"“Free the child's potential, and you will transform him into the world”
Dr. Maria Montessori
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Through the study of butterflies and bees, Hugo de Vries, a Dutch biologist, concluded that there are "sensitive periods" during which insects must complete specific tasks to avoid irreversible developmental damage. After extensive study, Dr. Montessori concluded that these critical periods parallel important sensitive periods in child development.
She found that the sensitive periods in a child's life are similar to those found in nature. Sensitive periods found in nature, however, are guided by instinct, while sensitive periods in children are intellectual reactions to their surroundings. They are times of heightened sensibility during which a child is expecially sensitive to a particular aspect or activity within his environment to the exclusion of all others. During this period a child will work with dogged determination, repeating a task over and over until he feels complete or a particular skill has been acquired.
Sensitive periods are not permanent, however and are limited to the learning of a task or attainment of a certain trait. Upon achievement, the sensitive period will disappear. It is of paramount importance, therefore, that as soon as a sensitive period emerges nothing should be allowed to impede its progress because these periods are vital to the healthy growth of any child regardless of background or cultural heritage.
So what if a child is prevented from completion of a sensitive period? It means that the task can still be learned, but it will not be easily learned.
Therefore, sensitive periods must be able to flourish unimpeded. A child needs to be able to explore his world. He needs to be allowed to put things in their proper places. He needs to move about freely using his hands to help him grow mentally and physically. He needs to hear real language, not baby-talk. He needs time to fully study the tiny things he discovers and he needs to be with other children of his own age as often as possible. If children are able to do all this with guidance and understanding from the adults in their world, they will be free to grow as well-adjusted, happy beings.