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What is a 'Sensitive Period'? What should we expect at two years?

The development of movement. By Maria Montessori in The Absorbent Mind.

With Otis turning two next month I thought it was time to refresh my memory about sensitive periods. I know at two years he is in or nearing the sensitive period for so many things. But what is a sensitive period and what should we expect at two years?

What is a 'Sensitive Period'?

Through observation Maria Montessori discovered the stages of development that all children follow. She found that children go through very specific and well defined periods of interest in certain areas of their development. 

Maria Montessori believed that the human brain is specially predisposed for learning during the sensitive period. She believed that parents, teachers and caregivers need to observe the child and respond accordingly to these sensitive periods - to provide an environment that meets the need of the child and further encourages the child through that specific stage of development. 

Sensitive periods are transitory states. It is considered easier to acquire the skill or knowledge while the child is in the sensitive period. Outside the sensitive period learning still occurs however it is more arduous and often requires more time and effort. 

During each of these time frames, varying in duration from months to years, the child is so focused on the particular development that he will ignore other phenomena previously of great interest to him. His energy level and dedication to his single-minded task are extraordinary but terminate just as abruptly as they began. Montessori called these intervals Sensitive Periods. - Montessori from the Start

When parents and teachers recognise and take advantage of the sensitive periods through which children pass, they can become more effective in supporting their learning and development. - How to Raise and Amazing Child the Montessori Way

What should we expect at two years?

At two years a child is in the sensitive period for;

  • Language (birth - six years). Acquiring vocabulary, it's important to give a child the precise terminology for describing the world. We use as specific terminology as we have. 
  • Grace and Courtesy (two - six years). There are a whole range of grace and courtesy activities you can practice. Most of our grace and courtesy lessons occur as part of our everyday living. We are currently working on opening and closing doors and gates (yes, the school gate!) - gently, greeting people at the door and saying 'hello' and 'thank-you'.  
  • Order (two - four years). Maria Montessori explains this is why it's so easy for a two year old to get upset. Two year olds have a strong sense for order and sameness. A two year old child can get distressed if something is out of place or not done in a specific order. 
  • Music (two - six years). At two years a child will often show an interest in pitch, rhythm and melody. Perhaps this is why Otis loves Finger Plays and Action Songs
  • Little Things (one - four years). A two year old is often captivated by little things such as small ants crawling along a path, they many wish to gather and collect small pebbles or be attracted to fine detail in photographs, pictures or even to a small detail or button on a shirt. 

Some of the other sensitive periods include;

Movement (birth - one year) 

Writing (three - four years)

Reading (three - five years)

Mathematics (four - six years).

I'm reminded not to forget the sensitive periods for Caspar at five years. This week he has spoken specifically about two items of work from school - the number roll (he calls it the thousand roll) and subtraction (I think he's been using the Subtraction Strip Board). Sensitive period for mathematics anyone? 

The development of speech. By Maria Montessori in The Absorbent Mind.

Pictured are Montessori time lines for development for movement (top) and language (above) from The Absorbent Mind. The time lines run from 0 (birth) to two years and six months.  

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