Planting Seeds During the Sensitive Periods of Childhood

                  Just as a seed has the potential to become a tree if provided nutrient rich soil, regular water, and sun, the child holds within itself the potential to become a happy, functional member of society if her needs are met from birth through the first plane of development by means of each of the four sensitive periods; the sensitive period for order, the sensitive period for movement, the sensitive period for sensory perception and the longest sensitive period, the sensitive period for language. Each of these living things can be thwarted along their path to development if met by obstacles in their environment or a lack of fulfillment of needs. A seed and a child are both things of wonder. Upon initial observation they can become anything; to us they should be awe inspiring and if we truly followed their development, providing environments that met their needs, they could reach their full potential.

The seed in a time of drought may never germinate just as a child who does not experience language in their environment during the sensitive period for language, between birth and age six, may never learn to fully speak. If watered enough a tree can sprout just like the child in the Casa who is exposed to the color boxes may, at a later age in life, have a better perception of color gradation and an ability to score higher on color gradient scale tests. Exposure to activities that help children to refine their sensory perception during the corresponding sensitive period for development and refinement of sensory perception, between birth and age four and a half, can increase a child’s later awareness and skills. The child also has a sensitive period for movement, birth to age four and a half, when they attain mastery of their motor skills through steps of preparation, strengthening, imaging, imitating and internalizing to finally come up with a personalized sense of movement that inevitably strengthens the child physically, mentally and spiritually. The child then can be seen as a tree, not just in the way they physically start as a delicate seed of potential, growing into intermediate lankiness and finally become strong and solid; but in how they are affected by their environment.

A tree holds within its trunk a life map, rings, which tell the story of all of the environmental stresses it has encountered. If a tree does not get enough water or the temperature is not consistent the growth ring is altered.  This is parallel to a child who experiences stress, neglect or absence of appropriate stimuli in the environment and is then altered developmentally. Once the ring development is set it cannot be fixed, there is not a way to give the tree more water or provide a more stable climate and rewrite that ring. Montessori describes the child’s character in much the same way as ring development. It is a map of the interactions, accomplishments and deficiencies within the child’s environment which are tied to certain sensitive periods within the first plane of her developmental stage theory that create the adult being later in life, “It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was”.

The child’s brain consistently produces synapses and a large amount during the sensitive period for order, from birth to age four and a half; those that are used more often (eg: repetition of sounds or movements for the young child) go through a process of myelination and are retained, those that are not used are merely trimmed away. The environment of the Casa supports this function by providing predictable surroundings with ordered procedures. While the brain forms connections and structures that are important for future functioning, it can only function at the highest level of its potential if the environment was full of rich experiences for the correlating sensitive period. While trees do not grow beyond their ability to support themselves, Montessori‘s writing suggest a parallel path for the child. She surmises that the child’s development, like the gnarly root structure of a tree, is intertwined and woven through the sensitive periods which demand passive and active engagement with appropriate stimuli at set times in development to form a fully functioning man.

There are many examples in nature of similar developmental timelines and current research that now supports what were once observational suppositions of Montessori. In the larger picture of the cosmos it would make sense that the development of multiple species on this planet run parallel to some extent. Naturally there are some differences between species’ but for the most part we have all survived because of interactions with others of our same species during a neonatal stage which has helped our understanding of our place in the group, how to behave, how to communicate and overall ensured the proliferation of our genetic code.