Sensitive Periods and the Prepared Environment.

A carefully prepared Montessori classroom goes hand in hand with a child’s sensitive periods it is absolutely key for a child’s development, it sets the ground work for future learning through a child’s innate sensitive periods.

images-77A prepared environment helps a teacher recognise a sensitive period and therefore able to expose a child to materials that will encourage development.

Create an environment with materials that cater to your children’s age range. Materials that enable you to observe a child’s sensitive period and through his/her choices encourage development rather than making the choice and decision for him/her.

Try to be aware of not making choices for your children by “dumbing down” or over intellectualising your classroom, your students will soon loose interest if the materials in any one area are not age/ability appropriate and the importance of sensitive periods could be lost.

Practical life: 

images-4Offer a wide range of activities and place them on the shelves in a systematic way that flows from simple jobs for 2 -3 year olds, for example pouring rice,  spooning beans, washing potatoes; to more complex jobs for  4- 5 year olds, polishing shoes,threading beads,pouring water into different sized vessels; to more complicated activities that would still attract a 6 year old, weaving, plaiting (braiding) sieving flour.  It is very important to keep practical life inviting for all the children in your classroom so that they can “practice  life” you will find that a child will instinctively migrate,(sensitive period) to activities that are important to him/her. They will know this better than their teacher and if you, as his/her teacher respect this choice the child’s development will flourish. Keep Practical life fresh and inviting and carefully observe a child for sensitive periods, (repetition is a telltale sign).


images-53The Montessori Sensorial equipment is very carefully developed with progression in place, it is important to place the materials on your classroom shelves in the correct order and progression. Starting with the knobbed cylinders and progressing through to the trinomial cube. A child that has freedom of choice will be drawn to certain materials (sensitive period) your job as his teacher is to observe this and demonstrate the material, when you see that the child has accomplished it and needs more, offer the extensions. A child taught this way  through his/her sensitive period will develop concentration, self discipline and independence.



images-19As with Practical life and Sensorial, Montessori Language materials have been developed to follow a child’s natural progress (sensitive periods). Place the language materials on your shelves in an order and progression, from sand paper letters to the green phonogram materials including grammar,  that will attract all the children in your class. It does take thought and planning to develop materials that make sure you are catering to the age range. Ensure that a 2-3 year old will be equally pulled to the Language shelves as the 5-6 year old; and that the progression is as natural as walking. You will find a child will explore the materials and will naturally find their niche (sensitive period). Observe, introduce and demonstrate the materials following the child’s lead. Having freedom of choice is key. It is equally important to have the grammar boxes available as is the sand paper letters. Be careful not to “dumb down” your classroom, your children, even if they are in a sensitive period for language will feel unfulfilled with the language area and will ignore it if it is not age/ability appropriate or does not have a variety of materials on offer.

Reading and Writing

images-122A reading corner in your classroom is vital, a space where a child can quietly read or look at books of their choice. I also place on these shelves the books that a child can read (sound out, Bob books etc.) themselves should they want to. I put them here rather than in the language area. The reading corner is a very good place to observe a child’s sensitive period for reading and to watch for their readiness for language materials.



images-114I like to place various writing materials on shelves near the language and reading. The metal insets for design, tracing, dot to dots, word searches, chalk boards and white boards, and paper for drawing and writing stories to name a few. Various pencils, colour pencils erasers, rulers etc. It is important to offer simple to complex activities. A child’s sensitive period for writing may be revealed here.




images-60Montessori materials are very cleverly developed to follow a child’s natural instinct (sensitive period) On your math shelves place the math materials in the correct order and progression of development. Start with the sand paper numbers and work through to the golden bead and fraction materials. Be considerate of a child’s ability, getting the sand paper numbers and number rods off a top shelf is difficult for a 3 year old, so the younger the age the lower the shelf and work your way up. Have addition and multiplication materials before subtraction; from addition with number rods to addition using the black and white beads and short bead stair, the same with multiplication etc. Create a logical order. Have a Golden Bead area with all the “accessories” easily available, mats, trays etc. so that a child can prepare it easily before actually working on it. ( this way there is no distraction having to find a rug/ tray, pencil, paper, from the other side of the classroom) From the 3 period lesson tray of unit, ten, hundred, thousand to the snake game and more. Have a Fractions area, 3 year olds LOVE  fractions and use them totally sensorially so of course the are welcome to explore them, a 5 year old can learn how to add fractions a 6 year old multiply. You observe each and every child let them lead the way (sensitive period) and you encourage, offer demonstrations and offer the path.


images-18A monthly theme, for example, Farms, and through the theme develope the cultural area from scratch with the children. Every day at circle something to do with Farms was discussed and materials prepared for the children to work on and with, over the month the cultural area would develop and grow, incorporating and including music, art, craft, movement etc.  Very important to offer a range of age/ability appropriate materials. Children have very important sensitive periods for culture, for interaction, for communication and for their place in the classroom and to truly become a world citizen.



images-123Prepare a peace corner, a place where feelings and disputes are voiced and heard with respect and self discipline and can be resolved without conflict.  A child’s sensitive period for order and fairness with his/her peers and adults will flourish if he/she is given an opportunity to resolve issues independently in a safe environment.




The Prepared Environment and Sensitive Periods absolutely go hand in hand. A teacher who takes the time and care to prepare the classroom environment with a child’s sensitive periods in mind will find that the children will flourish.

Empower the child.


  • Shamaila says:

    Thank you for this great article!

    I am currently working on making a classroom at home and inviting other children who homeschool to also use it a few times a week.

    I want to ask the same as Jodi above re materials for 3-6 year olds and how to display in the classroom.

  • Linda Shiels says:

    On sensitive periods and the prepared environment………this is such a fascinating and monumental resource! Thank you.
    At the start of my training on the Montessori path, my understanding has grown substantially by reading your work here.

  • Jodi says:

    Thanks for the overview! Could you give a full list of the order of each set of materials from easiest (youngest child can do) to hardest (oldest child can do?) Thanks!

    • sharon says:

      Gosh, that is a huge request. When I did my training I made a huge graph chart with each age and each material listed, with extensions too, to help me study for my exams. I will see if I can dig it out.
      I was going to do several articles with a age/material guide for reference.
      Thank you for reminding me.

Leave a Comment