Sensitive Periods During Early Child Development

Maria Montessori defined sensitive periods during early child development as the periods when his or her interests are focused on the development of a specific skill or area. According to her, these periods cover the time from birth to six years old. This is a time when the mind of a child is in its most absorbent state.

A sensitive period is when a child has a burning desire or interest in a particular area or skill. These are developmental windows where learning new skills come easily and naturally. The discovery of sensitive periods is one of the main reasons why the Montessori method focuses on child-led learning, which allows children to follow and focus on their interests as they grow.


Sensitive Periods During Early Child Development Defined

Order (18 months to 2 years)

The need for order starts at birth and may last for as long as age six. This period is characterized by the child's preference for consistency and repetition. Established routines, clear ground rules, and order in the external environment are important in helping the child establish an internal order. When things are out of routine, the child may attempt to establish order himself, or express frustration by throwing tantrums when he can't do so.  

Movement (birth to 4 years)

Movement is divided into sub-stages: gross and fine motor movements and refinement and coordination of movement. In the first eighteen months of life, the child is acquiring movement skills, learning to crawl, pull up, walk with and without assistance. Toys that encourage the use of the hands and fingers to touch, turn, grasp or hook are useful during this time. Over the next few years, the child will go through stages of refinement and coordination of movement, beginning with learning how to grasp things using both hands, hold small items using the pincer grip and release objects voluntarily.

Manners and Courtesy (0 to 6 years)

The child learns basic courtesies and manners by observing adults from birth to age three. This means that parents and other adults need to model the behaviors they wish the child to emulate. From ages three to six, the child becomes more receptive to lessons on grace and courtesy in the classroom.

Sensory Refinement (birth to 5 years)

This is characterized by a fascination for sensory experiences and the use of the senses of taste, smell, sound, touch and weight. These form the foundation for classifying objects in their external environment.

Language (birth to 6 years)

During this stage, the child becomes interested and more responsive to spoken language and sounds. Speaking to the child in clear language and avoiding baby talk is important at this time.

Numbers (4 to 5.5 years)

At this stage, the child begins to see numbers as a different type of language. It is during this time when Math is introduced in a Montessori classroom.

Writing (3.5  to 4.5 year)

This begins when the child learns the alphabet, followed by learning of sight words. These form the foundation for reading and writing skills.

Examples of Sensitive Periods

Order

The child develops an interest in putting things in order, packing his or her toys away after play, or insisting that particular objects be kept in specific places.

Movement

The child learns to crawl, then walk. He learns how to grasp a pencil, and can open and close his hands voluntarily. He develops an interest in movement that require control and coordination such a jumping or climbing.

Manners and courtesies

The child learns basic manners and courtesies such as saying "Thank you" or the proper way to greet others.

Sensory Refinement

The child becomes fixated on small objects and details. The child also becomes more interested in experiencing sensations using the fingers, mouth, nose, and eyes.

Language

The child creates sounds by mimicking and progresses by learning words and phrases. This is followed by learning the alphabet.

Numbers

The child comes to recognize numbers as an abstract concept. Counting becomes a favorite activity.

Writing

The child develops an interest in drawing figures and shapes which becomes the foundation for more refined writing skills.

Parental support is extremely important during each sensitive period because once it has passed, learning the associated skill or ability becomes increasingly difficult. It is important that parents observe the child in order to respond accordingly and provide the best environment for these periods to be fully experienced.

Jared Brasher