Montessori – What Are the Six Sensitive Periods?

The Sensitive Periods in a child’s life was Dr. Maria Montessori’s greatest discovery. Though it was first discovered by a Dutch Scientist, Hugo de Vries, it was on animals, but Dr. Maria Montessori found the existence of this period in children too. The term “Sensitive Period” is used for a specific period of a child’s mental growth, during which the different sensibilities enable him to choose from a complex environment what is suitable and necessary for his development at that particular stage of a “Sensitive Period”. It is a limited time when the child shows a strong attraction to a particular activity.

This activity helps the child and is drawn to aid the child in her physical, mental and emotional development. The child constantly performs certain activities over and over again without signs of fatigues. It is believed that children are susceptible to learning skills at specific ages. It lasts till the child has acquired or mastered the skill. These sensitive periods exist during his psycho-motor development. These periods may overlap other sensitive periods. These sensitive periods are derived from the unconscious and leads children to conscious and creative activities.

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During a sensitive period it is very easy for the child to acquire certain abilities, such as language. These periods are the child’s most important states of his development and create a confident adult. If the child is not helped in the right manner during these stages with the right environment it could retard the child’s spontaneous psychical development. It must be understood that adults have no direct influence on these states. To bring about the understanding and peace with the child an adult needs to understand the different expressions a child shows in his behaviour.

For example when a child smiles, laughs with glees, claps his hand etc. , one can understand these signs as external manifestations of a satisfied need. There are times when the child throws a ‘tantrum’ or ‘caprice’ or ‘whim’ as it may be referred to, as manifestations of an unsatisfied need. During this manifestation generally the adult almost forgets the need and tends to calm the child instead of understanding the cause of his behaviour. In the event the adult recognizes this childish caprice and moves the object or replaces the picture etc. , one can then observe the immediate calmness and serenity in the child’s disposition.

By the time a child is an adult the sensitive periods are over. Therefore the sensitive periods are the most important stages in the development of a child as once they transcend cannot be regained. These stages act as the foundation that is developed during the early years for further learning and acting on. According to Dr. Maria Montessori there are six sensitive periods. They are: The period for sensitivity to order, Refinement of senses, Language, Walking, Small Objects and Social aspects. 1. Sensitivity to order: Starts from birth and peaks at 18 months to 2. 5 years and prolongs to age five.

This is characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition. There exists a passionate love for established routines and is when a child may seem disturbed by disorder. The “terrible twos” are often exaggerated reactions to small disruptions in order that is not perceived by adults. The environment therefore must be carefully ordered with a place for everything and with carefully established ground rules. It is also important to have external order as order in their environment where there is an appropriate place for everything as this helps the child also establish their internal order.

It is when you see a child may give out a tantrum since things are out of routine and it affects their sense of order. They may at this time insist on the same routine, and at times parents don’t really have time to respect this in the busy lives. One may even see a child put things in back into place if they are out of order if given the chance. It is important to be aware of this as one of the child’s needs to be fulfilled. Having ordered rules helps a child in this sensitive period. The Inner Order: When the child begins to realize and discovers his the movements of his muscles does he begin to get sensitive.

This stage in the child is noticed from about 11/2 years. He begins to place objects in their places, moves to familiar places over and over again. He exhibits a need for a stable environment rather than a tidy one. For normal development. Therefore sensitivity to order is recognized in two forms – one of this is external and relates to his perceptions and the second is internal that which relates to his own body and relative positions. Order in a Montessori School plays a very important role in the building of a child’s orderly environment, thus contributing to the need of a child. . The period of Refinement of Senses: Birth to age 4 The sensitivity to sensory impressions occurs as children spontaneously investigate and reach out to their world. They see, they touch, they feel, they smell, they taste, they hear. They seek to find out about their world by using, developing, and refining their powers of sensory discrimination. When a child comes across something for the first time, the child explores it by first observation, then touch, he would then smell and eventually want to taste it thereby putting it into his mouth.

If it were an insect he merely retires to observing and following it, then touching it to watch the reaction of the creature. All of these explore his senses and excites he child. Accordingly he learns to understand whether to eat or to just observe or to smell. If a child is stopped during a stage where he is not allowed to feel the water he would not know the difference of hot, tepid or cold and always is curious till he has satisfied his curiosity. Dr. Montessori has emphasized the need to train the child to make sense discrimination.

Her tools or equipment are well researched to help the improvement and refinement of the child’s senses. For Normal children the training is given during the pre-school period. 3. The Sensitive Period for Language: The sensitive period for language occurs from birth to about the age of six. It is at this time that the child learns the primary language spoken at home. He also has the ability to learn and fluently speak other languages. Reason why it is said that children at this age have the ability to speak nine different languages if the sensitive period is tapped at the right time with the right guidance.

Children are fascinated by sounds around them. In fact, the infant intently watches the human face, focusing on the mouth of the person speaking. As Dr. Montessori indicated, the infant needs to be in close proximity to people to study their interactions and conversations. Placing a child off in a distant room where he only hears bits and pieces of a conversation is a great disservice, as the child fails to hear complete sentences or thoughts. The infant is delighted with the rhythm of the human voice and is fascinated with the sounds of the spoken word.

Because the child is in the sensitive period of the absorbent mind, we need to focus our attention on taking full advantage of this developmental period in the child’s life. Therefore taking time to read aloud to the child. Singing songs, and reciting poetry is a rich source for the child. Although the child hears other noises and sounds, the child actively listens to the voice directed to him.. We must remember that language acquisition has a natural timetable which can’t be accelerated by an adult’s prodding or interference. 4. The period for sensitivity for walking: From approximately one year a child begins to walk.

This is one of the greatest achievements in the development of a child. He moves from a helpless being now learning to acquire a sense of independence. During this stage he no more sits around and gestures for things but can take him to what he please to get. The child walks for the sake of it where as the adult walks to reach his goal. The child enjoys every moment of this inspite of his imperfect ways. He enjoys his falls, stumbles and rolls. There are times when the child delights in stopping while he walks and at times walks for longer periods.

During this stage the child should be watched rather than stopped every time. Obstacles placed by adults to protect him tend to get him aggressive and tired more than walking. At times he would delight in climbing these obstacles and get onto stairs and exhibit a sense of achievement. Therefore an adult most of the time looks at protecting the child physically but overlooks his inner psychic need. 5. The period for sensitivity for small objects: Around the age of one to four from when the child begins to get mobile, he is sensitive to small objects to pay attention to detail.

Many a times an adult fails to recognize the fact that the child can see what we do not. The fine details of a picture, expressions on a face, etc. Examining insects in their movements, colour, and many other details interest a child at this stage. He is a little scientist in the making. In this rapid moving world, the environment fails to support these sensitive periods and the child falls prey to more artificial things. He would love to observe the hand feel the hand and probably observe the tine cut and feel it to observe the reaction of an adult as his senses now begin to understand feeling.

This is the part of the child’s effort to build an understanding of the world. 6. The period to sensitivity to social aspects: This is the stage round 3 years where the child shows signs of being social. He learns to accept others in his group and respects his group members. He learns to cooperate and exercise his graces. He is more a polished being at this stage and can easily understand. He can pickup social graces well as he begins to understand its importance. All of this he gains through observation from a graceful adult and exercises the same with spontaneously without being directed.

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Montessori – What Are the Six Sensitive Periods?. (2017, Mar 18). Retrieved from