Montessori believed in a necessary relationship between children and their environment. Children must find a properly prepared environment if they are to fully develop their unique human potentials. In addition to determining children’s eventual height, hair color, and other physical characteristics, there is another cognitive plan which determines the unique emotional and intellectual qualities of each child. These qualities develop through what Montessori referred to as “the sensitive periods.”Each sensitive period is a specific kind of compulsion, motivating young children to seek objects and relationships in their environment with which to fulfill their special and unique inner potentials.
.Montessori believed that children will develop to their full human potential when everything in the environment is “just right.” Everything Food, furniture, learning activities, social relations, clothing, routines, and rituals must all be “just right” in order for them to develop their fullest potential as human beings.
Young children are neither consciously aware of nor capable of directly communicating their interests and developmental needs.
In Montessori Early Childhood programs, teachers are charged with providing learning environments in which everything is “just right.” For almost one hundred years, Montessori educators have observed a set of motivations shared by young children around the world. What Dr. Maria Montessori discovered in the St. Lorenz Quarter in 1907 was that children are self-motivated to learn from their environment. Borrowing a term from biology, she called these stages the sensitive periods, after similar developmental stages in animals. The idea seemed revolutionary at the time, and took many years, following Piaget’s extensions of Montessori’s initial explanation, to become generally accepted in child psychology. Today, whether we use Montessori’s terminology or not, the description of child development she first presented at the turn of the century rings true.
Each sensitive period is:
A period of special sensibility and psychological attitudes.
An overpowering force, interest, or impetus directing children to particular qualities and elements in the environment.
A period of time during which children center their attention on specific aspects of the environment, to the exclusion of all else.
A passion and a commitment.
Derived from the unconscious and leads children to conscious and creative activities.
Intense and prolonged activity which does not lead to fatigue or boredom, but instead leads to persistent energy and interest.
A transitory state once realized, the sensitive period disappears. Sensitive periods are never regained, once they have passed.
Dr. Montessori identified eleven different sensitive periods occurring from birth through age six. Each refers to a predisposition compelling children to acquire specific characteristics as described below. When Montessori teachers speak about children being “inner directed,” they are referring to an inner compulsion or sensitive period. A Montessori teacher would say, for example, “This child is in her sensitive period for order.” These phrases point to each child’s predisposition to follow her own daily classroom routine in which she chooses the same materials and in the same sequence. Ages of the onset and conclusion of each sensitive period are approximate and are indicated after the general description.
Movement Random movements become coordinated and controlled: grasping, touching, turning, balancing, crawling, walking. (Birth — one)
Language Use of words to communicate: a progression from babble to words to phrases to sentences, with a continuously expanding vocabulary and comprehension. (birth — six)
Small Objects A fixation on small objects and tiny details. (one — four)
Order Characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition and a passionate love for established routines. Children can become deeply disturbed by disorder. The environment must be carefully ordered with a place for everything and with carefully established ground rules. (two — four)
Music Spontaneous interest in and the development of pitch, rhythm, and melody. (two — six)
Grace & Courtesy Imitation of polite and considerate behavior leading to an internalization of these qualities into the personality. (two — six)
Refinement of the Senses Fascination with sensorial experiences (taste, sound, touch, weight, smell) resulting with children learning to observe and with making increasingly refined sensorial discriminations. (two — six)
Writing Fascination with the attempt to reproduce letters and numbers with pencil or pen and paper. Montessori discovered that writing precedes reading. (three — four)
Reading Spontaneous interest in the symbolic representations of the sounds of each letter and in the formation of words. (three — five)
Spatial Relationships Forming cognitive impressions about relationships in space, including the layout of familiar places. Children become more able to find their way around their neighborhoods, and they are increasingly able to work complex puzzles. (four — six)
Mathematics Formation of the concepts of quantity and operations from the uses of concrete material aids. (four — six)
Note: This list does not include the sensitive periods found in the development of older children and adolescents. However, it does suggest to the early childhood educator some of the things that young children absorb, or will if they are given exposure and opportunity.
Keep in mind that the child’s learning during these early stages is not complete, nor has it reached the internalized abstraction stage that will develop as she grows older. It is, however, the foundation upon which much that follows will be built. Wherever this solid foundation is lacking, children will experience difficulty in learning and operating later on.
Sensitive periods is
Sensitive period is a term coined by the Dutch geneticist Hugo de Vries and adopted by the Italian educator Maria Montessori to refer to important periods of childhood development.
This period runs from birth through approximately age 6. During this period the child is extremely sensitive to vocal sounds and to movements of the vocal apparatus. Out of all the sounds in an infant’s environment, the infant will be attracted to that of human sounds. Deprivation of language stimuli during this period can lead to severe language defects. Without stimulation, the synapses of Broca’s area and related language-processing areas of the brain will literally waste away. Child imitates/mimics the sounds that he or she hears in their process to learning language. At 6 months, child is able to form syllables. At one year of age, a child is able to say at least one clear word. At one year and nine months, the child may be able to annunciate a few key phrases. At two years of age, the child has basically developed the language at hand.
The sensitive period for order operates most actively between roughly the ages of one and three years. In this period, the child is organizing a mental schema for the world. In order for firm conclusions to be drawn about the world, the child must be able to impose an order on it in a way that makes sense to the child and is consistent with the observed world of the child. If this need is not met, the child’s ability to reason and learn will be precarious, since she may not be able to consider her conclusions reliable. Order is divided into four subgroups: spatial order, social order, sensory order, and temporal order.
This period lasts from birth to age 4. A child takes in information about the world through his senses. As the brain develops, it becomes able to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant sensory stimuli. The most efficient way to accomplish this is for the brain to pay attention to all sensory stimuli. The most repetitive (and therefore most important) of these will strengthen neural pathways, while the less common, although initially detected, will not provide enough brain activity to develop sensitivity to them. By age 4 or so, the brain has finished its “decision-making” about which stimuli are relevant, and worth attending to. Other stimuli will be ignored. This period, then, is important for helping the child attend to differences in sensory stimuli, which in turn can lead to a greater ability to impose a mental order on his environment.
Refinement of motor skills
This period encompasses the time between roughly 18 months and 4 years of age. By the beginning of this period, the child’s gross motor skills are generally rather well developed. At this point, the continuing development of the cerebellum and motor cortex allow the child to increase her fine motor skills. Activity on the part of the child which focuses on fine muscle control (writing with a pencil, picking up and setting down small objects, and so on) will allow the child’s muscular skills to develop to a quite advanced level. After this period, neural control of the muscles is relatively fixed, and improvement in fine motor skills comes only with considerable effort.
Sensitivity To small objects
This period, between roughly 18 and 30 months, might be viewed as a consequence of the overlapping of the previous two. As a consequence of the child’s attention to sensory stimuli, combined with an interest in activities requiring fine motor coordination, the child takes an interest in observing and manipulating very small objects, which present a greater challenge to the senses and coordination than large ones.
From about 2.5 through 6 years, the child, having become relatively stable in his physical and emotional environment, begins to attend to the social environment. During this time, in an attempt to order this aspect of her surroundings, the child attends closely to the observed and expected behavior of individuals in a group. This attention and ordering will allow her to move through the social environment in a safe and acceptable way. Children who are, for whatever reason, largely or entirely deprived of social interaction during this period will be less socially confident and perhaps more uncomfortable around others, a feeling which may take substantial effort to overcome.
“A child’s different inner sensibilities enable him to choose from his complex environment what is suitable and necessary for his growth. They make the child sensitive to some things, but leave him indifferent to others. When a particular sensitiveness is aroused in a child, it is like a light that shines on some objects but not others, making of them his whole world.”
The Secret of Childhood p. 42, Chap 7
A sensitive period refers to a transient state that children go through that is focused upon one particular area. Montessori had read about these periods of sensitivity in the development of animals, but soon realized that she was seeing similar qualities in the interests of the children. “A child learns to adjust himself and make acquisitions in his sensitive periods. These are like a beam that lights interiorly or a battery that furnishes energy.” (The Secret of Childhood p40) She saw that during these periods the child could learn at a particularly intense rate and that such learning appeared to come very easily.
“At such a time everything is easy; all is life and enthusiasm. Every effort marks an increase in power.” (Ibid p40). The sensitive periods that she noted were not linear, i.e., they did not follow one after the other; some overlapped and some were continuous. They included a sensitive period for order, refinement of the senses, language acquisition, walking and movement, small objects and involvement in social life. Montessori teachers were therefore alerted to the existence of these periods of sensitivity and encouraged to observe them in the activities of the children. Quotations
“A sensitive period refers to a special sensibility which a creature acquires in its infantile state, while it is still in a process of evolution. It is a transient disposition and limited to the acquisition of a particular trait. Once this trait, or characteristic, has been acquired, the special sensibility disappears.” The Secret of Childhood p 38, Chap 7
STAGES OF CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Stage — 1: Absorbent Mind
a. Unconscious Absorbent Mind (0-3 years). The child can not be dictated in this period nor can be directly influenced by the adults. The child learns unconsciously from his environment by using his senses of seeing and hearing. No formal schooling is suggested in this period however provision of a suitable environment greatly helps a child in making good early impressions of the world around him. b. Conscious Absorbent Mind (3-6 years). Child becomes receptive to adult influence. The child starts building personality basing on the impressions stored during first three years of his life. The sense of touch gets coordinated with the mind. Hands become a prime tool of learning. This is also a time of social development. The child wants to have company of other children and can be separated from mother for short periods of time. 2. Stage — 2: Later Childhood (6-12 years)
a. Growth becomes stable and child is calm and happy.
b. The child becomes self-conscious.
c. Reasoning faculty starts to develop. His reasoning is still fragile and therefore should not be put in complicated situations. d. Child becomes aware of right and wrong from moral point of view. e. Sense of smell and taste develops. The child starts using all his five senses to learn. 3. Stage — 3: Transformation (12-18 years)
a. Puberty (12-15 years). The advent of puberty indicates the end of childhood. Marked physical changes take place and the child becomes very sensitive of his self. All the confidence and joyfulness of the childhood is suddenly lost. At this stage, the child needs full emotional support of parents and teachers. b. Adolescence (15-18 years). This period is marked with an attitude of rebellion, discouragement, hesitation, and doubts. There is an unexpected decrease in intellectual capacity as compared to an extrovert of 6-12 years. The creativeness takes charge. The child now transforming into adulthood wants to explore the world. Sensitive to criticism and hates to be ridiculed. Parents and teachers need to accommodate mistakes and encourage new ideas.
Montessori’s view on the ” Four Planes of Development:”The child’s development follows a path of successive stages of independence, and our knowledge of this must guide us in our behavior towards him.”