The Sensitive Periods
Dr. Maria Montessori discovered, through observation, that a child experiences periods of heightened sensitivity towards specific abilities. She called these times Sensitive Periods. During a Sensitive Period, a child works with tremendous focus on one specific skill or is particularly responsive to specific stimuli, resulting in the mastery of the skill or task. During a child's Sensitive Period, he will have limitless energy and enthusiasm for the task at hand and it is only when the goal has been obtained, that fatigue and indifference emerges.
Montessori observed, "It is this sensibility which enables a child to come into contact with the external world in a particularly intense manner.... When one of these psychic passions is exhausted, another is enkindled. Childhood thus passes from conquest to conquest in a constant rhythm that constitutes joy and happiness." (p. 40)
Dr. Montessori wrote that the child's environment must correspond adequately to his inner needs so as not to impede his psychic development. For, while adults have no direct influence on the different states, they do have the ability to assist a child's natural psychic development. The Montessori environment is designed to take advantage of the Sensitive Periods. In a Montessori classroom, a child is free to work at his own pace, designed according to the developmental stages of the child.
The Montessori teacher aims to recognize when a child is experiencing a certain sensitive period and, with the help of the prepared environment, encourages the child to make optimal use of it. Additionally, since the time at which a sensitive period appears and its duration are unique to each child, the flexibility of the Montessori method provides the most favorable conditions to take full advantage of the sensitive periods.