Sensitive periods for learning (birth to six years)

In the book Montessori Play and Learn by Lesley Britton, she says;

  • All children have ‘absorbent’ minds
  • All children pass through ‘sensitive’ periods
  • All children want to learn
  • All children learn through play/work
  • All children pass through several stages of development
  • All children want to be independent

Together they form the core belief upon which the Montessori Method is based.

Sensitive Periods (birth to six years)

According to Tim Seldin in his book How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way, Montessori recognised that children go through stages of intellectual interest and curiosity- which she called ‘sensitive periods’ in which they become intrigued and absorbed by aspects of their environment. See the guide from his book below.



There is a lot of information available the internet which goes into more depth on each of the sensitive periods and it can be a bit overwhelming at first. I found this guide really helpful when I was just starting to learn about The Montessori Method/Philosophy. Most other Montessori books I own only mention a few of the above sensitive periods, but I like how this guide mentions Music, Spatial Relationships, Small objects and Grace and Courtesy.

  1. Movement (birth to one year), movements become more coordinated and controlled. Tips: Freedom of movement as much as possible from birth onwards, limiting or eliminating time in cots, play pens, prams etc which restrict movement if safe to do so.
  2. Language (birth to six years), progression from babble to words, phrases then sentences. Tips: Talk to your child as much as possible using real words as opposed to ‘baby talk’ and read to your child as much as you can.
  3. Small objects (one to four years), eye-hand coordination becomes increasingly refined and accurate. Wooden dolls, play animals, cars, trucks, small world play are popular at this age.
  4. Order (two to four years), love of routines, desire for consistency and repetition. Tips: I keep these things in mind for the at home environment (Order, Simplicity, Beauty. (ordered with a place for everything and everything in its play, simplicity (uncluttered), and beautiful (surround your home with things that you love and make your family happy).
  5. Music (two to six years), interest in the development of pitch, rhythm and melody. Tips: Sing together often and listen to beautiful classical musical.
  6. Toileting (18 months to three years), better developed control over bladder and bowels. Tips: Follow your child, you will know when they are ready for the toilet learning process.
  7. Grace and Courtesy (two to six years), imitate polite and considerate behaviour which becomes internalised into their personality. Tips: Model good behaviour at home.
  8. Senses (two to six years), fascination with sensorial experiences of taste, touch, sound and smell.
  9. Writing (three to four years), attempts to reproduce letters and numbers.
  10. Reading (three to five years), interest in symbols and sounds they represent.
  11. Spatial relationships (four to six years), increasing able to work out complex puzzles as an understanding of spatial relationships develops.
  12. Mathematics (four to six years), sensitivity for numbers and quantities.

The above guide is from the book Montessori Read and Write book.


Learning Through play. Play can be interpreted in many different ways. According to Lesley Britton (Montessori Play and Learn), To Montessori the words were synonymous: play is you child’s work, simply because it is the means by which he learns.







3 thoughts on “Sensitive periods for learning (birth to six years)

  1. Hello, when my son was 18 months old he was very interested in using the potty. Every time I took his diaper off he would pee on his potty. I started working and later on found out I was pregnant, I was feeling very nauseous and tired from work so I kind stopped incentivizing him to use the potty and my husband never really helped in potty training my son. My son is 2.5 now and I am trying to motivate him to use the potty but he has no in interest in it. I think I missed his sensitive period for using the potty. Do you any advice to help my son regain interest in using the potty?

    1. Hi Laiza, I understand. My second child was born when my first child was only 2 years. Even though she was mostly able to use the potty independently at this age, due to having a newborn at home I think my 2 year old found this change a bit hard initially and started to have more accidents during the day, so there was a time between 2-2.5 years when things were not going that smoothly in this department. Overall though it wasn’t a big deal to me, its one of those things that happen, we clean up together and move on. I just made sure that when I was looking after my newborn (feeding or changing), that my toddler had their potty near by so we were all together.

      At 2.5 years, yes it can be a bit of a tricky time. If they use the potty from very early on, they learn to use it mostly due to routine and consistency, but if you start later on, you may need to help them feel like a ‘big kid’, by allowing them to be as independent in their care of self at home as much as possible. It is that stage where you might hear ‘I do it’, they are wanting to do as many things by themselves as possible. Maybe look at setting up an area for them to dress themselves independently. It’s important to make sure that they can get their clothing off and on themselves, especially when toilet learning. I have a post on Care of self spaces that might give you some ideas. I think it may help if you worked on ‘independence in the home’ then maybe toilet learning may just come about naturally because your child may feel confident and empowered to do things by themselves. When both of my children were and still are (my 2 year old) toilet learning, I found that starting in the warmer months the easiest. I also found going ‘clothes free’ really helped, so there was no added pressure for them to have to get undressed quickly whilst holding on to use the potty. Yes there will be accidents, but be patient and understanding. Let your child help with cleaning up. Maybe you could have a little cleaning set, set up for them to use. I had old towels and a bucket near by for accidents. I found that my children loved cleaning up, it really helped them feel independent in this area.

      Other things you could do but not everyone will agree with, but you could just initially set up some books in a basket next to the potty and sit with your child and read together. I did this with both of my children initially. I also allowed them to decorate their potty with stickers. My son put train and cars stickers all over his and my daughter put space stickers all over hers. They both loved that. Depending on the size of your house, you may need more than 1 potty so they can get access to one quickly, as not all children will hold on for that long initially. We have 2 set up in our home and both get used daily.

      I will mention that sometime between 2.5 years and 3 years, my first child swapped from using the potty to the toilet seat using a step and child-sized toilet seat on top. So, an option is if the potty really isn’t working, then you could set up a step to the toilet as an option instead, or you could set up both spaces near to each other and let your child choose which one they want to use each time they need to go to the toilet. When my daughter was transitioning from the potty to the toilet I did this, I had both as an option until she stopped choosing to use the potty. At 4 years now, she just uses our toilet with no step or child-sized toilet seat.
      I know some parents have had more luck bypassing the potty when their child has been a bit older and just starting the process. Some parents I know just never used a potty. It’s up to you what you would like to do.

      Something else I did early on was to write down in a journal my children’s toileting times during the day, it gave me a good idea when they might be due to go. Often there was a noticeable pattern.
      Hope some of this helps. Feel free to email me as you enter the process and I can help further if needs be.

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