Have you ever noticed how children under the age of 6 enjoy rhyming words and singing songs? Many are also driven to learn to read, spending countless hours on developing this skill. Maria Montessori, creator of the Montessori philosophy and curriculum, believed that this is because young children experience a sensitive period for language.

What’s a sensitive period?

Montessori believed that children experience sensitive periods throughout their development. For example, children experience a sensitive period to language from age 0-6. It is during this time that children are especially interested, driven and motivated to learn about language. Sensitive periods are like windows of opportunity for focusing on a certain skill or topic.

How Do I Know if my Child Is in a Sensitive Period?

Some sensitive periods are large and somewhat universal, and others are smaller and more difficult to detect. For a great list to get an idea of some of the main sensitive periods, the Daily Montessori offers a great resource.

However, you can also discover your child’s sensitive periods by simply observing your child. Perhaps you notice your child is particularly interested in pouring liquid. You may find her pouring water between two glasses or begging to pour juice from a pitcher. This means your child is experiencing a sensitive period for pouring.

How Can I Make the Most of My Child’s Sensitive Periods?

If you notice that your child seems particularly drawn to a skill or topic, encourage it! Make activities and materials available for your child so that she can practice and fully immerse herself in the topic or skill.

For example, if your child shows interest in pouring, you can make these activities available:

  • Place a small pitcher and two glasses on a tray. Fill the pitcher 3/4 full with beans or rice. Allow your child to practice pouring. Once your child has mastered this, substitute the beans with water.
  • Place two glasses on a tray. Fill one of them with beans or rice. Allow your child to practice pouring. Once your child has mastered this, substitute the beans with water.
  • Use a small pitcher at the table to pour drinks. Have your child serve the drink at mealtimes.

Likewise, if your child shows interest in learning to read, ensure that you spend ample time working on this skill.

Children who are motivated and interested in learning a certain skill will master it much more quickly than those who are forced to learn a skill or study a topic.

Have you ever been forced to study something you dislike? Was it a meaningful learning experience? Chances are you don’t have fond memories of that topic in school. However, the topics you loved and cared about, that’s where you put your energy.

Sensitive periods are naturally occurring. You cannot force them. Rather, respect your child’s learning progress and follow them in their interests.

Many parents ask, “But what if my child never seems interested in reading?” Some guidance is necessary. However, if opportunities  to learn are presented with careful consideration of the child’s interests, it’s likely that your child will learn all of the fundamental academic skills out of her own motivation to pursue them.

Now, it’s time to observe your child and take a deeper look at her interests.

What sensitive period is your child experiencing now?