Neuroplasticity On Montessori Education: Sensitive Learning Periods in Childhood

Posted by Daniela Silva on Apr 23rd 2024

Neuroplasticity On Montessori Education:  Sensitive Learning Periods in Childhood

Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity is the ability the brain has to change according to each new experience or learning. In practical ways, it is through neuroplasticity that the brain changes in structure and functionality as a result of new apprenticeships. These neural connections have a modeling function, which means that they modify and adapt themselves according to the experiences and stimuli situations between the child and the environment. Stimuli, from the point of view of Montessori Education, is focused on the child's response to materials and situations of learning that are experienced through the senses, such as the following:

  • Visual Sense: Stimulate the child through different colored objects, containing varied formats, to differentiate colors, as well as to perceive different formats between materials.
  • Chromatic Sense: introducing the child into the world of colors, leading them to observe and know different tonalities, instigating the student to discriminate the variety of gradations that each color presents.
  • Stereognostic Sense: With eyes closed, the child is guided to recognize sizes, shapes and textures through tactile movements.
  • Tactile and Thermic Senses: The child develops kinesthetic abilities, so that it is possible to perceive and differentiate different temperatures and physical forms through the movements of the hands.
  • Auditory Sense: Through the game of silence, the child is instigated to perceive the most varied sounds and noises present in the environment.
  • Olfactory and Gustatory Senses - through instigating activities, the child is led to smell and taste different foods, prepared by themselves

Therefore, the child in school has the opportunity to know and develop new skills and abilities. Encouraging the student through challenging learning activities contributes to the formation of new synapses. Because of this, it is essential to present to the student a variety of colors, flavors, textures, sounds and sensations. Since the child's brain is constantly growing and developing, the guide is presented with unique opportunities where the brain is plastic and sensitive with the ability to absorb new information. This stage is referred to by Maria Montessori as the sensitive periods of learning, or absorbent mind.

According to Montessori, during this period, which begins at birth, the child has an intense capacity to absorb knowledge and develop new skills. This stage is noticeable when a child is seen performing the same activity over and over again, in an attentive and focused manner. What happens at this moment is that the child is motivated, driven by curiosity and willingness to learn how a particular object or situation works, such as: swinging a rattle and listening to different sounds, or dragging a chair and noticing that the object moves on the floor, among others.

The sensitive period of learning begins from the birth of the child extending to approximately 6 years of age.

  • The first year of the baby's life is characterized by the motivation to imitate the adult in gestures and features. This is realized by observing a baby who is waving, clapping, kissing his/her face parents, etc. It is during this period also that a child presents a need for routine and organization, as well as, for the enjoyment and satiation of the most basic needs, such as: sleeping, waking, feeding, playing, and bathing. An organized environment, with a well-structured routine, assists in the healthy and safe development of the child.
  • During the phase that comprises the period between 7 months to 5 years, the child develops language and knowledge of the first letters. In this plastic period, you can hear the baby babbling the first sounds and syllables, increasing the repertoire of phrases and vocabulary. Singing for the child, telling stories and reading aloud is a good stimulus for the improvement and knowledge of new words and phrases during the preschool stage.
  • A Child's motor learning begins after birth. It is a process that involves progressive changes in motor behavior, which may be observed and are the result of their cumulative experiences, as well as their contact with the environment. It is through movement that the child is able to access, explore and understand the world around her.

Motor coordination allows the child to develop movements using the brain, muscles, and joints. In gross motor coordination, the child is able to crawl, walk, run, and jump. Fine motor coordination is responsible for more delicate movements such as writing, painting and drawing, trimming, fitting, assembling and disassembling materials. Therefore, the materials and activities, often implemented in a Montessori environment, such as writing on colored sand, and picking up marbles using tweezers, are good examples of pedagogical practices that stimulate the development of fine motor coordination in children.

  • The development of mathematical thinking is introduced in Montessori from a very young age. This period is characterized by the child being very concrete. The world is understood through the perception and representation of real objects. With this in mind, we can easily perceive that the child understands numbers and forms in a practical way. It is through the sense of touch that a child can explore. Therefore, they are offered exploratory activities in the form of shapes and shadows, with numbers in sandpaper and in the jigsaw puzzle of geometric figures. In addition, the child has the opportunity to perform these activities at their own rhythm of development, which involves the use of repetition. In turn, this repetition is crucial to the formation of new connections in the brain. The more repetitive an activity is performed, the more chances it has of becoming new knowledge and a new skill in the child´s life.

As we realize, the sensitive period of learning is a very important stage of discoveries and knowledge for the child. It is an intense period of brain plasticity in which the child's mind is able to absorb various learning contents in a short time, in an agile and practical way. For this reason, it is crucial for parents and educators to be attentive to this process by understanding the importance of apprenticeships during this sensitive period so they may provide a safe, agreeable and enjoyable environment that will further help the child's development.

About the author:

Daniela Silva is a Brazilian educator and independent writer. She holds a BA in Pedagogy from Santa Cecilia University, Brazil, with concentrations in School Management and Business Education; an MBA in Personnel Management from Monte Serrat University Center, Brazil; and a postgraduate certificate in Neuroeducation from Estácio de Sá University, Brazil. She has been working with social projects in the area of e-learning and people development since 2009, Ms. Silva is a regular contributor to several educational websites, writing about teaching practices in the classroom; emotions and learning; evaluation and school planning; learning disorders; homeschooling, brain child development, parenting, Montessori education, andragogy and people training. Additionally, she develops courses and training manuals for teachers and students, and contributes as a mentor in an online platform, answering questions about career plans, college decision, personal development and professional skills. Working in collaboration with The New Heights Educational Group, Inc., she has just published Unraveling Reading, a book on literacy education and learning disabilities in reading and writing.