Sensitive Periods

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Have you ever noticed your child repeats an activity over and over and over and OVER! This repetition is actually a crucial part of their development. Maria Montessori observed that children pass through stages of their development where they are more sensitive to learning a new skill. This is called a sensitive period. Sensitive periods are often associated with intensive interest for repeating activities over and over, until a new skill is mastered. The 6 major sensitive periods are: Sensitivity to Order, Sensitivity to Language, Sensitivity to Movement, Sensitivity to Social Aspects, Sensitivity to Small Objects, Sensitivity to Learning Through the Senses.

1. Sensitivity to Order

The Sensitive period for order goes from birth to 5 years old. Order peaks around 18months-2years old, which is why you might notice your child placing every toy they own into rows at these ages! This sensitive period is characterized by a strong desire for consistency and repetition. During this time you may experience the "terrible twos" when your child overreacts to small changes in their routine or in the order of their environment. You will notice your child wants to do the same activity, read the same book, do same behavior over and over, and this is totally normal!

Things to remember:

- Tantrums happen and are ok! Set you child up for success by limiting huge changes in their routine (especially around SLEEP!) and giving them lots of choices to provide them the control they need, while still maintaining your needs/desires.

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- Provide as much order you can in their environment. A place for everything so they know where to find it!

- When you make a change, involve them in the process

- Practice empathy about this strong need for order. Even though its not as important to us adults, it's our children's whole world!

Activities to build order:

-Involve children to tidying their environment, that way they have control and know where things go and belong. children as young as 18months can help with this process!

- Have an established daily routine to help balance transitions, especially for bed time!

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2. Sensitivity to Language

The sensitive period for language is from Birth to age 6! Sensitivity to language involves: spoken language, written language, and reading!

The sensitive period for spoken language is 7 months to 3 years. It's marked by the child making babbling sounds and progresses through forming words and sentences. Babies mimic mouth movements, so make sure you are talking a lot around and to your child! Make it a habit to narrate everything you or your baby/toddler is doing.

The sensitive period for written language is from 3.5 years to 4.5 years. This may seem surprising to most of you, but it's a real thing! In Montessori we teach children how to "write" or spell words using small wooden letters called the moveable alphabet. Magnetic letters are the best way to introduce this in your home! Take turns spelling words and remember, it's ok if your child writes phonetically! Begin with spelling simple 3 letter phonetic words called CVC (Consonant-Vowel- Consonant. Words like cat, pig, mom, dad, ETC…

Reading takes off from writing. Children are intensely learning how to read from 4.5-5.5. From birth make it a point to read aloud to your child everyday! follow along under the words with you finger so your child can recognize that you are reading words off the pages, which also help develop visual tracking skills! If your child is very interested try echo reading. This is where you say “The mom went…” and your child repeats. Your child can start to hear common words, hear tone of reading and even understand sentence structure.

3. Sensitivity to Movement

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The sensitive period for movement is from Birth to 4. Sensitivity to movement involves acquiring gross (using body and legs) and fine motor (using hands) skills, along with the refinement of those movement skills.

0-2.5 yrs - gross motor: holding head up, tummy time, rolling, pull knees up, crawling, using hands to pull up, standing, walking. Fine motor: grasping, reaching, holding objects.

Remember at this stage walking is for walking sake, not to get from point A to point B! They are practicing a skills and will do it over and over and over!

Give opportunity for child to move freely, even if that means placing delicate items up high for a time and making lots of room for rolling, crawling or walking. Explore the outdoors, feel the grass and play (sometimes eat) sand or dirt! Go on long walks!

2.5-4 yrs - Now children take the skills they have learned and coordinate them. Once your child can walk, let him walk, jump, run and climb by himself. Refinement of these skills comes from applying the movement. Try walking at your child’s pace rather than taking their hand and walking at an adult pace, this is so they won’t get tired and want to be held. Take deep breaths and allow yourself ample time to get somewhere!

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4. Sensitivity to Social Aspects

The sensitive period for social aspects is 2.5-5 years old.

During this time children begin to notice they are apart of a group. They start interacting with peers in cooperative ways, rather than simply engaging in parallel play. Children also begin to pattern their social behavior after adults. Because of this, this stage is the perfect time to introduce social manners, social graces and courtesies, and rules! Children during this stage crave acceptance from parents, friends, family, etc.

Give your child ample opportunity to play with groups of children. This is a great time to find a preschool for your child to attend. There are schools with morning, afternoon or part time sessions, as well as full time options. You can also join a homeschool group to provide opportunity to refine social skills.

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5. Sensitivity to Small Objects

Montessori guides love miniature things, mostly because the little people we follow are in the sensitive period for them!

The sensitive period for small objects is from 1 year to 4 years old. This interest will lead to fine motor skills and the refinement of the pincer grasp (3 finger grasp), which build the foundation for writing and other skills

Children's heightened interest in the these objects can be a bit confusing and seem mundane to adults, however children in this period are intensely aware of the details and unique attributes of the world around them.

Around 12 months your child might all of the sudden be able to find the tiniest (and often most dangerous) objects around your house and immediate place them in their mouth. Exploring by taste is apart of this sensitive period, but it is ok to make sure your child is safe from a choking hazard in a calm manner.

For children 2.5 to 4 years old, small objects provide a way to teach and learn language skills and other new concepts!

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6. Sensitivity to Learning Through the Senses

The sensitive period for learning through the senses is from birth to 6 years old. This sensitive period focuses on refining the senses - sight, taste, sounds, touch, and smell. It is marked by your child’s intense interest with sensorial experiences.

During the first phase of sensory development children 0-3 are focused on tiny details of the environment around them. Your child is taking in information through the senses in a more unconscious way at this time. Make sure your child is close by and involved in everything going on around her. Give plenty of freedom to move around to explore environment.

The second phase, 3-6 years old, is for sensorial exploration and classification. (Put information about creating synapsis in the brain and Maria Montessori-learning through your hands here) Your child is more active and conscious in taking information in through their senses. Make sure to provide lots of sensory filled experiences so children can explore and observe their environment through the senses. Spend ample time in nature, explore different textures, and play “I spy”.

This lovely brown stair shown above is a classic Montessori material that teaches the variable of thickness through the sense of touch and sight. My husband built this brown stair for sweet E and she loves building with it! Her favorite loves to roll a marble down it to hear the different tones each stair makes.

Katie Sellers