Because the Montessori Method was designed to align with the biological development of the child, it makes sense that many of the terms associated with the method stem from stages of mental, physical or emotional development. The term “sensitive period” is one such term.
The Association Montessori International defines sensitive periods in this way:
Young children experience transient periods of sensibility, and are intrinsically motivated or urged to activity by specific sensitivities. A child in a sensitive period is believed to exhibit spontaneous concentration when engaged in an activity that matches a particular sensitivity. For example, children in a sensitive period for order will be drawn to activities that involve ordering. They will be observed choosing such activities and becoming deeply concentrated, sometimes repeating the activity over and over, without external reward or encouragement. Young children are naturally drawn towards those specific aspects of the environment which meet their developmental needs.
Essentially, a sensitive period is a time of transition where a child shows uncharacteristic motivation to engage with activities that align with their focus during that time of transition. According to work conducted by Dr. Maria Montessori, there are six sensitive periods: order, language, walking, the social aspects of life, small objects, and learning through the senses. Each of these periods takes place during the early childhood years, typically during the first six years of life.
Even if you’ve never heard of sensitive periods before, you’ve likely experienced them with a child you know or with your own child. Think about a child who has recently learned to walk. Parents of newly mobile children often marvel at how their child is “all over the place.” During this sensitive period, children are not necessarily exploring space, but their own ability. They are driven to walk because it is an innate desire to develop this critical skill.
Observing and supporting children in their sensitive periods are critical to Montessori education. Our guides are trained to encourage behavior that satisfies the child’s desire to learn and grow in a healthy, safe way. Our educators are also trained to provide parents with the knowledge and skills to support these important behaviors at home.
To learn more about sensitive periods and explore other Montessori terms, we encourage you to visit https://montessori-ami.org.