Define the term sensitive periods and link them appropriately to the child’s first stage of development. Explain how you would support these sensitive periods during this first crucial stage. Dr. Maria Montessori, basing on her scientific child observation, concluded that children learn and adjust to their surroundings on their own and by the means of inner powers (Montessori, 1966) they possess at birth: the Absorbent Mind (Montessori, 2007a), human tendencies (Montessori, 1966) and sensitive periods (Montessori, 1966).

Essential skills acquisition and adjustment occurs in the first six years of life and requires a great deal of freedom, a mindful assistance of an adult and a favorable environment (Montessori, 2007b). According to Montessori (2007a) children in order to become mature individuals go through three distinct planes of development: infancy, childhood and adolescence. In opposition to the previous psychologist, Montessori (2007a, p21) stated that “the most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six”.

At this time, children are endowed with a special mentality, the Absorbent Mind, that takes in everything children experience by their senses. Children create upon absorbed impressions their intelligence and personality (Montessori, 2007a). As children's brain is extremely receptive and develops rapidly, they /need an interesting, slightly challenging and rich in purposeful activities environment. From this they can learn by themselves, without direct lessons and qualified teachers, with a great ease and commitment.

The learning process occurs fast and any accomplishment brings them happiness and satisfaction. Moreover, the Absorbent Mind allows children to adjust to their environment by simply living in it. At this time, children become men of their times, place and culture, learn their mother tongue to perfection and get attached to their homeland forever (Montessori, 2007a). The Absorbent Mind is divided into two sub-phases (Montessori, 2007a).

In the first three years of life a child is compared to a spiritual embryo (Montessori, 2007a), that must accomplish “(...) a piece of formative work” (Montessori, 2007a, p55). This period is extremely creative. Infants, from nothing, unfold their inner powers and incarnate into beings able to walk, speak, orient in their environment and take care of themselves. At this stage, they are unconscious of their doings and indifferent to the adult's verbal instructions. They are directed by an inner energy, the horme (Montessori, 2007a), that drives them towards independence and lead from one achievement to another.

In the second sub-phase, from three to six, the child changes into a social embryo (Montessori, 2007a), that aims to extend her/his knowledge about the world, refine, acquired in the previous period, abilities and become a member of a particular community to which s/he belongs. This is a period of a “constructive perfectionment”(Montessori, 2007b, p153) through an active experience. Children look for purposeful activities, that will allow them to explore the environment and master their skills. Thus at this time the organs and mental abilities, that were firstly developed separately, are coming to the cohesion.

Memory starts to appear, taking place of the mneme (Montessori, 2007a), where impressions from the first three years of the child's life were stored. The horme begin to cease giving a way to the willpower, what allows children to make conscious decisions, control their movements and develop self-discipline (Montessori, 2007b). Children are also more keen to make friends, cooperate and behave in a social manner. The first plane of development is the crucial time, when children learn and adapt in a way impossible for adults.

Montessori (2007a) observed, that the natural process of learning and adjustment in early years is universal for all children regardless their social status or country of origin. They develop their knowledge about the world, gain skills and adapt to any circumstances with help of human tendencies and sensitive periods. The human tendencies dictate children to move, orient, explore, repeat, manipulate and socialize. They are especially visible in the sensitive periods, that were first discovered by the Dutch biologist Hugo de Vris in animals and afterwords incorporated by Montessori (1966) into her philosophy.

She stated that: “a child learns to adjust himself and make acquisitions in his sensitive periods”. The sensitive periods refer to the overlapping intervals, when children are especially responsive to the certain stimuli or activities. Inner sensibilities focus a child's absorbent mind on them in order to develop a particular ability. When sensitive periods are over the certain aspects of the environment appear indifferent to them and the process of learning becomes wearisome, tiring and longer (Montessori, 1966).

For example, grown-ups acquire a new language by a conscious and sustained effort and are not capable to develop it to the same level of proficiency as their mother tongue. Montessori recognized six main sensitive periods for: movement, small objects, order, refinement of the senses, language and social development (Montessori, 1966, 2007a,b). A sensitive period for movement is visible from birth to the age of five, when children look for activities, that will help them to learn to walk, hold things and then coordinate their fine and motor movements and bring them under control of their will.

For instance, I have observed eighteen-month-old caring heavy pillows from one place to another and four-year-old climbing a tree and balancing on a log. Abilities to grasp things and move independently transform children into eager explorers, who examine everything that is found at their fingertips. From six months to two-and-a-half children manifest a strong fixation on small objects such as crumbs, insects, small pebbles and tiny details found in picture books (Montessori, 1966). For instance, my two-year-old niece loved to play with small colorful bindi, that Indian women place on their foreheads.

Bowing over small objects to grab or point at them help children to exercise their fine motor skills, as well as balance, eye-hand coordination, visual perception and concentration. Ability to notice tiny details in the environment goes together with sensibility to order. From one to three children easily perceive relationships between objects and expect to find them at the right place (Montessori, 1966). Disorder may cause temper tantrums. For instance, I witnessed a two-year-old boy getting furious, when he noticed, that his mother bought a new shampoo.

He calmed down only when she transferred the liquid to the old bottle. A daily routine, ordered and divided into distinct areas environment will help children to orient and move independently within it, organize their movements in a logical manner and sort out gained impressions. Therefore, order facilitates the next sensitive period for refinement of the senses (Montessori, 2007b). After turning three children start more consciously work upon accumulated impressions to organize and label them appropriately.

They are drawn to the activities, that allow them to distinguish differences between objects relied on their sensorial qualities, such as size, weight, color, smell, sound and taste. For instance, I have seen a four-year-old boy organizing in a line a huge collection of his cars by color and size. Activities that are based on experiencing, matching, categorizing and labeling different sensorial impressions do not only develop the child's senses to their fullness, but also contribute to his overall cognitive development, better understanding of the world and adjustment to his environment.

Moreover, they help to lay down a solid foundation of his mathematical mind (Montessori, 2007b) from which he will further develop the abilities to reason and abstract. At the age of around two-and-an-half, after a long period of a solitude work on self-construction (Montessori, 2007a), children turns their attention towards others and begin to refine their social skills (Montessori, 2007a). From two-and-a-half to six children are sensitive to social mores and start to perceive how one's doings can affect others. They become more empathetic and responsive to the needs and feelings of other people that surround them.

They also tend to help and take care for each other without being asked for it. For example, I have seen a three-year-old boy hastening to help his younger friend to enter the classroom by holding a door. Social development is not possible without the ability to communicate. The sensitive period for language starts at birth. Children show an immense interest in a human voice to the exclusion of other sounds and make every effort to reproduce it (Montessori, 2007a). Once children start to utter first words, they focus on gathering vocabulary.

For example, my eighteen months old niece for a couple of days was pointing at different objects and asking the question: “What is it”? Language acquisition enables children to express their needs, first thoughts about the world and communicate with others. Moreover, children until the age of six are capable to learn more than one language, write and read, if adults provide them with a suitable environment (Montessori, 2007b). The role of adults in supporting the children's sensitive periods is crucial. Caregivers are responsible for preparing a favorable environment (Montessori, 2007b) that will correspond to the child's inner sensibilities.

In order to estimate them, parents and teachers should possess knowledge about sensitive periods, set a child free and observe, what kind of activities arouse her/his interest. The next step is to present to the child materials or activities, that will apply to his current needs, then remove any obstacles, that may distract her/him from getting engaged in his “work” and finally give the child time and restrain from any interruption and correction, while s/he concentrates on the task. Therefore, the role of adults at this point is critical. They protect children natural development, follow their needs and link them with a favorable environment

A favorable environment is filled with “means for spiritual growth” (Montessori, 1966, p42) and arranged in a way that corresponds to the child's sensitive periods (Montessori, 2007b). The sensitive period for order acquires an organized and neat environment, within which children can move independently. Activities related to their age, stage of development and interest are approachable and in a perfect condition. The ground rules (Montessori, 2007b) that define children's responsibility for their actions and teach them respect for themselves, others and the environment, are consequently execute by their caregivers.

Children, right from birth, should be given freedom of movement (Montessori, 2007b). A mattress on a floor, a bar or low shelf to pull up and a child-proofed home will facilitate infants urge to exercise their limbs and learn to walk. Cribs, cots, walkers and prams should be avoided or limited in use. Older children should be engaged in Activities of Everyday Living (Montessori, 2007b), provided with a wide range of manipulative activities and taken for long walks in the park or forest, where they can move at their own pace and explore small phenomena of nature. A rich in language environment is of paramount importance.

Caregivers should read, sing and talk to and with children as much as possible in a clear and respectful manner. Vocabulary expansion should take place by introducing real things or their duplicates, that can be explored by senses. That would also support exploration of the world and, in conjunction with sensorial materials (Montessori2007b), the sensitive period for refinement of the senses. The sensitive periods for social development should be supported by engaging children in a collective life by visiting with him relatives and friends, taking part in and contributing to cultural events, introducing social mores and courtesies.

As children constantly observe and learn from adults' doings, the latter are supposed to be aware of their behavior and always set a good example by treating others in a polite and respectful way. If caregivers ignore sensitive periods, children are loosing an unique opportunity to develop their potential to its fulness. They defend themselves by throwing tantrums, which are “external manifestations of an unsatisfied need, expression of alarm over a danger” (Montessori, 1966, p41).

If adults neglect vital sensibilities for a long time, they become weak and passive (Montessori, 1966). Hindering a child from following his inner guidance in a long term may slow down his development, cause learning and behavioral problems and impede his process of adjustment. For example, lack of social interactions in early years can have a negative impact on an unfolding personality and cause difficulties in building up social relationships in the future. The first plane of development is crucial for children ongoing growth.

At this time they develop mental and physical abilities that will serve them for the rest of their life. The absorbent mind, human tendencies and sensitive periods should be taken into consideration by caregivers and support as much as possible. Adults are responsible for preparing an outer surroundings, that will suit children developmental needs and support their sensitive periods. If children are provided with favorable conditions acquired impressions, experiences and skills will do facilitate their development in later stages.