Many parents worry over when and if they should introduce certain skills and subjects to their children. This is not a new concern. Maria Montessori developed the theory of sensitive periods in which children will naturally develop critical life skills. These Montessori sensitive periods can be thought of as developmental windows that allow organic skill development.
What Is a Sensitive Period?
Sensitive periods in child development are times when children are intrinsically motivated to develop skills in certain areas. These periods are defined by intense interest and focus in a particular domain, often to the exclusion of other topics. It is believed that children move through each sensitive period one time. Once it ends, there is no way to re-enter that phase.
Defining the Sensitive Periods
Montessori experts define up to 11 sensitive periods in child development. Some of these include:
- Movement–This is the period in which infants gain control over their muscle movements. They progress from limited, random movements to grasping, crawling and walking.
- Order–Toddlers in this sensitive period seek structure and routine. Disruptions to their routines may trigger tantrums.
- Language–The language development period starts at birth and continues through age six. Children go through the stages of speech development and gain comprehension skills.
- Sensory–Children develop greater awareness of differences in sensory input. They start to notice that some objects are heavier than others and that different materials have varying textures.
- Small Objects–Young children develop greater attention to detail during this time.
The sensitive periods extend to academic readiness, as well. Children show a natural inclination to develop foundational skills in reading, math, music, and writing at different times.
Honoring the Sensitive Periods
Children cannot be forced to develop skills when they are not ready. Preparing the child’s environment to allow natural exploration at the appropriate time is key to success.