The Burning Fire of Interest!
Do you know that your child is experiencing developmental “windows of opportunity”? I call them windows of opportunity because while the “window is open” your child has an amazing opportunity to learn specific information and skills easily and spontaneously. Once the window has closed, however, the same information/skills must be learned the hard way…through memorization and repetition.
These windows of opportunity are what Montessori called “sensitive periods.” According to Montessori, all children experience these same, almost-magical moments in their development, moments during which they soak up specific concepts with remarkable ease. When your child is in the midst of one of these sensitive periods, she’ll gravitate toward certain activities or lessons with an intense, sometimes irrepressible interest.
A sensitive period is a [child’s] burning fire of interest in something, during the period of time that a child acquires a new specific skill. ~Mary Ellen Maunz
Understanding Your Growing Child
Maria Montessori recognized and categorized eleven basic sensitive periods of development as seen on the chart below:
At birth, your child has limited control of movement, but rapidly gains in areas of both gross and fine motor control. As he learns to use his body, he is also developing his cognitive abilities.
Your child is also born with what Montessori called “a mathematical mind.” In other words, she is born with a predisposition toward learning mathematics.
Your child experiences a sensitive period for learning about relationships, communication, and emotional control from birth to approximately age two and a half.
Need for Order
Starting at around six months old, your child begins to develop a need for order. Your child’s behavior may not necessarily seem orderly to you, but she is experiencing an internal desire for everything in her environment to be in its usual place, or to stick with a regular routine. At this age, some of your child’s most inexplicable tantrums may be the result of her sense of order being disrupted.
Interest in Small Objects
Between one- and four-years old, your child is experiencing a sensitive period for interest in small objects. This interest will ultimately lead to the development of fine motor control and the pincer grasp, which are fundamentals for writing and many other important skills.
Your child’s brain is hard-wired for learning language. This inborn tendency makes the acquisition of language especially easy for children under six years old.
To talk is in the nature of man. ~ Maria Montessori
Special Epoch for Sensation
Your child learns more easily and effectively through hands-on, physical sensation than by just watching or listening to a lesson. This is due to the sensitive period Montessori called the “special epoch for sensation.”
The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence. ~ Maria Montessori
Letter Shapes and Sounds
Between age two-and-a-half and five, children become interested in letter shapes and sounds. Your child may be drawn to activities such as tracing textured (sandpaper) letters with her fingers and associating the sound of the letter with its shape.
The Letters are a stimulus, which illustrate the spoken language already in the mind of the child. ~Maria Montessori
Around age three, your child experiences a sensitive period for learning rhythm, pitch, melody, and more. Music helps prepare your child’s brain for academic, social, and emotional growth.
Writing and Reading
Around age four-and-a-half, your child is entering a sensitive period for writing and reading development. When your child has access to the right materials at the right time, learning to read and write is a natural, continuous progression.
It is this sensibility [sensitive periods] which enables a child to come into contact with the external world in a particularly intense manner. Every effort marks an increase in power. ~ Maria Montessori
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