Montessori Baby

The author, trained as a Montessori primary teacher (AMI), documents and analyzes her efforts to raise a "Montessori" baby.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sensitive Period for Language

I doubt anyone needs Montessori to tell them that children have a sensitivity to language between birth and age 5 (more like 6) - their "explosion" into spoken language is probably enough to indicate that this is a major developmental interest at this age. Even before they reach the stage of picking up on every little word (even the ones we don't want them to know!), babies have a fascination with the sound of human language.

In the first six months of life, we have already seen Alex progressing in his language development. Not too long after birth, one of his favorite activities during quiet, alert times was to watch the mouth of a person speaking to him. So we did. My husband went a little nuts with it by reading him Proust and legal articles, while I tended to stick to Goodnight Moon and general conversation. The truth is, it probably didn't matter. What was fascinating to him was not the content of our speech, but the sounds we were making.

After storing up a sufficient number of sounds, Alex began practicing so that he could join us. At times, this was independent work. We could hear him in his room in the morning just after waking up running through the range of tones and volume he could manage. Other times, he wanted to participate in conversation. We imitated his sounds back to him and he was delighted to have others speak his language.

Now, Alex is beginning to practice particular sounds that he hears. I recently heard a study on NPR that discussed the two areas of the brain at work in speech development. Apparently, there will be a repetitive cycle that will enable him to perfect sounds - he'll hear a sound in his environment, attempt to make it, hear that sound and determine whether or not it is close to a sound in our language, try again, compare, try again, and so on. Doing this, he'll eventually develop the range of sounds we use to speak English. Who knew it was so complex?

However, that's the beauty of the sensitive period. It's not complex for him - he's driven to do it and his brain is primed for it. As long as he gets all the sounds he needs from us at this stage, it won't be laborious or difficult. In fact, it might be fun! I wonder if his first word will have something to do with the constitution?


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