The Absorbent Mind & Sensitive Periods

Each child’s development is unique; however, we can provide a general timeline of sensitive periods.  Here is a list by Tim Seldin, president of The Montessori Foundation and chair of the International Montessori Council:

  • Movement (Birth-1)
  • Language (Birth-6)
  • Order (6 months-4 years)
  • Small Objects (1-4 years)
  • Toilet Learning (18 months-3 years)
  • Music (2-6 years)
  • Grace and Courtesy (2-6 years)
  • Senses (2-6)
  • Writing (3-4 years)
  • Reading (3-5 years)
  • Spatial Relationships (4-6 years)
  • Mathematics (4-6 years)
child counting at preschool

Does your child have a meltdown when they don’t get their usual blue bowl?  What about when their schedule is thrown off?  Then your child may be in the sensitive period for order.  During this period, they crave repetition and routine and can get quite upset when it doesn’t happen.  During this period, you can help support your child by providing structure and routine, and allowing time for repetition.  In our classrooms, we support this period by offering routine and structure.  If and when routines need to change, we communicate about the change concisely and often so that the child has an easier transition.

Does your child come home with pebbles in their pockets after a trip to the park?  If so they, may be in the sensitive period for small objects and tiny details!  You can support your child by having small, safe objects available for your child to use at home.  In the classrooms, we use small objects for many of our materials because we understand that the child in this sensitive period is naturally attracted to them!

Does your child roam around a lot and have a difficult time sitting still or focusing on one activity?  They may be in the sensitive period for movement!  Providing your child with enough physical activity and opportunities to stretch their muscles are important!  In our classrooms, we allow freedom of movement, meaning the children are free to move around the classroom safely.  Instead of one teacher instructing a large group of children through a lecture model, children choose their own activities, and the teacher provides support and guidance as needed.  The child’s development is their guide to how long they sit at an activity.  We also provide materials and activities that encourage children in this sensitive period to move.

young girl learning at preschool

Does your child remember everything you say?  They are probably in the sensitive period for language development!  You can support your child by having detailed conversations with them, telling them about your day, reading books, telling stories, and by using clear and specific vocabulary to describe things in their environment.  Do not be afraid to use “big words”! 

In our classrooms, we allow as much repetition as a child craves, as well as a large amount of time for the child to continue their work.  If we break the child’s concentration or repetition, it shows a lack of understanding and respect for the incredible development that takes place in these sensitive periods. 

“The reason Montessori children often advance so far ahead in language and math than peers in traditional programs, is because we offer the materials and language-rich environment that the child craves during their sensitive periods.  The environment is set up so that the child can’t help but learn,” says Allison.

allison polster

Special thanks to Allison Polster for her collaboration on this blog post.  Allison has worked in early childhood education for more than 15 years, in public, private play-based and Montessori programs. She became interested in Montessori when she observed advanced learners in public schools being sent off to play while the teachers spent more time with the children who were behind. While researching better ways to meet the needs of all students, she came across Montessori, which offers individualized instruction. She obtained her Montessori credential through the American Montessori Society.


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