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Serving the Child's Need for Independence in a Fast-Paced World

Updated: May 5, 2022

Understanding the Child in the First Plane of Development, Part 2

By Judith Jolma

Living with a child in the first plane of development can be especially challenging for mothers in the fast-paced world we live in today.

When Britney spent longer cleaning the kitchen than she realized, she found herself running late for her daughter’s well-patient check-up. Two-year-old Sarah played happily in the living room taking all the cushions off the couch and ripping up the junk mail left on the coffee table -- important work in little Sarah’s mind. Suddenly noticing the time, her mother, Britney, burst into the living room and scooped up Sarah, hastily explaining, ``We have to go, or we will be late.” Sarah began to cry. Of course she did. If you were paying bills and a giant burst into the room, scooped you up, and moved you away from your important work, I bet you would cry out too: "Hey! Put me down! I was working on something!”

Britney set Sarah down and hastily began pushing the little girl’s arm into a coat sleeve. Fiercely resisting, Sarah frantically repeated, “Me do myself!” a phrase that has become known as the mantra of the first plane of development. Coming to her senses, Britney recognized her error in handling the situation.

She is a very good mother and understands that little Sarah is busy with important work and wants

to learn how to do everything on her own. She wants to put on her own coat, pour her own drink, and wipe her own spills. But she does not yet have the motor skills to do it all. Britney understands that she must let the child develop according to her internal drive and do as much by herself as possible. So Britney backed off, still anxiously aware of the time.

Sarah struggled to zip her jacket fumbling with her uncoordinated fingers and their underdeveloped fine motor skills. As Britney reached to assist, Sarah pulled away, “Me do myself!” Suddenly, Sarah attached the zipper and pulled it up. She had been working on this for weeks. But her bright eyes and surprised smile were instantly cut short as Britney once again scooped her up without any recognition. Britney just wanted to make her appointment on time.

It was raining. The temperature had plunged below 40 degrees and Britney wanted to get herself out of the elements as quickly as possible. But as she gently set Sarah in her car seat (consciously working on her own patients and respect for her daughter), she once again heard her ambitious little girl: “Me do!” As Sarah grabbed the seat belt from her mother. Britney now recognizes that Sarah did just accomplish something very difficult — zipping her own jacket — so she breathes deeply, wraps her coat tightly around herself, and lets Sarah fumble with the buckle.

Oh, Mama! How brave you are! Britney’s hair drips with freezing rain. She is cold. She is stressed. She has nearly missed her appointment. But she gives her daughter a moment to try before she dives in, arrests the buckle from the 2-year-old’s hands, and snaps it in place. Then closes the door. As she enters the driver's seat, Sarah is whaling.

No wonder we call it “terrible two's.” But in all fairness, the child is not to blame (neither is the heroic mother). The important thing to recognize here is that Sarah is doing exactly what she must do — what she was designed by her creator to do — what she is instinctively driven to do — what is essential for her to do in order to construct herself into a mature, capable, happy adult.

"If the child is allowed to use his spontaneous activity in a tranquil environment without interference or unasked for help, he is indeed engaged in a most important work: he is building the man he will one day be.” Maria Montessori said in her paper Montessori Speaks to Parents.

My dear friend and Montessori directress, Maggie Radzik, often tells the story of the woman who grew up in an African village in which the community lived a slow-paced existence and always welcomed the smallest children into the work — stirring pots, sweeping dirt floors, planting gardens. “I never saw a toddler tantrum until I moved to the U.S.” Miss Radzik recalls her saying.

Neither the mother nor the child is to blame for the tantrum. But perhaps our fasted-paced lifestyle is.

Tragically, I have witnessed these frantic situations and have seen the adult become angry at the child, and begin to punish the child or call them names: “You little monster!” I have heard a parent say to the child in this situation.

Though perhaps reasonable, it is also a tragic identity that the parent is programming into the child’s psyche in this impressionable moment. Recall, that the child is constructing himself and his personal identity — what he believes about himself — based on every word and emotion in his environment.

What is a child to absorb from these all-too-common situations? That he is naughty, or a “little monster” for simply following his internal drive for self-improvement? No wonder many children lose their will to learn by the tender age of 6 and homework becomes a battle. We, in an attempt to do well for our children, misguidedly strip them of their life force via our demand for total compliance of will. Never attempt to break the child’s spirit or will, or you may just break the child.

Perhaps our dear mother, Britney, handled the situation in the best possible way given the circumstance. But maybe she can consider her daughter’s tantrum and ask, "What can I do to not get myself in this situation again in the future?” After all, Britney is the adult who can more easily control the household schedule. Maybe she can prevent cramming as many things into a day giving the child more uninterrupted space. Or she can be more aware of the time and give her daughter adequate space to prepare herself to leave next time. Let’s imagine an almost unrealistic ideal.

Imagine if Britney approached Sarah, waited for Sarah to break from whatever she was concentrating upon, and said, “We will need to go to the doctor’s office after you get your coat on. Here is your coat. Would you like to put it on, or would you like me to put it on for you?" Sarah would then have ample time to practice her zipper skills and move to the car. When Britney opened the door, she could have stood for a moment and said, “Ooooh, it is very cold outside. Mommy does not want to stand in the rain. You must let me buckle your seat today and you may take it off when we get to the doctor’s office.” Since she has now built in plenty of time for this post-drive exercise, she would be able to keep her promise from the comfort of the heated car.

Of course, not all such events can be so well anticipated and planned for. Sometimes life happens quickly and we cannot live up to our own ideals. But if we have learned to understand the nature of the child, we can avoid attributing bad behavior to them. We can understand that they are doing their best just as we are doing our best.


By Judith Jolma, Founder of Sophia Homeschool.

Sophia Homeschool teaches parents how to homeschool. Learn more about our training at

Learn how to create a homeschool method and environment based on your family's needs so you can thrive. My Foundations of Homeschooling Masterclass teaches parents to work with their budget, schedule, learning style, teaching style, and resources so each member of the family has his or her needs met— including yours! Learn to create a peaceful and joyful learning environment that lasts a lifetime. Identify learning differences and adapt your educational plan accordingly. Unlock the mysteries of teaching multiple grades at once. By knowing what your needs are, you will save thousands of dollars, time, and energy on methods that do not work. We will end homework battles and restore your relationship with your child.

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