What does independence look like for 6-12 year olds?

What does independence look like for 6-12 year olds?


Today I am pleased to share with you an article written by Letty Rising. Letty is an international Montessori consultant. She holds an AMI elementary diploma for ages 6-12 and an M.Ed from Loyola University in Maryland. She has has held positions as Montessori Elementary Teacher (6-12 teacher), Education Coordinator, and Head of School with several different Montessori communities over the years.


Independence in the Second Plane (6-12 year olds) 

A cornerstone of the Montessori approach is the focus on helping the child become an independent being.  When visiting a Montessori classroom comprised of young children, adults are often impressed when they see a 3-year-old child mopping the floor, or washing their own dishes after snack.  They observe children choosing work from shelves, concentrating on that work for long periods of time, then returning the work to the shelf for someone else to use. Even in the toddler classrooms, children are developing a growing sense of independence.

What does independence look like in the second plane or ages 6-12?  

Many adults assume that elementary children are fairly independent...gone are the days of helping with toileting and dressing and feeding.  For adults who have lived, taught, and/or parented using the Montessori approach, it would be easy to assume that the foundation for independence has been laid in the early years and that the elementary years are simply a refinement of the skills presented and practiced during the first plane of development.  

There is an entirely new aspect of independence that is birthed during the elementary years, one that is crucial for the developing 6-12 child, and will prove useful into the adult years.  While the primary focus of independence for children ages 0-6 is physical independence, the focus for the children ages 6-12 is intellectual independence.  While the theme of independence for the first plane child revolves around the idea of “help me ‘do’ for myself,” the mantra for the 6-12 child is “help me think for myself.”  

The ages between 6-12 are the years when children develop both their powers of imagination and their reasoning minds to help them better understand the world around them.  For example, when a teacher tells a child a story about a mammoth, they can imagine what one might look like even if they’ve never seen one.  They can also hold the image in their mind that the sun is a million times larger than the earth. In addition, imagination comes into play as children develop empathy.  Using their imagination, they can empathize with the feelings of other people. The imagination also becomes active as the children consider the outcomes of the various actions that they might choose to take. The reasoning mind is also an important aspect of intellectual independence as children learn to identify patterns, causes, and effects.

How can we help children in their continued quest for physical independence, and also support their newly found yearning for intellectual independence?  

Physical independence: the instinct to be social, repetition through variety, and bigger is better

Just as we don’t make assumptions or put limitations on what the young child can accomplish, this is also true for the 6-12 child.  Any parent of a second plane or 6-12 child knows that chores and responsibilities do not bring the same kind of interest as they did in early childhood. In fact, parents often don’t realize that the best time to inspire children to help around the house is during the years when they are less capable, but more interested. By the time they reach the second plane and have the ability to become competent more quickly, the interest in developing the skills for practical life activities has waned, and often it is the case that resistance sets.  

How can we make chores more appealing to this age group? First off, the second plane child has a “group instinct.”  This means that they don’t want to be left alone to do chores...this can be an agonizing experience for the second plane child who wants to be part of a group and to belong.  Make time for chores as a family event, where everyone is contributing to the common goal of having a well functioning household. The expressions “Many hands make light work” and “the more the merrier” could easily have been coined by a second plane child, who wants to do work in collaboration.  In the classroom, you don’t often see an 6-12 child working alone as you would in a 3-6 classroom. This is because the environment is set up to honor the needs of the child of this age, which is to work with others. Work at home should be no different! A 6-12 child sent to fold laundry or wash dishes alone will likely grumble, whereas the child who has a companion for these aspects, or even a companion doing a different kind of work in the kitchen while they are washing the dishes, will likely bring about a more receptive response.  

The first plane child learns through repetition, and repetition for that age means repeating the same thing over and over again.  However, for the second plane child, repetition often comes in the form of doing something bigger.  Have you been wanting to sand and stain your hardwood patio table for ages, but haven’t had the time to do so? Your elementary child will most likely enjoy helping you with this "great work." Or maybe they want to invite a friend over to help them! Does your car need to be washed but you haven’t been able to make it over to the car wash?  Hand your elementary child a bucket of soapy water, a sponge, a towel, and a hose, and you’re in business! Children this age engage enjoy engaging  in repetition through variety, and they like to do big work, so offering them work around the house that appeals to these things will generally result in happy, productive children.  

Intellectual Independence: 

A huge part of the 6-12 child’s strong need to be social involves learning how to cooperate, collaborate, and resolve conflicts.  Rather than assigning chores or trying to force independence upon the elementary child who appears to be resistant, invite them to collaborate with you.  When possible, ask them in what ways they would like to contribute to household life. Ask them what kinds of chores they enjoy doing best, and which ones they struggle with.  Ask them what it is about certain chores that they don’t like? Maybe they don’t fully understand the process involved in a particular chore or task, or perhaps they want some company. The gift of this age is that the child is developing a reasoning mind, and this means that you can work with them to find solutions to problems.  


In addition, your second plane child will develop a sudden thirst for knowledge.  They will be asking why, how and what, and this sometimes becomes frustrating for the parent who is not accustomed to all of these questions! You can help your child become more intellectually independent by doing these things:  

For more in our Montessori Parenting Series have a look here

Have some encyclopedia and resource books handy.  You will want to show your child how to look through a table of contents or an index to find information so that they can find the answers to their questions.  Help them understand different kinds of resources (e.g. encyclopedia, atlas, almanac, thesaurus, etc), and which resources to go to depending on the information that is sought.  

Teach your child how to do an internet search.  Parents are divided on the idea of what age that children should begin computer use, but most parents would agree that by the time a child is 9 or 10, they are becoming tech savvy and wanting more independence in the realm of electronic device usage .  This can become a power struggle if the adult's/parent’s concerns with screen time clash with the child’s increasing need for knowledge about the world around them. Helping your child develop a sense of freedom and responsibility on the computer by giving them the tools they need while helping them finding balance between screen time and other areas in their life, will go far in supporting them in the development of intellectual independence.  

Ask your child higher order thinking questions.  Rather than “yes” or “no” questions, ask them questions such as: “What do you think would happen if….” or “Do you have any ideas on how we can solve this problem?” or “What did you observe about…” or “What is your opinion about….” or “Why do you think….” 

Help them think through the steps of their projects and supply them with the resources needed to execute their projects.  6-12 children love to engage in personal projects at home, whether it be knitting a scarf, helping plan a summer trip to a national park, or making a special dinner for the family.  Scaffolding these projects by helping them think through what they need to execute the project and the steps to be taken from start to end, will ensure your child’s success and help them develop a project-based mindset that will help them in future projects.  


While the first plane child is asking the adult to help them achieve physical independence, the second plane child is asking “help me to learn how to think for myself.”  While we continue to help them develop physical independence, it’s also important to support the second plane child’s quest for intellectual independence. The child of this age starts developing their own thoughts, opinions and ideas that are apart from the adults in their lives, and they have a deep need to make sense of their wider world.  Helping them develop their communication skills and assisting them as they learn how to utilize various kinds of resources to find the information they are seeking will go a long way towards helping your child as they continue along the path to become a flourishing and thriving adult.  



For more in our Montessori Parenting Series have a look here

You can see our 6-12 curriculum tour here


Visit our 6-12 classroom tour here

Back to blog


Fantastic article. I love the idea of the “first plane” and “second plane” child, although I’ve never heard that terminology before. I think the examples of how to give students more interesting and challenging “big work” resonate with me as a mother of four as great ideas. This is an important topic for all parents and teachers, since we often reinforce compliance over thinking with our children.

Kathleen Hermsmeyer

I love this blog post! It describes the developmental planes in real life descriptions that you can actually visualize in your own home with your own children. The suggestions and guidance is general enough to be applicable to everyone and specific enough to individualize it to meet the needs of my specific child. Thank you for this valuable resource! I am sure parents will appreciate this valuable resource. Thank you!

Sara Shadravan

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.