Sensitive Periods in Child Development: Supporting Them During the First Stage

Define the term sensitive periods and link them appropriately to the child’s first stage of development. Explain how you would support these sensitive periods during this first crucial stage. In this essay I will define the term sensitive periods linking it with stage of development, I will also outline the importance of these periods , the consequences of not recognising it, and finally how we can support children in this crucial time. "A sensitive periods refers to a special sensibility which a creature in its infantile state, while it is still in a process of evolution".

Montessori, 1966, p38) Maria Montessori believed that during first few years of life its very easy for a child to learn without an effort that later on will be more difficult such as language. She observed that there is an inner passion and urge to absorbed everything from their environment. Sensitive periods are characterized by behaviours such as an activity being irresistible for a child once he/ she starts it.

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Once the sensitive period is over, the sensibility disappears because the brain has progressed to a time when specific information is absorbed.

In each period children are especially sensitive to a specific characteristic in his/her environment. They have this "inner power horme" (Montessori, 1966) which enables them to choose and explore necessary objects and relationships from their environment, for their intellectual growth. All of those periods are very specific and unique for a child development. If he/she will not be able to satisfy his/her needs during those periods the opportunity " of a natural conquest is lost and its lost for good" (Montessori, 1966, p.

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9) These periods are transitory and it last only for as long as is necessary for a child to accomplish a particular stage of development. There is three stages of development identified by Montessori are infancy (birth to six years), childhood ( six to twelve years), adolescence (twelve to eighteen). The first one is the most crucial in child life. The child now wants to master the environment, always busy doing something The process by which the child absorb knowledge of his/her environment is explained through Montessori book Absorbent Mind .

This unconscious absorption will be stored in the child's "mneme" supreme type of memory which store impressions and from this it will be build conscious mind from the age of three. This unconscious stage is what (Montessori, 2007a) described as a "psychic life" or " spiritual embryo" which is present even before birth. Montessori said " He learns everything without knowing it, and he passes little by little from unconscious to conscious"(Montessori, 2007, p. 4) Montessori names both of those stages of development an " absorbent mind"( Montessori, 2007a), as there will be no other in a mans life when he acquire with love the understanding of his environment and adaptation to life in such natural way with all the potential energies he is born with. There are six mains sensitive periods identified by Montessori in the first plane of development. These are the sensitive periods for order, movement, sensory refinement, language, small objects and the social aspect of life. The first of these focuses around "order".

This emerges soon after birth and continues on till child reaches the age of three years. This period is characterised by a desire for consistency, repetition and established routines. As Montessori points out, "Order is one of the needs of life which, when it is satisfied, produces a real happiness... "(Montessori: 1966; 52). Within the sensitive period for order lies two sub-categories internal order - how the child perceives the world and routines in the child's life. External order- its awareness his/her environment and his/her relationship with it.

Children in that age have the need for routine and consistency to be able to orientate in their environment. They learn everything has its own place and they happily undertake any activities linked with that observation. I witnessed an exampled of this when there was tidy up time. Few of the children were putting toys at the wrong place. One girl of the class became distressed over this and began explaining that this is a wrong place. She knew that these toys didn't belong to the shelf. Sensitive period for order had been disrupted. The other sensitive periods to consider are the refinement of the senses.

The way the children can find out abut their environment at this stage is through their senses. By looking, smelling, hearing, touching child learn differences in sensory stimuli. A child brain react different to each sense stimuli and helps him/her to find out which stimuli is more important, which is relevant. this helps in preventing their nervous system from being over-stimulated. The activities used within a Montessori environment to develop this include such things as weights, colours, grading, matching, shapes, sounds, smells and taste.

During his/her playtime outside (smelling flowers, picking up leaves or small stones) and in a classroom. The place should provide enough sensorial materials for children to get them started in recognised different sense stimuli, sorting, pairing. This bring us to the sensitive period of the language it is from 7 months up to 5. 5 to 6 years of age. There are three forms of language from spoken language, to written language and reading. This is an important part of a child’s life to be able to use words to communicate and its learnt very easily at this time.

Preparing the environment for spoken language includes reading to the child and providing opportunity for your child to express his/her needs feelings. There are also many helpful toys that require explaining or speaking that we can provide as picture cards songs, electronic speaking toys play rhyming games together, sing songs. Writing process child begins to practice around 3,5 of age and to practice this there are materials such as colouring and tracing books. To allow the opportunity for reading we should rather read with a child, rather than just reading to him/her.

Beginning with simpler reading materials that encourage and boost confidence in child before moving on to phrases or sentences. The other sensitive periods is movement. Children must be able to move around in their environment in order to learn about surroundings and form relationships and gain independence. The environment should be prepared to give opportunities for the child to crawl pull up and walk and run providing materials and toys visits to the park and outdoors activities. Child will learn those skills through repetition also increasing concentration and co-ordination.

Once a child has begun to move about freely, we may observe a fascination for small objects. As mobility increases, so too the desire to explore. They have the desire to explore, which leads them to a better understanding of their surroundings and develop senses. At this periods their gross motor skills and eye-to- hand coordination is rather well developed and allows them to meet their exploration as well as their hand coordination with smaller objects. Recently a girl in my class noticed a pendant on my neck, and developed a great interest to the point I had to take it off she reached for my hand and started to inspect the pendant closely.

Space must be provided as well as outdoor activities. which will also encourage sensitive period for small objects. this enables them to explore their environment and improve their eye-to-hand co-ordination and senses and begin to make sense of their world, a world which, generally, is designed for the use of adults. At the age of 3 children become more physically independent, they are also able to respond to language. They become conscious of their environment and start to be interested in other people. They start to learn manners and social skills in order to fit in the new environment.

They have the inner need for contact with others and co-operate with them. This is a sensitive periods for social aspects of life. In my nursery I can witness many examples where children likes to do many activities together like organise dolly tea time, reading, singing they love to talk and help each other. Teaching manners and acceptable behaviours during this periods give children the ability to develop their social skills. They are interested in other people and those skills help them in mixing with others and cooperate with them. This builds up their confidence and openness towards different ideas and ways of working.

The emergence of this sensitive period coincides with the onset of the social embryo. The second stages of development children are mentally and physically independent and they can explore everything without limits in right environment. They organise social group and wants to understand world around them. There is also a time for physical strength. In the third stage physical, psychological, social changes appearing. There is a instability and difficulties in concentration, doubts, violent emotions of this age and the sense of justice and dignity.

It’s a transition time from childhood to adults. Knowledge of these sensitive periods helps the teacher to organise the environment and support the child physically and psychically, in which he/she can develop their skills. The activities and materials should be freely chosen and repeated to his/her needs and age. Each sensitive period is a unique time in a child's life, when he /she absorbs everything with a tremendous speed, That's why it is important that we, adults can help them to meet their needs at those stages, as soon as they appear.

To explore and orientate better in the environment a child needs lots of freedom as well as order. Not recognizing those needs can manifest in tantrums and other negative behaviour.. As Montessori said:" A child's first tantrums are the first ills of his soul"(Montessori, 1966, p. 44) Early childhood is the most intensive period of brain development. Adequate stimulation are essential during that years of life because a child's brain is most sensitive to the influences of the external environment.. Such development helps to ensure that each child reaches his/her potential.

When children spend their early years in a less stimulating, or less emotionally and physically supportive environment, brain development is affected and leads to, social and behavioural delays. Later in life, these children will have difficulty dealing with complex situations and environments. High levels of stress during early childhood can increase the risk of stress-related disease and learning problems well into the adult years. Negative consequences can be found in children who are deprived of social interaction during those sensitive periods.

They will develop to be less socially confident and also could have problems with authority, and in adjusting to new environments. Knowledge and recognition of sensitive periods is crucial for a child's physical and psychological well being. To meet children's needs during those periods and for children to reach their optimum development, and adult/teacher must provide them with prepared environment. The environment should be a reflection of the home, welcoming, warm and prepared with love and care. Materials should be accessible at all imes, complete, ready for use and displayed in such way, that it will encourage him/her to choose activity. Materials organised in levels of difficulty and for different areas of learning. Each activity should have its own place so that child feel secure and independent when knows where everything is. Provide lots of time and opportunities for practice and repetition. Young children learn most efficiently when they're provided with some opportunities to work slightly above their current ability with the assistance of an adult. Children benefit from a variety of different activities.

However there activities that contribute more to overall brain development are music, art and physical activity. Introduce new materials to children that help them learn new skills and provide a little challenge for them. All this is vital in child's sensitive periods. Learning Montessori observations of sensitive periods and prepared environment gives us a great start in understanding child's early years of physical and intellectual development. We now know how important it is to recognize and meet children needs at that time.

WE must provide them with the best learning environment we can in order to motivate and support them in gaining independence, self confidence and self control. Bibliography: Lillard, P. P. (1996) Montessori Today, New York: Schocken Books. Montessori Centre International (2010) Philosophy, Module 1, London: MCI. Montessori, M. (1966) The Secret of Childhood, New York: Ballantine. Montessori, M. (2007a) The Absorbent Mind, Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson. Montessori, M. (2007b) The Discovery of the Child, Amsterdam: Montessori- Pierson

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Sensitive Periods in Child Development: Supporting Them During the First Stage. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Sensitive Periods in Child Development: Supporting Them During the First Stage essay
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