What are Sensitive Periods and How Can You Use Them? Montessori Applied to Parenting

What are Sensitive Periods and How Can You Use Them? Montessori Applied to Parenting

It must be some sort of rule. All toddlers seem to LOVE water play. And have you ever noticed how at a certain stage, babies become determined to move on their own, struggling until they achieve the ability to walk?

These are examples of sensitive periods.

Throughout childhood, children experience a number of sensitive periods. Some last for years at a time, and others may only last several months. Montessori coined the phrase “sensitive periods” to refer to times when children have an especially strong motivation and interest to learn about a particular subject or master a certain skill. In her observations, she discovered that many children share a lot of the same interests around the same time in their development.

What are Sensitive Periods and How Can You Use Them? Montessori Applied to Parenting

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How Can You Use Them?

As parents and teachers, we can take advantage of these sensitive periods to help guide our children’s learning. A perfect example is language. Montessori noticed that children experience a sensitive period in language from birth through about age 6.

We might consider this sensitive period as a window of opportunity so to speak. If we can guide our children (and they seem interested), we can help them learn heaps of vocabulary, and help them learn to read and write.

What’s always interested me about Montessori is that she believed that parents and teachers don’t actually teach children. We model, guide and assist. But, we don’t do the learning for children. They do it on their own! In a certain way, the thought that we “teach” children places the responsibility and achievement on us. But really, children are the ones who must put in the effort, interest and motivation while discovering and learning.

What does that mean for sensitive periods?

This means that we must be in tune with their needs and interests, following them and preparing the materials and environment they need to be able to learn. In the case of language, this means making books and language materials readily available, especially during the period from 0-6. We must invite them to experience the shapes of the letters and give them opportunities to practice. We can provide a variety of language rich experiences in our homes to take advantage of this sensitivity to language.

How Will You Know Your Child is Experiencing a Sensitive Period?

Children make their interests known. Montessori encouraged teachers to take time to simply observe the children for this reason. The more we can watch our children without getting involved, the more we can notice what they are interested in and discover their sensitive periods.

Real Life Examples:

Lets take Peanut for example. Lately, he really enjoys spending some calm time every day moving dirt around with his toy trucks and a small shovel. He’s enjoying the sensations and spending time in nature. By observing the movements he’s making, I can deduce that he is experiencing a sensitive period for fine motor practice which is typical for preschoolers.  Perhaps he would also enjoy other transferring activities such as spooning beans between two bowls.

He’s also always shown a strong love for animals, as most preschoolers do. How can we take advantage of this natural interest or sensitive period? We’ve enjoyed visits to zoos, have some pet fish, and have purchased lots of books about animals (here’s one I made about snakes!). Whenever I see an animal around the house, I call him to take a look. We could take advantage of this interest in many more ways such as:

  • keeping a nature journal and drawing all the animals we see
  • taking photos to label
  • learning the names (maybe even scientific names) of many different animals
  • learning the names of the parts of the animals (to combine with the sensitive period for language)
  • learning about animal habitats

As I’m collecting my lists and materials for starting preschool at home with Peanut in January, I’m making note of his interests. By creating an environment that’s tailored to his interests, motivations and sensitive periods, I’ll have much greater success with homeschooling than if I tried to come up with a list of what want him to know.

What sensitive periods have you noticed in your little ones?

4 thoughts on “What are Sensitive Periods and How Can You Use Them? Montessori Applied to Parenting

  1. This makes so sense! Often times kids like something then don’t but then like it again. This makes me understand the phases little ones go through when experiencing conditions around them.

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