Monday, June 16, 2014

Four Sensitive Periods to Observe in Children, According to Maria Montessori

"The child makes and number of acquisitions during the sensitive periods which place him in relations to the outward world in an exceptionally intense manner. Then all is easy. All is eagerness and life. Every effort is ans increase of power. But when some of these psychic passions pass away, others are kindled... its joy and simplicity. It is through this lovely flame that burns without consuming that the creation of man takes place."
Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood

Sensitive periods will be acting within, nebulously, and directed toward the development of specific human characteristics, but we can observe the effects of the sensitive periods.

The Sensitive Period for Language
It begins before birth, when the fetus responds to the rhythms of language from within the mother's body. It goes on into the age of six or seven. We see the attraction to human voice from immediately after birth. The infant moves the lips, intensely attracted to the sounds, babbling, and then speaking. Dr. Montessori writes about the music of human speech which surrounds the child and calls to her. At every stage of development, the voice attracts the child. The child stops whatever she is doing to focus interest on the voice. Understanding comes long before the child can speak. It is important to be conscious of what and how we adults are speaking at all times, because the absorbent mind is taking in so much, all the while. They point, wanting to know the names of all things. The child is looking at you, trying to produce those babbling sounds, while his development of language can only occur with rich language around them. The child's enjoyment of blowing bubbles, either of saliva, gum, or in soap, originates out of an instinctual urge to strengthen the muscles of the mouth, to produce more articulate sounds in language. The pacifier stunts the development of language, slowing the infant's experimentation with the muscles of the mouth. The development and refinement of knowledge comes with use. Therefore, the consolidation of language comes in speaking, when that comes, around age 2.

The Sensitive Period of Motion
There are two aspects: (1) locomotion (2) manipulation of objects with the hands. All human movement is guided by the will and implemented by the movements in harmony. From the earliest movement in the womb, we see signs of growth toward mature adult movement. They turn the head, strengthening the neck; the control of the feet toward locomotion begins with the articulation of the head. We observe that every moment that children makes builds toward human locomotion. Again, the child first builds the organs of use, then the creation supports the development. The grasping yields to deliberate choice in grasping of objects. They chose wanting this or that, so many aspects of the motions of the hand. We speak of gross motor coordination and the orientation of the body in space. We talk about fine motor development, the ability to manipulate the movements of the hand and wrist in specific motions. We observe visual motor coordination to see the aim of the movement and to end the movement in the specific place.

The Sensitive Period for Order
Order is one of the Universal Human Tendencies, a vital need for the child in the first plane of development. That sense of order is what will help me understand the relationship between things, to categorize the relationship between people and how people relate to things. It is critical to orientation. Order is the basis of abstraction. Synthesis of order builds the basis for the creation of intelligence within the child. They become deeply distressed when something is out of order, because of their drive to synthesize and make sense of the world. Typically, from 18 months to age 2 1/2, they are accumulating a sense of order and wanting to participate in that sense of order. An unhealthy need for extreme order later can often arise from the need for order and security not having been satisfied earlier in life, as a coping mechanism. The abundance of too many items in the child's environment is a symptom of excess in our society, harmful to their environment, because it does not address their fundamental needs. It is important to simplify the child's environment. The consistency in values and expectations forms an important element of order, or children have to experiment again and again with modes of behavior for when an act is acceptable in the environment or not.

The Sensitive Period for the Development and Refinement of Sensory Perception
When a child is born, they see in a very limited way; it is only through interaction with the environment that the clarity and scope develop. The same is true for the other senses. Our entire intelligence depends on the information gathered by the senses and the associated data. The more the human experiments with the senses, the greater the sense of refinement. It is an ability developed through use. There is a tremendous need for more and varied experiences with the senses, which will lead to greater intellectual connections at the age of 4, 4 1/2 when the sensory perception development sensitive period begins to subside.

What are the characteristics of a sensitive period? You can only observe the external manifestation and not the internal activity. There will be a spontaneous, irresistible, polarized interest in a certain activity-- even if told to stay away from an element in the environment, they will still be drawn to it. They will be fully engaged in this activity, not just with the hands, but with the entire body and mind, quite often repeating the activity again and again. At the end, they arrive with a sense of contentment and joy. If the endeavor is engaged within the correct sensitive period, the conquest is completed with great ease and perfection. It comes from the child's own relationship with the environment, a loving relationship that adults must nurture and support. Knowing these sensitive periods, adults must take on the responsibility of supporting the work of the children.


Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a Montessori educator and parent in Dallas, Texas. 

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