Sensitive Periods

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

Through her years of professional study and observation, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered what she called sensitive periods. These, according to her, are developmental windows of opportunity during which the child can learn specific concepts more easily and naturally than at any other time in their lives. A child in his/her sensitive period will show an especially strong interest or inclination toward certain activities or lessons.

Specifically, Montessori characterized each sensitive period as follows: a period of special sensibility and psychical attitudes. An overpowering force, interest, or impetus directing the child to particular qualities and elements in the environment. A period of time during which the child centers his or her attention on specific aspects of the environment, to the exclusion of all else. A passion and a commitment. A guide towards creative activities. An intense and prolonged period 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. A sensitive period in life that when once missed, can never be recaptured.

There are eleven basic sensitive periods of development occurring from birth through the age of six. These are order, movement, small objects, grace and courtesy, refinement of the senses, writing, reading, language, spatial relationships, music, and mathematics.

  1. Order: This sensitive period is characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition. A passionate love for established routines, children can be deeply disturbed by disorder. The environment must be carefully organized with a place for everything and with carefully established ground-rules. (ages 2 - 4)

  2. Movement: Random movements become coordinated and controlled: grasping. touching, turning, balancing, crawling, walking. (birth - age 1)

  3. Small Objects: Children experience a fixation on small objects and tiny details. (ages 1- 4)

  4. Grace and Courtesy: Imitation of polite and considerate behavior leads to an internalization of these qualities into the personality. (ages 2- 6)

  5. Refinement of the Senses: A fascination with sensorial experiences (taste, sound, touch, weight, smell) results in children learning to observe and make increasingly refined sensorial discriminations. (ages 2- 6)

  6. Writing: Children become fascinated with letters and numerals. They attempt to reproduce these with pencil or pen and paper. Montessori discovered that writing precedes reading. (ages 3- 4)

  7. Reading: Spontaneous interest in the symbolic representations of the sounds of each letter and in the formation of words. (ages 3- 5)

  8. Expressive Language: Use of words to communicate: a progression from babbling to words to phrases to sentences, with a continuously expanding vocabulary and comprehension. (birth to age 6)

  9. Spatial Relationships: Forming impressions about relationships in space: the design of familiar places, able to find the way around the neighborhood, and increasingly able to work complex puzzles. (ages 4 - 6)

  10. Music: Spontaneous interest in, and the development of, pitch, rhythm, and melody. (ages 2 - 6)

  11. Mathematics: Formation of the concepts of quantity and operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) from the uses of concrete learning materials. (birth to age 6)

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