postheadericon Sensitive Periods

Montessori believed in a necessary relationship between children and their environment. Children must find a properly prepared environment if they are to fully develop their unique human potentials.

In addition to determining children's eventual height, hair color, and other physical characteristics, there is another cognitive plan which determines the unique emotional and intellectual qualities of each child. These qualities develop through what Montessori referred to as "the sensitive periods."

Each sensitive period is a specific kind of compulsion, motivating young children to seek objects and relationships in their environment with which to fulfill their special and unique inner potentials..

Montessori believed that children will develop to their full human potential when everything in the environment is "just right." Everything Food, furniture, learning activities, social relations, clothing, routines, and rituals must all be "just right" in order for them to develop their fullest potential as human beings. Young children are neither consciously aware of nor capable of directly communicating their interests and developmental needs. In Montessori Early Childhood programs, teachers are charged with providing learning environments in which everything is "just right." For almost one hundred years, Montessori educators have observed a set of motivations shared by young children around the world. What Dr. Maria Montessori discovered in the St. Lorenz Quarter in 1907 was that children are self-motivated to learn from their environment.

Borrowing a term from biology, she called these stages the sensitive periods, after similar developmental stages in animals. The idea seemed revolutionary at the time, and took many years, following Piaget's extensions of Montessori's initial explanation, to become generally accepted in child psychology. Today, whether we use Montessori's terminology or not, the description of child development she first presented at the turn of the century rings true.

Each sensitive period is:

A period of special sensibility and psychological attitudes.

An overpowering force, interest, or impetus directing children to particular qualities and elements in the environment.

A period of time during which children center their attention on specific aspects of the environment, to the exclusion of all else.

A passion and a commitment.

Derived from the unconscious and leads children to conscious and creative activities.

Intense and prolonged activity which does not lead to fatigue or boredom, but instead leads to persistent energy and interest.

A transitory state once realized, the sensitive period disappears. Sensitive periods are never regained, once they have passed.

Dr. Montessori identified eleven different sensitive periods occurring from birth through age six. Each refers to a predisposition compelling children to acquire specific characteristics as described below. When Montessori teachers speak about children being "inner directed," they are referring to an inner compulsion or sensitive period. A Montessori teacher would say, for example, "This child is in her sensitive period for order." These phrases point to each child's predisposition to follow her own daily classroom routine in which she chooses the same materials and in the same sequence. Ages of the onset and conclusion of each sensitive period are approximate and are indicated after the general description.

Movement Random movements become coordinated and controlled: grasping, touching, turning, balancing, crawling, walking. (birth — one)

Language Use of words to communicate: a progression from babble to words to phrases to sentences, with a continuously expanding vocabulary and comprehension. (birth — six)

Small Objects A fixation on small objects and tiny details. (one — four)

Order Characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition and a passionate love for established routines. Children can become deeply disturbed by disorder. The environment must be carefully ordered with a place for everything and with carefully established ground rules. (two — four)

Music Spontaneous interest in and the development of pitch, rhythm, and melody. (two — six)

Grace & Courtesy Imitation of polite and considerate behavior leading to an internalization of these qualities into the personality. (two — six)

Refinement of the Senses Fascination with sensorial experiences (taste, sound, touch, weight, smell) resulting with children learning to observe and with making increasingly refined sensorial discriminations. (two — six)

Writing Fascination with the attempt to reproduce letters and numbers with pencil or pen and paper. Montessori discovered that writing precedes reading. (three — four)

Reading Spontaneous interest in the symbolic representations of the sounds of each letter and in the formation of words. (three — five)

Spatial Relationships Forming cognitive impressions about relationships in space, including the layout of familiar places. Children become more able to find their way around their neighborhoods, and they are increasingly able to work complex puzzles. (four — six)

Mathematics Formation of the concepts of quantity and operations from the uses of concrete material aids. (four — six)

Note: This list does not include the sensitive periods found in the development of older children and adolescents. However, it does suggest to the early childhood educator some of the things that young children absorb, or will if they are given exposure and opportunity.

Keep in mind that the child's learning during these early stages is not complete, nor has it reached the internalized abstraction stage that will develop as she grows older. It is, however, the foundation upon which much that follows will be built. Wherever this solid foundation is lacking, children will experience difficulty in learning and operating later on.


Last Updated (Monday, 09 August 2010 14:11)