Child Development

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Sensitive Periods
Tuesday, 19 September 2006 22:52 | Written by Tim Seldin
Montessori believed in a necessary relationship between children and their environment. Children must find a properly prepared environment if they are to fully develop their unique human potentials. In addition to determining children's eventual height, hair color, and other physical characteristics, there is another cognitive plan which determines the unique emotional and intellectual qualities of each child. These qualities develop through what Montessori referred to as "the sensitive periods."Each sensitive period is a specific kind of compulsion, motivating young children to seek objects and relationships in their environment with which to fulfill their special and unique inner potentials..Montessori believed that children will develop to their full human potential when everything in the environment is "just right." Everything Food, furniture, learning activities, social relations, clothing, routines, and rituals must all be "just right" in order for them to develop their fullest potential as human beings. Young children are neither consciously aware of nor capable of directly communicating their interests and developmental needs. In Montessori Early Childhood programs, teachers are charged with providing learning environments in which everything is "just right." For almost one hundred years, Montessori educators have observed a set of motivations shared by young children around the world. What Dr. Maria Montessori discovered in the St. Lorenz Quarter in 1907 was that children are self-motivated to learn from their environment. Borrowing a term from biology, she called these stages the sensitive periods, after similar developmental stages in animals. The idea seemed revolutionary at the time, and took many years, following Piaget's extensions of Montessori's initial explanation, to become generally accepted in child psychology. Today, whether we use Montessori's terminology or not, the description of child development she first presented at the turn of the century rings true.

Each sensitive period is:

A period of special sensibility and psychological attitudes.

An overpowering force, interest, or impetus directing children to particular qualities and elements in the environment.

A period of time during which children center their attention on specific aspects of the environment, to the exclusion of all else.

A passion and a commitment.

Derived from the unconscious and leads children to conscious and creative activities.

Intense and prolonged activity which does not lead to fatigue or boredom, but instead leads to persistent energy and interest.

A transitory state once realized, the sensitive period disappears. Sensitive periods are never regained, once they have passed.

Dr. Montessori identified eleven different sensitive periods occurring from birth through age six. Each refers to a predisposition compelling children to acquire specific characteristics as described below. When Montessori teachers speak about children being "inner directed," they are referring to an inner compulsion or sensitive period. A Montessori teacher would say, for example, "This child is in her sensitive period for order." These phrases point to each child's predisposition to follow her own daily classroom routine in which she chooses the same materials and in the same sequence. Ages of the onset and conclusion of each sensitive period are approximate and are indicated after the general description.

Movement Random movements become coordinated and controlled: grasping, touching, turning, balancing, crawling, walking. (Birth — one)

Language Use of words to communicate: a progression from babble to words to phrases to sentences, with a continuously expanding vocabulary and comprehension. (birth — six)

Small Objects A fixation on small objects and tiny details. (one — four)

Order Characterized by a desire for consistency and...
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