Montessori Sensitive Periods of Development Part 1
If you are new to Montessori you may have heard the term Sensitive Periods of Development or simply Sensitive Periods and wonder, what does that mean? How do I know when the child is going through one? How do I respond to a sensitive period in my home and the prepared environment? Today I am going to dive into the topic of Sensitive Periods of Development and answer these questions.
What is a Sensitive Period?
The term Sensitive Periods was created by a Dutch biologist Hugo de Vries and adopted by Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Maria Montessori likened the process of development and Sensitive Periods to that of a butterfly. It has several stages of development it requires to reach its final and true form. A butterfly would go through stages of development one at a time to become ready for the next stage. Similarly a child will go through one period of development to ready themselves for the next. Each child progresses through these Sensitive Periods of Development at different times and in their own way unique to the child. The child cannot alter or have free over when a sensitive period occurs.
Sensitive Periods are periods ofphysiological development when children can acquire certain skills or concepts. These Sensitive Periods are most obvious during the first Plane of Development which occurs from birth to age 6. For more on Planes of Development check out my last blog here.
How does a sensitive Period affect the child?
During these sensitive periods children have an inner compulsion that motivates the child to seek out objects and relationships in their environment. The child is self-motivated to seek out ways to fill the need themselves in their environment.
The child becomes extremely focused and has an internal force directing them, centering all their energy and focus on specific aspects of the environment to develop a certain skill. This ends when the child has met their needs and transitions back to a normal. Once the child goes through the sensitive period they do not have it again. Dr. Maria Montessori said “Adults have no direct influence on these different states. But if a child has not been able to act according to the directives of his sensitive period, the opportunity of a natural conquest is lost, and it is lost for good.” That’s not to say the child can’t learn it but it takes much more effort and time to realize and could be more difficult.
How many sensitive periods are there and when do they occur? How can I support this period of Development?
There are eleven sensitive periods that occur and a child can experience one or multiple sensitive periods at a time. The sensitive periods include:
🌀 Movement – This sensitive period begins at birth and goes until around 4.5. Babies and toddlers typically focus on movement because they need to learn how to control their body and movements they make. There are two different types of movement; Gross motor and fine motor. When a child is working on gross motor skills they are working on things like rolling over crawling and walking pulling up and running. Something that requires the whole body to do and is a larger movement. When a child is focusing on fine motor development that is more things to do with their hands and fine small detailed movement like using a fork or spoon or learning how to post objects.
The best way to support this sensitive period is to allow for freedom of movement starting from birth. This would result in very limited to no time in a baby container device like a walker, swing, or bouncer etc.. These devices make it impossible for the child to move freely. They need to be able to stretch and move and explore the area around them. You can also offer opportunities for the child to practice the skills. For example if a child is learning to crawl you can take a favorite toy and put it just out of reach for the child to be motivated to go toward that toy. When a child is going through fine motor skills of developing their pencil grip you can create opportunities for small objects with the child can pick up with your fingers such as cutting their food into smaller pieces for them to concentrate on picking up.
🌀 Math Patterns – this sensitive period also begins at birth to about 3.5 when it transforms to Mathematics. There are several ways that you can support this period of time such as giving your child work that involves stacking, categorizing, and discriminating. you can also work counting from a very young age into your narrating or conversations with your child. For example if you’re giving your child snacks at the table you can count how many carrot sticks you’re giving them or you can count how many socks you’re handing them to help you sort through. You could also count stairs as you go up and down or you can count how many of a specific object they have that they’re playing with such as blocks or animals.
🌀 Emotional Control – this is another sensitive period that begins at birth and goes to about the age of 2 1/2. This includes communication, relationships with others, and control of emotions. You can support this Sensitive period by providing a respectful and positive parenting style and discipline at home. Treating the child as an equal and human being is critical and helping the child to regulate their emotions until they can do so themselves is very important. Hope the child in a way that is calm and positive while also ensuring that you have firm but kind limits.
🌀 Order – This sensitive period begins around the age of 6 months and last until about 3.5. during this stage of development children have any need for order and their environment so they can make sense of what is around them. You can support this period of development by providing an orderly environment. Children thrive on order and consistency, routines and everything in its place. Set standards that everything goes in its place and encourage the child to clean up after themselves.
In many cases if a child is not in an environment that is orderly it can cause the child to have episodes of what adults see as bad behavior or tantrums. This is because the child is craving order and the needs is not being met.
🌀 Small Objects – This sensitive period begins around 12 months and lasts until about 3.5 years old. This leads to children gaining their fine motor control and attention to detail. You can support the child during the stage of development by ensuring your offering small objects that are their size to use. For example ensure that the silverware and cooking tools a child or using our sized specifically for them. Nature is also an amazing way to support this stage because there are so many things to explore that are small and complex for the child.
🌀 Toilet Learning – this sensitive period occurs between the ages of 12 and 18 months. In Montessori we use the term toilet learning because the child is gradually learning to use the toilet at their own pace and without rewards or consequences.
You can support this by changing the child from wet diapers as soon as possible to avoid them being accustomed to the wet sensation. You should also allow the child to see you and other family members using the toilet often. This is something that we want to portray as a natural way of eliminating and thus an everyday task and this helps them become accustomed to it. When the child can stand independently I recommend standing diaper changes and changing the location to the bathroom. This is because the child can see what is going on, participate in pulling the diaper off or cleaning themselves, and they associate eliminating with the bathroom and toilet.
When you child shows signs of readiness you can create various potty stations around the house such as the play room and child’s bedroom so they can easily get the toilet quickly. When they first begin potty learning actively they may not be able to hold it for long periods after the initial sensation that they need to eliminate. You can put a basket with toilet paper and a few clean pairs of underwear next to the toilet to allow for independence if they have a miss and soil their clothing.
🌀 Language – This sensitive period begins around 12 months though they are taking it all in from birth. To support this sensitive. You can ensure that are using rich language around the child, reading books, singing songs, talk to them about everything by narrating or sportscasting. The main goal is to give them the opportunity to hear you talking and watching your lips moving. You can also take the child’s hand occasionally and put it up on your throat or your chest so they can feel the vibration.
Reading books before bed is a great way to get reading in while also setting up some quality time and solid bedtime routine. Books are also great option because many books have words that we wouldn’t say on a normal basis throughout our day and thus it introduces those sounds and language to the child. If you are a family that has more than one language in our bilingual etc. this is the time you want to introduce those languages to your child.
Be sure that you’re avoiding replacing one on one interaction with the child with educational screen time.
🌀 Sensations – This period begins around 2.5 years of age and lasts until 6.5. This means children can learn through tactile touch as apposed to just seeing or sharing it. Show the child how to do something and then give them the opportunity to try it for themselves for hands on learning.
This period also lends well to showing the child something while explaining outside of just shelf work. For example if your child is trying to climb something dangerous or play with something hot like the stove, you can assist them to safety gently but physically while explaining why it is dangerous and it is absorbed much better than telling the child from across the room to get down or away from the stove.
🌀 Letter Shapes and Sounds – This period begins when the child is about 2.5 to 5 years old. During this time the child is interested In physically tracing letters. Maria Montessori included sandpaper letters for children as a way for them to for fill us need and learn the shape of the letters. There are several activities such as sandpaper letters or sand tracing that you can do with your child to assist with this developmental need. You can also use a DIY sandpaper set made at home. But other recommendations include montessori let her work which is a great book for those in this stage of learning.
You can also support this development by starting phonics with the child. Phonics is away for a child to learn the sound of the letter makes as opposed to the name of the letter which makes it easier when the child learns how to read.
🌀 Music – This period begins at age 3. Children can learn rhythm, pitch and melody more easily during this time. Research also shows it’s great for brain growth. You can support this stage of development by allowing your child access to various musical instruments based on their age and skill level. Your child can play these instruments independently but you can also take part and play them with your child. Singing and listening to music is also a wonderful way to support the child. I also want to mention that it is OK and actually even beneficial to listen to normal music that you would listen to with your child. There’s also been research that shows that classical or instrumental music is also extremely beneficial and I would highly recommend that you try to find a few pieces that you like and share them with your child along with your normal every day music.
🌀 Reading and Writing – This sensitive period begins around the age of 3. It is possible for a child to have a specific interest in reading or writing but they do typically come around the same time. This is also something that naturally occurs and if a child is in an environment that has access an opportunity it will come naturally. Similar to toilet learning there are signs of readiness so starting before then is not advised as the child isn’t developmentally ready.
You can support your child during the stage by providing opportunities for your child to read. As discussed earlier it’s beneficial to start a nighttime routine that involves reading every night and this will begin to be something that your child is excited about during this period. You may even notice that your child wants to start picking out certain books to take to read for bedtime. It’s important to follow the child’s lead in this instance and allow them to choose books that they are interested in and they want to read.
When you’re reading a book to your child try to make it exciting for the child by using various voice Or trying to invoke the emotion the book is conveying through text. The frog sample if you’re reading a book where a child is excited can use an excited voice if the child is sad or surprised change your voice to match those emotions and your child will pick up on those differences. You also want to ensure that you are reading more slowly than you would to yourself so the child can really listen to each word and pronunciation that you’re using.
Once your child becomes a little bit older you can even pause in the book and ask them questions about the content that you’re reading. This is a great way to involve your child in the process and get some thought-provoking content as well.
Each sensitive period has great capacity for learning and intense growth. Please keep in mind that not every child follows this procession exactly and that timing and duration varies per child.
Please comment below and let me know what sensitive period you have witnessed in the children in your life. As always thank you for reading my blog. Please show some love to my post. Like ❤️, comment 💬, share 💌 and save.
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