Define the Term Sensitive Periods, and Explain How the Teacher's Knowledge and Understanding of These Periods Determines His/Her Preparation and Custodianship of the Prepared Environment

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Define the term sensitive periods, and explain how the teacher's knowledge and understanding of these periods determines his/her preparation and custodianship of the prepared environment

"A sensitive period refers to a special sensibility which a creature acquires in its infantile state" (Montessori, 1966, p.38). Such sensitive periods were first discovered in animals by the Dutch scientist Hugo de Vries, but according to Montessori, are also found in children and are very important to consider in teaching. Each sensitive period is a "transient disposition and is limited to the acquisition of a particular trait" (Montessori, 1966, p.38). Once such a trait or characteristic has been achieved, the sensibility disappears due to
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Firstly "the child is dependent upon an integral relationship with his environment, both the things and the people within it" (Lillard, 1972, p. 30). Secondly, the child needs freedom. Without these conditions being met, the psychic life of a child will not reach its potential and the child's personality will be stunted. In the words of Montessori, for the children who have "met with severe obstacles during this period, deviations of personality may ensue" (Montessori, 1988, p.178). Adverse consequences of not recognising and supporting the child's sensitivities may therefore result. A severe example is Itard's account of the ‘wild boy' of Aveyron. Isolated in the forests of France as a baby, he was later found as a teenager. His movements and behaviour were similar to those of an animal. Although Itard was able to help this boy develop somewhat normal human behaviours, the boy did not develop language, even though there were no problems with his hearing. This illustrates the importance of a child being exposed to language during this particular sensitive period. Once the sensitive period has passed, the special sensitivity is lost and language cannot be developed. Of course this is an extreme case but it does highlight how these sensitive periods must be nurtured to allow normal development to occur. The role of a Montessori teacher is therefore to ensure that the materials in the prepared