another. This is why students collaborate and work so closely together.

Children should be Going Out more often in the Upper Elementary than they did in the Lower Elementary. Older children should be able to take on more responsibility. Because they are going into more detail, they should be Going Out more often. It is in the upper elementary the children should truly be exploring service to society.

Guides should ask themselves: Have we paved the way for this? Have we made contacts in the community? Are the children aware of these Going Out opportunities? Have we educated our parents? 

Special Gifts of Being Human

Another goal of the second plane, or the plan of Cosmic Education, is to show children when human beings arrived on Earth they came with intelligence and will; with reason and love. These gifts carried a responsibility with them. The significance of this is that to be truly human means to recognize these gifts we have been given and to use them in a responsible way.

Through Cosmic Education we are drawing the children’s attention to the fact they need to recognize their own humanity and the humanity of others. We can show them what human beings over the ages have been able to achieve and the service they have given to others. We can help them to realize that they, in turn, can do the same thing.

This is what it means to call to the spirit of the child that which Dr. Montessori referred to as the cosmic agent of peace.

Do you have more questions about the second plane of development? Cosmic education? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas or experiences at

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Check out these two wonderful Montessori Resources:

Association Montessori Internationale

American Montessori Society

This blogpost was inspired by an AMI Montessori Training lecture, 2007.