Montessori: Sensitive Period for Movement

This post is part of my Montessori series on The Sensitive Periods. You may want to read the intro and The Sensitive Period for Order before reading this post. As always, if you have any questions about Montessori theory, philosophy and practice - or - about parenting, child-rearing and development, please do not hesitate to send me an email and ask. I love reader questions and sharing Montessori with you!

The sensitive period for the coordination of movement, or just movement, is what drives the child to develop strength through practice and refinement of gross and fine motor skills. Children do this through observing and absorbing abstractions related to human movement, imitation of these movements and, finally expressing one's own desire to move.

The absorbent mind (another full post coming up on that!) is very much at work when it comes to the sensitive period for movement. Children, in order to learn bi-pedal locomotion and sophisticated human movement, must observe and absorb these movements first. In orphanages throughout history, there have been instances where children's movement was severely restricted. In some cases, they could still observe the nurses walking and moving from their cribs. But in other instances, cribs had solid sides and babies and toddlers with no model of walking and human movement were very stunted and curtailed in ever developing these movements themselves. The absorbent mind, along with the sensitive periods disappears by age six. So, before that time, the child's mind sees things differently and absorbs totality images indiscriminately.

Stop for a moment and think of someone you know who has a very ungraceful walk. We all know someone who plods around, hunched over slightly, clomping and stomping as if they have sandbags tied to their feet at all times. It appears to take great effort with each step to lift their foot off the ground and their hair may even shake and tremble from the force of it all. This is a totality image. I do not have an absorbent mind, so I labeled it right off as ungraceful and cast a negative judgment on such a walk. But the absorbent mind does not do this; it simply takes it all in and concludes, "That is what walking is" and then sets about training the body to do just that. So you can see that the images presented to the child matter very much, as they're what wind up being imitated, unconsciously, by the child's body.

A teacher in a Montessori classroom is always aware of how they move. When I was in the classroom, I walked so quietly and deliberately always because the absorbent mind is always watching and downloading everything it sees. This is evident in ways you'd never think possible. My trainer said she had to start wearing her hair tied back because she saw all of the children, including those whose hair was too short to tuck behind their ears, repeatedly making that movement. Another teacher I know who wears glasses said that after a few months, children would push their middle finger up the bridge of their nose repeatedly. She could not figure out what these kids were doing, and when she asked them about it they just looked at her blankly. It wasn't until she was out to dinner with her mother and saw her mom push her glasses up that she realized they were simply doing what they'd seen her do a million times! I have an ear that requires me to pinch and blow air into it a dozen times a day. After a few months in the classroom, I had to make sure I stepped out to do so because all of the kids were doing it!

So, movement is huge. Children will respond with their full body to rhythmic actions like sweeping. They also can be taught things that seem impossible to teach a baby or toddler. If your baby is having trouble with tummy time, get down and model it for them. Do not speak, just show them. For older babies, teaching them to go down stairs backward is the single biggest sanity saver of a favor you'll ever do yourself. Tell them, "Look honey, this is how you can go down the stairs" and then show them without talking during your movements. You can exaggerate your movements slightly for emphasis and clarity, but don't overdo it or they will, too. For older toddlers and preschoolers, exposure to a variety of movements and allowing them to try the ones that appeal to them is very important. Ballet, skiing, scootering, balance bikes, and of course, running, walking climbing, etc are all extremely beneficial.

Once a child hits four-and-a-half, the sensitive period for movement is fading away, never to return. Their foundation for coordination and refinement of movement has been laid and will limit them throughout their life. If they develop high levels of coordination, balance, gross and fine motor skills, they will always be able to take on that high level of activity as they grow and are ready for different challenges. If they don't, then they won't. Each child is motivated by different things and this will impact the type of coordination of movement they develop. Some might excel more at fine motor and some at gross motor, while others still excel at both, or neither. It doesn't mean new skills can't be learned, but it means that the potential for mastering new movements is somewhat set.

A few other posts to read which you might find relevant:

Analyzed Movements

Perceived Risk


Setting up for Success

Sorry for the missed post yesterday. It was J's birthday and we had so much fun celebrating, I completely forgot about writing the blog until I was in bed, nodding off peacefully. I promise that I will get back to your questions and comments on last week's post ASAP. They really were such thoughtful questions and comments. Thank you for taking the time to respond. It really does make my day! xo


  1. Montessori is really a necessary period for a kid where he learns the main things and make his base. This is a great article and I really liked this post.

  2. Lindsey you are beautiful and motherhood is a blessing.


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