The Absorbent Mind, p. 169.
Observing Sensitive Periods in Young Children
Recently, a friend of mine and her two-year-old daughter came over for coffee. Because I was moving soon, I had already packed up my few remaining infant toys. I was worried that I didn’t have anything interesting to share with my young guest until I remembered Dr. Montessori’s observation that children prefer real objects to toys.
Having never visited my house before, young Ellie needed to explore her new environment. She wandered around the living room, checking out the furniture and knick-knacks on the end and coffee tables. Ellie was intrigued by the glass topped coffee table: How did it work? What held up the glass and how did objects not fall through it? And then she saw my large blue art-deco glass vase. Fascinated, she asked to see what was inside. When she saw it was full of glass beads, she knew she had found her treasure.
At first, Ellie only wanted to hold a handful of the beads. Then, she decided she should have more. After I put some in a bowl for her, her mother and I watched to see what she would do with them. Ellie promptly sat on the floor and dumped them out. Running her fingers through the beads provided a lovely sensory experience:
- The beads were smooth and cool to the touch.
- They were graduated shades of blue and clear.
- There were different rounded shapes.
- Some rolled when they were dumped on the floor.
- They made a delightful sound as Ellie shook them in the bowl.
- They made an even better noise when she “plinked” them into the glass bowl.
It was delightful to watch her dump out the beads and put them back in the bowl. She kept telling us, “I’m cleaning. I’m helping.”
Observing her fondness for pouring and cleaning up, I found myself wishing I had a small whisk broom and dustpan. It would have been a perfect lesson to accompany this sensitive period.
When it was time to serve coffee, Ellie was ready: “I help!” She saw me wash the table, so she grabbed the tea towel that was hanging on the oven to help dry it. She also helped set the table by placing the napkins on it. She sat at the table with us, eating her coffee cake off a real plate, using her fork, and drinking from a china cup.
My worries about not being able to provide toys to entertain Ellie were unfounded. She delighted in exploring her new environment – she had a very focused and intense sensory exploration period. And she helped prepare and eat a meal. It was all real-life, uncontrived work. By observing her needs, Ellie’s mother and I were able to provide for her using what was already in her environment.
Education for a New World, p. 3.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, August 12, 2014.