May 22, 2020


When does language develop?

According to the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders, the first three years of life is the most intensive period of language development. It is in this period that the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills. These skills develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others. SOURCE : NIH

Now, a century ago, in 1909 to be exact, Maria Montessori wrote a book, the Montessori Methods calls this as the sensitive period of language development.

What is a sensitive period?

A sensitive period is a critical time during human development when the child is biologically ready and receptive to acquiring a specific skill or ability—such as the use of language or a sense of order—and is therefore particularly sensitive to stimuli that promote the development of that skill.

American Montessori Society

What are the speech and language milestones ?

Children vary in their development of speech and language skills. However, they follow a natural progression or timetable for mastering the skills of language. A checklist of milestones for the normal development of speech and language skills in children from birth to 5 years of age is included below.  SOURCE : NIDC/NIH

Birth to 3

Has a word for almost everything

Uses two- or three-word phrases to talk about and ask for things

Uses k, g, f, t, d, and n sounds

Speaks in a way that is understood by family members and friends

Names objects to ask for them or to direct attention to them

3 to 4 years old

Hears you when you call from another room

Hears the television or radio at the same sound level as other

family members

Answers simple “Who?” “What?” “Where?” and “Why?” questions

Talks about activities at daycare, preschool, or friends’ homes

Uses sentences with four or more words

Speaks easily without having to repeat syllables or words

4 – 5 years old

Pays attention to a short story and answers simple questions about it

Hears and understands most of what is said at home and in school

Uses sentences that give many details

Tells stories that stay on topic

Communicates easily with other children and adults

Says most sounds correctly except for a few (l, s, r, v, z, ch, sh, and th)

Uses rhyming words

Names some letters and numbers

Uses adult grammar

What are the sensitive periods of language development?

The Language curriculum is focused in four areas namely : speaking, listening, reading and writing. 


Just as mentioned above, the sensitive period for spoken language is from 7 months to 3 years of age. It is a time when the child imitates sound and mouth movements .Then it progresses over time, the child learns to form words and simple sentences.

Informal conversations happen between the teacher and the children everyday. This is possible because of the fact that children are allowed to freely move around the room. They are not confined to their seats to listen. On the contrary, they are encouraged to lead in speaking activities. The speaking activities in the classroom are happening during community line time, for instance:

  • During sharing time, I have a “talking feather”. The child holds the feather and narrates events and stories .
  • Show and Tell is a time when children bring something from home or from their travel and share their experience


Listening  is Auditory Language. Language development is refined in a Montessori classroom because of the following exercises namely,

  • Silence Game
  • Montessori Bells
  • Singing songs
  • Moving to music/variations
  • Sounds of the environment game
  • Who am I?


In the Pre-writing stage, the child who speaks and listens is learning as much as anyone. A printable writing paper with letters is not necessary proof that they are learning how to write. 

The sensitive period for learning to write is from 3.5 to 4.5 years of age. (SOURCE : Montessori Academy)

Based on my years of observation, children’s hand movements are uncontrolled and unrefined at the age of 2 or 3. That’s why, asking a child to write on a line is futile. Believe me, there are many more interesting ways to develop writing.

In a Montessori classroom, the metal insets are used to develop writing skills. Metal insets are a set of metal frames of geometric figures.

metal insets for language
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Since writing is a series of lines and planes, horizontal and vertical, obliques and with curves, the preparatory movements of writing is achieved.

Another indirect writing exercise is the knobbed cylinders. The knobbed cylinders have wooden knobs held by the thumb, the pointer and the middle finger. The way you hold a knobbed cylinder is exactly the same way that you hold a writing instrument.

At the same time, the shapes in the geometric cabinet are traced by the pointer and middle finger. Shapes are traced and punched with big pushpins. This is also as an indirect preparation of handling a writing instrument.

Edward Seguin, a French doctor in the 1800s is a great influence on Maria Montessori’s works. Considered to be a great first teacher in the field of disabilities, he reiterates, 

We do not teach writing, the child who draw writes.


Reading is the development of ideas by understanding them. That’s why, learning to read is not just vocalization of sounds to build words. Instead, learning to read is a series of steps and sensorial experience leading to it.

  • It starts with seeing and identifying the objects that matches the sound (Initial Sounds Objects)
  • Then sensorially touching the letters that matches the sounds. (Sandpaper Letters)
  • Building words using objects or cards (Word Building)
  • Finding the matching letters that makes up the sound of the objects (Moveable Alphabet)

In conclusion, the development of Language is not an isolated activity with a series of writing and listening exercises. Instead,

  • it is an integration of all of the Montessori methods like using the correct terminology
  • the availability of nomenclature cards to match labels
  • the freedom of movement
  • an informal social environment
  • community line experiences

All of these characteristics fosters the development of speech and language milestones as well as meets Montessori’s sensitive periods of language development.


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