Montessori Principles – Sensitive Periods

If you have ever noticed that moment when a child finally masters a skill that they’ve been working intently on, you have seen a little face light up with pride and joy that no doubt made you smile. Children truly do love to learn. They love to have the opportunity to explore their environment with all of their senses and to figure out new ways in which they can impact it.  Parents, teachers and caregivers all understand that there are certain times in a child’s life when they seem especially ready to learn a new skill. Often referred to as “developmental milestones”, Maria Montessori called these stages in a child’s life their Sensitive Periods.

During these Sensitive Periods, a child will be seen intently concentrating on one aspect of their environment without much interest in the rest. They will be repeating an activity over and over again, which if not properly understood can be unnerving to adults. Many Montessori teachers have heard parents express concern as to why their child seems to only be interested in one particular activity. That is why it is important to understand that this repetition is the child’s way of mastering a new skill. They will be seen repeating the skill with concentration and joy which are good indications that a child is still challenged by this activity.  It is also a clear indication that the child is enjoying the process of learning!

A Montessori teacher’s role is to observe each child individually in their environment and to watch for the moments when a child has mastered the skill so that they can celebrate with the child and introduce them to a new learning opportunity. It can be very tempting for adults to feel the need to encourage a child to move on to a different activity while they are still deeply interested in another one.  After all, our own attention spans would never have the patience for the constant repetition. But interrupting a child while they are still trying to master a specific skill will disrupt an important phase of their learning process and could deflate their eagerness and desire to master that skill.

We await the successive births in the soul of the child. We give all possible material, that nothing may lack to the groping soul, and then we watch for the perfect faculty to come, safeguarding the child from interruption so that it may carry its efforts through. – Maria Montessori

For example, in a Montessori preschool classroom you may see a child spending work time every day for days on end working with with the moveable alphabet.  He starts off just exploring the different letters.  He will hold them in his hand and turn them around to see what they look like from all sides.  His teacher will notice his interest in this work and she may provide with some flashcards of sight words that they have practiced before. He will use these as a guide to put the letters together like he sees on the flashcards. Before too long, he has figured out how to build his own words and all of the sudden he approaches the teacher and informs her that he’s ready to start reading. It happened at the perfect moment for that child because he was allowed to master skills in his own way and at his own pace.

You will see similar scenes unfolding in each of the All Stars Montessori classrooms as children are provided with a variety of materials that they can explore, each one teaching them one skill while laying an important foundation for a future skill. When children are allowed to explore their environment at their own pace and to take the time they need to master skills as they are ready to, learning will be fun for them!

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