Adults are always puzzled by the amount of times a child can repeat an activity or a song or an action and we always wonder why children are repetitive in some things at certain stages?
Maria Montessori believed that children pass through phases in which at certain stages throughout their development they have a sensitivity to learning a specific skill. These stages are called ‘sensitive periods’. Each period last for as long as it is necessary for the child to accomplish a particular stage in his development.
These periods of sensitivity are transitory and when the aim of the period is accomplished the special sensitivity simply falls away. In other words it reaches its peak and dies away. These sensitive periods can be thought of as moments of readiness for learning. Sensitive periods appear as an intense interest for repeating certain actions over and over again, until, out of repetition, a new skill emerges and is mastered. During these periods the child shows vitality and pleasure in performing these actions. If the child has not been allowed to work in accordance with the sensitive periods Montessori said it was like “a dropped stitch in his mental life” because he would lose his special sensitivity and interest in that area and it would affect his whole physic development.
Montessori observed that the sensitive periods were not linear. They do not follow each other. Some run parallel and some overlap it was obvious to her that the sensitive periods the child passed through were not only an aid to the development of his physic life but they were also an important aspect of his learning process. So in formulating her method of education Maris Montessori identified six major sensitive periods:
This sensitive period is forcing the child to focus his attention on human voices. When you speak or sing to a crying baby, you can notice the baby focusing attention of you mouth and lips. He learns words first and later their meaning. Adults should provide supportive environment by speaking correctly to the child.
During this time, the child is striving to sort out and categories all his experiences. It makes it easier for them if there is some kind of order in their lives.
The child needs consistency and familiarity so that he can orientate himself and construct a mental picture of the world.
This need is particularly evident in the child from about the age of 18 months. During this sensitive period change can be very upsetting for a child, even a minor change can feel like the end of the world to them. Order helps the child to orientate himself and organize his mind.
From birth, child receives impressions from the world through his five senses. Firstly, the senses of sight and hearing are active, and then gradually, as movement develops, the sense of touch and smell play a role, followed by a sense of taste, as he is able to put things into his mouth.
By taste and touch the child can absorb the qualities of the objects in his environment, therefore allowing the neurological structures of language to be developed. The tongue and the hands are more connected to man’s intelligence than any other part of his body. Montessori referred to them as ‘the instruments of man’s intelligence’.
For this sensitive period the child’s muscles should be strong and mature.
A child’s movement begins since birth but then it is movement without coordination.
Only purposeful activity will satisfy a child’s sensitivity to movement because only through that mind and body can work together in coordination.
At the age of about two and a half years to three years, the child becomes aware that he is part of a group. He begins to show and intense interest in other children of his own age, and gradually starts to play with them in a co-operative way.
There is a sense of unity which Maria Montessori believed came about spontaneously and was not directed by internal drives. She noticed that at this stage, children begin to model themselves on adult social behavior and they gradually acquire the social norms of their group.
When the child reaches its first year and becomes more mobile and has a larger environment in which to explore, he is drawn to small objects such as insects, pebbles, stones and grass. He will pick something up, look at it closely and perhaps put it in his mouth. The urge to pay attention to detail that children of his age have is part of their effort to build up an understanding of the world.