Maria Montessori discovered that children, particularly from birth to age 6, go through a series of sensitive periods.
These periods are windows of time where a child is more interested in learning a particular skill, or set of skills. As parents or caregivers, we should always observe what sensitive periods our child is currently in so that we can follow their interests and prepare their environment accordingly.
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There is some debate within the community as to how many sensitive periods their is, and when exactly they occur. In this post I will outline the TEN that I feel are the most widely accepted and referenced. And the ROUGH age guidelines when they might occur.
Another thing to remember is that the guidelines are rough, some sensitive periods come sooner, or later. And a child can be in more than one sensitive period at a time, or even none. If you really want to know if your child is in a Sensitive period, sit back and observe them.
Let's get into it!
The sensitive period for small objects occurs between the ages of 1-3 years. Children of this age are only this small for a short period of time. So things that are small enough to fit in their hands are limited, and interesting! Children of this age are also limited to what is on the floor and on low shelving, so finding a tiny element of their environment proves fascinating!
Supporting this sensitive period is quite simply allowing them to explore these small things on their path, and providing small items for them analyse. Now, obviously this age range small items are of concern because they pose a choking risk, which is why when making up a basket of small items for exploration, only make it available when you can be fully supervising the young child.
The period of sensitivity to language occurs from birth all the way to age 6! It comes in different stages of interest and activity but there is a constant overall interest in language from birth. Hence a child will absorb all language in their environment and learn independently how to manipulate their tongue and oral muscles to produce spoken language.
It also relates to the sensitive periods for reading and writing. A child needs to have a rich language environment and activities to help them increase their vocabulary and phonemic awareness to eventually learn to read and write.
If you want to learn more about language development in children this age you can read this post.
The sensitive period for reading occurs almost parallel to that of writing sensitive period. It occurs from 3.5-5 years of age. Also like the writing sensitive period, it comes under the general umbrella of the language sensitive period.
Now there is a few ways to go about learning to read in a Montessori aligned way at home, I personally recommend the Pink,Blue,Green series if you are not formally trained in Montessori because it makes it a lot simpler for us as the adult to follow and teach. Or it maybe worth investing in something like waseca reading programme if it is within your budget. It is very similar to the approach of the pink blue green series.
Another supplement, and only a supplement is a Montessori workbook like this one which I have got for Jax. If you want to read more in depth about the timeline of how children learn to read and write in a Montessori aligned way, at home, you can do so HERE.
The sensitive period for writing is directly correlated to the sensitive period for language and in my opinion, is more like a subsection of that sensitive period. Sensitivity to writing happens around 3.5-4.5 years old.
Unlike mainstream school, in a Montessori environment writing comes BEFORE reading. For the simple fact that it is easier for a child to use letter sounds to build up small words, than it is to decipher an already written word.
To support this sensitive period, provide the child with exposure to the alphabet by letter sounds. This means using their phonetic sounds rather than their names. For example, S is "sss" not "ess". This helps a child to understand the sound of the written letters to build up words using their phonetic sounds. Writing does not mean with a pen! Although if they want to, thats great. But with the Movable alphabet.
The sensitive period for toileting starts around 12 months! and finsihes around again 2.5-3. While 12 Months may seem early, this is merely when interest in the bathroom occurs and when the child will start to be interested in the purpose of the bathroom.
The Montessori approach to potty training/toilet learning is very relaxed, independent and child led and can start as early as you and your little feel interested and comfortable.
If you want to read more about the Montessori approach to potty training/toilet learning and how you can support your child to gain toilet independence, you can do so HERE.
The sensitive period for music happens from age 2 all the way up until the end of the first plane at 6 years old. There is so much to be gained from music for brain development and mental health in general and kids really do become music lovers during this sensitive period.
I've found it depends on what mood Jax is in and the day as to what area of music he's interested in, but it has definitely been made obvious by observing Jax that he is fully within this sensitive period.
To support this Sensitive period provide a music rich environment. This can be instruments, songs, dancing etc. Jax loves to put music on his Yoto Player. I love that he can use it independently when the mood strikes him and their music radio station provides ALL genres of music from new to old.
I know for some parents loud singing and making music can be a HUGE trigger. Whilst it's not a trigger for me, I urge you to find ways to manage your own responses if you are triggered by this as its such an enriching sensitive period that's going to last at least through this plane of development, and possibly the rest of their lives!
Grace & Courtesy
The sensitive period for Grace & Courtesy happens from around 2.5 years old to 6 years old. This sensitive period comes from natural human instinct to socialise and for children of this age they are eager to learn about our societal habits and norms.
You might of heard about grace and courtesy lessons and I assure you they are not formal lessons. It's more about making an observation of what your child needs/wants to learn socially and then making a note to model this behaviour and roleplay a scenario to demonstrate the behaviour.
It becomes a natural way to highlight what could be a little interest or a genuine social need for your little one and it can be made very fun! It also helps to be letting them in on an "Adult" habit, they are drawn to learn how to be like adults as well as other children!
This sensitive period is a huge sticking point in a Montessori environment. It really starts from birth all the way to age 6 but is more noticable in the preschool years of 2-4 years. Then slowly tapers off until the end of the first plane of development.
A childs sense of order is HUGE. And also why those strict full weekly shelf rotations you might see aren't as Montessori as you might thing. A child has a sense of order that needs to be fulfilled. This comes from tangible and intangible elements.
Changing a childs environment so frequently and completely can really throw off their sense of order and cause more harm than good! It also comes from routine, even if a child is screaming its not bed time, really they need you to hold that boundary and order to keep to the bedtime, that will make them feel fulfilled in terms of their sense of order.