Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Montessori Parenting: Observing Sensitive Periods in Young Children

It was the children themselves who showed that they preferred one another’s company to dolls, and the small ‘real life’ utensils to toys.
—Maria Montessori
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.

Scientific observation then has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.
—Maria Montessori
Education for a New World, p. 3.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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, August 12, 2014.


Post a Comment

Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

This year marks NAMC’s 20th anniversary of providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe. Since we began in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 120 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method. Thank you for sharing this amazing milestone with us!