Sensitive Periods in Childhood Development
theory talks a lot about 'sensitive periods' and how the child is
guided by inner forces that shape their developmental needs. Children
pass through sensitive periods for language, movement, order, writing,
It is during these sensitive periods that there is
a great need for total focus, sensorial exploration, and a need for
repeating activities in order to master skills. Sometimes these
sensitive periods are characterized by overpowering (sometimes
obsessive) and intense activity.
Interrupting a child while they are in
the middle of an intense sensitive period can result in a powerful
emotional response (i.e. tantrum). Break a routine that a child is
attempting to understand and master (i.e. getting dressed, bath time,
bedtime) and some children will literally fall apart as they are most
likely in a sensitive period and their intense "work" is being
"A child learns to adjust himself and
make acquisitions in his sensitive periods. These are like a beam that
lights interiorly or a battery that furnishes energy. It is this
sensibility which enables a child to come in contact with the external
world in a particularly intense manner. At such a time everything is
easy; all is life and enthusiasm. Every effort marks an increase in
power. Only when the goal has been obtained does fatigue and the weight
of indifference come on.
of these psychic passions is exhausted another area is enkindled.
Childhood thus passes from conquest to conquest in a constant rhythm
that constitutes its joy and happiness."
The Secret of Childhood
can profit from various stimuli that are made available to them during a
sensitive period. This is one of the reasons why Montessori materials
are clearly set on low shelves and made available to the children. It
allows them to chose the work that will help them 'construct themselves'
- master a skill and aid in their development and adaptation.
and teachers can capitalize on these sensitive periods by ensuring
adequate time and materials are available, and by respecting the
individual interests and passions of each child. It is through
observation that the needs of the child are revealed.
As always, follow
the child. And tuck some extra patience away for the days they want to repeat the same activity over, and over, and over again.