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The fastest way to get out of your child’s way and increase your child’s ability to learn new things is to pay close attention to another Montessori principle: “Never substitute your own activity for the child’s.”

Montessori described “sensitive periods” for the acquisition of new skills or understanding. These specific time periods are the ideal time for a child to learn a skill – the child is fascinated by the skill, and learns it most quickly and easily.

To understand the power of sensitive periods, think about how easily most small children learn language, and compare their skills to the language skills of many adults who have spoken a second language for many, many years, but still have not perfected grammar or pronunciation.

Some examples of general sensitive periods are: the 0-6 year-old is in sensitive periods for order, movement and language, and the 6-12 year-old moves through sensitive periods for imagination, working with other people, and morality.

As the child passes through each sensitive period, the adult must observe, give basic lessons in advance when possible, and then – and this is the most important part – stay out of the way and allow the child to explore, make mistakes, and deeply concentrate on each new skill.

Each time we substitute our activity for the child’s, we are intervening into the work of the child. Each time we take the child’s shoelaces into our own hands as she attempts to tie them herself, we take away the child’s opportunity to explore and pursue that skill in that specific moment. If we keep in mind that the sensitive period for a skill exists for only a limited time, we will naturally tend to avoid the interruption as much as possible.

Each time we punish a child for lying, rather than asking “How did it feel in your heart when you told your friend that?” we take away the child’s opportunity to explore their internal moral barometer by distracting with frustration and anger towards us.

So – to help your child learn more, get out of the way!  Give your child time and space to explore, make mistakes, make a mess, figure it out, and concentrate on whatever he or she is trying to do. Do your best NOT to interrupt, and NOT to do it for them.

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