This is the final post in the Sensitive Periods series. You can find the other posts via this one. ;)
Language is a huge topic and a huge body of knowledge and a very complex human thing, so this sensitive period lasts a full year and a half longer than the others, until six years of age. Perhaps Montessori's most famous quote on the combined powers of the Absorbent Mind and Sensitive Periods is, "The only language men speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood when no one can teach them anything at all!"
This is significant. When you stop and think about the fact that children learn a complex language with grammar, syntax, tons of words and verb conjugations all simply by being around it, that is a big deal. It is absolute proof of everything Montessori professed in her theories and it supports all that she designed in terms of giving children the richest, most developmentally appropriate environment within which to learn. I deliberately did not say "teaching children" in that sentence because Montessori never set out to teach children. She observed the peculiarities and natural tendencies of children and noticed their preferences. Then she provided them with a curated space to give them the best chance at flourishing. The learning came from within rather than being deposited from without. It's much different!
So, back to language. The greatest piece of this sensitive period is input. Children need tons and tons of linguistic input. This usually happens naturally. We provide children with exposure to language through speaking to them and speaking to each other in front of them. Children who face their mothers in their strollers rather than facing out tend to speak sooner and better than those who don't. Another important input for language is books. We read at least three books per day to our children, but that is the minimum and usually it's more. It's important that we not overlook children or only give them instruction throughout the day. Children need conversation and to hear descriptions and explanations. You don't need to talk until you're blue in the face every minute, but providing a lot of interaction and dialogue, even one-sided dialogue in the beginning, is good.
In the Montessori classroom, there are so many ways that spoken language is fostered and encouraged. There is even a lesson for having a conversation at an object or picture on the wall. The teacher models-through-doing with the child how to have a conversation about something and then invites the child to do so with another child. Child-to-child communication is something that is almost being lost in our modern lives. It's important that children have time with other children that isn't completely facilitated by an adult.
Symbolic language in the forms of writing and reading are also made possible in the Montessori classroom, following the child's interest and ability as a guide. Three-period lessons are given on the sounds and once a child knows enough sounds, they can progress to building words with the Moveable Alphabet (pictured above) by sounding out and making the words phonetically. This is done with the Moveable Alphabet because the mind is ready before the hand. Reading comes last in Montessori. It is a natural extension of building words to read them back. Then phonetic reading progresses, puzzle words are introduced through three-period lessons and the explosion into reading occurs. The key to this explosion is strong input and use and command of language, orally and communicatively, ahead of time.
The sensitive period for language, like all the other sensitive periods, is the time when a foundation is laid. If a child only learns one language during those years, but gains a commanding grasp and understanding of the intricacies of language and develops a real talent for it, then they would likely have an easy time learning other languages throughout life. Of course, the closer to the sensitive period, the easier, but that love of and strong foundation in language will remain.
How do you see language manifesting in your child? What do you do to foster language development at home?