This is when children literally absorb impressions from their environment through the “pores” of all their senses as a sponge absorbs water. During this period, for example, children learn their mother tongue (and up to 4 other languages) far more easily than an adult who struggles to learn a foreign language. This is because, just as there is a momenta child begins to crawl and then walk, there is a momentin human development for language development. This is typically during 18m to 7 years. At 18 months, a child can hear all frequencies of sound, which reduces to only those sounds she is exposed to typically around age 7. As a result, when we try to learn a language in high school (the moment a second language education begins in the United States, it is a hard learn and an accent is almost guaranteed). At 18 months,a child can easily absorb multiple languages if the languages are divided by different speakers.
The opportunities available in the environment of the child at this critical stage will be a major factor in determining the child’s intellect.
Dr. Montessori believed that during these early 5 or 6 years of development, the child passes through a number of sensitive periods, or particular moments at which the child becomes attuned to acquiring particular knowledge or skills. He will work on gaining that knowledge or skill with an interest and concentration he can never again display for that particular kind of work.
Because the child learns more easily during these sensitive periods, Dr. Montessori developed specific didactic (learning) materials designed to correspond to these sensitive periods and to meet their needs. We all know well the 3-year-old’s desire for order in his environment and need for a daily routine.
Independence is another cornerstone in a Montessori classroom. Independence is encouraged at every turn, whether it is putting on one’s own coat, choosing one’s own work, or cleaning up after oneself at the snack table. Each small step towards independence builds confidence, self-esteem, and a positive self-concept.