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Sensitive Periods in Montessori


Children sitting at desk and learning together in primary school classroom. Elementary age children.

The brilliant Dr. Maria Montessori noticed very quickly that children pass through phases of “sensitivity” when they are concentrating on mastering one particular skill. Recognizing the onset of sensitive periods and encouraging the proper skill acquisition is a fine way to make optimal use of a child’s own natural developmental timeline.

So what are some of these sensitive periods?

Sensitivity To Order
This sensitivity tends to manifest in the toddler years, peaking at around eighteen months. Toddlers are trying to make sense of the experience of their lives in order to build order out of chaos. Changes in caregivers, daily routines, and sleep patterns can be particularly disruptive. Tantrums are often the outward manifestation of their struggle with inward chaos. Routines, schedules, and a prepared and familiar environment help a child gain inner as well as outer control.

Sensitivity To Movement
The sensitivity to movement proceeds in two major stages. The earliest phase, until about the age of two and a half, involves the mastery of walking and the use of their hands. Refinement and coordination of both fine and gross skills then continues until five or six years of age.

Sensitivity To Language
Language develops all through life, of course, but the foundation is set in the early years. At around seven months to three years of age, children focus on interpreting the sounds you make, processing them, and learning how to repeat them back to you. The formation of letters and shapes happens between two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half years, beyond which the fundamentals of reading and writing become the focus.

Sensitivity To Music
Children develop an interest in rhythm and pitch, rhyming and melody around the age of three, making this a great time to introduce simple musical instruments and song.

Sensitivity To Socialization
Just before three years of age, children develop an awareness of others like them and an interest in socialization. It’s an optimum age to introduce circle time, cooperative games, and fundamental social graces.

Sensitivity To Numbers
Part of a larger sensitivity to math concepts, sensitivity to numbers begins once children gain the language skills to count. Usually this takes place between the ages of four and five-and-a-half. An interest in counting encourages a curiosity about the language of mathematics.

Dr. Maria Montessori recognized multiple periods of sensitivity that overlap. Certified Montessori teachers are trained to recognize these periods in order to take optimal advantage of windows of learning opportunity.

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