Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sensitive Periods

In our first post we talked about the "sensitive periods" and promised "more on that later."  It is later now so we will discuss what sensitive periods are and why it is important for you to know about them!  The term sensitive period was first used by Dutch biologist Hugo De Vries to describe some animal behaviors.  When Dr. Maria Montessori was observing the behaviors of children, she realized that all children seem to go through certain times when they are very sensitive to a new skill.  It is marked by an attraction to whatever they can find in their environment to develop that particular skill.  As Montessori wrote, "A sensitive period refers to the special sensibility which a creature acquires in its infantile state, while it is still in the process of evolution.  It is a transient disposition and limited to the acquisition of a particular trait.  Once this trait, or characteristic, has been acquired the special sensibility disappears."  In other words, a child goes through a limited period of time where they are trying to develop a specific skill.  During this time they are really drawn to something that will help develop that skill.  When the skill is achieved, they are no longer in need of the attraction to that particular something.  IF what is needed can be found, the child will learn easily and without effort.  Sensitive periods do pass and if we can give the child what he/she needs during this time, the skill will be learned.  If the child does not get to interact with the necessary environment during this time, they will have to learn later when it is more difficult. 

I remember when my son was really into looking at very, very tiny small insects that I could barely see.  I always wondered why he was so interested in these teeny things.  Dr. Montessori defined this time as the sensitive period for Interest in Small Objects.  (Begins right around the beginning of age two.) We can understand a child’s inner life by noticing the way he immerses himself in the contemplation of minute, tiny things which we would pay no attention. This is an indicator that order and detail are coming together in the child’s mind. Children are attracted to the level of focusing on details.  SO, what is the meaning for you?  Notice what your child is looking at so steadily.  Get down on their level and take a look.  Provide a magnifying glass and look at it together.  Allow your child the time to sit and watch. 

Another sensitive period is Movement which is when the child begins to move.  The absorbent mind has already taken in the environment.  As he starts to move he begins to become conscious.  The sensitive period for movement can be divided into different classifications. Acquisition of gross and fine motor (walking and the use of the hands) is from 0-2.5 years of age. The environment we prepare for this is the opportunities for the child to crawl, pull up, encourage to walk with or without assistance. A child is also given toys and materials that allow their hands to hook, bat, touch, turn, insert and grasp small items within their abilities. We have to give them toys or materials that improve the movement of the hand, and improve hand-eye coordination. These opportunities given to them need to be repeated in order for these skills to be refined.  Refinement/coordination of movement is from 2.5 to 4.5 years of age. This is when the child may start using both hands in coordination of fine movements, being able to hold small items with pincer grip and release voluntary. Gross motor can be coordination of walking, running, balancing while carrying a jug of water and jumping. The child acquires this coordination through repetition of purposeful motor activity. Regular visits to the park or outdoor environment is likely to help this sensitive period.  We also provide these activities in our Montessori environment.  We take special care to make sure the child has everything available to them to develop and attain the skills of the sensitive periods. 

Elizabeth Hainstock (The Essential Montessori) talked about other sensitive periods:

Birth to three years:  Absorbent mind, sensory experiences

Eighteen months to three years:  Language development  (listening and speaking)

Two to four years:  Refinement of the senses (acting on what is observed in 0-3), concerned with truth and reality, awareness of order

Three and a half to four:  Writing

Four to four and a half years:  Tactile sense

Four and a half to five and a half:  Reading (although this can happen earlier!)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Phonemic Awareness

language, language, language
In the Montessori curriculum, we go through a specific sequence to teach reading and writing.  Prior to this a lot of work happens.  We need to prepare the child for reading.  When we detect a child is in their sensitive period for language (more on that in another post) we will begin this process.  (Only when the child is ready, never force the child to engage in a work if they are not ready.) We need to teach the child what sounds the letters make.  In Montessori, we begin with the concrete then slowly move to the abstract. 

Something you can do at home is to help your child learn sounds.  You can use printed letters, refridgerator magnets or whatever you have on hand.  (We use the Sandpaper Letters) Choose two letters that differ in sound and in form.  I like to begin with b and m as these phonemes are also the first sounds a baby learns when speaking.

Try to get 4-6 small objects that begin with these sounds and put them in a basket.  This could be done on the floor or on a table.  Present the first letter and make the sound that goes with it being careful to not emphasize the 'uh' at the end too much.  Repeat with the second letter.  (You are saying the sound, not the name of the letter.) Choose an object out of the basket and say it's name.  Place it in front of one letter and repeat the sound, then the name of the object, exaggerating a bit on the first sound.  For example, take out the banana.  Say "banana" then hold it under the 'm' and say 'm' then "banana."  Shake your head 'no' and place bananas under 'b'.  Say "banana" then 'b'.  Shake head yes and repeat so your child can hear the 'b' sound in banana. 

Continue until they are all done.  Ask your child if they would like a turn. 

(Example:  for M= microphone, monkey, money, marble, moon and mouse  B= banana, bear, basket, bike and bird)

If so, clean up objects, carefully placing them in the basket before your child begins.  If your child shows an interest in this, you could also point out things in your home that start with those sounds throughout the week.  Follow your child's lead, don't move on from these letters too quickly but also don't stay too long or they will lose interest. 

Our New Blog!

Hi!  We are excited to announce our new blog!  Ann Arbor Children's House has decided to start a blog!  We hope to educate parents about our lessons and provide activities for you to do at home with your child! 
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