By Education and Training Manager, Kellie Chahroura
The phrase ‘sensitive periods in human development’ may sound like it refers to moody teenagers, but it actually refers to periods of time when a child easily absorbs information in a specific way. The most important sensitive periods occur between birth and age six.
Montessori Theory talks a lot about ‘sensitive periods’ and how the child is guided by inner forces that shape their developmental needs. Children pass through sensitive periods for language, movement, order, writing, reading, and many others.
It is during these sensitive periods that there is a great need for total focus, sensorial exploration, and a need for repeating activities in order to master skills. Sometimes these sensitive periods are characterised by overpowering, obsessive, and intense activity.
Interrupting a child while they are in the middle of an intense sensitive period can result in a powerful emotional response such as a tantrum. Break a routine that a child is attempting to understand and master, such as getting dressed, bath time or bedtime, and some children will emotionally fall apart.
This is because the child is likely to be in a sensitive period for learning, and their intense ‘work’ is being interrupted.
Children can profit from various stimuli that are made available to them during a sensitive period. This is one of the reasons why Montessori materials are clearly set on low shelves and made available to the children. It allows them to choose the work that will help them ‘construct themselves,’ master a skill, and aid in their development and adaptation.
Parents and teachers can capitalise on these sensitive periods by ensuring adequate time and materials are available, and by respecting the individual interests and passions of each child. It is through observation that the needs of the child are revealed. As always, follow the child. And tuck some extra patience away for the days they want to repeat the same activity over, and over, and over again.