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Sensitive Period

Another of Montessori’s contributions was the discovery of the sensitive periods in the children’s first plane of development. The Children have particular periods of time when they are driven to seek something in the environment that results in them becoming persistently engaged in some kind of activity. Montessori referred to it as, “…a passing impulse or potency.”

This activity leads them to acquire certain traits that we consider to be human, which are:

  • The ability to speak a language
  • The ability to use their hands to express their thoughts
  • The ability to reason

These sensitive periods act as if they provide a timetable to ensure optimal, natural self-development. Montessori identified the following periods and their duration:

  • Acquisition of language – from birth to around six years
  • Interest in small objects – from around 18 months to three years
  • Order – from around one to three years
  • Sensory refinement – from birth to around four years
  • Social behaviour – from around two and a half to four years

The sensitive periods overlap and support each other, last for a limited period of time and then fade away by the time the child is six. However, once the period passes, the child will have to learn the skill with much more difficulty at a subsequent time. Montessori’s prescient understanding of these critical periods is now confirmed by scientists and even the popular culture, with Time magazine calling it ‘Windows of Opportunity’.

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