Sensitive Periods

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Sensitive Periods
Sensitive periods are a termed coined by a Dutch biologist Hugo de Vries and later adopted by Dr. Montessori to refer to the important period of development in childhood. Montessori was not very specific in her published works about the precise number, description, or timing of these sensitive periods. These periods are critical to the child’s self-development. She set out several periods with the approximate ages to which they applied. Dr. Montessori believed, adults should observe the behavior and activities of children to discover what sensitive periods they are in.

What are Sensitive periods

Sensitive periods in a child’s life are like windows of opportunities from which a child gets to learn different skills. The child is extra sensitive to the stimuli it gets to learn a particular skill at those periods. If they are missed, if the child does not get those stimuli, the opportunity is missed forever. This is an important thing to understand and as adults we must be aware so that we can provide help to the child when needed.

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Characteristics of Sensitive periods

Since this Sensitive period occur at during the first 2 ½ years. The child is extra sensitive to the stimuli it gets to learn a particular skill at those periods. These movements are involuntary and it’s the unconscious skill that is this fundamental development. If they are missed, if the child does not get those stimuli, the opportunity is missed forever. This is an important thing to understand and as adults we must be aware so that we can provide help to the child when needed. We can say that these sensitive periods are universal and seen in all the children. They are irresistible and they help in the process of human development. It is an intense period and they child should be given the opportunity to aid his self-development. We can also say that these sensitive periods are inter related, as each one lays the foundation for the other. How did Dr. Montessori come to the idea of Sensitive periods? The phase sensitive periods was first coined by a Hugo de Vries a Dutch biologist he made this discovery while studying animal life. Dr. Montessori also made this similar discovery when she was observing children. She then spoke to him on the same lines of their discovery.

She gives us a keen observation about the butterfly eggs. Then butterfly lays its eggs in the fork in the branches of the tree trunks. The larvae have a certain urge to go towards the light, nothing will stop them till they reach the tip of the branch and when they reach the tip they lose their sensitivity towards light and start feeds on the youngest tip of the leaf. Even if there are no leaves the sensitivity is still there at a certain time. So there is a period allotted for development and progress that governs the process of development The 3rd fold phenomena that Dr. Montessori observed

In the 3 fold phenomena Dr. Montessori observed that the child has a spontaneous interest in purposeful activity. She observed that the child had the capacity to reach a stage of concentration by the means of interested repetition. A vital unbreakable link exists between the 3 factors that is interest, repetition and concentration.

* Concentration
The child is capable of concentration, the capacity to concentrate belong to the nature of the child and she realized indispensable need to concentrate belongs to the nature of the child, and she came to realize the great work the child has to perform and thus his entire future depends on these developments. He definitely needs to concentrate to make achievements. Example: To walk and to talk we have to co-ordinate our movements which, he does to a great degree of perfection. * Interest

This spontaneous interest is the spark that is kindled, when a genuine vital need comes in contact with something that attracts the attention of the child. When comes face to face with what will satisfy his need which is attracted to irresistibly then concentration will come and it has to be his work which will satisfy his vital need. He will get immersed in that particular activity. So this spontaneous interest will stimulate the child’s interest and that will bring about repetition and this repetition will help the child to find his satisfaction * Repetition

This repetition with interest gets the child totally immersed in the activity and the child withdraws from the environment. Depth of the total absorption is a state of concentration that can only be reached with repetition. This concentration is not an end in itself it only servers as a means of the child being active on a deeper level. It also serves as mean of upliftment which helps his development.

The Sensitive Periods Dr. Montessori identified in the children of the 1st plane of development * Sensitive Period for Order
It starts from birth and peaks at 18 months to 2.5 years and prolongs to age five. This is characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition. There exists a passionate love for established routines and is when a child may seem disturbed by disorder. The environment therefore must be carefully ordered with a place for everything and with carefully established ground rules. It is also important to have external order as order in their environment where there is an appropriate place for everything as this helps the child also establish their internal order. It is when you see a child may give out a tantrum since things are out of routine and it affects their sense of order. They may at this time insist on the same routine, and at times parents don’t really have time to respect this in the busy lives. One may even see a child put things in back into place if they are out of order if given the chance. It is important to be aware of this as one of the child’s needs to be fulfilled. Having ordered rules helps a child in this sensitive period.

* Physical Order
The child’s need for order by making sure materials is stored in the same place every day. We make sure each work is complete and repairs are made as needed. Lessons are presented in the same sequence and each activity ends with the child returning the work to the shelf. This physical sense of order sets the foundation for higher level thinking skills such as classification, as well as helping the child order his own space and time.

* Functional Order
The child trust that the environment routines should proper, and there
should not be any displacement.

* Emotional Consistency
The behavior should discern and distinguish the same people doing the same things. This behaviour should be consistent even with care givers.

* Order in the daily routine
Children before the age of six love to participate in the activities that maintain order in their daily routine, like cleaning, folding, putting things away, and other daily activities. Allowing your child to participate in these activities and learn them is a great way to keep him occupied even changing how you do something each time can confuse a child and make them become disinterested. One day this need for order will disappear, letting your child learn how to do these things that appeal to his sense of order will also help him gain great independence. * Sensitive period for movement

The sensitive period for movement can be divided into different classifications. For acquisition of gross and fine motor (walking and the use of the hands) is from 0-2.5 years of age. The environments we prepare for this is the opportunities for the child to crawl, pull up, encourage walking with or without assistance and not just left to sit by themselves. A child is also given toys/materials that allow their hands to hook, bat, touch, turn, insert and grasp small items within their abilities. We have to give them toys or materials that improve the movement of the hand, and improve eye/hand coordination. These opportunities given to them need to be repeated in order for these skills to be refined. Refinement/coordination of movement is from 2.5 to 4.5 years of age. This is when the child may start using both hands in coordination of fine movements, being able to hold small items with pincer grip and release voluntary. Gross motor can be coordination of walking, running, balancing while carrying a jug of water and jumping. The child acquires this coordination through repetition of purposeful motor activity. Regular visits to the park or outdoor environment is likely to help this sensitive period.

* Sensitive period for refinement of senses
Sensitive period for refinement of the senses is characterized with the child’s fascination with sensorial experiences (taste, smell, sounds, weight and touch) results in the child learning to observe and make increasingly refined sensorial discrimination. Nothing is in the mind that was not first in the senses. One can let the child smell different herbs, different foods, like fruits surrounding them in nature walks or even the supermarket. This can be characterized by the child’s fixation with small objects and tiny details. This is an indicator that order and detail are coming together in the child’s mind. To properly prepare the environment one may get down to knee level and walk it to see the details yourself, fix what needs to be fixed so as the child may not be distracted when doing work. When a child may see something in disorder this may affect their level of concentration. It is at this age to 2.5-3 they encounter a vast experience of sensorial experiences. It is the duty of the parent to give the child opportunities to explore their environment and experience or stimulate their senses and not always be prevented with minor hygiene or safety concerns

* Sensitive period for language
The sensitive period for language is from 7 months in utero up to 6 years of age. There are several aspects of language from spoken language, to written language and reading. This is an integral part of a child’s life to be able to use words to use words or language in order to communicate. It is the progression from babbling to single words to phrases to two or three word sentences, with a continuously expanding vocabulary and comprehension. A second language is also learnt very easily at this time. The sensitive period for learning to speak is from is from 7 months to 2.5-3 years of age. The prenatal influence on language development is important. By age three the child is ideally speaking 2-3 word sentences. The environment we prepare for this child is speaking to them in clear language, reading to them and allowing them to speak verbally.

The Educational Significance of the Sensitive periods
Maria Montessori was the first to discover both the psychological importance and the overall importance to human development of the sensitive periods.
When education is organized around the developing sensitive periods, children learn effortlessly with a sustained interest and enthusiasm almost unbelievable to observe. These sensitive periods relate to movement, language, math, sensory input, social graces and more. The idea is to provide a prepared environment containing external activities that coincide with the needs of internal development. The child is permitted to freely choose his activities. The child’s every effort brings an increase in power. We often fail to recognize the significance and potential of these periods. Perhaps it is because we take for granted the progress we see children making every day.

Simply it is a period of time in which the child concentrates mainly on one aspect of his environment and excludes everything else. This is when we see a child repeatedly does an activity with passion and conviction, and it seems like nothing can deter them until they are satisfied. It is a time of intense concentration and mental activity on developing a particular skill at that particular time, age / phase in growth. It is driven unconsciously by an inner force that the best way an adult can support this passion is to prepare the environment and encourage this special time of learning.

Cite this page

Sensitive Periods. (2016, Mar 22). Retrieved from

Sensitive Periods

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