What are the Sensitive Periods?

Posted on by Megan Plesea

Nearly one hundred years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that children are self-motivated to learn from their environments. Borrowing ideas from biologists and philosophers of her day, Montessori proposed that each child carries within him two sorts of genetic designs – one physical and one psychical.

The physical plan will determine the child’s eventual height, hair color, and other physical characteristics. The psychical plan takes form in the sensitive periods.

Montessori identified eleven different sensitive periods occurring from birth through the age of six: order, movement, small objects, grace and courtesy, refinement of the senses, writing, reading, language, spatial relationships, music, and mathematics.


Each sensitive period is:

  • A period of special sensibility and psychical attitudes.
  • An overpowering force, interest, or impetus directing the child to particular qualities and elements in the environment.
  • A period of time during which the child centers his or her attention on specific aspects of the environment, to the exclusion of all else.
  • A passion and a commitment.
  • A guide toward creative activities.
  • An intense and prolonged period which does not lead to fatigue or boredom but instead leads to persistent energy and interest.
  • A transitory state; once realized, the sensitive period disappears.
  • Never relived or regained.

The eleven Sensitive Periods occur from birth through the age of six. While each continues throughout life, the approximate ages for the onset of each as a “sensitive period” and its conclusion are indicated after the general description of each period below:

  • Order:  This sensitive period is characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition. A passionate love for established routines, children can be deeply disturbed by disorder. The environment must be carefully organized with a place for everything and with carefully established ground-rules.  (ages 2-4)
  • Movement:  Random movements become coordinated and controlled: grasping. touching, turning, balancing, crawling, walking. (birth-1)
  • Small Objects:  Children experience a fixation on small objects and tiny details. (1-4)
  • Grace and Courtesy:  Imitation of polite and considerate behavior leads to an internalization of these qualities into the personality. (2-6)
  • Refinement of the Senses:  A fascination with sensorial experiences (taste, sound, touch, weight, smell) results in children learning to observe and make increasingly refined sensorial discriminations. (2-6)
  • Writing:  Children become fascinated with letters and numerals. They attempt to reproduce these with pencil or pen and paper. Montessori discovered that writing precedes reading. (3-4)
  • Reading:  Spontaneous interest in the symbolic representations of the sounds of each letter and in the formation of words.  (3-5)
  • Expressive Language:  Use of words to communicate: a progression from babbling to words to phrases to sentences, with a continuously expanding vocabulary and comprehension. (birth to 6)
  • Spatial Relationships:  Forming impressions about relationships in space: the design of familiar places, able to find the way around the neighborhood, and increasingly able to work complex puzzles. (4 – 6)
  • Music:  Spontaneous interest in, and the development of, pitch, rhythm, and melody. (2 – 6)
  • Mathematics:  Formation of the concepts of quantity and operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) from the uses of concrete learning materials. (birth to 6)


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West Side Montessori is an independent, accredited Montessori school educating children 13 months through 8th grade (preschool, kindergarten, elementary and middle school) with locations at 13587 Roachton Rd in Perrysburg, Ohio, and 7115 W. Bancroft Street in Toledo, Ohio.