When you’re having a conversation about Montessori philosophy, there are two phrases that are bound to come up—“sensitive periods” and “stages of development.” To Montessori teachers, these two phrases are incredibly important to how they structure and guide the classroom. During these phases of development, children are exceptionally open to certain concepts or gaining new skills, and so the educator builds the curriculum around that.
As Maria Montessori once said in The Secret of Childhood, “The child has a creative aptitude, a potential energy that will enable it to build up a mental world from the world around it. He makes numerous acquisitions during the sensitive periods, which put him in relation to the other world in an exceptionally intense manner.”
As a parent or someone interested in learning more about the Montessori method, the stages of development are crucial to understanding how this form of education works.
About The Stages of Development
Maria Montessori found that there are four planes of development:
- Infancy (0-6 years old)
- Childhood (6-12 years old)
- Adolescence (12-18 years old)
- Maturity (18-24 years old)
The early childhood period is broken into two stages: the Unconscious stage from birth to about 3 years old, and the Conscious stage, between the ages of 3-6 years old. Montessori called this period the “Absorbent Mind,” because it is when children soak in information as if they were sponges.
Montessori schools most often focus on the early childhood experience and have preschool programs for children between the ages of 3-6, when they are learning an unfathomable amount about the world. The curriculum is built around the concept of the Absorbent Mind, giving children a chance to build on their interests and learn lifelong skills.
What are Montessori Sensitive Periods?
The other focus within the stages of development are sensitive periods, which are also vital to building a comprehensive Montessori program. Montessori found that sensitive periods are windows of opportunity in which a child is most capable and willing to learn something about a specific skill. These sensitive periods exist within the stages of development, although most of them happen during infancy, between birth and 6 years old.
The sensitive periods are as follows:
- Refining fine motor skills – Birth to 4.5 years
- Using the senses – Birth to 5 years
- Language abilities – Birth to 6 years
- Image assimilation – Birth to 6 years
- Order – 6 months to 5 years
- Handling small objects – 1 to 3 years
- Grace and courtesy – 2 to 5 years
- Music – 2 to 6 years
- Reading – 3 to 5.5 years
- Writing – 3.5 to 5.5 years
- Arithmetic – 4 to 6 years
Why Do The Stages of Development Matter?
Now, you are probably curious about why these stages of development matter so much. You might also be curious if you can utilize these stages of development to better teach and guide your child through life. Well, you can. For example, you can provide your child with gentle contact, room to explore, conversation, and a caring bond, as these are all things the infant desires.
Consider a need for order, which begins at 6 months old. Young children gain a keen interest in order between 6 months to 3 years old, but most parents don’t recognize this need. Have you noticed your toddler throwing a temper tantrum and wondered why? There is a very good chance that the tantrum was induced by your child’s sense of order being offended somehow. For example, if they know they get a snack at 2PM and that snack doesn’t come, they can become confused or even upset.
If you know order has to be maintained, or—better yet—that this sensitive period is ideal for setting up a routine, you can help your child learn to manage expectations and build a healthy lifestyle. You can show them have to maintain order in their environment and watch them continue to fulfill that internal desire for order on their own.
Building The Senses and Language
Another reason the stages of development matter is to give the child a head start on language development. Around the age of 2.5 years, children crave sensation, sound, and letter shapes. About 2 years later, that interest shifts to reading and writing, which is a natural progression.
Montessori educators use this special period to provide children with materials that use physical sensation to teach sounds and letter shapes. A popular tool is sandpaper letters, which children can trace with their fingers. The tactile experience helps them remember the shape of the letter while they sound it out.
Later on, this interest in letter shapes helps them begin to write letters and, eventually, read.
Make Use of the Stages of Development
In short, the stages of development are key periods in a child’s life as they grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Understanding the stages of development, primarily the Absorbent Mind and the sensitive periods, benefits parents and teachers alike. Knowing what a child is going to be interested in can better help parents foster their growth, even in infancy.
Enrolling your child into a Montessori program like those at Fishtown Montessori is the best way to ensure that each stage of development and all the sensitive periods therein are benefited. Montessori schools have consistent principles aligned with these stages of development that gives students a lifelong love of learning, as well as a sense of confidence, independence, and compassion.
Want to enroll your child in a Montessori school? Give Fishtown Montessori a call or request a virtual tour today!