Sensitive Periods and the Montessori Child

Dr. Maria Montessori observed that children pass through certain stages in their development when they are predisposed to learning a particular skill. She called these sensitive periods. These spans last as long as it takes the child to learn the skill.

Sense of Order

In Montessori, the classroom is carefully prepared in an orderly fashion for the children. They are responsible for returning things where they belong and caring for their environment. Items are child-sized and placed at the child’s level.

The order of their school day begins the moment you drop off. It is important to establish a consistent routine that allows for your child to be as independent as possible (e.g. hanging up their own coat, changing their shoes, greeting the teacher, etc.).

At home:

  • Place low hooks for your child to hang up their outerwear
  • Use bins and baskets to help organize items

Sensitive Period for Language

Children are most sensitive to language between the ages of 0-6. They are very much like a sponge, absorbing everything around them. In Montessori, our goal is to lay the groundwork for literacy and provide children with the tools for reading. Very often, students will emerge reading at some level, but our objective is to instill in them the framework for reading (letter sounds, vocabulary, grammar) and a love for literature.

At home:

  • Read aloud to your child often
  • Starting at infancy, speak to your child using REAL words. Narrate what you are doing.
  • When possible, choose books that have real pictures and characters that model true life. Your child is making sense of their world, and it is best to help them establish that order with real things.
  • Tell a story. This often helps your child to see things from a different perspective. This is especially helpful if you are teaching about things such as sharing or empathy.
  • The grocery store and your kitchen are excellent places to incorporate counting and vocabulary.

Sense of Touch

Your child learns best with hands-on, tactile experiences. It is important to limit screen time. Technology has its place, but no tablet can give your child the sensorial experience of feeling heavy/light, smooth/rough, etc. Many of the Montessori works highlight one specific sense and allow the child to zero in and develop concentration.

At home:

  • Go for a walk! There is so much to see, smell, touch. It is a great opportunity to also provide additional language, pointing out all that you see and hold. We can look at pictures of trees, but feeling the bark and listening to the rustling leaves are much more powerful experiences to your child. Maybe you can find a tree with “rough” bark and one that is “smooth”.
  • Give your child tasks to do such as folding laundry, wiping the table, or sweeping the floor. The feeling of things that are wet versus dry or heavy versus light will speak to their tactile senses.

Process versus Product (and other tidbits)

In Montessori, a good portion of your child’s day is process oriented. We adults often do a task for the end result and view it as a less than ideal “chore”, however, your child does not see it this way. They are learning by doing. They are repeating an activity to help their body master a skill.

In a world that continues to move faster and faster, and provides finished, packaged items, it is important to allow your child to see the PROCESS of things whenever possible. It is also beneficial to set clear and consistent limits, as this helps them feel secure and a stronger sense of order in our busy society.

At home:

  • Bedtime routine – remember that for your child, much of this task is fairly new and it is their “work”. Consider starting the routine earlier and making it part of the family evening.
  • After and When – these are key words for cleaning up and other periods of transition. It moves things in the right direction, while giving your child an explanation and some ownership. This is much more productive than using “if”.
  • Night prep – prepare tomorrow’s lunch box and lay out the next day’s clothing, offering option A or B. These are great opportunities to include your child in care of self.



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