Sensitives Periods in Montessori Pedagogy

The sensitive periods are the result of Maria Montessori’s observation, which draws a parallel with the work of De Vries, who had discovered sensitive periods in insects.

According to Maria Montessori, every child is unique. It has its own personality, rhythm of life, qualities and possible difficulties. But all children, without exception, go through their own “sensitive periods”.

What are sensitive periods in Montessori pedagogy?

Sensitive periods are times when the child’s inner sensitivities are expressed in relation to a characteristic of the environment that causes the child to transform. They awaken in the child a particular attraction around an aspect of the environment. For example, we know that young children hear all the sounds of the environment and all languages from birth, but they will retain in particular the sounds they hear in their environment to build their mother tongue.

Sensitive periods are temporary and are limited to the acquisition of a given character.

These are special sensitivities, moments in the child’s life when the whole child is “absorbed” by a particular sensitivity to a specific element of his or her environment (the home, the classroom). These are transitional periods, they are limited to the acquisition of a specific character; once the character has been developed, the “sensitivity” ceases. It is therefore essential that the environment offers the child the means to develop at the right time by using these sensitive periods.

Maria Montessori makes sensitive periods of development laws and has defined their activity in human beings between birth and 6 or even 7 years of age, they can overlap.

Maria Montessori has defined 6 sensitive periods: 

  • The sensitive period of the order, approximately from birth to 6 years of age.
  • The sensitive period of language, more or less between 2 months and 6 years.
  • The sensitive period of movement coordination, about 18 months to 4 years.
  • The sensitive period of the refinement of the senses, about 18 months to 5 years.
  • The sensitive period of social behaviour, about 2.5 to 6 years.
  • The sensitive period of small objects, during the 2nd year over a very short period of time.

What is their importance in child development?

It is his sensitive periods that guide the child in his construction, pushed by his inner master and his vital force that “bring about” the potentialities of movement and language.

The child feeds on his environment. The latter must therefore meet its needs and take into account sensitive periods to help these traits develop as well as possible. The environment must therefore be/incarnate order, allow movement that has a defined purpose, allow language, allow right sensory experiences, allow social relationship.

The role of the parent or educator is to prepare this environment. He will observe the child and, depending on the needs identified, will link him to this environment. He must know the inner sensitivities and their duration in order to be able to recognize them in action and respond to them by building the environment.

Maria Montessori considered education as an aid to life and it is of great importance that adults rely on the sensitive periods of the child so that the child can build himself on the physical, psychological and social levels. 

According to Maria Montessori, “if the child could not obey the directives of his sensitive period, the opportunity for a natural conquest is lost, lost forever”. During these sensitive periods, the child can easily and effortlessly assimilate this or that acquisition. If the child is helped at this precise moment, the learning is done in depth. But if the child does not find the elements (in the atmosphere and equipment) that meet his or her needs at the time, the sensitivity will gradually fade.

Maria Montessori was convinced that the forces of development are included in the living being and that the work of education consists in preserving their spontaneity, and in removing anything that could weaken them and prevent them from flourishing (obstacles).
 The child must build his own personality and develop his motor and intellectual faculties. Therefore, the adult must have full confidence in the child’s strengths, respect his or her freedom of action and prepare the necessary and supportive environment for his or her development. The adult must be able to observe the child’s different rhythms, he must know his child well by showing attention and respect.

Observation and respect, trust in the child are key words in Montessori pedagogy. We will have the opportunity to come back to this soon.