Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Beyond Montessori Sensitive Periods: Missed Opportunities

As a teacher tutor and mentor for NAMC, one of my greatest joys is responding to student questions about Montessori philosophy and methodology. Today, one of my Infant/Toddler students asked a question about the Montessori infant mobiles. She really loves the mobiles, but is upset that her two year old was not exposed to them as an infant. She wanted to know if she could use them now, to make up for a missed opportunity.

NAMC montessori sensitive periods missed opportunity toddler looking in mirror

This student brings up an excellent point, not just for infants and toddlers, but for children of all ages and stages. Dr. Montessori taught us that there are sensitive periods for learning. That is, at certain periods of time, children are most receptive to certain concepts.

Once that sensitive period has passed, it is almost as if a window for opportunity has been shut. For example, if a child learns to walk before crawling, it is very difficult to go back and teach him how to crawl. That sensitive period is over.

Missed Sensitive Periods and Missed Opportunities? Montessori Educators Follow the Child 

The Montessori mobiles are designed to strengthen the vision of infants and are presented before the infant can reach out to grab them. For a two year old, the sensitive period for the purpose of these mobiles has passed. That is not to say you cannot use mobiles in the environment to stimulate and develop focus. There are some lovely mobiles that can be used in the Montessori environment for many years to come.
NAMC montessori sensitive periods missed opportunity toddler reaching out

When thinking about returning and reviewing activities you may have missed, consider the sensitive period the child is in at the moment. He may have already outgrown some of the infant activities. That’s okay! What you can do is try presenting some of the activities and see how he responds. If he is interested and focused, continue to encourage him to work with those materials. If he seems uninterested or moves ahead, using the materials for something else, follow his lead. The most important thing to remember is not to hold him back if he is developmentally able and ready to move ahead.

And do not feel bad if you miss some of the Montessori lessons and activities presented in the NAMC manuals. These are suggested activities, but by no means are they exhaustive. There will be plenty of opportunities and new experiences to explore and enjoy together. I can assure you that by omitting a few of the activities, you will not hurt the child’s development.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, June 18, 2013.


  1. What advice would you give to someone introducing older children to MOntessori that have missed years of what a 'normal' Montessori student would get? I am a homeschool mom that saw the switch as necessary, but am still trying to adjust the change for my older children, and even the five year old that didn't get the early years of Montessori, or even a MOntessori inspired, education format.

  2. Hi Amy,

    The sensitive periods can be thought of as "Windows of Opportunity". These are critical times when a child is most receptive to whatever concept they are developing. It's almost as if the child unconsciously knows that "now" is the time to learn that particular skill. This manifests itself in the intensity and desire to learn. Once this window is shut, the child most certainly can acquire the skill, but it is much more difficult.

    In regards to your introducing Montessori to children who may have missed the early preschool years, you may wish to read our blog on Older Children With No Montessori Background: Integrating New Students into Montessori School.


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