It is said that young children can absorb more information better than adults. That, what a person has tried learning in 60 years, a child can learn in three. It is true. Children are more open to learning especially in early childhood. There are certain periods in childhood where children are more inclined to learn and acquire new skills. These are called Montessori sensitive periods.
What does Montessori mean by sensitive period? A sensitive period is a timeframe or a specific period where children develop an inner compulsion to seek objects and relationships within their environment. There is more than one sensitive period in a child’s development. These are periods when children are more inclined to learn, more curious, receptive to stimuli, and absorb new information at maximum level. These are developmental windows of opportunities that occur only once.
The Montessori Sensitive Periods
According to Dr. Maria Montessori,
“Montessori Sensitive period refers to a special sensitivity which a creature acquires in its infantile state, while it is still in a process of evolution. It is a transient disposition and limited to the acquisition of a particular trait. Once this trait, or characteristic, has been acquired, this special sensitivity disappears.”
We must know and understand each sensitive period so the child gets the right support and environment for optimal development. There are several Montessori sensitive periods a child experiences but we will identify the ones that occur from birth to six years old. This is the critical age range of a person’s maximum brain and physical development.
- Language – from birth to 6 years old
- Large Movement – from birth to 2.5 years old
- Toileting – 1 to 2.5 years old
- Small Objects – 1 to 3 years old
- Order – 1.5 to 4 years old
- Courtesy and Grace – 2 to 6 years old
- Refinement of Senses – 2 to 6 years old
- Refinement of Movement – 2.5 to 4.5 years old
- Social Skills – 2.5 to 5 years old
- Learning to Write – 3.5 to 4.5 years old
- Mathematics – 4 to 6 years old
- Learning to Read – 4.5 to 5.5 years old
Knowing when and what to expect during these periods will allow us to anticipate them and provide the right tools and environment to fulfill our children’s needs.
Identifying Montessori sensitive periods is not enough. Some factors affect how your child develops during these sensitive periods. The three key factors are:
- Adult’s expert knowledge in child development and the sensitive periods in Montessori.
- A well-prepared and logically designed classroom environment that can satisfy each sensitive period.
- An educational observation is done by a highly-trained adult or teacher.
It takes a village to raise a child. It is true in the Montessori method. The child, parents, teachers, the environment, and other key players work together so the child can achieve his full potential.
Characteristics of a Montessori Sensitive Period
Children behave a certain way when a sensitive period occurs. They can exhibit intense concentration, deep focus on tasks, and repetitive behavior. They may also start mimicking others, talk nonstop, a burst of language, pick up a second language easily, or move around as if they don’t run out of energy.
Children can exhibit subtle signs while others show obvious signs including tantrums and meltdowns.
Children are not conscious when a sensitive period occurs. They cannot communicate to the adults about the changes that are happening within them. This is why the people around them must be aware, observant, and ready to give the support they need during these critical times.
When a sensitive period is missed, the opportunity is gone. It can never be recaptured. The developmental window of opportunity where a child can learn and grow the most is lost forever.
This does not mean children can’t learn anymore. It just takes more time and effort. Their inner compulsion to learn, their interest, and their curiosity about a specific subject is gone. This means it takes more encouragement to get them to learn. This can be frustrating for them and can be a big hurdle in learning.
Why is repetition important? Repetition is important in learning because this is where they make mistakes, learn, and master a lesson or activity. Through repetition children also learn new skills. In Montessori, children use repetition in activities until they master it. That is the only time they can move on to another one.
Can I Introduce a learning activity in advance before a sensitive period occurs? Teaching children before a sensitive period arrives can hurt your children’s love for learning. When they are not interested and are forced to do an activity against their will, learning will be at a minimum or none at all.
What happens if children are taught after the sensitivity period? When the window of opportunity is gone, it is gone. You cannot get it back. Children and teachers will have a hard time. It does not mean children will not learn but they need more time and effort. For example, children at the age of six below can quickly learn a new language in days. While 16 years old may take months, adults will take years.
What to do during a sensitive period? Regardless of the age of your child, make sure you provide the proper support to address their needs. For infants, you can consult your pediatrician, or child development expert, or do your research. For preschool-aged toddlers, Montessori school is the best place for them along with proper support at home.
What age is the most critical part of a child’s development? From birth to 3 years old is the most crucial time for physical and brain development. This is a time when your child absorbs the most information.
Going back, a sensitive period is a timeframe or a specific period where children develop an inner compulsion to seek objects and relationships within their environment. There is more than one sensitive period in a child’s development. These are periods when children are more inclined to learn, more curious, receptive to stimuli, and absorb new information at maximum level. These are developmental windows of opportunities that occur only once.
The Montessori sensitive periods occur once so be observant to the windows of opportunity in child development and play an active role in your child’s progress.