In his first six years of life, the child will pass through stages of development called “sensitive periods”. During these stages of development, supported by his absorbent mind, the child is ready to master specific skills effortlessly. Dr. Montessori’s observations revealed the sensitive periods involve movement, mathematics, refinement of the senses, social skills, attention to small objects, expressive language, writing, reading, spatial relationships, music and order.

Sense of Order

Between the ages of one and four, his sensitive period for order is heightened. His need for routine and external order in his environment is innate. He craves consistency and repetition, and is looking for rules, boundaries, and an environment to support it: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Not only does he crave these boundaries, he depends on them.

An organized and prepared environment will help him feel secure and balanced. When everything is “as it should be”, he is at his best. This order includes his clothing, food, furniture, games and toys, books … even the things you do and say as a parent. Surprises and change do not go over well during this period. If something is ‘off’, he will find and identify it!

As hard as it may be to believe, he really doesn’t mean to be “impossible to please” at times. He simply feels that an ‘off’ situation is impossible to bear— or explain. His expressive language is still developing. He may only be able to deliver distressful sounds (and actions) to make his feelings known. Yes, he is as overwhelmed as you may feel.

Meltdowns and distress can be shortened and diffused with an understanding of the child’s reaction to a situation. Stay calm and articulate what you are seeing: “It seems you wanted to go outside. It’s storming right now. Let’s look together … “ It may take a few minutes for him to regroup. When he’s ready, offer two age-appropriate activity choices its place, e.g.: “Since its too stormy outside, let’s do something fun inside. Would you like to play with play dough or paint?” This gives him some control over the situation while also giving him boundaries.

Sensitive periods naturally call to the child, compelling him to engage in his work of self-construction. It is a window of opportunity that presents itself only in his early years of learning and, if missed or restricted, will be very difficult to retrace. It’s a time of effortless learning and unconscious development that will serve him for life. And if we ALL really look at the child, he will reveal this sense of order exactly as it should be.

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