Maria Montessori and her ‘Sensitive Periods' 2
Parents are always baffled by the amount of times a child can repeat an activity or a song or an action and I always get questions about why children are repetitive in some things at certain stages so I thought I’d explain!
Maria Montessori believed that children pass through phases in which at certain stags throughout their development they have a predisposition or sensitivity to learning a specific skill. These stages are called ‘sensitive periods’! Each period last for as long as it is necessary for the child to accomplish a particular stage in his development. These periods of sensitivity are transitory and when the aim of the period is accomplished the special sensitivity simply falls away. In other words it reaches its peak and dies away.
These sensitive periods can be thought of as moments of readiness for learning. Sensitive periods appear as an intense interest for repeating certain actions over and over again, until, out of repetition, a new skill emerges and is mastered. These sensitive periods manifest themselves by a pattern of behaviour. A feature of growth at this stage e.g. a characteristic of such a period is the repeated performance of song actions for no apparent reason. During these periods the child shows vitality and pleasure in performing these actions. If the child has not been allowed to work in accordance with the sensitive periods Montessori said it was like “a dropped stitch in his mental life” because he would lose his special sensitivity and interest in that area and it would affect his whole physic development! Harsh but true!
In Casa de Bambini, Montessori observed that the sensitive periods were not linear. They do not follow each other. Some run parallel and some overlap it was obvious to her that the sensitive periods the child passed through were not only an aid to the development of his physic life but they were also an important aspect of his learning process. So in formulating her method of education Maris Montessori identified six major sensitive periods:
- Sensitivity to Order:
This appears in the first year and continues through to the second year. During this time, the child is striving to sort out and categorise all his experiences. It makes it easier for them if there is some kind of order in their lives. They liked to be cared for in the same way by a primary caregiver in a familiar environment. The child needs consistency and familiarity so that he can orientate himself and construct a mental picture of the world. This need is particularly evident in the child from about the age of 18 months. During this sensitive period change can be very upsetting for a child, even a minor change can feel like the end of the world to them. Providing order in a child’s life helps the child to become disorientated! This is why the prepared environment is so important for the young child. Order helps the child to orientate himself and organise his mind.
- Sensitivity for Language:
The sensitive period for language begins at birth and go the whole way through the first plane of development (0-6 years). A baby hears his mother’s voice and watches her lips and tongue. By the age of six, with almost no direct teaching, the child will have acquired a large vocabulary, basic sentence patterns and the inflections and accents of language. He will continue to acquire more complex sentence structures and to extend his vocabulary throughout his childhood. If a child has not been exposed to language (reading, listening, singing, writing etc.) regularly, during this period he may be irrevocably damaged! Maria Montessori believed that it was particularly important for adults to converse with children throughout this period, continually enriching their language and giving them every opportunity to learn new words.
- Sensitivity to Walking:
When the young child learns to walk at around 12 to 15 months, he has a need to perfect the skill, and will walk and walk as told in Maria Montessori’s book “The Secret of Childhood”. It is under estimated how long a child can walk for, once they are allowed to do it at their pace, however the adult must be aware that they have no concept of time and they love to explore…. During this period the child is moving from being helpless into an active being and as we all know this is when the real fun begins!
- Sensitivity to the Social Aspects of Life:
At the age of about two and a half years to three years, the child becomes aware that he is part of a group. He begins to show and intense interest in other children of his own age, and gradually starts to play with them in a co-operative way. There is a sense of cohesion which Maria Montessori believed came about spontaneously and was not directed by internal drives. She noticed that at this stage, children begin to model themselves on adult social behaviour and they gradually acquire the social norms of their group. This is an ideal time for developing social convention and manners, rules, grace and courtesy are very important throughout this sensitivity. During this period you may find that children need and want to be accepted by anybody including parents, friends, family etc. Circle time, group play and Grace and Courtesy lessons are all extremely beneficial to a child in this period.
- Sensitivity to Small Objects:
When the child reaches its first year and becomes more mobile and has a larger environment in which to explore, he is drawn to small objects such as insects, pebbles, stones and grass. He will pick something up, look at it closely and perhaps put it in his mouth. The urge to pay attention to detail that children of his age have is part of their effort to build up an understanding of the world. This sensitive period allows children follow the Practical Life materials.
- Sensitivity to Learning Through the Senses:
From the moment the child is born, he receives impressions from the worlds through his five senses. Firstly, the senses of sight and hearing are active, and then gradually, as movement develops, the sense of touch and smell play a role, followed by a sense of taste, as he is able to put things into his mouth. By taste and touch the child can absorb the qualities of the objects in his environment, therefore allowing the neurological structures of language to be developed. The tongue and the hands are more connected to man’s intelligence than any other part of his body. Montessori referred to them as ‘the instruments of man’s intelligence’. This interest in sensory experience and the activities which they stimulate help to refine the child’s senses. Maria Montessori recommended that a baby be kept close to his caregivers so that he can see everything and hear what is going on around him. Then as soon as he can move around, he needs plenty of freedom so that he can explore. The child needs this sensory exploration in order to develop to its potential.
They are the main sensitive periods that Montessori believed that every child passes through. A child can have smaller sensitive periods also, for example a child can have a sensitive period for pouring. Throughout this period you may find that a child will repeat this actions for long periods of time on a daily basis. This can often be mindboggling to an adult but often the process is more important than the end result to a child. We pour things to move them from one place to another but the child’s focus is on the simple act of pouring in itself.
The Four Planes of Development 0
Maria Montessori believed that the development of a person could be divided into four planes:
0 - 6 - EARLY CHILDHOOD - Construction of the Physical Person (The Absorbent Mind ) - Independence, Coordination, Concentration, Order
6 - 12 - CHILDHOOD - Construction of the Intelligence - Imagination, Socialization, Moral Justice
12-18 - ADOLESCENCE - Construction of Social Self - Trust, Self Expression, Analytical Thought, Commitment and Responsibility
18-24 - ADULTHOOD - Construction of Self Understanding
Although each and every child develops at his own pace, there are certain guidelines we can follow when observing the child’s development. These may be referred to as sensitive periods.
Montessori's theory on human development considers both physical and psychological development. This can be seen when you look at each of the four stages independently. Each plane is around six years in length and achieves an aspect of independence.
For optimal development to occur during any Plane, three conditions are
o A prepared environment that meets the needs and tasks of that plane
o The opportunity and freedom to act in that environment towards self-construction
o An adult/guide who can assist facilitating activity within the prepared environment
Once sensitive periods have passed, its powers to motivate development under optimal conditions also pass. Although it will be possible to learn whatever is missed
later in life, it will never be learned with such ease as when it is learned in the appropriate stage of development.
Each child develops at slightly different stages which is why multiage environments are a key to a successful montessori environment.
Maria Montessori presented her view on development as a continuum with each phase necessary to the next. A child who will become a contributing member to society needs a strong foundation on which they can construct who they are meant to become.
In following blogs we will delve deeper into each plane of development and what each one holds for the child.
Prepping for Prep - how montessori can help 0
Making your child ready for prep can happen years before they are due to start.
When your child is able you can give them many practical life activities to help their independence. These can include:
- Washing their hands
- Pouring a drink
- Learning to do up their shoes
- Put on their clothes
- Sweep the floor
- Be in charge of where they put their hat and shoes
- Brushing their hair
- Placing activities back when they have finished
- Keeping order and routine.
The list could go on forever as children are capable of doing many things if you give them the chance and opportunity to do so. All these activities are also developing their fine motor skills, eye hand co-ordination, cognitive thinking, building their language and making them aware of numbers and counting.
As children are reaching prep age they need to be doing exercises that promote strengthening these muscles such as:
- practicing to use scissors
- wringing out a hand towel
- using tongs
- squishing play dough
- squeezing an orange, etc.
Learning how to hold a pencil or crayon when writing or drawing is important, and correcting their grip as early as possible will benefit them immensely.
At I AM Montessori we have found specially developed crayons for children having problems with their pencil grip. These crayons are wonderful as you can only hold them with a pincer grip so the child is learning to place their fingers in the right position.
Practicing puzzles is also important as this helps to build their cognitive thinking and their fine motor skills to enable them to pick up the pieces of the puzzle and place them back in. By prep age, they need to be able to put together a 10-piece puzzle by themselves.
Gross motor skills are also important to a child’s brain development. A child playing outside is not about burning off excess energy; it is about having an outside environment that has order, beauty, structure and purpose. Equipment needs to be available that meets the child’s development. When children reach prep age they need to be able to run, skip, jump and walk backwards. They also need to walk up and down stairs.
As your children develop it is important to talk to them about different things you see everyday, talking to them about the colours you see, the colours and textures of their clothes, the food they eat, the traffic lights, different vehicles and so on. Talk to your children about different sizes: things that are small, medium, big. Building a tower teaching them which is the biggest block and learning the different sizes in between. Tell your children the different shapes; such as circle, square, triangle, rectangle, etc. Your child needs to learn the names of different parts of their body. This can be done easily and in a fun way if you put it in a song such as head and shoulders, knees and toes. You can also teach them all the different parts of the body when you are dressing them. It needs to become part of everyday conversation so it forms part of their regular language.
When they are in prep, they need to know the names of their body parts. They need to understand up, down, in and out. This can be done in a playground with a swing or going in and out of a tunnel, or in practical life placing things in a tin and taking it out of the tin.
Making numbers a part of your language is important to children’s learning. Counting all things is a good way for children to remember and understand numbers. Counting fruit and vegetables as you take them out of a bag, counting the steps as you go up and down them, also counting fingers and toes. The tactile numerals are a wonderful way to learn numbers and how they are written (the abstract representation). The children learn them two at a time, they feel the numbers and use their fingers to feel the shape of the number in the way it is written, this is developing their muscle motor memory to help them write it correctly.
Children need to be able to sort and classify, so practice putting different objects that vary in colour, size and shape and get them to place them in their correct groups. You could do this by having a tray that has 4 compartments and a bowl with 4 different kinds of objects; they then sort the objects into the compartments that are the same.
By pre school age your child needs to recognise their name and try to write it. Having their name written on their bedroom door, or written on a place where they put their hat, on their brush or toothbrush. You can help your child to write their name by practicing to write each letter. If this is done with the Sandpaper letters they can trace the letter with their fingers to feel how to write it and then write it on a piece of paper with a pencil, or in a sand tray. Children need to know their full name, age, address, telephone number and their parents first name. So it is good to practice this with them, you could do this in a game, maybe pretending to have a phone call and asking them to say their names and ask their age, etc.
When it comes time for prep children need to be able to take off and put on their shoes and socks by themselves, use the toilet without help, open and close their lunch boxes and drink bottles. Ensure you buy containers your child can manage; and also through their earlier years you can teach them how to open and close containers and bottles, as this helps to build their fine motor skills and their concentration. With your child’s clothing they have to identify their own clothes at prep, putting their name inside is a good way for them to know, and talking about what clothes they are wearing each morning will help them to remember. It is important to teach your child from a young age to care for their things and helps put away their activities. In a Montessori environment they are taught this from a very young age so it has become habit for them to care for their environment.
Children’s social skills are incredibly important at this age. At prep they will have learnt to use words instead of being physical when angry, they need confidence to speak clearly so an adult can understand them. They need to follow simple directions and play with other children. It is important that children express their feelings and needs so they are not left unaided. Sharing and taking turns is important at school to avoid conflict. As parents we need to explain why they need to have manners and be polite. Children, by now should be able to talk in sentences, ask questions and say please and thank you. Having a book read to your child should be something they enjoy, this should be started from when they are very young. By this stage children should be comfortable with you leaving them and be left for an extended time and feel happy and safe.
Food is a very important part of a child’s life, when children are at school they need healthy lunches which will help them to concentrate on the tasks they are given and also help their brain and body develop. Teaching children to use a spoon or fork to eat is necessary for them to manage different kinds of food in their lunch. Children by prep age must cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze or cough and know to wash their hands after going to the toilet. Having a routine for your child is important, so they know to brush their teeth before bed and in the mornings.
Children’s first year at school should be a happy introduction to the rest of their school life. Helping them feel positive and genuinely being interested in what they did in their day, is very important. Prep will give them confidence and make them feel what they are learning is helping to make them into an adult that will be a wonderful contribution to the world.
The History of Maria Montessori - timeline 0
Have a read of this great timeline on the history of Maria Montessori:
The History of Montessori Education by Giraffe Childcare
PRACTICAL LIFE - “The Hand and brain work together” 0
The practical life activities that are set out in a Montessori environment, and the activities that children do in their daily living, helps them to develop an understanding of the environment that they are living in. The activities that they perform need to link between the child’s home environment and the classroom. They learn to concentrate on activities that they do, we see this happen when a child chooses an activity, takes it to a table or mat and starts to work on it, the children are using precise movements which challenges them to concentrate, they work at their own pace and work uninterrupted. When they are very young the time they spend on it may not be as long as an older child, but they are learning the way in which to do the activity, as you will have demonstrated it to them before they start, completing the cycle of work results in the feelings of satisfaction and confidence. When the children are working on their practical life activities they are developing their hand-eye co-ordination, they learn this as they practice, transferring, pouring, sewing, threading, working with the dressing frames, using tongs and tweezers to transfer they are learning their control of movement. They are also developing their manual dexterity and independence while doing these activities.
Children when doing practical life, show an enjoyment of work, they love to do the activities themselves, and clearly enjoy the outcome of their work. This is building their self-esteem as they are allowed to work on different tasks that help them to become independent. They learn a good work ethic and they will have an awareness of their contribution to society and will grow intellectually. They learn a sense of order, which is learnt from the very beginning in a Montessori environment when they first learn to get a mat roll it out onto the floor, choose an activity work on the activity then place it back on the shelf in the way they first found it. Practical Life activities, give children the ability to care for the environment, care for themselves and to learn grace and courtesy.
Clearly Practical Life gives children the preparation for maturity that they need. Today’s children are the adults for the future; we need to give our children the best learning experience so their path through life is clear, and they become strong independent people.
What is Myelinization? 0
We must be aware that children grow and develop at their own rate; we cannot force them to perform tasks before they are ready. This can sometimes be detrimental to a child’s development; it can damage and hinder it. You cannot make a chick lay an egg before it is a chicken, in the same way you cannot make a child reach it full development without going through each and every important phase. You cannot hurry a child and if the important foundations are not laid down in a strong fashion, secure and solid the whole structure is flawed.
Myelinization is a guide to the path that your child will follow, to understand this development, helps adults assist children on their proper journey. Myelinization is defines as “the development of a myelin sheath around a nerve fiber.” This fatty coating serves as insulation protecting the messages from the brain to various muscles in the body, resulting in purposeful or coordinated movement. The newborn is only able to control the muscles of the mouth and the throat, eating and communicating. By the end of the first year the child can control the movements of the whole body: he has learned to grasp and release objects, to kick, to slither and crawl, to sit up freeing the hands for even more development, and is usually well on the way to standing and walking. Myelinization creates movement, but movement also increases the formation of myelin, so the more we allow our child to move the more we are supporting optimum development. There are many modern inventions that get in the way of the natural development of movement so we must make sure that our child spends as much time as possible in situations where she can move every part of the body.
When an infant who has been looking at a toy hanging above him and intuitively reaching for it, finally reaches it and makes it move, this is an exhilarating moment. Instead of just being cared for and acted upon, the infant has reached out and intentionally acted upon their environment. They have literally “changed the world.”
Myelinization follows a predictable pattern with age expectations that are predictable approximately. This is some guidelines to assist adults to observe and to help their child’s actual development.
|Birth||Mouth and Throat||Able to suck, swallow and cry|
|2 months||Head and Neck||
Can focus at larger distances
Can track visually
Can hold head up
Hand as an extenuation of arms
Can reach for something to grasp
Can turn from tummy to back
Discovers own hand
|6 months||Whole Trunk||
Can sit first with help then without
Turns over both ways
Movement of arm and hand is more refined
|8 months||Upper Thighs||
Up on hands and knees, may be crawling
Some wrist movement
|10 months||Lower Thighs||
Can start to pull up to stand
|12 months||Lower Legs and Feet||
May be walking, first aided, then alone
5 Reasons Every School Needs Montessori 0
I have been heavily involved in the Education Accord here in Queensland the last couple of weeks and it is clearer to me than ever before as to why Montessori is the answer to so many issues Principals, Teachers, Parents and Children are having in the classroom.
1/. TEACHING THE WHOLE CHILD - Montessori has always had an environment which allows the child to work in many areas that help them establish a whole sense of self and gives them the opportunity to work with materials that meet their mental, physical, spiritual, social and spiritual needs. Practical Life, Grace and Courtesy exercises promote children who understand about contributing to the world around them.
2/. MEETING EACH CHILD WHERE THEY ARE AT: Montessori teachers meet each individual child where they are at. They are not forced into boxes, or have to struggle to keep up with 30 other children who are rushing through a curriculum prepping them for tests. A child is in an environment where they can comfortably move through with guidance from their teacher who only assists when needed. Montessori classes are multi-age environments, usually 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15, 15-18.
3/. LESS STRESS ON THE TEACHER: Teachers time is so stretched that they barely get a moment to themselves. Between parent-teacher interviews, marking , planning, lunch duty, staff meetings and normal class time, the burnout rate of teachers is alarmingly high. A montessori environment allows teachers to do what they love to do - teach children.
4/. MASS EDUCATION IS FAILING: Our students are not taught the skills of critical thinking that would serve them well as citizens in a free society for the entirety of their lives. Mass education focuses upon memorization and scoring well on exams. Our schools do not promote independent thought or independent actions–they teach conformity and control of the masses. Every student is taught virtually the same thing in essentially the same way - (Sullivan, http://www.counterpunch.org/2003/02/24/the-failure-of-mass-education/).
Treating education this way - in my opinion, never really worked. But even moreso in today's world where the pace of the world is moving far beyond what we have and/or can cope with. It is more important than ever for a child to be able to problem solve, to think about things in a different way, using their minds to connect dots adults haven't been able to do so yet. In a society where most of the kids that are in schools now may work in a job that hasn't even been created yet, in an industry that may not exist today. Our mainstream school system under prepares our children. That is worrying.
5/. NO NEED FOR GOLD STARS: A child in a montessori environment doesn't require an adult to tell them when they have done a good job to feel like they have. They don't require a chart with gold stars showing the world that they are worth something. They don't just get a trophy for participating. A Montessori environment allows the child to create their own intrinsic rewards system, to determine their own self-worth and ability to judge their own success based on their own performance, not on others.
Is Montessori against fantasy and creativity? 0
Let's start by noting that fantasy and creativity are two different things. Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting where as creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to create something. Creativity comes from within the child where as fantasy is something that the child is exposed to.
Montessori is about helping the child find ways to use their creativity and to inspire them to do so. We do this by giving them the tools and the foundations to express themselves. You can see some examples of this in the childs’ art work, music or creative writing. For example, when introducing the child to painting we model different techniques of painting but do not show them how to paint something. Think of the generic kindergarten painting with the line of blue sky at the top of the page, the sun in the corner and a little square house with a triangle roof. This kind of illustration does not come from the childs imagination but what they have seen other children paint or what others have shown them.
Dr Montessori taught us that if we show the child exactly what we want them to paint and how to paint it then we will hinder the child's creativity and self confidence. If a child has ‘scribbled’ on a piece of paper it is important not to ask the child what they have drawn, merely point out the colours that you like or the emotion that it gives you. This way the child can understand that art doesn't have to be something specific, it can depict feeling and emotions in an abstract way.
Research has shown that most children before the age of five are unable to differentiate between real and fictitious characters and situations. This is the reason that you will not see fictional books and TV Shows in a Montessori environment. If you read a picture book to your child about fairies then another book about elephants how can they understand that one, an elephant is real while a fairy is not?
When Dr Montessori opened her first school she filled it with traditional make-believe toys. Through her observations she found that when the children were given the opportunity to work with real materials through cooking, cleaning, helping to take care of a real baby, they lost interest in the make-believe toys and focused only on the real work. Through these observations Montessori concluded that ‘real activities’ were more important to the child as they helped the child to make sense of the world around them and taught them skills that they need in their everyday life.
*Please note that this view is for the ages 0-6, the absorbent mind, when children are absorbing everything within their world. After this age, children start to develop the ability to understand real vs pretend
“How is it possible for the child’s imagination to be developed by that which is in truth the fruit of the adult’s imagination? We alone imagine, not they; they merely believe.” -Maria Montessori
QUESTION: Is every child a Montessori Child, what sort of children best suit Montessori Education? 0
Montessori education is most definitely for every child. Dr. Montessori felt that her greatest discovery was that children like to work as well as play. Children have a natural drive to work in order to develop. Children are not content unless they have an opportunity to learn.
Parents need to read and learn about the Montessori method and implement it in their homes so that when children are at a Montessori school it is an easy transition, also if you learn and understand the philosophy behind Montessori then you will understand that it is for every child.
In a Montessori classroom children learn from the very beginning that they have freedom with boundaries, so they are able to understand what is expected of them. A child starting a Montessori education at a very young age is able to learn this concept from the very beginning and develop his learning around this. A child who starts later can still learn, but needs to be shown for quite sometime how the class is run and how to be calm and quiet when doing an activity. They will learn this as they watch the other children around them and want to do the same. Also the teacher gives the children one on one lessons so they can learn the different materials and how to use them properly.
The classroom has many different activities so the child can choose which one they would like to work with. The room is set out in different sections; they are Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math’s, and Culture. Every child has the drive to learn so all the different activities will give them that chance. Therefore all children’s needs are catered for, one child may want to learn how to do up buttons, and another might want to learn the number rods, a child may want to go outside to plant seeds in the garden, another to do sandpaper letters.
The teacher in the room is a silent member, she is not standing out the front talking to children at a board, rather she is sitting with individual children on a mat or child sized table teaching them how to do an activity they have chosen. Every child is busy; their minds are focused on their activity and their desire to learn. If a child is not working well with an activity they place it back on the shelf and choose another one. This helps their independence to grow; every activity in the room is designed for the child to learn so nothing wastes their time.
The Montessori program teaches more than just the basics, it has exercises to develop the child’s basic capacities, his or her ability to control movement, to use senses, to think, to decide and to feel and have emotions. Because of this the child becomes a competent learner. It develops their independence and responsibility; it also helps the child develop a strong foundation in language and math’s, physical and cultural geography, zoology, botany, physical science, history and art. Children also learn practical life skills for everyday life such as cooking and sewing, how to dress themselves.
Most important they learn how to be a contributing member of a social community.
Children have an amazing mental concentration; we have all been told that children have a short attention span. Dr. Montessori observed that very young children have a longer attention span if they work on tasks that interest them. A child on their own will practice things they are trying to master over and over again, they have a love of repetition.
Children love order, we normally think children are messy but Dr. Montessori found that children have a natural inclination for organization and orderliness. This natural inclination needs to be helped and developed by the parents and teachers.
Children love to choose their own things they do. If a room is set out for the child they will choose, take and replace the activities without assistance from an adult.
Children prefer work to play, she also says there is no need for rewards and punishment, children are intrinsically motivated to work, what they do need is help. As the adult we show children how to do what he or she is trying to accomplish. Accomplishment, competence, and being a contributing member of a society is rewarding in themselves, this is reward enough.
Children love silence, we may think of children as being noisy, Montessori discovered that children enjoy finding out how quiet they can be. The children like to listen to silence and to soft sounds. It is a game to see if a child can move a chair without making a sound.
Children have a deep sense of dignity just as we have as adults. They want to be capable and held in high regard, they want to do things for themselves, they can get embarrassed and feel ashamed.
Maria Montessori learnt that children showed such an interest in reading and writing that she provided some beginning materials. She was astonished by how the children seemed to “burst spontaneously” into writing and then reading if provided with the right materials.
So as you can see all children suit the Montessori method, it is built on all children’s needs and learning, it helps them to become a productive member of society.
“The role of the adult is to respect what the child can do for himself.”