Montessori Sensitive Periods

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A sensitive period refers to “a special sensibility which a creature acquires in its infantile state" (Montessori, 1966, p.38). Such sensitive periods were first discovered in insects by the Dutch scientist Hugo de Vries, but according to Montessori, can also be found in children and are very important to consider in teaching. Each sensitive period is a "transient disposition and is limited to the acquisition of a particular trait" (Montessori, 1966, p.38). Once the sensitive period is over, the sensibility disappears due to the fact that the development of the brain has progressed past the point at which specific information is absorbed. According to Montessori, during a sensitive period it is very easy for the child to acquire certain abilities, such as language.

Sensitive periods are characterized by observable behaviors such as an activity being irresistible for a child once he or she starts it. A passionate interest can develop and the same activity is often returned to time and again. I have noticed how three-year-olds for example love to wash their hands, whereas ten-year-olds do not.

Montessori observed 6 sensitive periods in a child's life. These sensitive periods are not consecutive; some overlap and some are continuous. These periods are described below.


During this sensitive period, there is a need for a precise and determined environment, which can be observed by the joy which children show at seeing things in their proper places (Montessori, 1966). The presence of this sensitive period however, is even more evident when the order is somehow interfered with. For example, Montessori describes the agitation of a 6 month old when an umbrella was placed unusually on a table. It was only with the removal of the object that the child became calm. In the words of Montessori the "object out of place had violently upset the little girls pattern of memory as to how objects should be arranged" (Montessori, 1966, p.50). The need for order...
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