Sensitive Periods in Children’s Development

Have you ever wondered why children get focussed on particular things in their environment at certain times? Maria Montessori talked about “sensitive periods” in children’s development as being certain times when it is easiest for children to learn a new skill. It’s the moment when everything inside them is urging them on to learn and develop.

The thing with sensitive periods is that if we know they are happening we can support them – this isn’t just about education and helping children learn – it’s about understanding their development so we can meet their needs and reduce their frustration.

When a child is in a sensitive period everything else fades into insignificance. They become super focused on developing that skill and they really don’t like it when we put obstacles in their way.

This is why young children get cross when we put them in car seats and buggies – their sensitive period for movement is telling them to be free, to move and to keep working away at their coordination so they feel frustrated when we try and restrict then.

Repetition is key when they are experiencing a sensitive period – which is why when you’re reading a bedtime story they might want the same book seven times in a row, despite how many other books you have! It’s all about satisfying their sensitive period for language.

If we know when sensitive periods are happening we can understand why children act their way they do and we can take steps to offer them activities and the right support to be able to do what they do desperately want to do.

In the first six years of life there are sensitive periods for language, movement, socialisation, order, sensory refinement and for small detail

Sensitive periods are often spoken about as if they only exist in the first six years, but actually they go right the way through development. Between six and twelve children are focused on imagination, abstract thinking, culture, the interconnectedness of all living things, social relationships and morality, while in the teen years there are sensitive periods for social justice and personal dignity.