Homeschooling in the Third Plane of Development
By Judith Jolma
The first day of school came and went unceremoniously in our home this year. My eldest, Joseph, wanted to participate in Classical Conversations and the local chapter began weeks before the rest of our household cracked open the school books. So on the first day of class, he woke early, packed his lunch, and with a casual, "Have a great day!" from mom, he was off and I buried my nose in my work until well after lunch. That was when it hit me! This was my oldest child's first day of high school and I hardly acknowleged it!
Although the transition may have appeared seamless at first, we are now deep into the first semester and it is obvious that we are truly in a whole new plane of development -- the third plane of development. I have some work to do. I'm his guide and must be the prepared adult he needs to navigate this plane successfully.
The third plane of development -- those dreaded adolescent years -- is, in fact, part of God’s perfect design. If only we as parents could step back and ponder the great transformation taking place in the secrets of our teenager’s souls, we may find far less frustration with their behavior. Adolescents is a great mystery that should compel the parent to behold with reverent awe. All your hard work is about to bear fruit as the child you birthed, nurtured, educated, and loved transforms into an independent adult. This transformation, however, requires a few special skills on the part of the parent.
As with each stage of our children’s lives, we must step back and observe carefully asking “What is God’s purpose in this plane of development?” Once we can perceive God’s design, we better grasp God’s purpose. Once we understand the purpose, we can better assist the child in fulfilling God’s purpose for them. What a beautiful thing to be in cooperation with this natural rhythm rather than fighting against it simply because we do not understand.
So let’s take a close look at the third plane of development.
This plane is parallel to the first plane -- birth to age 6. The similarities are striking. In fact, I do not know a parent of a teen who does not often grow frustrated by this seeming regression back to the terrible twos.
Here are a few ways these two planes are the same:
Both the toddler and the teen are undergoing a period of self-construction. As the child is so focused on developing themselves they truly are self-centered -- by design! It is impossible to give of one's self unless we have something to give. So self-centered, self-construction should be embraced and properly navigated.
Both toddlers and teens are undergoing rapid physical change. Consider how the six-week-old infant looks nothing like the 6-year-old child. What a transformation! Consider also that the 13-year-old child looks nothing like the 18-year-old young adult. In both planes, the child grows taller, stronger, and more capable. We know the teen has raging hormones -- so did the toddler! We know that the toddler’s brain was rapidly developing as it learned language, and fine and gross motor skills. The toddler was also learning emotional control, and executive function and had an intense need for order. This is all once again true for the teen. In the latter plane, the brain undergoes a massive pruning. All the dendrites, which never found a connection, are considered unimportant and the body cuts them away. This physical, chemical, and mental work takes a massive amount of resources and requires an enormous amount of sleep and nutrition. In fact, in all of human development, this is the worst time for academic study. The body and brain simply have more important priorities. For a little perspective, remember the brain fog you had in your first trimester of pregnancy? Your teen is going through something very similar. He may look as if he is just sitting on the couch in his PJs at noon, but the reality is his body may as well be mountain climbing. He is working -- HARD!
Both the toddler and the teen are giving birth -- the toddler to the child and the teen to the adult. This is a period that demands our reverence and protection as it is a period of immense physical, spiritual, and psychological vulnerability.
Both the toddler and the teen are striving for independence and a need to be accepted by the community. Remember that toddler who wanted to buckle his own car seat but was not able to? The struggle was so important for that child. Similarly, the teen wants to be independent and, though often still incapable of such freedom, this struggle is inevitable and necessary. Our job is to assist them in that independence to allow pain while preventing injury. This need for independence is often misinterpreted as rebellion. But to prevent independence is to prevent the child from becoming an adult.
“If puberty is on the physical side a transition from an infantile to an adult state, there is also, on the psychological side, a transition from the child, who has to live in a family, to the man who has to live in society. These two needs of the adolescent: for protection during the time of the difficult physical transition, and for an understanding of the society which he is about to enter to play his part as a man.” (Montessori, 1973 ), p. 60
The Developmental objectives of the 12 to 18-year-old are to shape a personal mission and build the character and strength to enter working society.
Remember how the toddler was so in awe of nature? Remember how he loved to splash in water and blow dandelion seeds? Maria Montessori saw something very similar in adolescence. She gave this period a pet name: “Children of the Earth.” But the teen's need to be connected to the Earth is now more mature. The adolescent needs to take dominion over the Earth. To travel and explore it, to work the land, build things upon it, break a horse or train a dog. He needs to see something go from seed to profit and see that the work of his hand has monetary value to society. Entrepreneurial work is essential for the teen. He must test his ideas, and use his new physical strength. They are aware of their blooming beauty and are fascinated by it. They will look in the mirror for long periods of time because they see themselves changing. Just as the toddler who has just learned to walk, begins pushing heavy things around the room as he builds strength to use his new skill, the teen begins playing with their blossoming beauty as they understand the power it has upon the opposite sex. This is not something to discourage but something that requires wise guidance from the adults in the teen’s life.
Each plane of development has its own sensitive periods. It is helpful to understand the adolescents:
Search for the personal ideal.
Create strong bonds with adults
He also has a few codes to be solved:
Code of civility as adult citizens.
Adult immersion into society.
His psychological center is no longer his home. It is society.
What are the ideal characteristics of the adult in any teen’s life?
High intellectual standards.
Uses discovery by dialogue.
Excellent command of the entire scope of knowledge.
Intellect combined with real life.
These are similar to the ideal characteristics of the adult in the child’s life. But the adult in the teen's life must extend beyond the parents. At this age, an invisible hand goes up to the parents as if the child is saying, “Mom, you have taught me everything you have. Now, I must validate what you taught me in the real world. I must find out if others agree with you.” For this reason, wise parents intentionally palace strong and active mentors in the child’s life who will reinforce the family’s core beliefs and morals.
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