Sensitive Periods

The human mind is constructed from hard-wired dynamic connections that are always altering throughout the individual’s lifetime. The wiring of the brain is responsible for multiple functions that are vital for survival, security, and other basic life functions.

The Adult mind is developed on the basis of the foundations laid during the initial six years of the child’s life. According to Dr. Maria Montessori, the human brain is more susceptible to outward stimuli and most active during the initial six years of the child’s life. 

The activities, environment, and experiences that transpire during this phase of the child’s life whether it is positive or negative, aid in the further development of the brain.

The Montessori method of education was developed to align with the needs and requirements of the developing mind to effectively facilitate education that caters to the physical, mental, social, emotional, and cognitive development of the child.

There are many unique theories Dr. Maria Montessori introduced to her pedagogical tool the Montessori Method of education.

One salient principle of the Montessori Method is the Principle of Sensitive periods.

“Man’s mind does not spring from nothing; it is built up on the foundations laid by the child in his sensitive periods” (Montessori, 2003, p.54).

The term ‘Sensitive Periods’ might conjure the image of adolescents, But this term is far from that. The Sensitive Periods in conjunction with the absorbent mind, work to divert the mind in the right direction. 

What are Sensitive Periods?

Sensitive periods often refer to periods of psychological development where the child begins to show signs of intense concentration and interest as well as develop particular skills or knowledge.

The Sensitive periods are universal to all human beings. These periods of prolonged concentration and sparked interest are a window of opportunity where the child is able to understand as well as learn new concepts effortlessly in comparison to other phases of an individual’s life.

The connection with the outer environment is established by the interior vitality and joy that is exhibited by the child during sensitive periods.

Essentially the Sensitive periods are phases of prolonged focus where the child has the capability to absorb only one specific characteristic of the environment with the exclusion of others.

These periods of focus and concentration do not appear in a linear pattern and overlap throughout the child’s developmental process. 

When do the Sensitive Periods occur? 

According to Dr. Maria Montessori, the Sensitive Periods occur in the child’s life during the initial six years (birth to age 6).

Other pedagogies refer to the term Sensitive Periods as windows of opportunity and developmental milestones.

During the first five years, the child traverses through five main categories of Sensitive Periods that play a vital role in the child’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.

The Sensitive Periods often last as long as the child requires to complete the particular phase. Once the aims are accomplished, these Sensitive Periods diminish.

Why is it essential to learn about Sensitive Periods? 

The Montessori Method of Education promotes educators and parents to comprehend the peculiar behavior and actions of the child to interpret what Period of Sensitivity they are in.

The fundamental reason for acknowledging the Sensitive periods is to provide the child with an appropriately prepared environment tailored to their current requirements.

These Sensitive periods can also be used as a framework to observe the child’s psychological development in order to give the child numerous possibilities to thrive.  

What are the characteristics of Sensitive Periods? 

The Sensitive Periods are transitory in nature and assimilate multiple characteristics that may help one identify the periods of sensitivity in the child. 

Characteristics like mimicking, prolonged periods of concentration, interpretation, tantrums, attempts of mastering a skill, exaggerated reactions to minute disruptions, and obsessive or compulsive behaviors often demarcate the Sensitive periods. 

These outbursts are often a result of the child’s attempt at “working” being disrupted.

What are the 11 Sensitive Periods? 

The Sensitive periods are the stages of sensibility and physical attitudes. The periods of sensitivity are an unstoppable force of heightened interest, focus, or imputes that guide the child to specific elements in the environment.

According to Dr. Maria Montessori, there are 11 Sensitive Periods a child passes through from birth to age 6. 

The 11 Sensitive Periods according to the Montessori Method of education are delineated below:

1) Order:

The sensitive period of Order is commonly noticed in children between the ages of 2 to 4 years of age. This Period of Sensitivity is often characterized by the child’s ability and desire for repetition.

The child is able to establish an appreciation for schedules, structures, and routines. During this period of Sesnitity, the child can become deeply agitated when the balance and order are disturbed. 

2) Movement:

The sensitive period of movement is noticed in children between birth to 2.5 years of age. The movements can be random, coordinated, or even controlled by the infant during this period. Movements like grasping, turning, twisting, crawling, or walking are noticed during this Sensitive Period.

3) Small Objects:

During this Sensitive Period children between the ages of 1 to 4 years of age often form deep attachments with their belongings and other small objects. 

4) Refinement of the senses:

This Sensitive period is noticed in children between the ages of 2 to 6 years of age. During this Sensitive period, the child is highly receptive to sensorial stimuli and is heavily dependent on these senses to learn, observe as well as make refined sensorial discriminations. 

5) Writing:

The Sensitive Period of writing is conspicuous in children between the ages of 3 to 4 years. The child establishes a spontaneous interest in words, letters, and numerals. This heightened interest in writing is observed through the attempts of grasping writing materials and attempting to write. 

In the Montessori Method of Education, the child first learns how to write and then learns how to read.

6) Reading:

The Sensitive Period of reading is most noticeable in children between the ages of 3 to 5 years of age. During this period the child develops an interest in the symbolic representation of words, the sounds of all the specific letters, and the formation of these words. 

7) Grace and courtesy:

The Sensitive Period of Grace and Courtesy is generally noticed in children between 2 to 6 years of age. During this period the child begins to imitate behaviors and gestures that are deemed polite and considerate.

This Sensitive Period is essential for internalizing gracious qualities that are later assimilated into their personality.  

8) Expressive Language:

During this Sensitive Period, the child is able to express themselves effectively through the medium of language. The Sensitive Period of Expressive Language is noticed in children from birth to 6 years of age. The child gradually progresses in terms of self-expression and moves from babbling to forming well-structured sentences. 

9) Mathematics:

During this Sensitive Period, the child develops an interest in mathematical concepts of quantity and operations. It is noticeable in children between birth to 6 years.

10) Music:

This Sensitive Period is noticed in children between the ages of 2 to 6 years of age. During this Sensitive Period, the child develops an interest in the development of musical concepts. 

11) Spatial Relationships:

The Sensitive Period of the Spatial relationship is noticed in children between the ages of 4 to 6 years where the child develops a spontaneous interest in the concepts of space. The child is able to find their way around the neighborhood or solve complex puzzles.

How does Acknowledging the Sensitive Periods help the child?

During periods of Sensitivity or Sensitive periods, that child is able to possess several important qualities that contribute to their holistic development.

During the Sensitive periods, the child has several powerful capabilities that must be taken care of to enhance their pre-existing abilities. Sensitive periods not only govern the educational spheres, but also govern social interactions, and the emotional development of the child.

It is important to recognize and acknowledge these Sensitive periods in conjunction with the Absorbent Mind to help create an appropriate environment, curriculum, and activities and provide the child with the right material for optimum development.

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