How To Nurture Montessori Sensitive Periods At Home

“From the beginning, the child is preparing the instruments to master the environment.”

Dr. Maria Montessori

Montessori sensitive periods are a key part of how children “prepare the instruments to master the environment.” Throughout these sensitive periods, children are actively equipping themselves with the tools to navigate their surroundings and prepare for the rest of their lives.

Even if you’ve never heard of the sensitive periods, you likely have experienced them with a child you know or your own. In this article, we’ll walk you through Montessori sensitive periods and how you can nurture your child through these crucial developmental phases.

Montessori sensitive periods

Understanding Montessori Sensitive Periods

Let’s start by answering a basic question: what are Montessori sensitive periods?

Montessori sensitive periodsEssentially, the periods of sensitivity are moments when a young child is intensely focused on developing a particular skill or topic in their environment. In these moments, your child will be self-motivated, responsive, and absorbed in their chosen activity without outside influence.

For example, a baby who just learned to crawl might want to repeat, practice, and strengthen their new skill by wriggling and moving as much as possible. During these periods of sensitivity, your child is “in the zone” and will probably get frustrated if an adult tries to intervene.

Montessori believes there are seven sensitive periods, most obvious during the first plane of development, from birth to age 6, as this is when children grow and develop the most.

These are some of the sensitive periods in the first plane:

    • Language (0-6 years): Children easily acquire language skills.
    • Order (18 months – 3 years): Children seek consistency and order in their environment.
    • Movement (0-4 years): Children focus on physical development.
    • Sensory Exploration (0-5 years): Children curiously learn through the senses.
    • Small Objects (1.5-3 years): Children hone their hand-eye coordination skills.
    • Socialization (2-6 years): Children develop social skills.
    • Independence (1.5+): Children developing an “I can do it by myself” attitude.

It’s important to know that these sensitive periods aren’t rigid timelines. You can use these sensitive periods as a guide to help you to create a prepared environment that supports and nurtures your child’s natural inclinations.

Supporting Your Child Through The Montessori Sensitive Periods

When you understand Montessori sensitive periods, it is much easier to support your child and empathize with why they are doing things a certain way.

Observe and Follow the Child

To understand which period of sensitivity your child is in, the best thing to do is observe your child. Watch what activities they are intrinsically motivated and drawn to (without encouragement or external rewards.) It might not be obvious at first! For example, if your child is drawn to organizing toys, they may be in a sensitive period for order. Equally, if a child is hugely interested in climbing anything and everything, they may be in a sensitive period for movement.

Document the Process

Take notes while you observe. No one expects you to memorize your child’s every move, so give yourself a break and write things down as you go. Documenting your observations will help you spot patterns and motivations. As a result, it makes it easier to notice what sensitive period your child might be going through.

Supporting Your Child with Targeted Materials

Montessori sensitive periods 3

Once you’ve observed what sensitive period your child is in, it’s time to put your learning into action. This is where a prepared environment comes in. You can choose to present activities in your prepared environment that nurture your child’s instincts and interests. For example, if you see your child is interested in language and writing, now is the time to work on it. The Montessori By Mom Learning Language Toolbox is a great resource to get started!

Teach Self-Regulation Skills

Wondering why your toddler obsessively repeats stories and songs or copies others? Even if it seems erratic, it’s usually because of a sensitive learning phase. Interrupting their concentration during these moments can trigger tantrums. Take the “terrible twos” as an example. Kids at this age are eager to learn and absorb the world around them, meaning they are often deeply concentrating. If this is interrupted, there’s likely to be an emotional response.

While tantrums are inevitable and a normal part of your child’s development, you can help by teaching your child self-regulation skills. When they’re overwhelmed, help them count to 10, notice what each of their senses is experiencing, or get some fresh air outside. It helps to practice these skills in calm moments so your child can more easily turn to them in difficult moments.

Balance Structure and Freedom

Maintaining structure and freedom during a sensitive period can be a balancing act. Try to maintain a consistent routine and establish clear boundaries while allowing your child to explore, make choices, and engage in activities that align with their interests and developmental needs. This delicate equilibrium fosters optimal learning and growth.

Practice Patience

Sensitive periods require a LOT of patience — especially if, for example, your child is obsessed with sensory details and has recently discovered the toilet and sink water! Our advice? Take a deep breath. Step back and observe. Redirect behavior when necessary, and help your child do a similar, less disruptive, and more purposeful activity.

Nurturing Montessori Sensitive Periods at Home

Montessori sensitive periods

Remember, nurturing these sensitive periods takes patience, balance, creativity, observation, and trust in yourself. Embrace the opportunity to guide your child through them!

You can support your child through each sensitive period by giving them purposeful opportunities to use and develop their skills at home. Here are some adaptable ideas for each Montessori sensitive period.

Language: Ages 0-6

  • Use rich language at home; no baby talk here!
  • Spend time talking together.
  • Use Montessori language miniatures to teach beginning sounds, phonics, and expressive language.
  • Encourage bilingual learning with books, songs, and interactive activities.
  • Read aloud together.
  • Create baskets with language miniatures and cards to practice visual discrimination and matching.

Order: Ages 6 months-3 Years

  • Make sure that everything in their environment has a place or a basket. Gently guide them to put things back in the same place each time.
  • Tidy up after an activity is finished.
  • Present Montessori food preparation activities that follow a set sequence, like juicing an orange or peeling a banana.
  • Give opportunities for practical life activities like arranging flowers, sweeping, and washing clothes.
  • Focus on a consistent routine and familiar environment to help your children know what will happen next.

Movement: Ages 0-4

  • Provide moments of movement with a Movement and Motion Toolbox or find climbing opportunities outside.
  • Prepare an environment where children can move around freely without obstacles.
  • Provide mirrors for babies to watch themselves move and a push-up bar to practice standing.
  • Find materials where kids can practice controlling and coordinating movement, like opening and closing jars or zipping and unzipping clothes.
  • Present pincer grip activities like transferring cotton balls with tweezers or threading uncooked pasta on a string.

Refinement of the Senses: Ages 0-6

  • Make clay pinch pots or clay pottery to work on motor control and hand-eye coordination.
  • Make a DIY imbucare peg box to learn about object permanence.
  • Practice painting on an easel to involve the whole body and the five senses!
  • Make DIY posting activities like putting scarves in an empty tissue box or dropping coins into a piggy bank.
  • Put materials on trays that children can carry.
  • Tape or paint a line on the floor and practice walking on the line to work on vestibular input and balance.

Small Objects: Age 5 months-4 Years

  • Encourage children to look around them.
  • Practice active listening when kids show you things (even if they repeatedly do it.)
  • Organize treasure hunts.
  • Prepare a basket of different containers and boxes that have different openings. Put something inside and encourage your child to open the box and find the object. You can even sing a song while doing it, like “Open shut them, open shut them, what is in the box, box, box?” to the tune of “Open Shut Them” by Super Simple Songs.
  • Point out small details when you’re reading a book aloud together. There are lots of books with flaps for children to explore, like “Dear Zoo” by Rod Campbell.

Social Behaviors: Age 2-6+

  • Spend time at your local park or playgroup for opportunities to engage with other kids.
  • Model social skills like sharing, joining in, and asking for consent when engaging with others. For example, always ask your child if they want a hug when they’re upset or if they would prefer a bit of space.
  • Join a like-minded Montessori community to meet local families.

Independence: Age 1.5+

  • Encourage children to dress themselves and choose what they want to wear. Only offer options you’re comfortable with them choosing!
  • Encourage freedom of choice. If they become overwhelmed, you can give them two choices.
  • Establish a homeschool routine that children can follow and eventually complete independently.
  • Give your child time to complete activities – allow for extra time so you don’t disrupt them during a period of intense concentration!

Nurturing Montessori Sensitive Periods at Home

Understanding sensitive periods can help you better understand your child and prepare the environment to nurture their growth. It isn’t always easy — it takes patience to involve a young child with food preparation, prepare activities for a given sensitive period, or allow a child to complete a task independently. But the effort is well worth it!

What sensitive period is your child in right now? Let us know in the comments!

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