How to Recognize and Support Montessori Sensitive Periods

A child goes through so much development in their first years of life. There are rapid changes that happen early on in a child’s life. There are these periods, called sensitive periods, where a child will have a strong desire to develop a skill or have a heightened interest. In this blog post, I will dive into the Montessori sensitive periods and how you can recognize and support these sensitive periods in early childhood. It can be helpful for you to know the best things to do to support your child and the characteristics of sensitive periods a child will go through.

What is a Sensitive Period?

A sensitive period is a time in a child’s life when they have a special sensitivity towards developing and refining a particular skill. This heightened interest during a sensitive period allows a child to develop new skills or understand a concept with ease. When. we can recognize when a child is in a sensitive period, we can better guide them during this period of time with a supportive environment. Offering a specific activity or sensorial expereince at just the right time. For example, my twins are in a sensitive period for small objects. Activities that involve pom-poms or little objects are amazing for them.

Let’s dive into each of the different sensitive periods a child will go through. I’ll share tips for how to recognize a sensitve period or developmental stage. As well as how to support both cognitive development and physical development at these times. I will give general time frames, but each child will show signs of these sensitive periods when they are ready. 

Sensitive Period for Movement

The sensitive period for movement starts at birth. During the first year of life, an infant child will have a natural drive toward movement. This drive towards movement will continue to be developed and refined late into toddlerhood and into the preschool years.  In the first year of life, a baby will begin to reach, grasp, roll, crawl, stand, and walk. These gross motor skills will continue to be developed and refined further into the next years of life. This period is a great time to offer opportunities for movement. Things like a Montessori pull-up bar, a Pikler triangle, a climbing ramp, or a learning tower can help support this need for movement. Check out this blog post for ideas on creating an outdoor environment for your child. Or this one for some more ideas on large movement toys like climbers for both indoor and outdoor use.

Montessori Pikler climbing triangle.

Sensitive Period for Language

There is a sensitive period for language acquisition which starts at birth and is present until about 6 years old. This sensitive period for language makes acquiring language effortless because of a young child’s absorbent mind. Additionally, there are sensitive periods for writing and reading. Throughout the first plane of development, a child will be interested in the names of specific objects. Once a child enters the second plane of development, around 6 years old, they will develop a reasoning mind and be more interested in the how and why rather than the what. 


Studies show that the best time for a child to acquire a second language is during this sensitive period for language, before the age of 6. Bilingual children are shown to have boosted cognitive growth, creativity, and critical thinking skills. Individuals, even children, can still learn a second language after the period of the absorbent mind. However, it will require a conscious effort, unlike a younger child who will absorb it in its entirety. 

During Infancy

Cries, coos, and eye contact are all ways that an infant will communicate with their caretaker. As adults, we can acknowledge and respond to what our baby is showing us. It is important to respond and interact with them. Their absorbent mind effortlessly will absorb the language being spoken as well as gestures and social interactions. A baby will be drawn to the human voice and coo when you speak to them. Within the first few months, a baby will begin to pay attention to sounds, observe your mouth as you speak, and copy your sounds and facial expressions. Around a year they may say their first word. 


Anywhere from 15 – to 24 months, a child’s vocabulary will develop further. They will say words or small phrases. My son, at 18 months asks, “What’s that?” while pointing to an object.

Explosion into Speaking

Around 2 years old there is this “explosion” into speaking where a child will begin to speak in complete sentences. 

Specific Sensitivity for Writing 

A child has a sensitive period for writing between the ages of 3 to 5. Again, a sensitive period is a time in a child’s life when they will have a keen interest in developing a specific skill. Sensitive periods are like windows of opportunity in a child’s development that makes learning much easier. 

A hand writing words in cursive.

Specific Sensitivity for Reading 

There is also a specific sensitivity toward reading. Around 4.5 years old, a child shows strong interest in letters, sounds, and written words. Each child will expereince this sensitivity at differnet times and it is not a competition. We can offer an environment that is supportive and fosters a love of developing language skills. A Montessori environment does this beautifully. Modeling the beauty and value of skills like reading and writing bring to our lives is important for a child.

A girl reading a book.

Sensitive Period for Small Objects

The sensitive period for small objects typically occurs between the ages of 1 and 3. During this time a child will be enticed and fascinated with small objects. This may be the small piece of fuzz on the floor or an ant crawling around on the sidewalk. Observing my 18-month-old twin toddlers in this sensitive period for small objects has been amazing. They will stop dead in their tracks to pause and observe an ant and are enamored by a pom-pom and hold it in their hand for hours. 

During this sensitive period, we want to ensure that our environment is prepared safely. Especially if a child is still in the mouthing stage. I have found it fun to add small objects, like gems or many toothpick flags to our playdough work as well as offering transferring activities like dried beans, pasta, or pom poms. These small items are so appealing to a child during this sensitive period. This period can give opportunities to develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor development. 

Sensitive Period for Order

Young children have a sensitive period for order that begins early in their life, around 6 months of age. A child’s need for order is often very strong and even small details may throw it off. We can support this sensitive period by keeping things consistent and doing things in similar order and location from day to day. We can give things a specific place and show a child where things are kept.

Prepare a space for them to put their shoes on with a designated hook for their coat and hat. These are all ways that we can support their need for external order. Montessori environments help meet this need for order. The external order helps to create internal order for the child.

Wooden shelf with toys displayed

Sensitive Period for Toileting

There is even a sensitive period for toileting! This is a time in a child’s life when they are more driven and curious about toilet learning. This typically happens before the age of two. I have heard that the best time to start potty training is when your child starts to show an interest in the process. My twins, at 19 months, are definately showing signs of being ready. I just need to do that hard work to make sure I am ready! I have heard from many people that they have been successful before the age of two. This sensitve period doesn’t mean that a toddler won’t be able to toilet train after 2.5, but it may be more challenging at that age.

A boy sitting on a potty with his mom near by.

Sensitive Period for Grace and Courtesy

There is a sensitive period for grace and courtesy between the ages of three and six. This is a time in a child’s life when they will be working on table manners, using polite language in conversations, greeting others and also appropriate action like how to blow their nose. So much social development can come through the use of grace and courtesy. In Montessori environments, grace and courtesy lessons are given to help a child learn, understand, and become confident in the social aspect of life. Within a Montessori community, such as a Children’s House environment, the older children can become role models for the young children in these specific grace and courtesies. 

A girl blowing her nose.

Sensitive Period for Peer Interaction

From around 18 months to 3 years of age. A child will have a greater interest in interacting with peers, and you will see this extend for years to come. It is through these interactions that a child will develop social skills. Skills like sharing, taking turns, and solving conflicts will be necessary for the early years to help build healthy relationships with others. 

Sensitive Period for Attachment and Separation

Naturally, a young child wants to be near or with their primary caretaker. This is one way that they help orient themselves to the world around them. From birth till around 18 months old a child is developing those secure attachments with the adults in their lives and may have difficulty separating from them, even for short times.

Mom with twins reading books

Sensitive Period for Mathematics

A child’s brain will even have a sensitive period for mathematics. There will be a natural inclination towards numbers, how numbers work, and an ability for memorization. During this sensitive period, between 4 and 6 years old, a child will develop a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Montessori classrooms offer a visual and hands-on approach to learning and understanding mathematics. Montessori teachers will use materials, like this small bead frame pictured, to help a child’s mind see and understand abstract concepts in a concrete way. The intense interest in mathematics will only be heightened through the beautiful Montessori materials and the Montessori method of education. 

Montessori small bead frame.

Sensitive Period for Spacial Awareness

Between 2 and 4 a child will have a sensitive period for spatial awareness where they will have a heightened interest in seeing the relationship between objects and their body. They will explore spatial relationships in the world around them and likely enjoy puzzles, stacking blocks, and exploration of their environment.

Sensitive Period for Artistic and Musical Expressions

From around the age of two until about the age of 6, a child will show interest in different artistic and musical expressions. This period is a great opportunity to let a child explore various art and music materials. We can show children how to use different mediums like paint, clay, markers, and crayons but we want them to have an opportunity to explore with them in their own way with no pressure of a specific outcome. 

An image of a child drinking from a cup. Text overlay that says "Montessori Sensitve Periods in Toddlers".

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