Sensitive Periods

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follow url Since learning about Montessori, from books and my online course I’ve come across the subject of sensitive periods quite often, it’s something which interests me as my daughter is only 2 1/2 and so, many of these periods she is currently going through or will be going through eventually, so it’s important for me to know when to look out for them so I can provide opportunities for repetition which will then fulfil her desire for learning.

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Maria Montessori believed that within a child’s development there are periods of increased sensitivity to learning a specific skill, more commonly known as ‘sensitive periods.’ You will find within this time the child often wanting to repeat the same thing over and over, excluding other characteristics in the environment he may have once given interest to. This is the perfect opportunity to help the child by providing him with activities that focus on this one particular skill.

Sensitive periods are transitory states, therefore, if sufficient opportunity is not given to the child to satisfy his need for learning, then his desire for it will simply fade away, learning will still occur outside of the senstive period, however it will take more time and effort.

“It is in the encounter of the maternal guiding instincts with the sensitive periods of the newly born that conscious love develops between parent and child.” – Maria Montessori

“A child’s different inner sensibilities enable him to choose from his complex environment what is suitable and necessary for his growth. They make the child sensitive to some things, but leave him indifferent to others. When a particular sensitiveness is aroused in a child, it is like a light that shines on some objects but not others, making of them his whole world.”                        The Secret of Childhood p. 42, Chapter 7

I’ve listed below each of the Sensitive Periods and some brief info about each one..

  • follow link Sensitive Period For Movement – Birth to 4 years

Within this time Gross and fine motor skills are acquired, random movements become coordinated and controlled as he learns to grasp, touch, turn, balance, crawl and walk. It’s important that the child is given many opportunities to practice these skills, for example a bar fixed securely to the wall so the infant can learn to pull himself up, placing a toy a small distance away so that it encourages him to reach out and crawl to it.  Hanging toys are also great for helping to develop the child’s grasp, and eye/hand coordination.  If these opportunities are given often it allows these skills to be repeated and perfected.  Refinement /coordination of movement is from 2.5 to 4 years of age, this is a time when the pincer grip is developed and both hands are used in coordination. Gross motor skills are also developed with regular exercise, and fun activities.


This period starts with coos and babbling and then eventually progresses on to words, then phrases and finally sentences.  This can be encouraged by speaking clearly and often to the child, using correct language and reading books. Through repetition the child becomes his own teacher.  The explosion of spoken language around two years of age is the result of many months of inner preparation and mental development, I have witnessed this in my daughter who is almost 2 1/2 in the last few months, all of a sudden it has been what can only be described and as mentioned before as an ‘explosion of language’, and now I’m seeing her often putting 2 or 3 words together to make a short sentence.

The sensitive period for writing is from 3-4 years of age.  Maria Montessori discovered that writing precedes reading, and begins with the child making attempts to copy letters and numbers.

For reading, the sensitive period is from 3-5 years of age.  They will begin to show much interest in symbols and the sounds they represent, and soon will be sounding them out. It’s therefore important to read daily to the child.

The Montessori Letter Work book is a fantastic resource, each letter of the alphabet is textured with sandpaper, I have this book for Binti and she loves tracing her finger around the letter O and often saying the sound with it.

  • here Sensitive Period For Small Objects – One to 4 years

As eye/hand coordination becomes more refined you will find the child becoming increasingly interested in small objects and tiny details. On trips to the park for example you will often find them stopping to pick up a stone or pick out a piece of grass, many little things which us as adults tend to overlook, to the small child these things are incredible! The development of this sensitive period is the brain’s way of understanding and observing the little things that make up the world.

  The child at this stage loves routine and desires consistency and repetition.  Often at this age, a slight change of routine is often enough to unsettle a child, resulting in frustration and temper tantrums, often labelled as ‘the terrible twos!’. It’s important to provide an environment which is organised and everything has a place.

Baby indoors going on potty smilingAs her nervous system becomes more developed, she will learn to control her bladder and bowels.  There is a nice little article here at Montessori Homes which gives tips on setting up a suitable environment for this stage.

Children learn mainly from their parents in the beginning of manners and courtesy, they enjoy imitating polite and respectful behaviour, this in turn will lead to an internalization of these qualities in their personality.  Grace and courtesy lessons are taught in Montessori schools for 3-6 year olds.  Deb Chitwood from Living Montessori Now has a fantastic eBook out on this very subject.

I try to often emphasize the use of please and thank you with my young daughter, and it’s now becoming a part of her little personality, it brings a smile to my face when I hear her say ‘tank you!’ Also teaching them empathy is very important, so they learn to consider other people’s feelings and not just their own.

At this stage the child will be fascinated by a wide range of sensorial experiences, sight, sound, taste, smell, touch.. It’s important that many opportunities are given to the child to stimulate their senses, whether by tasting different kinds of fruits, smelling herbs/flowers or experiencing different sensory bins filled with rice, beans, sand etc..

  • go Sensitive Period For Spatial Relationships – 4 – 6 years

Children, playing puzzles at homeIn this period as the child develops an understanding of spatial relationships, he gradually becomes able to work out more complex puzzles.

  • see url Sensitive Period For Numbers – 4 – 6 years

Maria Montessori found many ways to give children a concrete experience of math especially in this sensitive period for numbers and quantities. Previously to the child numbers would have been seen as just part of language, notice how they can rattle off 1,2,3… quite easily, now they are a seperate entity, and a completely different type of language, and the concepts of maths gradually begin to develop.

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