“A child learns to adjust himself and make acquisitions in his sensitive periods. These are like a beam that lights interiorly or a battery that furnishes energy. It is this sensibility which enables a child to come into contact with the external world in a particular intense manner. At such a time everything is easy, all is life and enthusiasm.” – Maria Montessori
According to Dr. Maria Montessori, the sensitive periods are periods of time in which young children develop important skills and learn certain concepts, naturally, without conscious effort, and with great joy and enthusiasm.
Dr. Montessori explained the sensitive period for language acquisition occurs from ages 0 to 6 when a child learns very easily the languages to which they are exposed. Newborns love hearing the voices of parents and guardians and focus on the movements of the lips and tongue of those who speak to them. There is an explosion of language as the child absorbs a large amount of words, phrases, and sentences and begins to express themselves verbally. We observe this in our classrooms as children begin to respond to, and then use more advanced vocabulary in 2 languages.
The sensitive periods that Dr. Montessori observed in children are:
Order (ages 2-4): A need for routines, consistency and desire for repetition. They can be stubborn about their need for this, especially the youngest children.
Movement: (birth-1) Desire to develop their strength and explore more challenging body movements.
Small objects: (ages 1-4) Curiosity to explore and touch small objects and tiny details. Prepares small muscles for writing.
Grace and Courtesy: (ages 2-6) Starts with greetings, polite words and cleaning up after oneself. These words and actions become very important to children.
Refinement of the Senses: (ages 2-6) A fascination with experiencing sense (taste, sound, touch, weight, smell) helps children identify differences between things. (Example: exploring with touch through sand play and washing activities)
Writing: (ages 3-4) Interest in creating and refining their letters and numbers on paper.
Reading: (ages 3-5) Desire to work with literacy materials such as sandpaper letters and to master reading.
Expressive Language: (birth-6) Use of words to communicate: repeating words and phrases and mimicking teachers in both languages.
Spatial Relationships: (ages 4-6) Exploring space and direction. Older children become interested in geography, making connections with their travel.
Music: (ages 2-6) Exploration of pitch, rhythm, and melody. Desire to sing and clap.
Mathematics: (birth-6) Interest in numbers, quantity and the 4 operations. Desire to manipulate math materials such as colored beads for linear counting.
In the classroom, we often see the children working within the Sensitive Periods. A child may be attracted to the sound cylinders when experiencing a sensitive period with music or refinement of senses. The older children are drawn to creating maps when they are sensitive to spatial relationships and reading. They may become intensely fascinated with their work but this fascination is a normal and necessary part of their learning.
This productive and natural learning is why we ‘follow the child’ in the Montessori method.
Teachers (and parents) should act as careful observers during the Sensitive Periods to maximize these magical periods of learning. The Montessori classroom is the ideal environment for these times as the different areas and materials are designed to address the specific learning needs children have during the Sensitive Periods. This supportive environment helps children develop the habits and values that will be part of their personalities for life.
-Ms. Gina Rosado and Ms. Mirella Carreno of Intercultural Montessori’s Rafael Cordero/Daniela Stefancu Primary Communities